COVID-19 relief debate stalls in Senate amid Democratic drama

Democratic drama over unemployment benefits is snagging the Senate’s coronavirus relief debate.

The Senate has been stuck in a state of limbo for hours as senators try to figure out the path forward on 10 weekly unemployment payments.

Senators have filed two competing unemployment proposals: One, from Sen. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris Senate starts infrastructure debate amid 11th-hour drama MORE (R-Ohio), would provide $300 per week through mid-July, a significantly shorter timeline than what’s supported by most Democrats.


The second, from Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Bipartisan framework remains mostly consistent on climate Nearly 140 Democrats urge EPA to 'promptly' allow California to set its own vehicle pollution standards MORE (D-Del.), would provide a $300 weekly payment through September.

That’s a change from the House bill, which provided $400 per week through August. But Democrats unveiled the agreement earlier Friday, characterizing it as a deal worked out by their moderate and progressive factions.

In order for Democrats to attach their proposal to the coronavirus bill, they would need the support of all 50 members of their caucus and Vice President Harris to break a tie.

But in a significant snag, Portman told reporters that he believes he can get the support of all 50 senators and Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinDemocrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Top Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure An August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done MORE (D-W.Va.) to vote for his proposal.

“I think so,” Portman said, asked if he has the entire GOP caucus and Manchin.


Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenate votes to take up infrastructure deal Senators say they have deal on 'major issues' in infrastructure talks Senators reach billion deal on emergency Capitol security bill MORE (R-S.D.) said Republicans were waiting for Democrats to “get their members in line.”

“I feel bad for Joe Manchin. I hope the Geneva Convention applies,” Thune said.

A senator told The Hill that the hold-up was uncertainty on whether Manchin would support Carper's amendment.

Depending on how the amendments were structured, Democrats could technically strip out Portman's amendment, if it was added to the bill, by holding a subsequent vote on Carper's proposal. But to do that, they would need Manchin's support.

A spokesperson for Manchin didn’t respond to a request for comment. But Manchin was spotted huddling with Portman on the Senate floor before heading into the GOP cloakroom.


Sens. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal MORE (D-Mont.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) were overheard by reporters chatting with Manchin on the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, Carper was going between the floor and a room nearby where he was huddling with staff.

Asked about Manchin, Carper appeared visibly agitated, telling reporters: “No comment.”

As the hours dragged on, Portman and Thune huddled to talk to Manchin by phone. Thune told reporters after the call that Manchin was facing pressure to fall in line and support Carper's amendment.

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinInmates grapple with uncertainty over Biden prison plan Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Biden backs effort to include immigration in budget package MORE (D-Ill.) told reporters shortly before 4:30 p.m., hours into the standoff, that he wasn't sure where Manchin was going to ultimately come down. 
Part of the headache for Democrats is that any bill that passes the Senate would have to get the support of House Democrats. There are concerns among senators that if they both reduce the amount of the weekly payments and reduce the amount of time that the payments are made, House progressives could balk and refuse to support the bill.

"It will pass [the Senate], the question is whether we then have to go to conference," said Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden sets new vaccine mandate as COVID-19 cases surge House clears .1 billion Capitol security bill, sending to Biden Senate passes .1 billion Capitol security bill MORE (D-Vt.), a reference to conference committees where the House and Senate would work out their differences.

Sen. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinSenate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Democrats pushing for changes to bipartisan infrastructure deal The Hill's Morning Report - 2024 GOPers goal: Tread carefully, don't upset Trump MORE (D-Md.) added that senators were trying to avoid having to go pass the bill again, or renegotiate with the House and the White House.

"It certainly won't prevent it from passing the Senate," he said, "but then, will the House take the bill?"

Updated at 4:27 p.m.