McConnell seeks to protect vulnerable Republicans with COVID-19 vote | TheHill – The Hill

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellPelosi, Mnuchin talk stimulus but stalemate remains Senate GOP ‘goal’ is to vote next week on ‘targeted’ coronavirus relief bill The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Biden, Trump raise stakes in clash over civil unrest, police shootings MORE (R-Ky.) is hoping to give vulnerable GOP colleagues political cover by voting as soon as next week on a pared-down Republican bill that would provide coronavirus relief to schools, businesses and unemployed Americans. 

The GOP leader told fellow Senate Republicans during a conference call Tuesday morning with Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinPelosi, Mnuchin talk stimulus but stalemate remains On The Money: Trump wants more COVID-19 relief aid, Mnuchin says | Trump officials issue sweeping eviction ban | Unemployed struggle to cover basic expenses Trump payroll tax deferral finds few takers among businesses MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsPelosi, Mnuchin talk stimulus but stalemate remains On The Money: Trump wants more COVID-19 relief aid, Mnuchin says | Trump officials issue sweeping eviction ban | Unemployed struggle to cover basic expenses Mnuchin: Trump wants more COVID-19 relief aid MORE that senators in tough races want to vote on a rescue package ASAP, according to a person familiar with the call.

“McConnell wants it. McConnell said today is that every member who’s up [for reelection] who has any hint of vulnerability wants a bill that gets 51 votes,” the source said on Tuesday.

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House Democrats, who passed a $3.4 trillion coronavirus relief package in May, have repeatedly hit Senate Republicans for not bringing their own bill up for a vote. After the initial $1.1 trillion version was unveiled by Republicans in July, several of the 53 GOP senators who are not up for reelection raised concerns about the price tag.

While the legislation would need 60 votes to advance, even a simple majority in favor would be seen as a GOP victory.

Republicans are worried their Senate majority is at risk in November because of President TrumpDonald John TrumpMelania Trump used private email account while in White House, ex-friend says Trump reiterates call for drug test before debates, claims Biden ‘is on some kind of an enhancement’ How Markey took down a Kennedy MORE’s low approval rating in many battleground states. They also have to defend 23 seats while Democrats only have to protect 12.

Senate Republicans see a vote on a smaller relief bill as a chance to go on offense while helping vulnerable Republicans like Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsTrump warnings on lawlessness divide GOP candidates Former top Snowe aide: I can no longer support Collins The Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Facebook – Trump encouraged to call for calm during Wisconsin visit MORE (R-Maine) and Sen. Thom TillisThomas (Thom) Roland TillisTrump, Biden running neck and neck in North Carolina: poll Overnight Health Care: Trump pressure on health agencies risks undermining public trust | Top FDA spokeswoman ousted after 11 days Tillis says he ‘fell short’ by not wearing mask for Trump speech MORE (R-N.C.) who are hoping to deliver for constituents heading into the final stretch of the fall campaign.

“Moderate Democrats, especially in the House, are pushing for something like this and it puts Democratic leaders in an awkward position,” said a Senate GOP aide.

The aide was one of two who confirmed the legislation is not expected to include another round of $1,200 direct payments like the ones included in the CARES Act from late March. The House-passed bill from May would provide a second round of stimulus checks, as did the initial GOP bill that sparked conservative backlash.

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Senate Democrats are expected to block a Republican-drafted relief bill if it comes to floor because, among other reasons, it would not include significant aid for state and local governments beyond the $105 billion to help colleges and schools resume classes this fall.

If Democrats block a bill that includes money for schools and expanded testing, Senate Republican leaders hope that could be used as potent campaign ammunition against Democratic candidates.

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMillions risk losing power without nationwide shutoff moratorium Mnuchin to testify as COVID-19 relief impasse drags on Latino groups bypass Democratic Party for campaign funding MORE (D-N.Y.) and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHow Markey took down a Kennedy Markey defeats Kennedy in Massachusetts Pelosi, Mnuchin talk stimulus but stalemate remains MORE (D-Calif.) have called for $915 billion in new spending to help cash-strapped state and local governments.

The Senate Republican legislation is estimated to cost at least $500 billion, according to Senate GOP aides, though one source said its price tag could be as high as $700 billion.

The measure would provide money to help colleges and schools resume classes, $190 billion for a second round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to small businesses, assistance for unemployed workers, expanded COVID-19 testing and childcare assistance, according to GOP sources.

It will also include language to protect colleges, schools, religious and nonprofit organizations and businesses from coronavirus-related lawsuits. The provision would set a standard of willful misconduct or grossly negligent behavior for suits.

In a departure from the $1.1 trillion HEALS Act that Republicans introduced earlier this summer, they are now discussing how to help private schools during the pandemic.

One option would be to provide vouchers or scholarships to help private schools that are battling with public schools for a share of federal resources for the resumption of in-person classes. 

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoMeadows sees progress on relief talks, but keeps hard line on Pelosi proposals Senate GOP ‘goal’ is to vote next week on ‘targeted’ coronavirus relief bill Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump MORE (Wyo.) said Tuesday the goal is to vote on the legislation after senators return to Washington next week after the August recess. 

“We have a focused, targeted solution that we hope that the House would pass and the House would agree to,” he said after presiding over an early-morning pro-forma session.

Barrasso said the GOP legislation would be “focused on getting people back to work, getting kids back to school.” 

He said “it leaves out” what he called “the so many things that Pelosi has put in her bill that are unrelated to coronavirus.” 

Barrasso, who spoke to a reporter before the GOP conference call with Mnuchin and Meadows, said the “goal” is to vote on what is being called a “skinny” coronavirus relief bill next week. But he cautioned it needs to muster enough support from Republican senators.

“We’re having a conference call every morning. We have one again today with Secretary Mnuchin and the White House chief of staff to go over that, and that’s the goal — is to come back and vote to move that,” Barrasso said.

One Senate GOP aide said there is growing support for voting on legislation soon after Labor Day. The bill now being contemplated, however, doesn’t yet appear to have the 51 Republican votes it needs to be hailed a symbolic victory. 

“It depends entirely on whether we get to 51,” the aide said about the prospect of McConnell putting a relief bill up for a vote as soon as next week.

A second Senate GOP aide said: “The aim is definitely to do something next week.”

“The weeks we have left are dwindling,” the source noted of the legislative days on the calendar before the election, a work period during which Congress will also have to pass a stop-gap funding bill to avoid a government shutdown. 

Mnuchin told Fox Business News Monday that McConnell would introduce a new Republican coronavirus relief bill in the coming days.

“Hopefully Mitch will enter new legislation next week,” Mnuchin said.

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