Tensions run high on Capitol Hill as Senate works to advance economic stimulus

Coronavirus

Senators are continuing to negotiate on a massive economic stimulus package, hoping a deal will soon come together after efforts to reach consensus were dealt a major blow over the weekend, even as coronavirus struck one of their own.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ramped up the pressure on Senate Democrats late Sunday night when he scheduled another procedural vote on the coronavirus stimulus bill for 9:45 a.m. Monday — minutes after the stock market opens — but it was blocked by Democrats who don’t want to be forced to take the vote.

“I think there’s a good chance we’ll have an agreement. But we don’t need artificial deadlines. We will get this done. We will come in at noon and hopefully we will have an agreement by then,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who made the objection, said on the Senate floor.

McConnell blasted Schumer’s move as reckless and warned the markets will now be open for three hours they can get some certainty a stimulus bill will pass the Senate.

A vote in the Senate is now expected at 1 p.m.

Senate Democrats, who have argued Republicans are prioritizing corporate industry over American workers in the legislation, lined up against an earlier procedural vote to advance the bill Sunday. The vote’s failure underscored a tense divide between Republicans and Democrats as the country grapples with the impact of coronavirus and raised fresh uncertainty over whether and when lawmakers will strike a bipartisan deal.

The far-reaching stimulus bill is poised to be the most significant legislative response to fallout from the pandemic so far. Lawmakers have already passed two other major legislative packages in response to the outbreak, and the current legislation is being referred to as “phase three” in the legislative response.

Sunday’s failed vote came on the same day that the first US senator — Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky — tested positive for coronavirus, which raised questions about how long lawmakers will continue to be able to proceed with business as usual in the Capitol building and prompted two other Republican senators — Mike Lee and Mitt Romney of Utah — to self-quarantine.

Republicans have argued that Democrats are stalling critical economic relief amid the devastating spread of coronavirus. McConnell was visibly frustrated when he spoke on the Senate floor directly after the procedural vote failed, criticizing Democrats for holding up the push to move forward with a stimulus package.

“We’re fiddling here. Fiddling with the emotions of the American people, fiddling with the markets, fiddling with our health care. The American people expect us to act tomorrow and I want everyone to fully understand if we aren’t able to act tomorrow it will be because of our colleagues on the other side continuing to dicker when the country expects us to come together and address this problem,” McConnell said.

Pushback from Democrats has centered on not only the substance of the legislation, but also on the process that Republicans used to come up with it, arguing that they were locked out of negotiations at the start.

McConnell has defended his approach, telling CNN’s Dana Bash Thursday, “Republicans are in the majority in the Senate. We wanted to put forward our proposal. We feel like we have an obligation to do that as a majority and the Democrats, of course, need to be given an opportunity to react to it.”

For now, though, negotiations are continuing with both sides saying they hope to pass a bill as quickly as possible.

“Leader Schumer and Secretary Mnuchin are working late into the night, and they just had another productive meeting,” a spokesman for Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement after the pair’s fourth meeting Sunday night.

After the vote failed earlier that evening, Schumer said that “negotiations are continuing,” but warned that there were still major “problems” in the legislation. Even so, he said that he believes the disagreements could be resolved within the next 24 hours.

“The bipartisan negotiations on this package continue even as we speak,” Schumer said, “The bill can and must continue to improve. We’re closer than we’ve been at any time over the past 48 hours to an agreement, but there are still too many problems in the proposed legislation. Can we overcome the remaining disagreements in the next 24 hours? Yes, we can and we should.”

Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois said in his own remarks on the Senate floor Sunday evening, “I do believe we can close this deal. I don’t know if it can be done tonight. I pray that it will be,” adding, “Let’s get this done.”

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