Republicans wary of Mnuchin’s coronavirus relief talks with Dems
On a private call with House Democratic freshman lawmakers Tuesday, Pelosi also signaled as much. The speaker indicated negotiations were at a logjam, saying Democrats have laid out their offer and now it’s up to Republican leaders to come to the table and compromise, according to sources on the call.
That’s the fray Mnuchin is entering — and it’s one that some Republicans aren’t sure he’s ready to navigate. That’s because there’s a difficult hurdle in Congress, which is now officially on recess until May 4 as lawmakers do their part to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. One lawmaker can derail legislation in the pro forma sessions each chamber holds twice a week.
And Republicans say Mnuchin can’t exactly negotiate on behalf of the entire GOP as is necessary, unlike during normal times when 60 votes rule the day in the Senate and a bipartisan coalition can steamroll objections from the right flank of the party.
“I don’t see us giving in. I just don’t,” Kennedy said. “Secretary Mnuchin can make all the deals he wants to with Speaker Pelosi, I’ll certainly look at them, but I think it’s going to have a tough time in the Senate.”
“Mnuchin doesn’t represent congressional Republicans in their entirety,” said a Senate Republican aide. “But that’s what you need with UC (unanimous consent). If Mnuchin deals, he better be ready to sell this to our conference. And he better have the president on board.”
Trump has said he doesn’t want to add anything beyond small business relief in the interim relief bill, tweeting this week that he wants to “Replenish Account Now!”
The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. And Republicans have generally praised Mnuchin’s responsiveness in recent weeks running Treasury, even if they aren’t exactly urging him to cut a deal with Democrats.
And there’s no sign of anyone bending. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said in an interview Tuesday that Democrats’requests are worthwhile but should be negotiated later. The Paycheck Protection Program, she argued, is what’s needed now and she implored Democrats to abandon their demands to broaden the scope of the package.
“I am really surprised that Sen. Schumer doesn’t see the need to replenish this program. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other programs that don’t warrant additional funding, but this program is going to run out for certain,” said Collins, among the most amenable Republicans to cutting a deal.
Hoyer replied: “We think what we asked for was equally necessary” to the small business funds.
“I don’t think it’s the substance of our request that seems to be the problem. It was the process — they didn’t like adding on to their request,” he added.
McConnell may decide to try again Thursday to pass his package and force Democrats to block it. And just like last week, Democrats could decide to offer their proposal and watch McConnell spurn them.
The House has its own pro forma session Friday, a deadline Hoyer said he hopes negotiators are able to meet to pass an interim deal. But privately, aides in both parties say congressional dealmakers seem much further apart, predicting the impasse could carry over into next week.
Marianne LeVine contributed to this story.