Mitch McConnell just took ownership of any failure to get more COVID relief
It's been 157 days since the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act, and 19 days since the House passed their compromise $2.2 trillion bill, both of which Sen. Mitch McConnell has refused to take up. It is 14 days until the election, and McConnell just told the White House to stop negotiating for a deal.
There's been a concerted effort by the Washington, D.C. press, with an assist from some Democratic bros, to pin the lack of a deal on Pelosi. If she'd just taken the poisoned $1.8 trillion the White House had on offer, they say, this would have been done. That's totally ignoring the malevolent force that is McConnell, who has been refusing any substantive aid since March. For eight months. Now he's owning that fact.
The Washington Post reports McConnell told his Republican conference in Tuesday's weekly luncheon that he had "warned the White House not to make a big stimulus deal before the election," and that Pelosi was not negotiating in good faith with Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin, but was instead trying to find a way to derail the quick confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Which is ridiculous. There are plenty of simpler ways she could do that. Like bringing up and passing more resolutions of disagreement with White House regulations under the Congressional Review Act and sending them to the Senate, where they would be privileged. Or impeaching any number of Trump's cabinet or appointees (like Postmaster General Louis DeJoy) who have given ample reason for it. Those would also be privileged.
Instead, Pelosi has been wrangling her own members, spending hours on the phone with Mnuchin, and talking to the press on a daily basis about the status of negotiations. McConnell has sat on the sidelines throwing spitballs when he's not chortling over his success in stonewalling critical assistance to a nation in a pandemic. He's still putting it on the back burner, telling reporters after the lunch that if Pelosi and the White House come to an agreement, he'd bring it to the Senate floor "at some point," refusing to say he'd act on it before the election. Because he doesn't give a damn about anything other than Barrett on the court and the slim possibility that what's shaping up to be a sound Trump defeat could be challenged there.
Pelosi and Mnuchin are still talking—they had about an hour-long conversation on Tuesday and agreed to talk again on Wednesday, after Pelosi backed away somewhat from the deadline she set for a deal by Tuesday. Before their latest call, Pelosi told reporters that specific language has to decided by the end of this week for a preelection vote, and that she was "optimistic" despite key differences still remaining. Those differences are the liability protections for businesses that McConnell has insisted on and which House Democrats flatly refuse, and aid to state and local governments.
That means that the White House and Pelosi are agreed on actual assistance to actual people in the form of stimulus checks and expanded unemployment insurance. The things McConnell has been refusing for months. They have made enough progress that Pelosi has delegated some of the specifics of spending to her appropriations leadership, asking them to work out language with their ranking members, though those Republicans are less amenable to negotiation than Mnuchin and, presumably, Trump, who keeps clamoring in the background for a big, big stimulus that he can claim before Nov. 3. Pelosi's spokesman reported that after Tuesday's conversation, Pelosi and Mnuchin found "more clarity and common ground as they move closer to an agreement," and that they both "see that decisions could be reached and language could be exchanged, demonstrating that both sides are serious about finding a compromise." They're going to talk again on Wednesday.
With Trump supposedly "very bullish" on getting a deal, according to Chief of Staff Mark Meadows—the least likely guy to want to help the negotiations—there's every reason for the two to keep pushing and to keep the pressure on Senate Republicans. McConnell has now taken total ownership of an eventual failure by rejecting a deal even before it's done, so Pelosi has nothing to lose.