Senate showdown over pandemic relief stalls as Pelosi preps Democratic bill

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WASHINGTON (ABC News) – The Senate’s second attempt to advance a massive $2 trillion bill to provide economic relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic failed Monday afternoon, demonstrating an inability to strike a bipartisan agreement on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The vote failed 49-46, falling well short of the 60 votes needed to advance to debate on the bill, which represents the third phase of congressional aid to respond to the crisis.

After the vote, Senate Majority Mitch McConnell warned that the Senate might not be able to pass a bill until Friday or Saturday, blasting Democrats for “mindless obstruction.”

“While the public is waiting for us to act, while people losing their jobs, losing their income and shutting down the economy which we’ve had to do to deal with this public health crisis, they’re fiddling around with Senate procedure that could, if one senator objected, take us all the way to the end of the week to solve this problem,” McConnell fumed. “The American people have had just enough of this nonsense. They wonder where we are. They’re looking to us to solve this problem!”

Prior to the vote, Republicans complained Democrats have turned negotiations into a “leftwing episode of Supermarket Sweep.”

McConnell called the GOP proposal a “compromise package” that would provide tens of billions of dollars to hospitals, provide checks to millions of families, prevent layoffs and provide “historic relief” to small businesses.

“Why are Democrats filibustering the bipartisan bill they helped write?” McConnell wondered, ticking through a “Democratic wish list” that he said was preventing an agreement, including tax credits for solar energy and wind energy provisions to force employers to give “special new treatment for big labor,” and new emissions standards for airlines.

“Are you kidding me? This is the moment to debate new regulations that have nothing whatsoever to do whatsoever with this crisis? That’s what they’re up to over there. The American people need to know it,” McConnell, R-Ky., said. “Democrats won’t let us fund hospitals or save small businesses unless they get to dust off the Green New Deal.”

“They ought to be embarrassed,” he said. “This is not a juicy political opportunity, this is a national emergency.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on the Senate floor at the Capitol, in Washington, Saturday, March 21, 2020.Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks on the Senate floor at the Capitol, in Washington, Saturday, March 21, 2020.AP

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer continued to meet with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Monday morning, responding to McConnell on the Senate floor while stressing negotiations are ongoing.

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin walks to the meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on…

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin walks to the meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer during negotiations on a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) relief package on Capitol in Washington, March 23, 2020.Joshua Roberts/Reuters

“These are trying times for all of us, but the scourge of this disease will pass. The American people, as always, will prevail,” Schumer, D-N.Y., said. “The Senate continues to negotiate what will likely be the largest emergency funding bill in history.”

“We’re very close to reaching a deal, very close, and our goal is to reach a deal today, and we’re hopeful – even confident, that we will meet that goal,” Schumer said.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks on the Senate floor at the Capitol, in Washington, March 21, 2020.Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks on the Senate floor at the Capitol, in Washington, March 21, 2020.Senate Television via AP

Schumer acknowledged that the bill has moved in the Democratic direction in regard to unemployment insurance, but protested that it “still includes something most Americans don’t want to see: large corporate bailouts with almost no strings attached.”

“Maybe the majority leader thinks it’s unfair to ask protections for workers and labor to companies that are getting hundreds of billions of dollars,” Schumer said. “We think it’s very fair to ask for those. Those are not extraneous issues. That is a wish list for workers, nobody else.”

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Schumer said Democrats are guided by “workers first” and stressed the bill “needs to reflect that priority.”

He dismissed the doomed vote Monday afternoon and said that “real progress” is happening during his negotiations with Mnuchin.

“I’m going to get back to negotiations,” he said. “We have an obligation to get the details right.”

Meanwhile, across Capitol Hill, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced she will introduce her own proposal, the Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act, on Monday at 2 p.m.

Pelosi has directed her caucus to create its own path toward a massive stimulus bill to again address the COVID-19 pandemic, with Democratic lawmakers pursuing two tracks of possible solutions.

“We’re still working on both negotiations with our Senate counterparts and on compiling our House bill if there continues to be a lack of support for Senator McConnell’s bill,” one senior House Democratic aide says this morning.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey is working remotely, as are the committee staff. Even though they’re not in the office at the Capitol, the aide expressed a recognition of the urgency to get a bill done.

“Given we’re putting together legislation that runs in the thousands of pages, I’d say everyone is working pretty hard,” the aide said.

Several congressional aides signaled Pelosi’s bill won’t be ready for a vote Tuesday, and the competing legislation complicates bipartisan negotiations in the Senate.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has said members would have a 24-hour heads-up before a vote in the House, and he wrote colleagues last week to say the House would not return to session until it’s “in a position to vote on the third piece of emergency legislation to respond to the economic impact of this crisis.”

A senior aide to the majority leader says this is still the case and acknowledged the House will not meet for votes Tuesday.

Instead House Democrats are slated to discuss the path forward on a caucus conference call Tuesday afternoon, according to a third senior Democratic aide, further signaling members won’t fly back to be at the Capitol for votes – as was initially planned last week.

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