What to Know in Washington: GOP Looks to McConnell on Stimulus

Republicans and the White House are counting on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) reconciling GOP differences with a draft coronavirus relief package that they can take into negotiations with congressional Democrats.

McConnell is set to introduce as soon as today a collection of bills that would represent the Republican counteroffer to the $3.5 trillion plan that Democrats passed in the House.

“What the leader has decided he wants to do is to have a handful of bills now rather than just one bill,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of the GOP leadership, said yesterday after a meeting with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “The goal is tomorrow.”

That meeting with Blunt, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), was one of a series between President Donald Trump’s two emissaries and Republican lawmakers. It settled the spending portion of the Republican plan, though some other major details have yet to be resolved.

”We’ve now had three days of meetings and we’re completely on the same page,” Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin, Meadows and the lawmakers involved in yesterday’s talks said nothing about the payroll tax holiday that Trump has said he wants in the package, which has gotten a cool reception from many Republicans and is opposed by Democrats.

Among the provisions in the bills, according to negotiators, are another round of direct payments to individuals; $105 billion in aid for schools, some of it earmarked for those that reopen classrooms; and $25 billion to expand virus testing. Republicans are still at odds over whether and how long to extend supplemental unemployment insurance, which runs out in days.

Trump and Congress are facing a time crunch to keep the economic damage from the resurgent pandemic from worsening before the November elections. Programs in the last stimulus, passed in March, are beginning to expire and lawmakers are scheduled to leave town for an August break in less than three weeks. Read more from Laura Litvan and Erik Wasson.

Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg
McConnell at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Happening on the Hill

House Votes to Remove Confederate Statues: The House voted yesterday to remove from the Capitol grounds statues of Confederates and other memorials celebrating those who supported slavery and segregation. Democrats were joined by 72 Republicans in the 305-113 vote to approve the measure. The vote comes amid a national conversation on race and the legacy of slavery following the killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the figures portrayed in the Capitol memorials “advocated barbarism and racism” and “their statues pay homage to hate, not heritage.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the statues “must be relegated to the dark places of a shameful stain on our history.” The bill’s prospects in the Senate are uncertain. McConnell has called removal of Confederate statues an attempt to “airbrush” history. Read more from Billy House.

Senate Blocks Juneteenth Holiday Bill: The Senate blocked legislation to make Juneteenth, the holiday on June 19 that commemorates when enslaved Texans learned of their emancipation, a national holiday. Both Senate Democrats and Republicans attempted to pass the bill (S. 4019) by unanimous consent. The bill was offered by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said his home state of Texas has celebrated Juneteenth as a state holiday for 40 years and said he supported the move.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) blocked the effort, saying that it would cost taxpayers $600 million annually. Johnson said he doesn’t object to celebrating the day but said the cost should be offset by eliminating another paid leave day for workers. Markey objected to Johnson’s proposal, Nancy Ognanovich reports.

Conservation Legislation Passed by House: The House yesterday overwhelmingly passed bipartisan conservation legislation that many in Congress and the White House hope will bolster an ailing economy because of the shovel-ready outdoor and infrastructure projects it will finance. It passed 310-107. The Great American Outdoors Act would provide full, mandatory funding at $900 million per year for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, meaning the program would no longer be subject to the annual appropriations process. Read more from Kellie Lunney.

Muslim Travel Ban: The House yesterday passed a bill (H.R. 2486) that would overturn Trump’s ban on entry or immigration from certain majority-Muslim countries, Victoria Hodge reports. The measure would also provide access to legal counsel and personal contacts for individuals during screening processes at the U.S. border. The White House has threatened to veto the bill. Read more from the BGOV Bill Summary.

GOP Seeks to Move PPE Supply Chains From China: Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) introduced legislation to decrease U.S. dependence on foreign supply chains for personal protective equipment, according to a statement the senators released yesterday. The bill would outline requirements for acquiring PPE for the Strategic National Stockpile, and establish an investment credit for qualifying PPE manufacturing projects, they said. Victoria Hodges has more.

McSally Seeks to Move Water Bill Package: The head of the Senate’s panel on water sought to highlight the need for more federal action to combat drought conditions in Western states, including deploying more advanced technologies to better increase water supplies. Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who leads the Senate Energy and Natural Resources’ Water Subcommittee, said she hopes to combine a variety of bills into a single water package, including a bill she and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) introduced that would address aging water infrastructure. Read more from Dean Scott.

Senate Republicans Push School Choice Bill: Families would get emergency federal aid via scholarship organizations for private education and home schooling in legislation released yesterday by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the House, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

The bill would also provide up to $5 billion annually in tax credits for contributions to scholarship organizations and encourage states to create their own tax credit programs. That provision mirrors a school choice tax credit proposal championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Andrew Kreighbaum reports.

Senate Seeks Plan to Pay College Athletes: Lawmakers took up the contentious issue of compensation for competitors in the big-money world of collegiate athletics, finding common ground on the need for change while differing over the specifics. Graham said at the outset of the hearing, entitled “Protecting the Integrity of College Athletics,” that the goal should be ensuring fair treatment for athletes responsible for generating millions of dollars for their schools while protecting the amateur nature of college sports. Read more from Skylar Woodhouse.

Chemical Facilities: Trump signed legislation to extend the Department of Homeland Security’s Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards Program into law yesterday, according to a White House statement.

Elections & Politics

Trump’s Big-Donor Gifts Plunge 61%: Trump skipped all of his campaign’s virtual fundraisers in the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic while mocking Democratic nominee Joe Biden for appearing from his basement. But it looks like Biden might be laughing all the way to the bank. Trump’s receipts from high-dollar donors plunged 61% in the second quarter, to just $27 million, as he declined to appear on a livestream.

Biden’s big-donor committee took in more than three times as much — $86.4 million — after launching in late April. He attended almost all of the events virtually, talked to donors and invited reporters to listen in. Read more from Bill Allison and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Biden Calls Trump First ‘Racist’ President: Biden called Trump the first “racist” president yesterday, a comment that overlooked the dozen presidents who owned slaves or the many others who espoused racist beliefs and policies. During a virtual town hall organized by the Service Employees International Union, the Democratic nominee criticized Trump for calling the coronavirus the “China virus,” saying “the way he deals with people based on the color of their skin, their national origin, where they’re from, is absolutely sickening.”

“No sitting president has ever done this,” Biden said. “Never, never, never. No Republican president has done this. No Democratic president. We’ve had racists, and they’ve existed, they’ve tried to get elected president. He’s the first one that has.” Read more from Ryan Teague Beckwith.

What Else to Know Today

Consulate Fight Shows Trump’s Hardliners In Charge: Trump spent the first three years of his presidency balancing the demands of hardliners who wanted a crackdown on China against his own desire to pursue a trade deal and foster stronger ties with Xi Jinping. The unexpected order yesterday to shut down the Chinese consulate in Houston made one thing clear: hawks are now in charge.

Eager to blame China for the pandemic and fed up with what U.S. officials call a history of espionage and intellectual-property theft, Trump has allowed a small group of advisers, led by Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, to push American foreign policy toward its most antagonistic in decades. The result is a series of sanctions, restrictions and condemnations that have culminated in the Houston decision. Read more from Nick Wadhams and Peter Martin.

Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said Congress will be briefed on the expulsions of Chinese diplomats from the Houston consulate in the coming days. Biegun told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the expulsions were based on three criteria: Persistent theft of American tech, the degree to which the theft occurred via the abuse of student exchange programs, and the behavior of diplomats at the Houston consulate which were inconsistent with diplomatic prerogatives, Daniel Flatley reports.

Trump to Send Agents to Cities: Trump said he will expand a federal law enforcement operation to Chicago and Albuquerque, New Mexico, setting up a rhetorical showdown with state and local leaders, if not an actual one over combating violent crime. “Chicago is a disaster,” Trump said yesterday from the White House. “I think in their own way, they want us to go in. There’ll be a time when they’re going to want us to go in full blast.” Read more from Jordan Fabian, Shruti Date Singh and Josh Wingrove.

Oregon squared off against the Trump administration at a hearing yesterday over the state’s request to stop the unexplained detention of anti-racism protesters in Portland by federal agents. Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who sued the U.S. last week, asked a federal judge for a temporary restraining order against Department of Homeland Security agents and U.S. Marshals for detaining people without probable cause or a warrant. The agents should identify themselves and explain that the person is being arrested and why, she argued. Read more from Clare Roth and Malathi Nayak.

Probe Doesn’t Confirm Beef Price Fixing: A report by the Department of Agriculture on surging beef costs amid the coronavirus pandemic avoided any conclusion on whether big meatpacking companies manipulated prices. USDA documented wild beef gyrations during the first months of the pandemic and a dramatic increase in the share of the price captured by the highly concentrated meatpacking industry. But the movements “do not preclude the possibility” that beef processors broke the law, the report said. Read more from Mike Dorning.

UN General Assembly Won’t Meet in NY: World leaders won’t be gathering in New York for the United Nations General Assembly in September, the first time the event will be held virtually since its inception 75 years ago. Because of travel restrictions and the risk of spreading the coronavirus, the U.N. yesterday voted to allow world leaders to submit pre-recorded speeches to the event. Read more from David Wainer.

With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich and Andrew Kreighbaum

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com