What to Know in Washington: GOP Stumbles on Stimulus Talks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell waited until a key component of U.S. coronavirus aid was about to expire before drafting the Republican version of the next major relief bill, a decision that is increasingly looking like a significant miscalculation.

Soaring numbers of virus cases, rising jobless claims and President Donald Trump’s slumping poll numbers have left McConnell (R-Ky.) in the rare position of struggling to unite Republicans behind a $1 trillion plan as the $600-a-week federal boost to unemployment insurance expires.

It’s a time crunch of their own making. Republicans and Trump squabbled all week over the details of the plan, forcing McConnell to delay the release of the GOP proposal until Monday. That gives Congress little time to avoid a lapse in the unemployment aid.

The expiration is now less of an inducement to get Democrats to the negotiating table than a potential albatross they will try to drape around the necks of endangered Senate Republicans.

There were signs of frustration among some of McConnell’s colleagues.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin touted a “fundamental agreement” among Republicans on a package of spending and tax cuts, and some Republican senators said they were expecting to see bills released as soon as Thursday. When it was clear that wasn’t going to happen, they waited for details at lunch.

Instead, they got alligator sausages courtesy of Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) and little more.

“We talked about Louisiana and alligators,” Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) said. “Honestly. We say, ‘Mitch what do you got?’ And he said, ‘We’re working on it. Not much to report yet, but we’re working on it.’”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who opposes the stimulus plan, said after the lunch that “We just found out that we weren’t going to find anything out.”

Senators left Washington for the weekend with no bill text and plenty of details still to iron out. Even once that’s done, McConnell still needs agreement from Democrats, who’ve proposed spending $2.5 trillion more than the GOP on a broader swath of initiatives.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), meanwhile, were playing hardball, rejecting the idea of a stopgap unemployment bill that had been floated by some in the GOP, and blaming Republicans for waiting two months to come up with their own bill. “One of the reasons we are up against this cliff is that Republicans have dithered,” Schumer said.

It’s not clear at this point the delay will substantially shift the end product, given Republicans were going to have to negotiate with Democrats at some point anyway. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

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

Happening on the Hill

Lewis to Lie in State at U.S. Capitol Rotunda: Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Monday and Tuesday, Pelosi and McConnell announced in a joint statement, Chelsea Mes reports. An invitation-only ceremony will be held Monday at 1:30 p.m. The public can pay respects Monday and Tuesday. Due to Covid-19 precautions, “Lewis will lie in state at the top of the East Front Steps of the U.S. Capitol for the public viewing, and the public will file past on the East Plaza.”

House Hearing for Tech Chiefs Delayed: A planned House hearing with the chief executives of Amazon, Facebook, Alphabet and Apple has been postponed because of plans to honor Lewis, according to a congressional official. Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook were to testify on Monday at a virtual hearing by the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel looking into competition issues in Big Tech, Ben Brody and Billy House report.

Labor Board Nominees Headed Toward Vote: The Senate is in line to hold a confirmation vote in the coming days on the White House’s picks for two seats on the National Labor Relations Board, a move that would avoid a potential loss of a quorum at the agency, Jaclyn Diaz and Hassan A. Kanu report. McConnell filed for cloture yesterday on the nominations of former Democratic NLRB member Lauren McFerran, and current Republican member Marvin Kaplan, who was tapped for another term. The procedural action limits debate on the nominations and sets up a floor vote that could be held as soon as early next week.

Senate Passes Bill Banning Banks From Garnishing Stimulus Checks: The Senate passed legislation that would prevent banks and creditors from garnishing stimulus payments when they are directly deposited into recipients accounts, Laura Davison reports. The bill would fix a problem lawmakers identified after the CARES Act that banks could use the payments from their customers to pay past debts.

Elections & Politics

Trump Seeks to Revive Campaign by Canceling Convention: Trump sought to revive his sagging campaign by canceling the multi-day convention for his party to nominate him for a second term as Florida, the host state, posted record deaths from the coronavirus. Trump has been battered by polls showing that the public disapproves of his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic that has crashed the economy, infected 4 million Americans and killed 146,000. A Quinnipiac University survey yesterday showed Democratic nominee Joe Biden leading Trump by 13 percentage points in Florida, Trump’s adopted home state and a crucial electoral battleground. “I told my team it’s time to cancel the Jacksonville, Florida component of the GOP convention,” Trump said yesterday at the White House. “We didn’t want to take any chances.” Read more from Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou and Gregory Korte.

Cook Political Report Says Democrats Favored to Take Senate: Cook Political Report’s Jessica Taylor wrote in a note yesterday that “a net gain of five to seven seats for Democrats looks far more probable than the one to three seat gain that would leave them shy of a majority.”

Ratings on races with Iowa’s Joni Ernst (R) and Georgia’s David Perdue (R) were shifted to “toss up.” Minnesota and New Mexico were moved to “Solid D” from “Likely D.” The Arizona race featuring Martha McSally (R) was moved to “Lean D” from “toss up.”

Social Media Braces for a Deluge of Voter Misinformation: Facebook, Twitter, and Alphabet’s YouTube have been ramping up efforts to fight misinformation on where, when, and how to vote.

Twitter bars election intimidation tweets, such as attempting to scare voters into thinking the police are monitoring polling sites. On July 21, Twitter said it would take more aggressive action against accounts linked to QAnon, a far-right conspiracy group that’s tried to influence elections in the past. Facebook is building a special landing page with election information that it will attach to vote-related posts. Google has similar policies for its ads and YouTube content. But civil rights groups and election experts say tech companies aren’t keeping up with the increasingly sophisticated ways that voter suppression messages flourish. Read more from Naomi Nix and Kurt Wagner.

What Else to Know Today

Trump Poised to Lower Drug Payments: A top Trump priority, lowering prescription drug prices, could see executive action as early as today, including a policy to tie Medicare payments to foreign countries’ drug prices, according to five sources familiar with the move. The White House has also informed several lawmakers about a presidential signing event today. Read more from Shira Stein, Alex Ruoff, and Saleha Mohsin.

Trump Sued Over Excluding Undocumented Migrants From Census: Trump was sued over this week’s executive order that seeks to exclude undocumented immigrants from being included in census data used to divide up seats in Congress. Trump signed the order Tuesday that proclaimed it’s “the policy of the United States to exclude from the apportionment base aliens who are not in a lawful immigration status.” Legal scholars predicted quick legal challenges to the policy. Read more from Robert Burnson.

Agents in Portland Barred From Detaining Journalists: Federal agents deployed to Portland, Ore., by the Trump administration were barred by a judge from arresting, threatening or using physical force against journalists and legal observers at Black Lives Matter protests without a reason for the next two weeks. Read more from Clare Roth.

China Orders U.S. to Close Chengdu Consulate: China ordered the U.S. to close its consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, following through on retaliation threats after the Trump administration’s unprecedented decision to shut down the Chinese mission in Houston. Read more.

Trump Says China Trade Deal Means Less Now: Trump said that the trade accord with China means “much less to me” because of what he called that country’s role in the spread of the coronavirus. The president, at a White House coronavirus briefing last night, again complained that the U.S. had to shut down its economy to protect against the virus. “The trade deal means less to me now than when I made it,” Trump said. Read more from Jordan Fabian and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.

Pompeo Criticizes ‘Totalitarian’ China: Secretary of State Michael Pompeo cast China’s leaders as tyrants bent on global hegemony, painting a dark portrait of the country’s direction as tensions soar between the world’s two biggest economies. President Xi Jinping “isn’t destined to tyrannize inside and outside China forever unless we allow it,” Pompeo said yesterday at the Richard Nixon presidential library in Yorba Linda, Calif. “Securing our freedoms from the Chinese Communist Party is the mission of our time.” Read more from Nick Wadhams.

Economy’s Recovery Is Stalling: The official numbers have begun to confirm what many Americans feel in their bones: the economy is buckling once again. Despite assurances from the Trump administration that better times are at hand, the worsening pandemic is restraining or even snuffing out the economy’s nascent recovery. From restaurant dining to air travel and now to filings for unemployment benefits, a growing body of evidence indicates America’s rebound from the pandemic is stalling days before hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of federal aid is set to expire. Read more from Maeve Sheehey and Steve Matthews.

To contact the reporter on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com

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