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McConnell Sets Stimulus Votes in Senate Beginning Tuesday

The Senate will vote on Republican proposals for a roughly $500 billion economic recovery bill and additional funding to aid small businesses starting Tuesday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

The votes, essentially one-chamber messaging, will underscore the continued deep differences after months of talks on another stimulus bill that have failed to bridge gaps between President Donald Trump’s administration, House Democrats, and Senate Republicans.

McConnell, who previously said the Senate would take action during the week of Oct. 19, spelled out schedule details on Saturday. A standalone vote on more funds for the Paycheck Protection Program will be held on Tuesday, followed by the main relief bill on Wednesday, he said in a statement.

“Republicans have tried numerous times to secure bipartisan agreement where possible and get aid out the door while these endless talks continue,” said McConnell, blaming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the aid impasse. “Next week, Senate Republicans will move to break this logjam.”

McConnell has raised his own objection to any deal — the amount. Trump said Thursday he was prepared to go above the $1.8 trillion his team had been trying to offer to Pelosi, who favors a $2.2 trillion plan.

“He’s talking about a much larger amount than I can sell to my members,” McConnell said Thursday of Trump’s latest position.

Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were expected to hold more talks on stimulus efforts on Saturday evening.

— With assistance by Billy House

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Mitch McConnell says an economic stimulus package is 'unlikely in the next 3 weeks' as the White House renews its push for aid

  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said a coronavirus aid package was "unlikely in the next three weeks" in the run-up to the election.
  • "We do need another rescue package. But the proximity to the election and the differences of opinion about what is needed at this particular juncture are pretty vast," he said at a Kentucky event.
  • Any deal between the White House and Democrats faces an uphill battle to gain Senate GOP support.
  • Many Republican senators have voiced concern over the swelling budget deficit, which stands at $3.1 trillion.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday the passage of an economic stimulus package was improbable in the next few weeks before the election.

"I think the murkiness is a result of the proximity to the election, and everybody kind of trying to elbow for political advantage" he said during a campaign event in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. "I'd like to see us rise above that … but I think that's unlikely in the next three weeks."

But McConnell said another federal aid bill was needed.

"We do need another rescue package," he said. "But the proximity to the election and the differences of opinion about what is needed at this particular juncture are pretty vast."

The remarks reflect the difficulty a stimulus deal struck between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces. President Donald Trump abruptly halted negotiations on a bill on Tuesday, and appeared to restart them only two days later. He called for another round of stimulus checks and aid to airlines and small businesses.

"We're talking about airlines and we're talking about a bigger deal than airlines," Trump told Fox Business on Thursday. "We're talking about a deal with $1,200 per person, we're talking about other things."

Read more: This Andreessen Horowitz-backed startup will allow investors to see the social impact of their investments, down to the number of trees planted

Politico reported on Friday the White House was doubling down on seeking a new coronavirus spending package.

The price tag would likely range between $1.6 trillion and $2.2 trillion, with Democrats seeking the larger figure. Still, many GOP senators are unlikely to support it given their concern of the swelling budget deficit.

"Mnuchin can negotiate a deal with Democrats. But until Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans sign off, it doesn't matter," Brian Riedl, an economist at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, recently told Business Insider.

The Congressional Budget Office reported that the gap between what the government spends and receives in taxes stood at $3.1 trillion for the 2020 fiscal year, three times larger than the year before.

But many economists are urging Congress to approve more federal spending to battle the pandemic and prop up the economy as unemployment remains high and permanent layoffs increase.

Republicans and Democrats haven't approved more federal stimulus since they injected nearly $4 trillion in aid, the largest chunk coming from the CARES Act in March. Since then, both parties have been fiercely divided on spending levels and jobless benefits, among other measures.

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Lindsey Graham's Senate seat becomes winnable for Democrats as money pours into South Carolina

  • South Carolina Democrats find themselves in an unlikely position: mounting a strong bid for GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham's Senate seat. 
  • The Democratic nominee is Jaime Harrison, a leader at the Democratic National Committee and a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party.
  • The race, which polling said is tied, has triggered an unprecedented level of fundraising in the state.

Democratic leaders in South Carolina are in a position they might not have expected coming into this election cycle: They have a chance to capture a U.S. Senate seat that has been under Republican control since the 1960s. 

Their nominee is Jaime Harrison, a leader at the Democratic National Committee and a former chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party. His battle with longtime GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham has become the most expensive Senate race in the state's history. 

The race is tied, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. On Wednesday, forecasters at the Cook Political Report changed their rating on the race from "lean Republican" to "toss-up." There are now six Republican-held Senate seats marked as toss-ups. The GOP holds a 53-47 majority in the chamber.

As of the end of the second quarter, Graham had raised $29 million. Harrison had brought in $28 million, although he has slightly less cash on hand than his GOP opponent, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. None of Graham's previous opponents has come close to raising that amount. Graham, on the other hand, has never had to raise as much as he has this cycle. Harrison outraised him in the second quarter. Third quarter numbers are expected to be released soon.

Those totals do not include the outside groups pouring millions into the race. 

With 3½ weeks before Election Day, even some of Harrison's closest allies in the Democratic leadership acknowledged they weren't originally convinced he would get as close as he is now to overtake Graham. 

"I didn't think he had a chance in hell to get to where he is at," House Majority Whip James Clyburn told CNBC in a recent interview. Harrison once worked in Clyburn's congressional office. "He surprised the hell out of me," added Clyburn, an established leader in the South Carolina Democratic party and a strong ally of Harrison. 

Harrison has keyed in on what Democrats perceive as big vulnerabilities in Graham's record, particularly in the candidates' debate Sunday. Clyburn wants Harrison to keep hammering away on them.

"He [Graham] has just played South Carolina voters as if to say, 'I do what I want to do, I say what I'm able to say and no matter what I do, or no matter what I say, I can keep getting you to vote for me'," Clyburn said.

South Carolina GOP leans on the base

Clyburn cited Graham's remarks in 2016 and 2018, when he said that he would not support filling a vacant Supreme Court seat in the last year of President Donald Trump's first term. As the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Graham plans to hold hearings and to vote in support of Trump's latest nominee to the nation's highest court, Amy Coney Barrett. During the debate, Harrison called it a "flip-flop."

But Graham and the GOP believe the issue is a strong point for them. During the debate, the senator defended the move, saying Republicans have historical precedent on their side when it comes to pushing through a nominee, as their party controls the Senate and the White House.

Graham also pointed to his track record of confirming numerous conservative Supreme Court judges and praised Trump's choice of Barrett, a clear call to arms to Republican base voters in South Carolina. Harrison tweeted a day after the debate that the campaign raised $1.5 million since he had taken the stage. 

Republicans in the state appear to believe that focusing their resources toward turning out more conservative voters will be key to Graham's success, especially during a presidential election year. 

A senior political strategist on the ground told CNBC that over at least the past month, South Carolina Republican Party leaders have been focusing much of their door knocking and voter outreach on what's known in the state as "Upcountry" or the more upstate region. This person declined to be named because they are working with an outside group not involved with the South Carolina Senate race but working on other, down-ballot races there. 

That part of the state includes Greenville, Spartanburg and Anderson counties. All of those areas voted in support of Trump over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. Trump went on to capture the key state four years ago by nearly 6 percentage points. 

Drew McKissick, GOP state party chairman since 2017, said they are not just targeting voters Upcountry but across the state, including the other side of the state known as the "Lowcountry." 

"We're focusing on every targeted voter that we need to turn out across this entire state," McKissick told CNBC on Wednesday. He did note that they've been conducting in-person door knocking since this summer, months after the first reported coronavirus case in the United States. 

McKissick said he doesn't believe Graham's relationship with the president will be a detriment to him winning the race. He also said Graham's angry, impassioned fight on Capitol Hill in favor of Brett Kavanaugh during his contentious Supreme Court hearing is something that conservatives hold in high regard. It may end up helping Graham's reelection chances as he tries to usher in another nominee into the Supreme Court. 

Democrats blast Graham's loyalty to Trump

Democrats see the race very differently, and their tactics reflect this. 

With a strong digital infrastructure, South Carolina Democrats have been campaigning through online and phone outreach since the start of the pandemic, said state party Chairman Trav Robertson. 

"We've got a 150 staff who have been feeding like locusts on virtual organizing and the telephones to the point we are making hundreds of thousands of voter contacts in the span of two or three days," Robertson said Tuesday. Harrison has also been connecting with voters through Facebook. 

Robertson believes Harrison and Democrats are going to have an advantage when it comes to voters thinking about the Kavanaugh hearings because it could help them white suburban women. Kavanaugh was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women, something he has vehemently denied. 

Robertson also said the story of Harrison's rise would be a key factor to his success. 

Beyond that though, Robertson said he senses voters are tired of Graham's link to the president, including what the party leader sees as the lack of defense for the late Sen. John McCain, a Vietnam war veteran, when he was being attacked by Trump. 

"People were really pissed that he didn't defend John McCain. He's boxed himself in with his positions defending Donald Trump and the Kavanaugh hearings," Robertson said. Graham was friends with McCain. 

"Which Lindsey are they voting for? The sidekick to John McCain or the bootlicker to Trump. Which one?" Clyburn said. 

Tense race leads to record fundraising 

Even before the coronavirus, Harrison's team was already building a strong digital team, including its own in-house production unit to create ads that would help them connect with voters and raise campaign cash, according to Zack Carroll, Harrison's campaign manager.

Prior to the pandemic, they hired someone to use a camera to capture what Carroll called Harrison's genuineness and strong character in talking to voters. 

Fast forward to just under a month before the November election, and Harrison has, at times, surpassed Graham's fundraising operation. 

The latest data from ActBlue, the online fundraising tool for Democrats running for office, shows that Harrison raised just over $9 million in August through the platform alone. It was the most raised by any of the Democrats running for the Senate that month. 

Since the start of the election cycle, Harrison has raised $16 million, or 58%, of his funds through small dollar donors giving $200 or less, CRP data says. Meanwhile, Graham, has raised over $14 million from larger contributors. Out of state contributions have also been key for both candidates. CRP data shows that each contender has seen over 80% of their funds come from outside South Carolina.

With Harrison's fundraising success, the Democrat has been able to spend on massive TV ad buys. Ad tracking firm Advertising Analytics said last week Harrison was spending $7.5 million on ads.  Last month, Harrison spent at least $12 million on broadcast ads running until Election Day. 

Both Democratic and Republican outside groups are involved with the race.

The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is dropping $10 million into the race. 

The Senate Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, launched its own campaign into the state, taking aim at Graham. 

Harrison also has a super PAC constantly attacking him on air and online known as Lindsey Must Go. It launched its first TV ad last month. 

 

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Republicans seek to call off Senate work, but not hearings for Amy Coney Barrett

  • A number of Republican lawmakers have now tested positive for the coronavirus, prompting the GOP to call off lawmaking.
  • But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the party would still proceed with hearings for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Amy Coney Barrett.
  • McConnell called off floor proceedings but not Barrett's hearings, which are slated to begin October 12.
  • Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took aim at McConnell's plan, saying that if the COVID threat is too great for Senate sessions, it makes Barrett's confirmation perilous, too.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The coronavirus reached further into Republican ranks on Saturday, forcing the Senate to call off lawmaking as a third GOP senator tested positive for COVID-19. Even so, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared he would push President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee toward confirmation in the shadow of the November election.

Trump and Senate Republicans had hoped the confirmation hearings of Judge Amy Coney Barrett's would make the final case to voters of the party's commitment to remake the court with a muscular conservative majority. But the hospitalization of Trump, and the infection of a trio of GOP senators, shattered any notion of changing the subject entirely from the virus that's killed more than 205,000 Americans.

So great was the threat posed by COVID-19 that McConnell called off floor proceedings but not Barrett's hearings, slated to begin Oct. 12. The Kentucky Republican, who is battling to save the GOP majority and running for reelection himself, was not about to give them up.

"The Senate's floor schedule will not interrupt the thorough, fair and historically supported confirmation process," McConnell wrote Saturday. Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who like McConnell is running for reelection, added that senators can attend the hearings remotely.

"Certainly," McConnell said, "all Republican members of the committee will participate in these important hearings."

But by weeks' end, the relentless virus made clear it wouldn't cede the national stage to anyone.

It had sidelined the president of the United States after a busy week of ceremonies and other events where few attendees wore masks, including on Air Force One. In the wee hours of Friday, Trump announced that he and first lady Melania Trump had been infected. Hours later, Trump was given supplemental oxygen and flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Republicans in the Senate who had attended GOP events began announcing that they too had tested positive. First was Utah Sen. Mike Lee, then North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis. On Saturday, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin announced he too had been infected. Several other Republicans announced they were awaiting test results or quarantining at home just to be safe.

Members of the House and Senate, meanwhile, increasingly demanded that Congress adopt uniform testing and tracing plans for anyone in the warren of the Capitol.

McConnell, who advocates often for mask-wearing, bowed to the concerns by pushing Senate business to Oct. 19. But he made clear that the Barrett nomination would open Oct. 12 as planned.

"Just had another great call with @POTUS," McConnell tweeted Saturday afternoon. "He sounds well and says he's feeling good. We talked about the people's business — fighting the pandemic, confirming Judge Barrett, and strengthening the economy for American families."

Schumer blasted McConnell's plan, but also didn't say Democrats would block it

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer took aim at McConnell's plan, saying that if the COVID threat is too great for Senate sessions, it makes Barrett's confirmation perilous, too.

The Republicans' "monomaniacal drive to confirm Judge Barrett at all costs needlessly threatens the health and safety of Senators, staff, and all those who work in the Capitol complex," Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer notably did not say Democrats would block McConnell's plan. Doing so could force the Senate back into the confines of the Capitol, where no one wants to be, without the mandatory testing of lawmakers and their aides.

McConnell had led the Senate this spring in an early return to the Capitol, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put in place a new system that allows lawmakers in the much larger chamber to vote by proxy rather than trek to Washington.

But even McConnell's efforts at creating a semblance of normalcy in the Senate splintered with the quick-moving developments following the president's hospitalization. The news about Covid's march into the White House didn't let up and wasn't flattering after months of complaints that Republicans weren't approaching the pandemic in a serious or organized way.

For example, Trump's doctors on Saturday painted a rosy picture of the president's health during a press conference. Navy Commander Dr. Sean Conley refused to say whether the president had ever needed supplemental oxygen and declined to discuss exactly when Trump fell ill. Conley also revealed that Trump began exhibiting "clinical indications" of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, earlier than previously known.

According to a person familiar with Trump's condition, Trump was administered oxygen at the White House on Friday before he was transported to the military hospital. The person was not authorized to speak publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity,

Concern began with the White House Rose Garden ceremony last Saturday where Trump introduced Barrett. In the audience, where few people wore masks, were members of the Judiciary Committee that will handle confirmation hearings. Trump also traveled to Minnesota for a rally, after which a top aide, Hope Hicks, fell ill and was diagnosed with the disease.

The Trumps were diagnosed on Thursday, the White House said. The next day, Tillis and Lee, two members of the Judiciary Committee that will handle Barrett's confirmation, announced that like Trump, they had tested positive for the virus. A cascade of others in the president's circle followed with similar news.

With three Republican senators infected and others awaiting results, McConnell is without a fully working majority of 50 senators. He would need to rely on Vice President Mike Pence to be on hand to break any tie votes.

Amid the outbreak, members of both chambers of Congress called for a comprehensive testing plan for Capitol Hill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and McConnell have resisted doing so because universal testing is not available to everyone in America.

Some senators called for a more stringent protocol and contact tracing for Congress. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., called on McConnell to require immediate tests for every senator and staff member who has visited the White House over the past two weeks.

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