Republicans acknowledged the bickering, even as they tried to downplay the episode.
“We have to resolve some of the conflicts with the administration. They moved in our direction.” said Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who faces a tough race in November. “It’s a normal part of the sausage factory.”
“Nothing surprises me in the United States Senate,” added Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).
But privately, GOP lawmakers were flabbergasted that they’ll likely have to wait until next week to unveil even an initial proposal.
“You just got to get something out there,” complained one Republican senator. “It will be insufficient to the task, but at least it starts the discussions.”
What’s worse for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows — the key players in this drama — was they were supposed to be ready for this moment.
The Senate was coming off a two-week recess, during which time GOP leaders, committee chairs and White House officials privately floated proposals to each other outlining what they wanted for certain elements of their proposal. Republicans and the White House were eager to produce a joint plan that would give them a strong negotiating position heading into a showdown with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
But the White House rejected Senate GOP demands for tens of billions of new spending to beef-up coronavirus testing at the state level, and then “zeroed out” requests for more Pentagon and global health money. The White House also pushed for pet projects including $250 million for renovating the FBI building.
President Donald Trump continued to push for a payroll tax cut, which most Republicans have long opposed, further complicating the situation. Eventually Trump gave in on that one. Again.
Then there was unemployment assistance. With $600-per-week federal payments to millions of newly unemployed Americans expiring by the end of the month, there was urgency to find a compromise.
Yet some Senate Republicans wanted no additional federal support for the out-of-work, saying business owners are complaining that they can’t hire people because the unemployed make more staying home. Other GOP senators wanted scaled-back payments. Still another group wanted to extend the current payments. Republican leaders created a plan that would let individual states tailor their payments, yet the White House rejected that as inadequate.
Despite some last-minute shuttle diplomacy by Meadows and Mnuchin this week, a potential deal fell apart. The delay in releasing the package gave Democrats an easy opportunity to slam Trump and Republican leaders for inaction, and they took it.
“Senate Republicans … have been so divided, so disorganized, so unprepared that they have struggled to even draft a partisan proposal within their own conference,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said.
Some GOP senators and aides expressed deep frustration privately — and largely blamed the White House — though their public comments were more conciliatory, saying the setback is all part of the typical legislative process.
“I’ve been doing this for a while, and this is not outside the norm. Everything always takes longer than you think it’s going to take unless it happens immediately,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). “I’m not surprised by this. I’d liked to have gotten done today or even stayed and gotten our base bill filed tomorrow, but I don’t think there’s anything extraordinary about it at all.”