GOP Leaders Cite Progress in Talks With Pelosi: Congress Update
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, center, listens as Senator Todd Young, a Republican from Indiana, left, speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Rod Lamkey /CNP/Bloomberg)

GOP Leaders Cite Progress in Talks With Pelosi: Congress Update

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s two rounds of meetings with bipartisan congressional leaders made progress towards a deal on Covid-19 relief and funding the government into 2021, according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

McConnell told reporters late Tuesday, “I’m optimistic that we’re gonna be able to complete an understanding sometime soon,” after a late-night negotiating session Tuesday with Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and McCarthy. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin participated in talks with the group by phone. McCarthy similarly said, “there’s a possibility of getting it done.”

The negotiators have been trying to finalize coronavirus aid to attach to a package of spending bills before funding for federal agencies runs out Friday at midnight.

Other Developments:

McCarthy, McConnell See Possible Deal as Proposals Exchanged (10:12 p.m.)

McConnell told reporters late Tuesday, “Everybody wants to finish, everybody wants to get a final agreement as soon as possible -- We all believe the country needs it, and I think we’re getting closer and closer.” He didn’t specify when the next round of talks might happen.

McCarthy said, “We’re moving in the right direction,” after two sessions of discussions with Pelosi, Schumer and McConnell. “I think there’s a possibility of getting it done,” he said, adding that progress had been made and proposals exchanged.

There’s still no word whether Pelosi and Schumer have accepted the principle of setting aside the two most contentious issues in Covid-19 relief -- aid for state and local authorities that Democrats want and a Covid-19 related liability shield that Republicans are seeking. McConnell has suggested leaving those for the next round of stimulus talks after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. -- Erik Wasson.

Pelosi, McConnell to Meet Again; Progress Cited (5:21 p.m.)

Congressional leaders were optimistic but noncommittal leaving a meeting about coronavirus aid and a government spending package on Tuesday. McConnell said Congress won’t recess for the holidays without an agreement on coronavirus aid and an omnibus package of spending bills.

The top leaders from both parties and both chambers will meet again at 7:30 p.m.

“We’re still talking to each other, and I think there’s an agreement that we’re not going to leave here without the omni and a Covid package,” McConnell told reporters at the Capitol.

Time is running out to package these measures together and get them passed through both chambers of Congress before the end of the week. -- Erik Wasson

Schumer Says State Aid Has Bipartisan Support (3 p.m.)

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that states and local aid has “broad bipartisan support” for inclusion in a Covid-19 relief package, though stopped short of declaring that to be a red line ahead of talks with Republican congressional leaders later Tuesday.

“I’m not going to get into negotiations” before a 4 p.m. meeting with McConnell, McCarthy, Pelosi and Mnuchin, he said at a press briefing Tuesday afternoon.

Schumer did underscore that states need help to ensure Americans get vaccinated, and said the $6 billion included for vaccine distribution in a bipartisan legislative proposal released Monday wasn’t enough.

The Democratic Senate chief also said that he was open to including $1,200 stimulus checks in the relief package. It’s something supported by many Democrats, “including myself,” he said. -- Laura Litvan

McConnell Says Congress Should Stay to Get Virus Aid (2:28 p.m.)

McConnell said he will keep the Senate in Washington and prevent a holiday recess until lawmakers agree to and pass coronavirus-related aid.

“No matter how long it takes, we’ll be here to get a Covid package,” McConnell told reporters before meeting with other congressional leaders.

The Republican leader said he hopes the package of spending bills that must be passed this week to avoid a government shutdown will include the coronavirus measures that congressional leaders can agree on. He said negotiators should leave aside the two most controversial items that would protect companies from virus-related lawsuits and provide aid for state and local governments.

“We ought to agree to go forward on what we can agree on,” McConnell said.

Referring to the incoming Biden administration, McConnell said: “We all know the new administration is going to be asking for yet another package. It’s not like we won’t have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and state and local government in the very near future.” -- Laura Litvan

Mnuchin Spoke With Pelosi, Will Join Leaders’ Talks (1:39 p.m.)

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin spoke with Pelosi Tuesday afternoon and will call in to her meeting with other congressional leaders, according to Pelosi’s spokesman, Drew Hammill.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany decline to say whether Trump would sign whatever agreement might be reached on a relief bill.

“I think we’ll wait to see what that deal looks like,” she said at a White House briefing.

Pelosi Asks for Top Congressional Leaders to Meet (12 p.m.)

Pelosi has invited the other top three congressional leaders -- McConnell, McCarthy and her fellow Democrat Schumer -- to a 4 p.m. meeting to discuss the Covid-19 relief package and an omnibus spending bill to fund the government after a stopgap measure runs out on Friday, according to congressional aides.

Pelosi and Schumer haven’t said whether they will accept a bipartisan group’s proposal to proceed with a $748 billion Covid-19 assistance package and set aside $160 billion in state aid along with coronavirus liability protections for employers. McConnell had previously floated that separation.

Also outstanding is whether stimulus checks might be added to the aid package, as some lawmakers have called for. Meantime, differences still need to be addressed in the omnibus spending bill -- though negotiators removed the biggest roadblock on Monday, regarding whether $12.5 billion in spending for Veterans Affairs would be subject to a $1.4 trillion budget cap. Republicans succeeded in keeping it included in the cap, while Democrats said that the pay-fors in doing so were gimmicks and didn’t touch vital programs.

Two of the final sticking points on the spending bill involve Davis-Bacon Act requirements that wages for public works projects equal prevailing local levels and whether to include an agreement to curtail surprise medical bills. -- Billy House and Erik Wasson

Durbin Holds Out Hope for Deal on State Aid, Liability (11:15 a.m.)

Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in that chamber, said on the Senate floor Tuesday that help is needed for states. While that item and coronavirus-related liability protection was set aside by a bipartisan negotiating group -- of which Durbin is a member -- on Monday, Durbin still hoped an agreement can be reached.

“We couldn’t agree on including that in the package. I hope that changes” as early as Tuesday, Durbin said.

“Now it’s going to be in the hands of the leadership” on how to proceed with the broader Covid-19 relief initiative, after the bipartisan group released its legislative text Monday, Durbin said.

McConnell and Schumer, the minority leader, didn’t comment on the bipartisan proposal in remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday morning. -- Laura Litvan

Leadership Plans Awaited After Bipartisan Relief Pitch (2 a.m.)

Tuesday looms as a make-or-break day for virus-related economic aid to be included as part of a government spending package needed by Friday when a stopgap federal funding bill runs out.

McConnell will hold a press briefing, giving him the opportunity to again endorse stripping out the liability protection he has long sought for the next round of Covid-19 relief, along with the state aid he opposes. A $748 billion package would be larger than the bills he favored in recent months, and he has yet to indicate whether he’d back that.

Schumer will also speaks to reporters Tuesday, after his top lieutenant Durbin, a member of the bipartisan negotiating team, said a vote should be allowed on a bill that leaves out the toughest elements to get a deal on.

Congressional leaders also may need to address pressure from some quarters to add stimulus checks to a relief bill. The bipartisan $748 billion proposal doesn’t have that, though does offer $300-per-week supplementary unemployment benefit payments.

Other areas of spending have been backed by both sides, from about $300 billion for small businesses to funding for items including education, transportation and vaccine distribution.

After working through the night, lawmakers and staff are separately hoping to release the text of a $1.4 trillion omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government into 2021. That could set up votes in the House as soon as Wednesday, although that could be delayed.

Meantime, members of the Problem Solvers group of centrist House members continue to work on liability protection, in a last ditch effort to win Democratic backing.

Coming up:

McConnell and Schumer will have press conferences on Tuesday, in which they could indicate what they are willing to include in and exclude from the coronavirus relief bill. The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, while the House of Representatives won’t be in session until Wednesday.

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