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McConnell urges White House, Democrats to restart coronavirus relief negotiations

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, wears a protective mask as he arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020.

Stefani Reynolds | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed Democrats and the White House to restart coronavirus relief talks on Tuesday as an impasse over aid leaves millions scrambling to cover bills. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows last met Friday, when their negotiations stalled. The sides have not huddled since, even as the expiration of lifelines last month leaves many Americans facing the prospect of financial ruin. 

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has not joined in the talks but set down a marker last month when the Senate GOP released its pandemic aid bill. On Tuesday, he told Fox News that “the American people are sick of the stalemate” after another day passed with no formal discussions between Democrats and the Trump administration. 

“I think it’s time for everybody to get back to the table, and let’s get a deal done,” he said. 

Activity in Congress has all but stopped as the United States struggles to combat the economic and health-care crises created by the pandemic. As the country tries to curb ongoing outbreaks, it has reported more than 5.1 million Covid-19 cases and at least 164,000 deaths from the disease. 

The unemployment rate stands above 10%, even after three strong months of job growth. 

Congress failed to pass an aid package last month before the expiration of the $600 per month enhanced federal unemployment benefit and a moratorium on evictions from housing backed by the U.S. government. Democrats and Republicans stand far apart on how much they want to spend to combat the pandemic. 

They have failed to make much progress in resolving issues including jobless benefits, aid for state and local governments, money to reopen schools and funding for the U.S. Postal Service during a year when Americans will vote by mail in record numbers. 

After legislative talks fell apart, President Donald Trump took constitutionally questionable executive actions to extend certain relief provisions. His orders would extend extra unemployment payments at a level of at least $300 per week, encourage eviction protections, continue student loan assistance during the pandemic and create a payroll tax holiday. 

But the moves could face legal challenges, as Congress has to authorize federal funding. States have also questioned how realistic the unemployment policy is, as many have outdated jobless benefit systems and face budget crunches. 

Democrats have proposed a more than $3 trillion relief package, while Republicans have put forward roughly $1 trillion legislation. Pelosi and Schumer have said Mnuchin and Meadows rejected offers to meet in the middle on the price tag. 

Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Schumer criticized Trump for issuing “a bunch of weak and unworkable executive orders” rather than joining in talks himself.

He also targeted the multiple Republican senators who have opposed any additional coronavirus relief. He pointed to Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who said, “I hope the talks remain broken down.”

“They’re glad the negotiations are broken down. We are not,” Schumer said. 

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