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Senate GOP COVID-19 Relief Bill Fails; Chances Of Bipartisan Deal Before Election Dim

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks Wednesday after meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Jacquelyn Martin
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks Wednesday after meeting with Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Senate Republicans rallied around a $300 billion coronavirus aid package, but it fell short of the necessary 60-vote majority to advance, effectively killing the measure. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was the lone Republican joining Senate Democrats to oppose it — Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., missed the vote.

The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell-led proposal is the first measure to secure the support of most Senate Republicans, who have been divided for months over how much and how far to go with a new wave of pandemic relief. The bill was far short of the $3 trillion-plus aid package that House Democrats approved in May.

The Republican bill included more money for a popular small-business loan program, a scaled-back version of an expanded unemployment benefit, funding for schools and the U.S. Postal Service, and liability lawsuit protections for businesses, schools and health care providers.

Republicans knew the bill would fail, but Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told reporters that it was in part a strategic move to show the GOP had a unified position that "puts pressure on Democrats to come to the table and to make a deal."

Democratic leaders preemptively rejected the Senate GOP bill. "Don't be misled by thinking: 'Oh, well, a little bit is better than nothing.' No, it isn't," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC. "It's a missed opportunity to do what is right for the American people."

Thursday's failed vote could be the last official act of Congress on a coronavirus relief bill before Election Day. Negotiations between Congress and the White House have been deadlocked for weeks over the cost of the relief package. Democrats want at least $2 trillion, which the Trump administration rejects as unnecessary overreach.

There is only one must-pass bill on the agenda this month, a stopgap measure to keep the government running by the Sept. 30 deadline for the end of the fiscal year. However, Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the lead negotiators in COVID-19 talks, have ruled out attaching pandemic relief to the funding measure. A stopgap measure is likely to last into early December.

"COVID would not meet that definition, and those negotiations are separate from this," Pelosi told reporters Thursday.

The gridlock is in stark contrast to how previous relief bills totaling about $3 trillion sailed through Congress earlier this year with little protest or debate.

More than 190,000 deaths in the U.S. have been attributed to the virus to date.

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Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.