Senate GOP leader sticking with partisan COVID relief plan

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FILE - In this Feb. 5, 2020, file photo, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Manchin, is putting pressure on congressional leaders to accept a split-the-difference solution to the months-long impasse on COVID-19 relief in a last-gasp effort to ship overdue help to a hurting nation before Congress adjourns for the holidays. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

WASHINGTON – Top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell said Tuesday he's largely sticking with a partisan, scaled-back COVID-19 relief bill that has already failed twice this fall, even as Democratic leaders and a bipartisan group of moderates offered concessions in hopes of passing pandemic aid before Congress adjourns for the year.

The Kentucky Republican made the announcement after President-elect Joe Biden called upon lawmakers to pass a downpayment relief bill now with more to come next year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi resumed talks with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin about a year-end spending package that could include COVID relief provisions. Key Senate moderates rallied behind a scaled-back framework.

It’s not clear whether the flurry of activity will lead to actual progress. Time is running out on Congress' lame-duck session and Donald Trump’s presidency, many Republicans won’t even acknowledge that Trump has lost the election and good faith between the two parties remains in short supply.

McConnell said his bill, which only modestly tweaks an earlier plan blocked by Democrats, would be signed by Trump and that additional legislation could pass next year. But his initiative fell flat with Democrats and a key GOP moderate.

“If it's identical to what (McConnell) brought forth this summer then it's going to be a partisan bill that is not going to become law," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who joined moderates in unveiling a $908 billion bipartisan package only hours earlier. “And I want a bill that will become law."

Democrats declined to release details of their concessions to McConnell.

“Speaker Pelosi and I sent him the proposal in a good faith effort to start, to get him to negotiate in a bipartisan way," Schumer said.

McConnell's response was to convene conversations with the Trump team and House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. During the campaign, Trump appeared eager to sign a relief bill and urged lawmakers to “go big” but McConnell said Tuesday's modest measure is all he'll go for now.