Negotiators expect deal Tuesday on massive coronavirus emergency package


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Congressional negotiators signaled Tuesday morning that they are likely hours away from clinching a bipartisan agreement on a nearly $2 trillion emergency stimulus package to confront the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic — capping five days of frenetic talks that have consumed a mostly empty Capitol.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to announce an agreement later Tuesday, while President Donald Trump pushes for an immediate vote.

The sudden shift on Capitol Hill — with both sides declaring they have moved beyond partisan politics — comes after a breakdown in talks in Monday that led to raucous exchanges and bitter sniping on the Senate floor.

“Today we can make all of the Washington drama fade away,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday morning, declaring that negotiators were “on the 5-yard line.”

Trump was sending mixed signals over whether he would ultimately support the imminent deal, but on Tuesday morning he pushed for an immediate vote. Mnuchin, who has been running point on the negotiations with Schumer, said he was keeping the president in the loop and that negotiators made significant progress on Monday, even as partisan squabbling broke out on the Senate floor.

“We're still working and were working when they were on the floor yesterday, beating the living crap out of everybody,” Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) said. “Now we've got a piece of legislation that really protects health care workers."

Schumer and Mnuchin met in person six times on Monday, and their final meeting wrapped up around midnight. The Senate could hold an initial procedural vote as early as Tuesday afternoon if McConnell and Schumer can reach a time agreement.

Both sides were huddling with their legislative staff to review final details, and said they expect to unveil a broad deal within several hours with a vote taking place later Tuesday.

On his way into McConnell's office for a meeting, Mnuchin said he had spoken with Trump twice so far Tuesday morning, and had been on a conference call to update congressional Republicans.

“We're looking forward to closing a bipartisan deal today,” Mnuchin said, flanked by incoming White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. “The president wants us to get this done today.”

Asked if they had reached a deal in principle, Mnuchin declined to comment but said: “We’ve met with Mitch McConnell, we’ve met with Chuck Schumer, again we’re working through the smallest of issues and everybody’s turning around language.”

Eric Ueland, the White House’s legislative affairs liaison, reiterated Tuesday morning that they do not have a final agreement but are drafting legislative text to present to committee leaders.

“I’m hopeful we can get this right in the next several hours, so that Congress can be in a position to be able to act today," Ueland said, though he noted: "Everybody seemed to expect a vote in the past few days up here on the Hill."

Stocks soared as trading opened Tuesday morning, with the Dow Jones Industrial average spiking more than 1,000 points, as investors eye an imminent deal.

On the other side of the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also projecting confidence that a deal could be clinched on Tuesday.

“I think there is real optimism that we could get something done in the next few hours,” she said during an interview on CNBC, saying Senate Democrats did a “great job” in the negotiations.

Still, Trump took to Twitter late Monday night to harangue Democrats over their demands.

“Republicans had a deal until Nancy Pelosi rode into town from her extended vacation. The Democrats want the Virus to win? They are asking for things that have nothing to do with our great workers or companies,” Trump tweeted. “They want Open Borders & Green New Deal. Republicans shouldn’t agree!”

And early Tuesday morning, the president again chastised Democrats — but later appeared supportive of the deal, urging the Senate to act immediately.

“Congress must approve the deal, without all of the nonsense, today. The longer it takes, the harder it will be to start up our economy. Our workers will be hurt!” Trump wrote.

Mnuchin insisted that Trump was looped into the discussions, and said Trump’s initial tweets slamming Democrats were only related to House Democrats’ separate bill, which includes several provisions that Republicans were objecting to.

Schumer was seeking added protections for workers in the final version of the bill, in addition to a so-called “Marshall Plan” for U.S. hospitals, which could soon be overrun with coronavirus patients.

The New York Democrat also extracted a key concession from Mnuchin: strict oversight over a $500 billion fund designed to lend money to corporations that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, according to three sources. Democrats had criticized the initial proposal as a “slush fund” that provided no mechanisms for accountability and allowed the Trump administration to withhold details about which companies received such loans.

During her CNBC interview, Pelosi said the fund would be overseen by an inspector general and a congressional panel.

Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Rules Committee, is recommending that the House pass the Senate’s emergency package by unanimous consent or a voice vote, which would allow lawmakers to remain in their home districts. Notably, Pelosi said Tuesday that she is aiming to pass the Senate bill by unanimous consent. House Democrats will convene on a conference call on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the path forward.

McConnell had been pushing hard for a vote by Monday, but Senate Democrats over a two-day period defeated two procedural motions on the bill, citing ongoing negotiations between Schumer and Mnuchin. Republicans bitterly attacked their Democratic counterparts on the Senate floor Monday, accusing them of playing political games while the economy and global financial markets remain in a free-fall.

The coronavirus has already hit the Senate, with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) announcing on Sunday that he tested positive for the virus. Meanwhile, several other senators decided to self-quarantine due to their close interactions with Paul and other individuals who tested positive.

Paul’s diagnosis — in addition to Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s (D-Minn.) announcement Monday that her husband contracted the virus — underscored the urgency for Congress to approve a rescue package, with several senators expressing wariness over the fact that the chamber was still convening daily despite federal recommendations against large gatherings.

Heather Caygle and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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