Can Chuck Schumer be the majority leader progressives seek?

After almost four decades in Congress, Chuck Schumer’s political evolution may be nearly complete.

With Senate Democrats favored to win control of the chamber on Nov. 3, the 69-year-old Schumer is poised to make history. He'd be the first Jewish Senate majority leader and the first New Yorker to hold the post. And no one would have served in Congress for longer until reaching the top; the man Schumer is trying to replace, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), did it in a brisk 30 years by comparison.

Yet the Schumer of today is a far cry from the Reagan-era liberal who won election to the House in 1980 and then embraced the mantle of a "law-and-order Democrat" when he ran for the Senate in 1998. The self-described "angry centrist" is no more. Once derided for being too close to Wall Street, Schumer aides now boast that he has stood up to the financial services industry. Schumer is still distrusted by some on the left, but the New York Democrat insists his views have shifted to reflect a different constituency, as well as the more progressive Democratic Party of the Donald Trump era.

“A good elected official looks at the needs of the people he or she represents and does everything he or she can to help solve those needs, and the world changes,” Schumer said in an interview when asked about his evolution since coming to the Senate. “And the problems that existed, say in the '90s, are different than the problems that exist today.”

Schumer said his priorities for the next Congress include many of the top issues favored by progressives: “income and wealth inequality, climate [change], racial justice, health care, and improving our democracy,” along with the ongoing response to the economic and health-related fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But even if the election goes as Democrats hope, Schumer will have only a small — and ideologically diverse — majority to push that agenda through the Senate. Whether he succeeds will not only shape a Joe Biden presidency but his own future in a party moving quickly to the left.

If Schumer ultimately wants to enact the type of change he’s calling for, he’ll likely need to eliminate the legislative filibuster, a legacy defining move that would fundamentally alter the nature of what was once known as the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.” That would further polarize an already bitterly divided Senate, with Republicans sure to vow retaliation when they next have the majority.

Schumer says he hasn’t made up his mind on what to do about the filibuster, although he will come under heavy pressure from the left — and possibly Biden, Schumer’s old Senate colleague — to scrap the hallowed tradition if Democrats control the White House and Congress in January.

When asked about getting rid of the filibuster, Schumer has repeatedly said, “Nothing is off the table.”

Since becoming minority leader in 2016, Schumer has kept Senate Democrats united to a striking degree: through the Obamacare repeal battle of 2017, repeated government shutdowns, Trump's impeachment trial earlier this year, and the fight over the $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March, where Schumer and Democrats won major concessions from Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the GOP majority.

Trump’s incendiary behavior and rhetoric makes it much easier to rally Senate Democrats in opposition — as does the sense that victory may be only months away. But Schumer has also made outreach to all corners of his caucus a priority, including by expanding his leadership team far beyond what he inherited from his predecessor, Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). That group now spans a wide ideological range, from Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Schumer also frantically dials his colleagues’ phones each day, speaking to as many as 15 to 20 Democrats in any 24-hour period. He even finds time to speak to Reid once a week; the former senator is “Number 23” on Schumer's speed dial.

“Chuck Schumer has an impossibly difficult job, and he does it extremely well,” Sanders said in a statement. “In a caucus with a very wide range of political views, Chuck has maintained strong party unity and has brought the caucus together in a progressive way to take on Trump and the right-wing extremism of the Republican Party.”

Schumer, though, has a long history of embracing policies that have infuriated the left, and some progressives lamented his ascension to Democratic leader following Reid’s retirement.

Schumer voted for the Iraq War in 2003 and opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. He voted against gay marriage as a House member in 1996, only to reverse his position 13 years later as New York Democrats shifted on the issue. Schumer closely aligned with the financial services industry in his home state by backing repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999, and he raised tens of millions of dollars from Wall Street as the Senate Democrats’ campaign chair during the 2006 and 2008 election cycles. In 2006, Schumer supported a border fence between the United States and Mexico, and on other occasions, he’s called for a national ID card to reduce illegal immigration. Two years ago, Schumer offered Trump $25 billion in border wall funding in exchange for providing young undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship, a move criticized by some pro-immigration groups.

“He doesn’t have any core beliefs or core policy views,” Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, said of Schumer. “Progressives are definitely wary of him and no one considers him a progressive. But that said, he has been making concessions and moving because he knows that’s where the party is going, especially in a state as blue as New York.”

When asked about a potential primary challenge from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) or another progressive in 2022, Schumer, though, didn't express any concerns.

“Look, throughout my career, I do the job for my constituents and for my country and it always works out,” Schumer said.

Schumer is known for crisscrossing New York state obsessively in small chartered planes to make sure voters never forget who their senior senator is. He is famous for his Sunday press conferences focusing on hyperlocal New York issues. Schumer’s elderly parents still live in Queens, and he visited them every weekend up until the pandemic made such contacts risky.

“In almost all of my career, even when I started in the New York State Assembly, I haven’t had a grand plan like, ‘I’m going to be here 10 years from now, here in 20 years.’ I do my job well and then the next thing sort of falls into place,” Schumer added.

When he was elected to Congress in 1980 — and even more during his 1998 Senate race against Republican incumbent Al D’Amato — Schumer positioned himself as a “tough-on-crime" Democrat. With New York City and the nation suffering from historically high levels of crime during that period, Schumer took a hard line on criminal justice issues, as did an overwhelming majority of lawmakers in both parties.

Schumer was one of the architects of the 1994 crime bill that Biden has lately been criticized over, using a subcommittee on the House Judiciary panel to help draft the legislation. Schumer pushed for longer prison sentences for criminals and sought to expand the use of the death penalty.

The New York Democrat has also supported increased government surveillance, both before and after the 9/11 attacks. For instance, Schumer backed "roving multipoint wiretaps" without warrants when proposed by the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s. Schumer voted for the Patriot Act in 2001, along with nearly every senator. In 2004, Schumer suggested the threat of a terrorist nuclear attack could warrant the use of harsh interrogation techniques.

"Take the hypothetical: If we knew that there was a nuclear bomb hidden in an American city and we believed that some kind of torture, fairly severe maybe, would give us a chance of finding that bomb before it went off, my guess is most Americans and most senators, maybe all, would say, 'Do what you have to do,'" Schumer asserted. Schumer, however, has also voted in support of multiple anti-torture measures.

Yet the great dichotomy of Schumer, the enigma the New York Democrat presents progressives, is that he balances these positions with dramatically liberal views that were often far ahead of their time. Schumer came of age during the Vietnam War, a defining moment for the American liberal movement and for him personally. Schumer sees himself at heart as a liberal reformer, just not with the purity that the younger generation of progressives demands. Schumer's own official biography say his goal is "finding common sense solutions to national issues."

One of the first bills Schumer co-sponsored as a House member in 1981 called for a federal criminal investigation into the murder of Black children in Atlanta. Schumer has long fought for public housing, going back to battles with the Reagan administration over funding cuts. Another early Schumer proposal called for a tax cut for renters, a major issue in New York and other big cities. The New York Democrat pushed through a tax credit for middle-class families in 2009 to help pay for college. Schumer and future-Speaker Nancy Pelosi introduced legislation in 1989 to provide housing for AIDS victims. The 1994 crime bill included an assault weapons ban, something gun control groups can only dream of implementing today, and the New Yorker remains a staunch supporter of new legislation to curb gun violence.

Schumer has also been a strong advocate for abortion rights throughout his career, and he was a key player in passage of the Violence Against Women Act. The New York Democrat voted against both NAFTA in 1993 and the revised United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement this year. Schumer's first big legislative victories focused on consumer rights. And Schumer has been a hawk on Chinese trade and currency manipulation for decades to the delight of organized labor.

“Chuck stands up for our caucus every day,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), another member of his leadership team, said in a statement. “I've seen up close and personal how hard he fights so that we can make real progressive change for working families.”

In an interview, Reid — who came to the Senate as a pro-gun, anti-abortion Democrat only to end up voting the other way after he became party leader years later — said he understands the difficulties Schumer faces, particularly as the party shifts.

“I think that people who are locked into legislative positions or political positions make a mistake, they don’t get anything accomplished,” said Reid, who gave Schumer his first big step into Democratic leadership ranks.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 09:  U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) (L) speaks to members of the media as Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) listens after the weekly Democratic Policy Luncheon at the Capitol September 9, 2015 in Washington, DC. Senate Democrats held the weekly luncheon to discuss Democratic agenda.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Schumer has won loyalty among his members not just through his constant communication with them. In interviews with a series of Democratic senators, several recalled the lengths Schumer went to fundraise for them and help them get elected.

"When I first ran [for the House] in 2006, he campaigned for me, he went to my red, red district for me, he did events for me, he went to fundraisers for me," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). "He was extremely generous back then, and I didn’t know him at all."

Schumer has even dialed down his well-earned reputation as a media hog, often stepping back to push other colleagues in front of the TV cameras.

“People would say ‘Watch out, if there’s a microphone Sen. Schumer is going to be there,’” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), a member of leadership, “That’s what used to be said, and I think he understands that [in] his role as leader, it’s his job to make sure that others can get to the microphone.”

Schumer has been able to work closely with his one-time rival Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a former roommate on Capitol Hill. Durbin, the Senate Democratic whip since 2005, was once seen as Reid’s successor. But Schumer leaped over Durbin with Reid’s support. Both men say there’s no animosity between them now.

“There were differences, I’m not going to gloss over them, along the way,” Durbin acknowledged. “I look at him and what he’s doing and think there are many parts that I could do, but there are parts of it that he does so well that I really can’t do as well. He is a much better political analyst. He's a substantially better fundraiser than I am. I told him from the start, ‘I’m part of your team, I’m going to be working with you,’ and that’s exactly the way it’s done.”

Schumer and Biden had a good relationship when both were in the Senate. The New York Democrat says the former vice president once predicted that Schumer could become majority leader. Schumer added that the two speak frequently amid the campaign and that they’d be strong partners if given the chance to govern.

Schumer’s work with Republicans is typically more pointed. He’s routinely attacked by Trump, who refers to him as “Cryin’ Chuck” or “Fake Tears,” and Schumer fires back just as aggressively. For Senate Republicans, especially McConnell, Schumer is better to deal with than Reid, although he’s also seen as a serious threat and not to be underestimated.

“He’s a tough guy and he’s pretty ruthless, but if you kind of understand what you’re dealing with, you can find some areas to work with,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who has collaborated with Schumer on several pieces of legislation, including patent litigation reform.

But McConnell remembers as well that Schumer dumped millions into the 2008 Kentucky Senate race in a bid to knock off the Republican leader, a payback of sorts for the GOP’s successful effort to defeat Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) in 2004. And Schumer voted against McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, to be confirmed as Transportation secretary in early 2017, a shocking breach of senatorial etiquette between party leaders that took McConnell a long while to get over.

That relationship, of course, will be altered dramatically if Schumer is in charge of the Senate and McConnell is forced back into minority leader, a role he had for eight years before the GOP took over the Senate in 2014 and where he frequently thwarted the Obama administration.

“I think Schumer's gonna sit down with McConnell, or whoever is the [Republican] leader and say, ‘OK, here's the things we have to make progress on, are you willing to work with me?’” said Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), who is also a close Biden ally.

“I think at that point the ball is in the Republicans’ court. If McConnell says, or whoever their leader [is] says, ‘You know what, no, I have no interest in working with you, go to hell,’ then Schumer will ask a group of us to go work with our friends and colleagues in the Republican caucus and see if we can find a group that is willing to buck their caucus leadership.”

And if no such group exists, even in a post-Trump GOP, Schumer will have to decide whether to blow up the filibuster once and for all, or watch his ambitious agenda stagnate.

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Senate Republicans can’t catch a break

The high point of 2020 for Senate Republicans — if there is one — may have been Feb. 6.

The Senate had acquitted President Donald Trump in his impeachment trial the day before, and he held an hour-long “victory celebration” in the East Room of the White House.

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) among the dozens of GOP lawmakers in attendance, Trump made sure everyone knew how he felt about the Russia investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his impeachment, and all the accusations against him. “It was all bullshit,” Trump said. “It was hell.”

Senate Republicans now know what he’s talking about.

In the almost five months since that day, the coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 130,000 Americans and decimated the U.S. economy. Despite Congress’ approval of trillions of dollars in spending to combat the downturn, unemployment levels have soared to their highest levels since the Great Depression. Trump has slumped badly in the polls due in no small part to his erratic response to the crisis, which now seems to be getting worse after looking like it was improving.

The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers sparked a national outpouring of anger over racism and police brutality, with protestors taking to the streets in numbers not seen since the Vietnam War. Trump has responded to these events with an harsh reaction that many Republicans disavowed, ordering the violent clearing of Lafayette Park of peaceful demonstrators so he could take a photo op with a Bible. Trump has also tweeted and later deleted a video with a supporter cheering “White power!” and repeatedly used a racist term to describe Covid-19, more troubling behavior that left Republicans scrambling for cover.

On top of that, a new scandal has emerged over alleged Russian bounties paid to the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers. The New York Times and Associated Press reported that Trump was aware of the allegations for months but took no action, forcing Republicans to respond to yet another Trump-related uproar.

“The optimist in me would say the odds of us getting a break in the future are greater because we’ve had such a run of bad luck,” joked Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who served in the House GOP leadership when Republicans there lost the majority in 2006. “I think it may very well work out that way.”

This seemingly unending barrage of bad news has made what was already going to be a tough cycle for Senate Republicans even more difficult. They’re in real danger of losing their six-year-old majority to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the Democrats, who have gotten their favored candidates lined up in key races, including Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Iowa, Maine and Kentucky. If something doesn’t change for Senate Republicans soon, they could be facing real problems in November, according to political handicappers.

Even when Senate Republicans finally get some good news, such as preparing to pass the annual defense authorization bill as they prepare to leave town for the July 4 holiday, Trump threatened to veto the legislation because he’s upset it would allow the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate generals. McConnell and GOP leaders had already backed the proposal, but Trump — focusing on his own reelection strategy first­— wants nothing to do with it.

“You gotta play the hand you’re dealt. But yeah, we’ve been getting some bad cards lately,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) “You’ve gotta keep playing and hopefully your luck changes at some point.”

“I’m still very confident we can win a lot of these races this fall,” Thune added. “But timing and circumstances and the political environment have a lot to do with that. We’ll see what it looks like then.”

“With all due respect, it seems like the Democrats and the mainstream media are determined to do everything they can to defeat the president, and occasionally he undermines himself by some of the things he does and says,” said GOP Sen. John Cornyn, who is up for reelection in a suddenly competitive Texas.

“So it’s been a rocky couple of weeks, but that means we got nowhere to go but up.”

To be fair, Trump isn’t the cause of all Senate Republicans’ problems, although the president — as is his desire — is always the center of attention. All roads lead to Trump, and he hovers over every Senate race.

Sen. Susan Collins’ (R-Maine) vote for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination in Oct. 2018 was a hugely controversial action, as Collins, one of the most vulnerable Republicans facing reelection, was well aware at the time. She also voted to acquit Trump during his impeachment trial earlier this year, another move that infuriated Democrats. Her reelection was always going to be tough, and Sara Gideon — speaker of the Maine House of Representatives — is a formidable opponent.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has been a loyal vote for Trump and Senate GOP leadership throughout his term, ensuring that he will face one of the toughest races this election cycle. Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), after initially saying he "wasn't cut out to be a senator” and briefly ran for president, decided to jump into the Senate race after all. Hickenlooper handily won his primary on Tuesday night, setting up a high-profile contest this fall in a key race.

And Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) has aligned herself closely with Trump in her race against Democrat Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords. As Trump has slid in Arizona, so has McSally, who also lost a Senate race in 2018. In recent weeks, McSally has been trying to argue that her vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act doesn’t mean that she would allow health insurers to reject coverage for patients with pre-existing conditions, despite the fact that a GOP lawsuit to overturn Obamacare would do just that. McSally is trailing Kelly badly in all the recent polls.

"I feel good in the sense that we are on the offense, we've got a strong map," said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "But it really starts with our candidates and our incumbents. They're strong ... they're outraising their Senate Republican opponent. That tells you a lot. That tells you that they're working hard in their states."

Other GOP wounds have been self-inflicted. Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) got caught up in — and was later cleared — over allegations of insider trading relating to stock transactions she and her husband made as the Covid-19 disaster got worse. Loeffler faces a challenge from GOP Rep. Doug Collins and other candidates on Election Day. If no one wins a majority at that time — which seems likely — there will be a runoff between the top two candidates in January. This seat is likely to stay in GOP hands.

McConnell, who is facing Democrat Amy McGrath in what will be a very expensive race, downplayed the spate of negative news for Republicans.

“My view is that it’s pretty much the way it’s been all along,” McConnell said on Wednesday. “We had a lot of exposure this cycle. We knew that from the beginning. We knew we were gonna have a lot of hard races, and we do have a lot of hard races.”

McConnell added: “I don’t think the landscape is any different from what it would’ve been a year ago.”

But when asked about Trump causing problems from Senate Republicans, McConnell didn’t answer.

As for the GOP incumbents themselves, they continue to express optimism about their own races and the overall state of the Republican majority.

"I feel good about our race,” said North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis of his own tight battle against Democrat Cal Cunningham, a former state senator who is leading slightly in the most recent polls. Cunningham ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2010. “I think we've got a good base of support in North Carolina. North Carolina is always a so-called ‘firewall state.’ Probably 88, 90 percent of the people have made up their mind, and what we got to do is just communicate the truth, we win."

As for Blunt, he waved away any comparison to the GOP wipeout in 2006, when Democrats seized majorities in the House and Senate.

“I thought one of the key problems in 2006 was there was both some denying some of the problems we had and an unwillingness to share the information behind the problem we were facing,” Blunt said. “And I don’t sense that right now.”

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Senate GOP to begin talks with Dems on trillion-dollar coronavirus package

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced the text of the Republicans’ trillion-dollar proposal for the so-called “Phase 3” coronavirus stimulus package, paving the way for negotiations with Democrats to formally begin.

The centerpiece of the Senate Republican proposal — crafted with support from the White House — is a direct payment to qualified Americans of up to $1,200. Married couples could get $2,400. Taxpayers who earn more than $75,000 annually will begin to see that payment reduced by $5 for every $100 they earn over the $75,000 threshold, with those who make more than $99,000 getting nothing. Families with children would get $500 per child.

While a Treasury Department outline circulated earlier in the week had called for two payments from the IRS — one each in April and May — the Senate GOP proposal only calls for one check at this time.

The GOP plan also outlines provisions to give small businesses $300 billion in federally guaranteed loans, moves back the income tax-filing deadline from April 15 to July 15, provides numerous tax cuts for corporations, and authorizes more than $200 billion in financial support for hard-hit industries such as airlines.

McConnell said he would direct a number of Senate GOP chairmen and senior Republicans to hold talks with their Democratic counterparts, including Finance Committee Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo of Idaho, Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Small Business Committee Chairman Marco Rubio of Florida and Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow, and White House Director of Legislative Affairs Eric Ueland will also be part of the talks.

McConnell said the bipartisan discussions would begin Friday morning, and he vowed they would continue until a deal is reached.

"These are urgent discussions and they need to happen at the member level, starting now," McConnell said on the floor as he introduced the 247-page proposal. "This legislation is a significant next step. And the Senate is not going anywhere until we take action."

Senate Democrats have outlined their own $750 billion emergency plan that would expand paid family leave, pick sick leave and unemployment insurance.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) immediately complained Democrats "had virtually no impact" in drafting the proposal. Schumer further faulted Republicans for giving a "bailout for a number of industries.

"We don't want these industries to go under, but we don't want the dollars that are put there to go to corporate executives or shareholders," Schumer said. "Again, they mus go to workers first." Schumer doesn't want companies that lay off employees to receive government aid, and he wants restrictions on stock buybacks.

Schumer noted that McConnell has refused to engage Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Democrats as well, which will make it more difficult to achieve a bicameral compromise.

Schumer and Pelosi issued a statement following release of the GOP proposal: “To earn Democratic support in the Congress, any economic stimulus proposal must include new, strong and strict provisions that prioritize and protect workers, such as banning the recipient companies from buying back stock, rewarding executives and laying off workers."

McConnell has faced some opposition from Senate Republicans over the direct payments plan, although White House officials tried to dismiss those complaints as not substantial.

Yet for once, McConnell isn't controlling each aspect of crafting a major piece of legislation put together on the fly, an unusual position for him. McConnell — as good a vote counter as the Senate has ever seen — usually figures out what the goal is first, and then he steers his colleagues toward that goal. Not in this case, though.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has been the most vocal opponent, despite support for the effort - so far - from President Donald Trump, Mnuchin and other senior administration officials.

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29:  Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) speaks to the media following a break during the Senate impeachment trial at the U.S. Capitol on January 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. Wednesday begins the question-and-answer phase of the impeachment trial that will last up to 16 hours over the next two days. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Graham told Senate Republicans on Thursday that he had called Trump to lobby against the plan, adding that Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) — soon to take over as White House chief of staff — agreed with him.

"Direct payments make sense when the economy is beginning to restart. It makes no sense now cause it's just money," Graham told reporters. "What I want is income, just not one check. I want you to get a check every week, not just one week."

Graham, like some other Republicans, wants to beef up the unemployment insurance system instead, as well as boosting loans for small businesses..

"I personally think if we're going help people we ought to direct the cash payments maybe as a supplement to unemployment, not to the people that are still working everyday," said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). "Just a blanket cash check to everyone in America who is making $75,000... I don't know the logic of that. I could see tying it to unemployment, maybe boosting it for people who are going be laid off for a while."

Shelby, however, cautioned that he wasn't saying he'd vote against the proposal, just that he didn't like it.

Jim Lankford (R-Okla.) said he had a "lot of questions of how this works, who gets and who doesn't." Other Republicans raised similar concerns, although they were cautious in their opposition."

But White House officials privately believe that Senate Republicans will fall in line with Trump if he pushes the cash payments proposal. A senior administration official noted Graham has already expressed his opposition to direct payments.

"We're all going to have to vote for something that in another environment we wouldn't support," said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.).

McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor Thursday afternoon, outlined the Republican proposal to assist small businesses by providing federally guaranteed loans; direct cash payments, as well as lending to industries such as the airlines that are hit hard by the coronavirus. In addition, Republicans are looking to get more resources for the health care system, which could be overloaded as the virus continues to spread throughout the U.S.

“Our proposal will immediately help American workers, families, and businesses,” McConnell said of the plan, known as “Phase 3.” “Yes, it will help position our economy to thrive once again after this public health menace is behind us … Fundamentally, we have to beat back this virus.”

But the package will need support from at least seven Senate Democrats if all Republicans back it. Schumer emphasized Thursday that Democrats, who have outlined their own vision, will pursue a “workers first” proposal and called for a “Marshall Plan” for the health care system. He also called for a new form of unemployment insurance.

Schumer has stayed in close touch with Mnuchin, who is leading negotiations for the Trump administration, about the third stimulus package, as well as Pelosi.

The minority leader also called for “four corner” negotiations between party leaders in the Senate and the House, but McConnell has shown no interest in involving the House.

In preparing the “Phase 3” package, McConnell has directed task forces to come up with proposals. Rubio and Susan Collins (R-Maine) are suggesting giving small businesses forgivable loans, which would be administered by a bank, credit union or some other type of lender.

According to a draft discussion of the small business proposal, obtained by POLITICO, the maximum small business loan the government could back would double to $10 million from $5 million through the end of the year.

McConnell emphasized earlier Thursday that the proposals are not “bailouts.”

“From small businesses to key sectors, we are not talking about so-called ‘bailouts’ for firms that made reckless decisions,” McConnell said. “Nobody is alleging a moral hazard here. None of these firms — not corner stores, not pizza parlors, not airlines — brought this on themselves.”

The third stimulus package comes after the Senate passed Wednesday a multi-billion dollar House-passed emergency aid package. While some Republicans had expressed reservations about the package's paid sick leave provisions, the final vote tally was 90-8.

House Democrats are drafting their own stimulus package with extensive financial protections — including direct monthly payments of as much as $2,000 for adults; grants and debt relief for small businesses; and measures to halt evictions and foreclosures.

Democrats would also enforce strict rules on businesses that receive federal cash, such as maintaining payroll, upholding collective bargaining rights and no stock buybacks.

Pelosi and committee leaders laid out the details of the plan — which is still taking shape — on a more than two-hour conference call on Thursday.

Separately from the economic relief measures, House Democrats are also pushing for between $120 billion and $150 billion in cash for federal agencies. Much of that would trickle down to state and local authorities, which have been struggling to meet public health and economic demands amid the outbreak.

Democrats say Congress may have no choice but to dole out the funds on the third package, instead of waiting for a fourth, because it’s unclear how much longer both chambers will be able to meet in person.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this story.

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