McConnell seeks a Jan. 6 mop-up on his terms

Mitch McConnell opposed conviction in Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. He may yet help clean up the mess of Jan. 6.

Things are playing out differently in the Senate GOP after only nine House Republicans — all of them retiring from Congress — supported updating a 19th-century law that Trump’s allies sought to manipulate to keep him in power. Even as House GOP leaders whipped against the post-Jan. 6 legislation this week, McConnell has encouraged his members to seek a deal with Democrats and is himself leaning toward backing the effort, according to senators in both parties.

“I presume that if we get the bill that was negotiated by the bipartisan group, that he'll support it,” said Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah).

So far, the Kentucky Republican is keeping tight-lipped publicly amid the tension in his party over how to handle a bill directly aimed at Trump’s push to overturn his 2020 election loss, as well as the GOP lawmakers who objected to President Joe Biden’s Electoral College win. In a brief interview this week, McConnell said Congress does “need to fix” the 1887 law known as the Electoral Count Act. “And I’ll have more to say about my feelings about that later.”

He's likely to reveal his position Tuesday, when the Rules Committee votes on the Senate legislation. McConnell is a member of the panel, alongside Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who supports the effort.

McConnell’s potential OK for the post-Jan. 6 bill offers a window on the fraught political dynamic that informed his response to the Capitol siege and still dictates his approach to the former president. McConnell excoriated Trump for the attack, calling him “practically and morally responsible,” yet voted to acquit him in last year’s Senate impeachment trial.

McConnell also blocked a bipartisan commission to investigate the events of Jan. 6 and has largely aligned with Trump’s preferences in Senate races. But he stays away from criticizing the House’s Jan. 6 select committee, observing last year that "it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved" in the riot. He doesn’t speak to Trump and avoids talking about the former president publicly.

Senators involved in pushing changes to the electoral certification process say McConnell’s kept his distance while advocating to keep the bill as narrow as possible. But he’s also had a senior aide provide analysis to the group and connected them with at least one constitutional scholar to help them draft the bill, according to Maine Sen. Susan Collins, its lead Republican sponsor.

McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s likely divergent stances on the election law is the latest example of the chasm between the two Republican leaders and how they approach Trump. Lest his position on the Electoral Count Act modernization be forgotten, Trump said Thursday: “REPUBLICAN SENATORS SHOULD VOTE NO!”

“They’re in two different places. Mitch is, I don’t want to say he's at the end of his career, but he’s certainly on the downhill side of his career. Kevin is coming up on the summit,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). “He’s got one more step to the peak, and that’s to be speaker of the House. That’s a pretty fragile journey.”

The Senate’s bipartisan bill already has support from 11 Republicans, more than enough to break a filibuster. Those Republican backers emphasize that there are key differences between their proposal and the House bill authored by Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), both members of the Jan. 6 select panel.

Senate Democrats say they’d be surprised if McConnell opposes modest changes to the Electoral Count Act. Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said that given McConnell’s “views on the importance of a peaceful transfer of power, and on making it clear that the mistaken view of the powers of the vice president is dangerously misguided, I would think he'd support it.”

Some Democrats also argue McConnell hasn’t done enough to rid the GOP of Trump’s influence and the corrosive effect of false claims that widespread voter fraud affected the 2020 election. Critics believe he should have more forcefully opposed Trump’s baseless claims well in advance of his decision to recognize Joe Biden's victory on Dec. 14, 2020 — weeks after every state had certified their vote totals. McConnell said at the time he wanted to give Trump space to exhaust his legal challenges.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the bipartisan Electoral Count Act group, asserted that “there’s no doubt Senator McConnell could be doing a whole lot more to purge this sort of spirit of insurrection from his party.”

At the same time, the Senate proposal probably wouldn’t have as much momentum as it does if McConnell opposed the effort.

“My guess is that this group wouldn’t have been so productive if Senator McConnell wasn’t supportive of it,” Murphy said.

The Rules Committee is scheduled to mark up the bipartisan bill Tuesday and is expected to make changes after receiving feedback from election law experts in August.

Under the current version, the Senate bill would increase the threshold for challenging presidential election results to one-fifth of members in both chambers. Currently, it only takes one member of the House and one member of the Senate to challenge an election result.

In addition, it would clarify that the vice president’s role overseeing the election count is ministerial; state that only a governor can submit slates of electors to Congress; and create expedited judicial review for challenging a governor’s certification of electors. The bill also eliminates the law’s reference to a “failed” election and clarifies that ballots have to be cast by Election Day, barring a catastrophic event.

The House version includes similar provisions but notably raises the threshold for challenging election results to one-third of members in both chambers of Congress. Those challenges would also have to relate to constitutional requirements about the eligibility of electors and candidates. In addition, the House bill defines what would qualify as a “catastrophic” event allowing a state to extend its voting period.

And the messaging around the two chambers’ versions is different. Lofgren and Cheney have put Trump at the center of their push for the House bill, while Senate Republicans are not explicitly focusing on the former president.

Nevertheless, the Senate’s legislation is expected to divide the Republican conference, much like other bipartisan bills this Congress on infrastructure, gun safety and the manufacturing of semiconductors. After all, eight sitting GOP senators supported objections to vote counts from at least one state.

The Senate GOP conference has yet to discuss the legislation in detail, but some Republicans made clear that it doesn’t matter what McConnell decides.

“It won’t make any difference to me, Mitch has one vote, I’ve got one vote. I want to see what the House has passed and hear a robust discussion of it,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who objected to Arizona’s election result on Jan. 6, 2021.

In interviews this week, some Republicans questioned the need for the legislation, noting that Congress ultimately certified the 2020 results. Others are arguing internally there are technical challenges when it comes to addressing the vice president’s role, according to a Republican senator.

“There's not gonna be unanimity,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who is generally supportive of the effort. “Everybody knows the challenges that this entails.”

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.

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Dems vow they’ll do more on gun safety — but it could take years

Democrats are calling the Senate’s bipartisan gun safety bill a first step to combat gun violence. The reality is, the second step isn't coming anytime soon.

The chamber is on the cusp of passing Congress’ most significant gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years. And even as Democrats hail that progress, they’ve described the package as a compromise that brings them closer to broader gun policy goals, such as expanding background checks and banning assault weapons.

But it took nearly a decade between the elementary school mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and Uvalde, Texas, for the Senate to produce a substantial legislative response that could clear a filibuster. Given that, senators acknowledge that additional action on guns may be years away.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said describing the gun measure as a first step “accurately reflects people’s sincere hopes, and often success builds on success.” But he cautioned that “my read of the room here is, if we do this, we’ve got a lot of other issues that are on the table right now. And it’ll probably be a while before we return to anything in the gun safety space.”

Two months ago, everyone would have scoffed at the notion that the Senate could advance a bipartisan bill on one of the most polarizing subjects in American politics. Yet the final product also highlighted the stiff headwinds hindering support for broader proposals like raising the minimum age for assault weapons buys to 21.

And it’s not going to get any easier to write gun bills in a chamber where most legislation needs some GOP votes. The House is likely to flip to Republican control this fall. Democrats don’t have the votes to weaken the filibuster. Not to mention that a guns deal viewed by many Democrats as a modest accommodation to the GOP is getting support from fewer than one-third of Senate Republicans.

Some Democrats are tired of hearing the party line that they will come back for more later.

“This almost fell apart three times over the weekend. We are barely getting this done. And so one of the things I struggle with is, this constant ‘it’s not enough!’ and ‘we'll get more later’ is just rank bullshit,” said one Democratic senator who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “For the foreseeable future, I think this will be the high-water mark.”

Republicans, meanwhile, said the forthcoming gun safety package is about as far as their party will go, especially considering that four of the 15 Republicans likely to back the bill will retire at the end of this Congress. Then there's the political consequences of bucking the hard-core conservative faction of their own party as well as gun-rights groups like the National Rifle Association.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who supports the legislation, recalled suggesting to lead negotiators that they should include raising the minimum age to purchase assault weapons in their framework. They told him it wouldn’t get 60 votes.

“I predict [Democrats] will not be able to do more because we'll barely get by with the Republicans they need to get this done,” the Utah Republican said. “So if they want to do something more than this, they’re not going to get 10” Republicans.

Members on both sides of the aisle acknowledge that the dynamics surrounding the previously elusive deal on guns changed after a gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde at the end of May. Republicans saw Democrats as more willing to meet them in the middle on certain policy areas, like background checks. Democrats, meanwhile, saw a shift in some GOP senators' openness to gun safety legislation.

For Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), the lead Democratic negotiator, the bipartisan compromise indicates that more gun safety legislation could be within reach.

“My theory has always been that once Republicans voted for gun safety measures they would find out that the sky doesn’t fall,” Murphy said. “We’ll have to see how this plays out for the Republicans. I think Republicans who vote for this will find a lot of new support back home that they didn’t previously count on, and I think they will find that the groups who were against this can’t really do much damage.”

Additionally, the effectiveness of the bipartisan gun safety package could heavily influence the likelihood of subsequent legislation. The bill provides grants for states to implement so-called red flag laws or other crisis intervention programs and closes what's known as the “boyfriend loophole” by broadening firearm restrictions for domestic abusers. In addition, the legislation provides new spending for mental health and school security.

Republicans who support the legislation dismissed Democratic suggestions that it’s a first step in a more lengthy series of gun proposals, a line that tends to exacerbate fears among GOP base voters who worry any restrictions on gun ownership will become a slippery slope.

“They shouldn’t say that,” said Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who voted to advance the package. “Because this is the effort that is going to get over the finish line. … All of these things are steps in the right direction. So let’s get it into place … and let’s see the results.”

The Senate’s expected passage of the bipartisan gun safety package comes after a series of failed attempts to curb gun violence. Most Republicans blocked a 2013 bill to expand background checks after the Sandy Hook school shooting. Negotiations in 2019 after back-to-back shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, fell apart as former President Donald Trump lost interest amid the House impeachment inquiry. The Senate did, in 2018, pass narrow legislation to improve reporting from federal agencies and states to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

That bill was written by Murphy and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the lead negotiators on this year’s gun safety package.

“We've tried to include in this everything that we could think of that might possibly have bipartisan support," Cornyn said, describing how they approached negotiations this time around.

Cornyn didn’t rule out the possibility of revisiting the issue if circumstances require it. And senators in both parties suggested that additional congressional action will likely depend on the circumstances surrounding future tragedies.

That would require defying the political odds for a second time. So when will Congress act again on guns?

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) put it this way: “After waiting 30 years, I’m not ready to say.”

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Jackson’s hearings are over. Meet the 9 potential Senate swing votes.

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is on a relatively smooth path to becoming the first Black woman on the Supreme Court after three days of Senate confirmation hearings that have run the gamut in tone, from tense to rowdy to emotionally supportive.

At the moment, Democrats expect Jackson to receive full support from their 50-member caucus — and that’s enough to get her confirmed. The biggest question, now, appears to be whether her final confirmation vote will be bipartisan.

While the White House and Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) are hoping for GOP backing, the vast majority of Senate Republicans are expected to oppose her nomination to the high court.

“I think it’s south of three” Republicans likely to support Jackson, said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). “That’s what happened in her court of appeals hearing. She seems like a very nice lady, and certainly well-accomplished, but I don’t think anybody is under any illusion about how she’s going to line up on the court."

Indeed, Jackson got three Republican votes last year when she was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. One of those Republicans is heavily hinting he will oppose Jackson’s nomination, while the other two have yet to announce a decision.

Some Republicans recently suggested that they’re torn between supporting Jackson’s historic nomination and voting no based on opposition to her judicial philosophy. A few in that group are retiring this year, freeing them from the potential political risks of backing her nomination, although a vote to confirm Jackson would roil the GOP primaries currently underway to replace them.

With only that handful of Republicans even in play and a 50-50 Senate, Democrats have little room for error as they seek to confirm Jackson by their goal of the spring recess that's set to start April 9. Here’s who to watch as she gets closer to a final vote:


Sen. Lisa Murkowski

The Alaskan is one of three GOP senators who voted to confirm Jackson to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, making her one of the closest-watched votes once the nomination gets to the floor.

In an interview on Wednesday, Murkowski said Jackson’s sentencing record on child pornography cases is “worth looking into,” but that she wants to understand whether or not it’s a pattern before she determines its effect on her vote.

“If it really is a pattern, that’s something I think we should be paying attention to. If it is an issue of … one-offs that have been hyped into more than that, I think that’s something we need to try to discern,” Murkowski said.


Sen. Susan Collins

The Mainer is widely viewed as the most likely Republican to support Jackson’s nomination to the Supreme Court, and Democrats are pushing hard for her vote. President Joe Biden has called Collins at least three times about the Supreme Court vacancy, including the day he made his selection, while Durbin reached out shortly after Justice Stephen Breyer's retirement announcement.

Collins met with Jackson earlier this month for more than 90 minutes and described their conversation as “lengthy and very productive.” While she's supported the vast majority of Biden’s judicial nominees, including Jackson's nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, she has indicated she would wait until after the confirmation hearings ended to make a decision.

Collins voted for six of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices. She opposed Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the high court, citing the proximity to the 2020 election.


Sen. Mitt Romney

The Utahn has criticized the idea that Jackson’s sentencing record is disqualifying and said “my heart would like to be able to vote for her confirmation.” He still may be a tough sell.

Romney said on Wednesday that he doesn’t want to comment as Jackson’s hearings are ongoing and still wants to meet with her — insisting he’s undecided even as Republicans hope he votes no. He says he’ll “be weighing the capacity and philosophy and the decisions by a judge in her prior role.”


Sen. Lindsey Graham

The South Carolinian was once viewed as among the most likely Republicans to support Biden’s Supreme Court pick. But while Graham supported Jackson’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit Court last year, he instead pushed for his home-state District Court Judge J. Michelle Childs to replace Breyer. Since Biden announced Jackson’s nomination, Graham has sent strong signals he will vote against her.

Graham was among the toughest GOP questioners in Jackson’s confirmation hearing: He engaged her in a tense exchange about her sentencing record on child pornography cases and asked about past judicial fights, including the confirmation hearings for now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Democrats’ filibuster of appellate court nominee Janice Rogers Brown, a Black woman.

While Graham has said to "stay tuned" on how he'll vote, there’s little evidence that he’ll support Jackson’s nomination.


Sen. Roy Blunt

The retiring Missouri Republican is one of those admittedly struggling with Jackson’s nomination, saying that he doesn’t want to rush his decision and thinks her sentencing record is a legitimate line of questioning.

But given her family’s history of serving in law enforcement, Blunt said he's also concluded that Jackson “doesn’t sound like a soft on crime person.”

“My early inclination was: I’d really like to vote for the first Black woman to go on the court,” Blunt said in an interview. But his ultimate view on Jackson comes down to her “view of what the court does and their view of what the law is all about."


Sen. Rob Portman

The meticulous Ohio Republican has kept a staffer in the hearing room to monitor colleagues' questions to Jackson and her answers. He agrees with some of his colleagues that Jackson’s bid to join the court is “a historic nomination.” But it’ll be tough for him to vote for her in the end.

“She doesn’t share my judicial philosophy, for the most part. I think she’s a qualified person, and when I spent time with her I liked her. But I just need to take a look at everything,” said Portman, who's retiring after this Congress. “There are differences in philosophy.”


Sen. Richard Burr

The retiring North Carolinian is not exactly a moderate swing vote in the Senate, but he’s also got plenty of surprises up his sleeve. The laid-back Burr ended up voting to convict former President Donald Trump in his 2021 impeachment trial, so it’s worth keeping an eye on him.

But Burr isn’t giving anything away about how Jackson is doing in his view: “I haven’t seen any of it. I’ve got this day job, doesn’t let me watch TV.” He’s planning to meet with Jackson next week.

“I’m going to wait and see how she answers the questions and when she comes to meet with me,” he said.


Sen. Joe Manchin

The West Virginia centrist Democrat said Friday that he would support Jackson, likely guaranteeing her ultimate confirmation. In a statement, Manchin said he is "confident Judge Jackson is supremely qualified and has the disposition necessary to serve as our nation’s next Supreme Court Justice.”

While Manchin quashed Biden's White House budget director pick and one of his Federal Reserve board nominees, Democrats had expected him to support Jackson for the high court. And it was clear earlier this week that Sen. Josh Hawley's (R-Mo.) broadside against the judge's sentencing decisions in child pornography cases had no effect on Manchin.

Manchin brushed aside the gambit: “It’s Hawley, right? Take that for what it’s worth.”


Sen. Kyrsten Sinema

The centrist Arizonan met with Jackson earlier this month for a “productive” sit-down and suggested she would not make a decision until after the hearings. But Democrats are confident Sinema will support the nomination in the end, given that she’s backed every Biden judicial nominee — including Jackson’s nomination to the D.C. Circuit.

Sinema described Jackson’s nomination as a “historic milestone” and said she would evaluate the pick on three criteria: professional qualifications, belief in the role of an independent judiciary, and trust in her ability to “faithfully interpret and uphold the rule of law.”

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Trump cancels Jan. 6 event amid GOP complaints

Senate Republicans can now breathe easier on Jan. 6.

Former President Donald Trump’s announcement Tuesday evening that he would cancel a previously planned press conference is good news for Senate Republicans, who earlier in the day openly fretted that he would pull their party back into debating his false election claims.

It also ensures that Republicans won't have to keep one eye on the TV on the anniversary of the Capitol attack, nor will they face a deluge of questions about Trump in the immediate days.

“I don't think that's a good idea,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), when asked about the press conference earlier Tuesday. “I guess it depends on what he's going to say. But early assumptions are that it's going to be an aggressive statement. I just don't think it's a good idea.”

Similarly, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said she wanted to “stay focused on congressional activities." And Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), who voted to convict Trump over his role in the Jan. 6 attack, said the event wasn’t a “terribly good idea,” but added, "What am I going to do about it?”

And those were the members who decided to even talk about it. Even as the former president continues to defend the rioters who attacked the U.S. Capitol, Senate Republicans largely prefer to ignore him, still seeing scant purpose in provoking a prickly Trump even a year after he's left office. In interviews Tuesday, several declined to comment and instead said their attention is on moving forward.

Senate Republicans' opting not to discuss Trump’s latest grievances highlights the ongoing tension within the GOP over how much attention to give to the former president, especially as he continues to falsely state that the 2020 election was stolen. While many Senate Republicans condemned Trump in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack — when pro-Trump rioters stormed the Capitol — he still holds substantial sway over the party, particularly in GOP primaries.

“It’s a free country and you’re entitled to say whatever you want to say subject to some limitations, but I think the country has moved on,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas.). “I think that’s where we ought to focus our efforts, is on getting things done for the American people and not re-litigating issues that have already been decided.”

In addition to talking about the 2020 election, Trump was also expected to decry the House select committee’s investigation into Jan. 6. In his statement announcing he was canceling the rally, Trump blamed the committee for his decision and said he would discuss “many of those important topics” at a rally in Arizona on Jan. 15.

“In light of the total bias and dishonesty of the January 6th Unselect Committee of Democrats, two failed Republicans, and the Fake News Media, I am canceling the January 6th Press Conference at Mar-a-Lago on Thursday,” Trump said, reiterating his false charges of widespread election fraud.

While Senate Republicans appeared to be dreading the press conference, House Republicans had taken a more friendly tack toward Trump. On Fox News on Monday night, Laura Ingraham asked Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.) if it was "smart" for Trump to do a speech on Jan 6.

"I welcome it. President Trump has important things to say," Banks said. "I'm looking forward to hearing what President Trump has to say."

Most Senate Republicans voted to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial centered on his role in the Capitol attack and most also voted to block a bipartisan Jan. 6 commission from being established. House Democrats instead set up a select committee to probe the circumstances around the attack.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are both scheduled to deliver remarks at the U.S. Capitol that day. Meanwhile, many Senate Republicans are expected to be out of town for GOP Sen. Johnny Isakson’s funeral.

Few Senate Republicans see an upside in talking about Trump, the 2020 election and his role in the Jan. 6 attack.

“There's no benefit on commenting,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). “So I'm not going to comment.”

For many, ignoring him is often the path of least resistance. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has repeatedly declined to engage in questions about Trump, merely saying he’s focused on the future. When asked about Trump's press conference, McConnell said Tuesday: "It'll be interesting to see what he has to say." And Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 GOP leader, said Tuesday he hadn’t given much thought to the press conference.

“He’s going to do what he’s going to do and … I think that most of us want to make sure that something like that never happens again,” said Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.).

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High-stakes infrastructure talks stall out as deadline passes

Senators capped off a day of trading blame and stalled efforts on their bipartisan infrastructure proposal with a Monday meeting that quickly broke up, signaling a tough path forward as negotiators missed yet another self-imposed deadline.

The core 10 senators huddled in the office of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), the lead Republican negotiator, hoping to get past a rough weekend of fruitless talks. Discussions are expected to resume later in the evening, though not in person, and negotiators claimed they were still making progress.

Portman said he was still optimistic about a deal despite rejected offers, finger pointing and impasses. He and White House counselor Steve Ricchetti will help finish the deal, negotiators said, with input from the rest of the group.

“Somebody be a little positive. I mean come on. Geez,” Portman told reporters who questioned the deal's chances. He said negotiations were going well: “I just spent all day talking to Democrats and Republicans, all my colleagues, and we’re making progress.”

Still, Portman said the White House has “added some new challenges to the list,” hinting at deep disagreements with Democrats over key policy areas like broadband, water funding, highways, public transit and financing the agreement. With July nearly turned to August, the number of outstanding issues prompted a fresh round of urgency among Democrats, who are worried their agenda could stall without one final push.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said he was "fully committed" to passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill this summer, and warned that more foot-dragging could require the Senate to stay in over the weekend or cuts to some of the upcoming August recess. And for a Democratic Party eager to move on to the rest of its agenda before the midterms cloud every decision in Congress, time is running short.

"The bipartisan group of senators has had nearly five weeks of negotiations since they first announced an agreement with President Biden. It's time for everyone to get to yes and produce an outcome," Schumer said on Monday afternoon.

In interviews on Monday, there were no signs among senators that anyone was willing to walk away from the table after investing so much time in the discussions to spend nearly $600 billion in new money on roads, bridges, broadband and climate infrastructure. One Senate Democrat privately assessed that the two parties had come too far to bail on the bipartisan effort.

“I anticipate doing whatever it takes to get the job done,” asserted Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

Schumer also challenged Republicans over whether they would "follow the absurd demands of a disgraced former president" and abandon the deal. He called on the GOP to "ignore former President Trump,” who asked Republicans to drop discussions with Democrats altogether.

As bipartisan negotiators aim to finalize an agreement, Trump said that Senate Republicans “are being absolutely savaged by Democrats on the so-called ‘bipartisan’ infrastructure bill” and urged them to wait until they take back the Senate in 2022 to “regain a strong negotiating stance.” Trump tried unsuccessfully to cut a deal with Democrats on infrastructure during his presidency, sidelining negotiations once his impeachment investigation began.

Schumer's urgency and Trump's taunts reflect a state of negotiations more dire than it's been in a month, so much so that the GOP sent out a list of areas where that Democratic offer broke from previous agreements among the bipartisan senators writing the bill on Monday afternoon. It is the latest in a running list of bleak signs for the talks ahead of another pivotal week of negotiations in the Senate.

“It all seems easy until you get to the final details and they’re never as easy as you think they’re going to be,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

Although the bipartisan group and the White House announced an agreement last month on a bipartisan framework, translating it into legislative text is proving difficult. Schumer wants to pass the bipartisan bill and begin the process for Democrats’ $3.5 trillion social spending package before the Senate leaves for the August recess.

Even if senators can cut a deal and get it on the floor, it still needs to go through floor consideration — which could take days if not weeks. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) warned that his party would want the option to offer as many amendments to the bill as possible, illustrating pent-up demand to try and modify a bill that Biden is certain to sign.

Democrats and the White House on Sunday night made an offer to Republicans that proposed a deal on highway and public transit funding, as well as several other unresolved areas. That offer was intended to address all outstanding disputes — and was immediately rejected by Republicans.

A GOP source familiar with the negotiations said Schumer and Biden were trying to “reopen numerous issues the bipartisan group had already agreed to” and urged both to show more flexibility. Two additional sources close to the talks, one in each party, confirmed the perilous state of negotiations on a signature priority of Biden.

Each blamed the other side for reopening debate on items once considered settled, with a Democrat familiar with the negotiations saying that “it takes a lot of chutzpah for Republicans to make accusations about keeping words” after they walked away from a key financing pillar of the agreement: increasing IRS enforcement to raise money.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said she is “confident” an agreement can be reached. But many struck a more dour tone.

“Keep in mind that the longer it goes [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell’s hand gets stronger and he’s able to figure out this part and that part in trying to peel off one of the Republican senators here and there,” warned Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Monday.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers hoped to reach a final agreement by early this week after a vote to advance undrafted legislation failed last week. But that appears unlikely, with several issues outstanding. While transit seems to be the biggest sticking point, provisions on both broadband and the bill’s finances are also not resolved.

A Democratic source familiar with the bipartisan discussions said that Democrats’ counteroffer included accepting the GOP proposal for highways in exchange for the Democratic proposal on transit. But Republicans dispute that characterization. A GOP source familiar with the negotiations said the choice isn't binary and that the GOP offer on transit "was met with silence for three days.”

Funding for water infrastructure also remains unresolved, according to a Democratic source familiar with the talks, who accused Republicans of backing away from the original agreement. That source said that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) had reneged on a deal and "proposed something completely unworkable."

A spokesperson for Romney called that "laughably false" and said Schumer is seeking $15 billion more than a previous agreement.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) both raised concerns about the funding last week. The snafu illustrates the tricky challenge the group of rank-and-file senators led by Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Portman has in navigating around committee chairs.

Eleven Senate Republicans wrote Schumer last week to tell him they’d be ready to move forward as soon as Monday, provided the bill was mostly completed and its finances were in order. Neither condition was met as senators convened on Monday afternoon.

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McConnell turns Senate Republicans against Jan. 6 commission

Mitch McConnell’s opposition to a bipartisan proposal to independently investigate the Capitol insurrection is turning GOP senators against the bill, potentially dooming its prospects in the Senate.

The Senate minority leader informed Republicans on Wednesday that he is opposed to the 9/11-style commission that would probe the deadly Jan. 6 riot, as envisioned by the House. And in the wake of McConnell’s remarks, Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) — who had expressed support on Tuesday for the idea — said he could no longer back the commission in its current form.

“We’ve had a chance to hear from House leadership about what they saw in the bill. It doesn’t appear right now that they believe that it is bipartisan in nature, which to me is extremely disappointing,” Rounds said. “The way that the bill is written right now, I would feel compelled to vote against it.”

McConnell made his remarks opposing the House's Jan. 6 commission bill, which is expected to pass that chamber later Wednesday, at a private breakfast event. A number of Republican senators attended, including Rounds, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

McConnell had signaled on Tuesday that he was undecided but came down more firmly after another day of deliberations and explained his views in a Wednesday floor speech. The Kentucky Republican called the House’s proposal “slanted and unbalanced” and said the ongoing congressional investigations are sufficient to probe the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.

“It’s not at all clear what new facts or additional investigation yet another commission could lay on top of the existing efforts by law enforcement and Congress,” McConnell said.

While as many as several dozen House Republicans appear ready to join Democrats to back the commission bill, McConnell's resistance suggests it's likely to fall to a Senate GOP filibuster if major changes aren’t made. The 50-member Republican minority has mounted zero filibusters on the Senate floor so far this year — and although McConnell no longer speaks to or talks about the former president, his conference may now obstruct its first bill while falling in line with Trump.

Even supporters of the commission concept like Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah), both of whom voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial, said they want reassurances or changes made to the House bill before they can guarantee their support.

Romney said he needed to make sure that the staff could not be selected by the Democratic majority. Collins expressed the same concern and added that she wants to ensure that the commission’s work finish up this year, and not in 2022, an election year.

“There’s plenty of time to complete the work,” she said. “If those changes are made and some others, I will support the commission. It would be valuable in terms of establishing exactly what happened.”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), another GOP member who voted to convict the former president, said that he's reserving judgment until the commission comes to the Senate. But he voiced concern about the potential politicization of the panel.

“A lot of the jabbering in the House — for and against this thing — seems like thinly-veiled midterm strategy. And, if that’s all this becomes, it’d be better for historians to take the long-view than for politicians to take the short-view," Sasse said.

The commission bill will need 10 Senate GOP votes to even start debate and allow amendments. In addition to concerns about its makeup, several Republican senators say the commission is duplicative of existing bipartisan committee investigations into the insurrection.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that regardless of McConnell’s stance, the Senate will vote on the commission bill, but didn't specify when. The measure will need the support of 10 Senate Republicans to pass.

“The American people will see for themselves whether our Republican friends stand, on the side of the truth or on the side of Donald Trump’s big lie,” Schumer said on Wednesday morning.

Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) had forged a deal with House Democrats to allow equal partisan representation on the 10-member commission and to give it subpoena power to focus on the events of Jan. 6. Opposition from McCarthy, Trump and McConnell is now tamping down potential defections among House Republicans.

But some in the Senate GOP are unmoved by their leadership. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who voted to convict Trump, said Wednesday that he is “inclined to support” the commission. When asked if he agreed with McConnell’s assessment that the commission is slanted, he responded: “At this point, I do not.”

Cassidy's position aside, Republicans are now wrestling with how much more they want to litigate Trump's presidency. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), who was bullish on the bill’s chances on Monday, said Wednesday that his party's hesitance about the commission was becoming increasingly clear.

Thune said Senate Republicans have not yet whipped the House's bipartisan legislation. But he added that many House and Senate Republicans want to move forward and are concerned the commission would be politicized next year during the midterms.

“I want our midterm message to be about the kinds of issues the American people are dealing with,” Thune said. “Anything that gets us rehashing the 2020 election is a day lost on being able to draw a contrast.”

Melanie Zanona contributed to this report.

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The 6 Republicans mulling Trump’s conviction

Two of the Senate GOP’s leading moderates. The 2012 Republican presidential nominee. A retiring old-school fiscal conservative. A Nebraska Republican facing censure by his state GOP.

And after Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) surprised everyone Tuesday, that’s about it.

Just six Republican senators appear to be even considering convicting former President Donald Trump of inciting an insurrection on Jan. 6, despite increasing noise within the party that it needs to separate itself from Trump. On Tuesday, for the second time in two weeks, the 44 other GOP senators voted that the trial that kicked off this week is unconstitutional — a vote that signals there are also 44 votes for acquittal.

“That pretty well calcifies what the feeling will be on our side,” said Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.). “I don’t think we lose any more.”

Each of the senators who seem to be keeping an open mind as the trial unfolds face diverging political futures. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Cassidy were just reelected, empowering them to make a decision free from reelection considerations; Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) has to face voters next year. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was the only GOP senator to vote to convict Trump one year ago, while Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has been more critical than ever lately about a president he never supported. And Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) is retiring next year.

That only a handful of Senate Republicans are seriously weighing whether to convict the former president demonstrates the influence Trump continues to hold on the party. While even his most ardent GOP supporters condemned his language on Jan. 6, most Senate Republicans are coalescing around the argument that convicting a former president is unconstitutional as even conservative legal scholars argue both sides of the issue.

Unlike the previous impeachment trial, Senate Republican leadership isn’t whipping the vote. The six Republicans who view the trial as constitutional are holding their cards close and saying they’ll listen to both sides before reaching a decision.

“I will be attendant to the briefs and the evidence that’s presented and will make a decision at that point,” said Romney, who added that “one of the elements that’s often overlooked is the call to the secretary of state in Georgia, which I think is particularly troubling.”

Similarly, Toomey said in an interview Tuesday that he has not made a final decision on whether he’ll ultimately vote to convict. But he said he hoped he would approach the trial the same way if he weren’t retiring.

“It’s a very serious thing,” Toomey said. “I think it is constitutionally permissible to take this up. I think we have a responsibility to do that. And therefore I’ve got a responsibility to do my job as a juror.”

With Trump out of office, the stakes for conviction are lower than during his first impeachment trial. And the situations are remarkably different, given that much of Trump’s actions in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 insurrection were public and senators themselves were in the Capitol when the attack occurred.

While most Senate Republicans are planning to vote to acquit Trump, few are defending him personally. Instead, their argument against the trial focuses entirely on the constitutionality of the process and not on the former president’s behavior.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a close adviser to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, said that “you can still be upset and feel like what happened on Jan. 6 was not right.” But he added that House managers’ process “does not look like the type of thing we should set as a precedent.”

Even though Tuesday’s vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial is the clearest indicator that House managers are likely to fall short of the 17 votes needed to convict Trump, senators warned that it’s not necessarily reflective of the final vote tally.

“I’m not sure that all [senators] that voted that there was a constitutional nexus here would necessarily vote for conviction,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the No. 4 GOP leader. “There’s a chance that a couple of people that took the same vote I did will at the end of the day decide that they might vote for conviction.”

Cassidy’s surprise vote Tuesday highlights that some Republican senators truly have not made up their mind and could be persuaded by the arguments from the House impeachment managers. The Louisiana Republican reiterated Tuesday that he is “approaching this as an impartial juror” and criticized the Trump legal team’s presentation as “terrible.”

“The issue at hand is, is it constitutional to impeach a president who has left office?” he said. “And the House managers made a compelling, cogent case. And the president’s team did not.”

Similar to the Jan. 6 vote to certify the 2020 election, McConnell is telling his conference that a final vote to convict will be a vote of conscience. But it could come with political consequences. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who voted to impeach Trump, faced calls from members of her own party to resign from her post as House GOP conference chair. And Sasse, who has vehemently condemned Trump’s rhetoric, is facing a censure resolution from the Nebraska GOP.

The potential GOP votes for conviction did not appear lost on Trump lawyer Bruce Castor Jr., who specifically mentioned Toomey and Sasse during his opening remarks. Castor, who is from Pennsylvania, nodded at Toomey and called him “Pat,” as he described senators as “patriots first.”

Trump’s lawyer also briefly mentioned the backlash Sasse is facing back home, but he seemed confused about what prompted the Nebraska GOP's censure motion.

“I saw that he faced backlash back home because of a vote he made some weeks ago, that a political party is complaining about the decision he made as a United States senator,” Castor said. “I don’t want to steal the thunder from the other lawyers but Nebraska, you’re going to hear, is quite a judicial thinking place and just maybe Sen. Sasse is onto something.”

The Nebraska GOP is looking to censure Sasse over his criticism of Trump following the Jan. 6 insurrection and his refusal to back a challenge to the 2020 election results.

Sasse declined to comment, citing his responsibility as a juror. But Collins told reporters mentioning Toomey and Sasse was "inappropriate."

Murkowski, who was a key swing vote last during Trump’s first impeachment, said Tuesday that the group of senators who view the trial as constitutional will make their own individual decisions. But she expressed dismay that just a year later, the Senate is going through yet another impeachment.

“My hope is that this does not become normalized,” she said. “I mean, we knew where we were last year with the impeachment proceedings. I don’t think there was anybody who thought we were going to have a second round of impeachment and one that was brought about in due part because of the president’s words and actions.”

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‘Ugh’: Republicans cringe after Trump’s attack on 75-year old protester

If there was ever a tweet from President Donald Trump that Senate Republicans didn’t want to touch, it’s this one.

For four years, Senate Republicans have endured a regular gantlet of reporters’ questions about Trump tweets, ranging from attacks on their own colleagues to telling a handful of congresswomen of color to “go back” to the countries they came from.

Trump’s tweet Tuesday morning attacking a 75-year old protester in Buffalo — who was shoved by the police and bled from his head after falling — stunned some in a caucus that’s grown used to the president’s active Twitter feed. After examining a print-out of the tweet, Sen. Lisa Murkowski gasped: “oh lord, Ugh.”

“Why would you fan the flames?” she said of the president’s tweet. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

But though the moderate Murkowski was nearly rendered speechless, the missive mostly failed to get a rise out of Senate Republicans. Many know Trump will tweet something else soon they will be asked to respond to, even if the Buffalo tweet seemed a new frontier for Trump’s insult-laden social media persona.

“It’s a serious accusation, which should only be made with facts and evidence. And I haven't seen any,” said Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) “Most of us up here would rather not be political commentators on the president’s tweets. That’s a daily exercise that is something you all have to cover... Saw the tweet. Saw the video. It’s a serious accusation.”

But those senators were the rare ones speaking out. Even Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who marched with Black Lives Matters protesters and voted to oust Trump from office in the impeachment trial, seemed exasperated.

“I saw the tweet,” Romney said. “It was a shocking thing to say and I won’t dignify it with any further comment.”

Many GOP senators declined Tuesday to respond to Trump’s tweet suggesting Martin Gugino, the Buffalo protester, “could be an ANTIFA provocateur.’ The president added, without evidence, that Gugino may have been trying to “set up” the police officers who hurt him. The tweet did not come up at the Republicans' weekly lunch, according to an attendee.

Republican senators have a well-worn playbook by now if they don’t want to wade into the latest tweet-fueled controversy by saying they hadn’t seen Trump’s latest comments. Still, even when provided paper copies of the president’s tweet on Tuesday, many declined to view them.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) declined to comment on the tweet, saying they hadn’t read it. When asked whether they wanted to see the tweet, both showed little interest. Sen Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said he had “no information about that man or who he is.”

Other senators said they’ve stopped paying attention to Trump’s tweets altogether. Citing what he called a longstanding policy about Trump, Sen Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said: “I don’t comment on the tweets.”

Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who read a reporter’s printout of the tweet, said he knows “nothing of the episode,” which occurred last week and prompted widespread outrage. The Buffalo police department later suspended the two police officers involved without pay, and the Erie County District Attorney charged the officers with assault. Both pleaded not guilty and were released without bail.

But Cramer suggested he’s long accepted the president’s communication style.

“I don’t think Donald Trump is going to change his behavior,” Cramer said. “I’ll say this: I worry more about the country itself than I do about what President Trump tweets”

Trump’s tweets questioning Gugino’s credibility come amid a nationwide reckoning about police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Senate Republicans have urged the president to take on a more unifying tone but so far Trump has proven resistant.

Last week, peaceful protesters were cleared outside of the White House with tear gas so that the president could pose for a photo outside of a church, prompting a rare Republican rebuke.

The president’s latest attack on Gugino highlights the complicated prospects of Congress getting anything done when it comes to police reform. Democrats unveiled a sweeping police reform package Monday that would ban chokeholds and limit “qualified immunity” for police officers, among other provisions. Romney said Monday that he’s planning to introduce his own police reform bill and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) is also working on a proposal.

While Republicans have offered criticism of Trump’s handling of the protests, GOP senators see little upside in getting into a public argument with the president these days.

When asked about Trump’s tweet, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine.) merely replied: “I think it would best if the president did not comment on issues that are before the courts.”

Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

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‘He’s ready to hit the trail’: Trump turns GOP lunch into campaign rally

President Donald Trump is no longer holding raucous rallies with adulating supporters. So for now, he’s settling for the friendly confines of the Republican Senate.

The president’s closed-door lunch Tuesday with Senate Republicans had all the markings of a Trump campaign event. The president bragged about poll numbers, lashed out at the Obama administration’s surveillance of the 2016 election, touted his administration’s handling of the coronavirus, and even talked up the border wall.

And he had a clear message for the team: we need to stick together.

“He didn’t even get into a heavy emphasis on ‘we’ve got to reopen, we’ve got to do it really quickly,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). “He didn’t go there, he was sorta like, steady as she goes and let’s keep our plans and stick together as we move towards the election.”

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said that it’s clear the president misses his large gatherings and said “of course” he is frustrated he can’t do rallies.

“He’s ready to hit the trail — that’s obvious,” added Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.).

As usual, the president’s re-election was top of mind. Trump brought up his poll numbers and said they demonstrated that his base of support is stronger than Vice President Joe Biden’s, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, according to attendees.

Senators also discussed next steps for coronavirus legislation. While the House passed its $3 trillion coronavirus package last week with no GOP or White House input, Senate Republicans said Trump endorsed their approach to wait and see how the previous tranches of aid play out.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), said he also brought up the need to fix the unemployment system with the president, adding that Trump said the unemployment benefits are hurting the economic recovery and "that's a problem.” He also said Trump should do these gatherings more often. A lot more often.

“I told him if I were him I’d come up once a month,” he said. “It’s the one thing [George W.] Bush didn’t really do. I’m glad he comes up. Everybody gets to ask him questions.”

It was an unusual venue for a party unity rally. The cavernous room in the Hart building allowed Senate Republicans to continue their social distancing, even as the president flouts the mask-wearing guidance in the Capitol. And though people who meet with Trump get tested for coronavirus these days, the Republican senators, who donned protective masks, did not get tested before the event.

Trump was surrounded by aides as he left, including his new press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who also spoke at the lunch. The president briefly stopped by a pool of reporters to rail against Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), calling her a “sick woman” with “a lot of mental problems.” His remarks follow comments the speaker made he previous night on CNN taunting the president over this weight.

While the lunch covered several topics, including discussion of a vaccine against the coronavirus, Republicans were careful to steer away from sensitive topics. No one talked about Trump’s controversial use of hydroxychloroquine. And another issue that didn’t surface was the president’s firing late Friday night of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick.

Trump’s move to fire the inspector general came weeks after he ousted Michael Atkinson, the top watchdog for the intelligence community. Even though some Senate Republicans have voiced concern about the firings and demanded that the administration provide Congress with a written explanation as recently as Monday evening, it never came up during the one-hour lunch, according to attendees.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said after the lunch that Trump “has the full authority to hire and fire, under the Constitution, anybody in the executive branch.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who has voiced concern about the president’s removal of the inspectors general, described the lunch as “interesting” and “eclectic.” She said Trump, whom she has not endorsed, made no overtures for her to do so even as he touted a party unity message.

He also did not single out Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), who also attended the lunch. Trump has frequently targeted the Utah Republican on Twitter, after he voted to remove the president from office in February during the Senate’s impeachment trial.

Trump’s visit to the Hill and emphasis on his own re-election chances comes as the president in recent weeks has mounted a furious new attack on former president Barack Obama, repeatedly tweeting “Obamagate,” the president’s shorthand for unspecified allegations that his predecessor committed crimes against him.

Trump has offered no evidence to support the accusation but has railed against senior Obama administration figures who had a hand in the FBI's long-running investigation of his campaign's contacts with Russia.

And the president didn’t shy away from talking about 2016 and Russian election meddling again on Tuesday,

“We talked about the investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 election and his concerns, which you’ve heard before which many of us share, about using the institutions like the FBI and the DOJ and others to undermine an incoming president,” Cornyn said.

The message is starting to sink in.

After months of pressure from the president, Graham said Monday his committee will vote in early June to subpoena a wide range of Obama and Trump administration officials connected to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. And McConnell also chastised the FBI in his floor remarks Tuesday for its 2016 counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and ties to Russia.

“No matter what some Washington Democrats may try to claim, you’re not crazy or a conspiracy theorist if you see a pattern of institutional unfairness toward this president,” McConnell said. “You would have to be blind not to see one.”

Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.

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New partisan battle lines emerge over testing

Republicans and Democrats agree coronavirus testing is a huge hurdle for President Donald Trump's vaunted reopening of the economy. But they disagree on what to do about it.

Democrats are pushing for a federal, centralized approach that would nationalize the distribution of millions of coronavirus tests to get people back to work and school, aiming to make it a hallmark of the next congressional response to the disease.

But plenty of Republicans say testing should be handled by states and the private sector.

The clash spilled out into the open Friday, as Senate Democrats pressed Vice President Mike Pence on testing during a heated caucus call in which Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) described it as a "dereliction of duty" for the administration to not have a national testing regime.

Even Senate Republicans pushed the administration on testing during another call with the president and Pence this week. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said in an interview that he recommended that the administration focus on the distribution of tests that produce rapid results. Pence also told senators that, by the end of the month, the administration expects the production of 20 million antibody tests a month, Cruz recalled.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, walks on Capitol Hill in Washington after President Donald Trump was acquitted in an impeachment trial on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

“They have mobilized enormous resources and have been vigorous and aggressive, but with a response to any crisis of course there are things that could have been done better," Cruz said. "It's not where it needs to be yet and so when I spoke with the president [Thursday] I urged him to do even more on testing."

The conflict over how to address stubborn test shortages comes as President Donald Trump and most congressional Republicans are pushing to re-open the economy as soon as May 1 — even as infectious disease experts warn against doing so too soon. But that might be impossible until there’s millions more tests available.

“We know the kind of testing we are doing is so inadequate for what we need to do,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

“If I were king for a day … I would concentrate on three things: testing, testing and testing,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who is itching to reopen the economy himself as the rate of infections slows in his state. “There are tens of thousands, maybe millions of people walking around with the virus without symptoms, they may never have symptoms. Unfortunately they’re contagious as hell.”

Whether states or the federal government take the lead depends in large part on how Congress legislates — and whether Republicans push Trump to federalize the testing program. And the argument highlights the central question facing the country: How to make people comfortable enough to resume daily life and avoid an economic depression while still limiting the spread of the deadly virus.

Delays in reaching consensus on testing could further stall businesses from reopening and even exacerbate the spread of the virus.

Amid the partisan clash over an interim relief package for small businesses, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Democrats are now insisting on $30 billion for a national testing plan. They argue that individual states are not equipped to provide the widespread testing needed, and the federal government should have more control over the medical equipment supply chain to avoid relying on other countries.

That spending ask comes on top of additional money from the three previous rescue packages that was allocated toward testing, including federal dollars for a coronavirus vaccine and provisions that ordered insurers cover the cost of tests for their customers, while Medicaid would fill in for the uninsured. The most recent spending package included $150 billion to assist hospitals and providers, some of which is intended for more testing. The package also included $4.3 billion for federal, state and local public health agencies responding to the virus.

“We’re testing right now about 150,000 tests a day in the United States and experts tell us we should be looking at at least 500,000 a day in order to know who is well and safe to go back to work, and who needs to be quarantined,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.). “Our federal government needs to play the lead.”

Republicans, however, argue that private companies are best suited to find an innovative solution to the testing debacle, not the federal government. In addition, they say Congress already spent money on testing in the previous spending packages and should see the results before spending more. Meanwhile, Trump said Friday that governors are responsible for testing.

“The key is going to be: How fast actually can the private sector ramp up testing?” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). “It's not going to be the government doing it. It's the private sector doing it. They're the ones that do this well. And so how fast can they ramp it up?”

But working with the federal government is also inevitable. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) said that while hospitals in Pennsylvania are capable of developing their own test kits, they still need material from the Centers for Disease Control to develop tests.

WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 25: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-KY) talks to reporters after attending briefing from administration officials on the coronavirus, on Capitol Hill February 25, 2020 in Washington, DC. Representatives from HHS, CDC, NIH and State Department briefed the Senators. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Moreover, the GOP argues regulations have hindered the production of tests. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who is pushing a Manhattan Project-style effort to expand testing, said that if Trump is being blamed for the slow-footed testing response, then so should Congress.

“The major reason we don’t have enough tests is because Congress and the Food and Drug Administration have restricted development of tests by everyone except the Centers for Disease Control,” he said. “Let’s just say that’s everybody’s fault.”

But Democrats squarely blame Trump for a botched testing rollout earlier this year and a slower ramp-up than other countries like Germany, which is beginning to reopen its economy in part on the strength of its testing regime.

The White House on Thursday rolled out its own vision for reopening parts of the country in three phases. The guidelines, however, don’t include a wide-scale plan for testing.

Nevertheless, Alexander’s advocacy for dramatically expanding testing may be rubbing off on some of his Republican colleagues. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said that Alexander's internal lobbying to raise the issue of testing made an impression with him.

“The question everybody’s going to be asking is: What’s an acceptable level of risk? And we’re not going to know that until we figure out who has it and who doesn’t,” Thune said. “This testing issue has got to get solved. .. We ought to be putting a lot of resources on that because lord knows we’re spending on a lot of money on other stuff.”

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