Not that there couldn’t be one but that there shouldn’t. His reasoning seems driven by politics, by what McConnell sees as the best route to keep his fragile hold on the Senate majority in November. Specifically, McConnell appears to be choosing between two priorities he sees as competing in the next two weeks before the election:
- Moving an unwieldy, expensive bill with lots in it for conservatives and other critics to dislike but that economists and some health experts say is desperately needed.
- Putting another conservative justice on the court, something that a majority of Americans oppose in polls but that would be a legacy-defining issue for the Republican Senate by cementing the court’s rightward lean for years if not a generation.
The Post’s Jeff Stein and Erica Werner reported that McConnell told Senate Republicans on Tuesday of a stimulus coming in the next few days “that any deal they reach could disrupt the Senate’s plans to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court next week. Republicans have voiced concerns that a stimulus deal could splinter the party and exacerbate divisions at a time when they are trying to rally behind the Supreme Court nominee.” He’s publicly said if Democrats and the White House reach a deal, he’d consider it.
McConnell instead put a $500 billion proposal again on the Senate floor Wednesday, which Senate Democrats blocked for the second time in a month, saying it’s too small. Before the vote, McConnell pointed the finger at Democrats for not being willing to compromise: “If the sun sets today with no progress,” he said on the Senate floor, "if the Senate turns to Judge Barrett’s nomination without having advanced another historic rescue package, it will only be because Senate Democrats used the filibuster to kill this aid.”
But polls suggest a majority of Americans want Senate Republicans to go the opposite route and focus on coronavirus stimulus. (Assuming the Senate had to choose what to vote on in the next two weeks. White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told CNBC on Tuesday there’s enough time to do both.)
A new New York Times-Siena College poll found that 7 in 10 voters wanted Congress to pass something that provides support for citizens and help for state and local governments, the latter being a Democratic priority.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 52 percent of Americans think the Senate should wait to fill the seat left open by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death and let the winner of the November election pick her replacement.
Those numbers explain why the White House is pushing this stimulus alongside Barrett’s nomination — Trump is now saying he wants to go even bigger than Democrats, after watching the stock market plummet when he abruptly called it off a few weeks ago.
Trump is thinking about winning nationally, and nationally, the numbers tell him that Americans want to see government come to their aid. “The president’s been very clear: He wants to make sure that we provide the necessary funds for those Americans that are hurting during this unprecedented time,” Meadows said on Fox Business Network on Wednesday.
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, are thinking a little bit more granularly: How do they win races in swing or red-leaning states to keep their majority? To do that, they need to win in states like Iowa and Montana and Georgia and South Carolina, which could be the bulwark if Democrats knock off Republicans in Arizona and Colorado and North Carolina and Maine.
The polls show it’s no contest which action is more popular among Republican voters: Barrett’s nomination over the stimulus. More than half of Republicans want to see a stimulus before the election, which is notably high. But 77 percent of Republicans said the Senate should move forward on Barrett’s nomination.
Republicans and Trump are struggling with more moderate, suburban voters. So Senate Republicans are making the calculation that they need to marshal conservative votes in these red-leaning states at high levels to stay in power. At the very least, they can’t take an action that would upset these voters, such as passing yet another trillion-dollar-plus government-funded package.
That’s why, in a recent Post interview, Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), among others, predicted that moving forward on the stimulus would be a “death knell” of the GOP majority.
It would also probably be an ugly fight among Senate Republicans to pass such a large package. There are conservative Senate Republicans who just don’t want to see any coronavirus relief passed, believing that the infusion of money into the economy isn’t necessary right now.
To the extent that they speak for conservative voters, McConnell is listening. And this close to an election where Republicans’ Senate majority hangs in the balance, he would rather not take any risks, even it means shutting down a stimulus bill that’s more politically popular than a controversial Supreme Court nomination before the election.
This has been updated with remarks McConnell made about coronavirus negotiations after this story published, and with the results of a vote in the Senate on a smaller coronavirus package.