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McConnell optimistic about bipartisan infrastructure deal

Washington: There is a “great chance” that Republicans and Democrats can come to an agreement on infrastructure legislation, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News Wednesday.

McConnell appeared on “Special Report” following an extensive White House meeting with President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

“I think both sides would like to get an outcome,” McConnell told host Bret Baier.

“I think they want a deal this time and I think they want a deal with us, because I don’t think they think they can pass this second effort through a reconciliation package,” McConnell added. “Plus, the subject matter is pretty popular on both sides of the aisle.”

Biden has already proposed infrastructure legislation as part of a $2.3 trillion package called the American Jobs Act. Republicans have panned the proposal as a grab bag for Democratic interest groups, including public sector unions and environmental activists. Some of the bill’s more exorbitant features include $400 billion for home and community health care and nearly $200 billion in electric vehicle subsidies.

Senate Republicans countered Biden’s proposal last month with a $568 billion package of their own, and McConnell indicated over the weekend that he would be willing to go as high as $800 billion.

 

Republicans have insisted that the 2017 tax cuts remain in place rather than be repealed to pay for any infrastructure bill, a point McConnell said he “did make clear to the president” and that he said “seemed to be accepted.”

 

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GOP Senators signal acquitting Trump in impeachment trial

Washington: On Tuesday and Wednesday, the House impeachment managers presented US Senators with videos of their colleagues fleeing a pro-Trump mob, which breached the US Capitol shouting “stop the steal.” They showed the rioters searching for then-Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and rummaging through the senators’ desks on the chamber floor.

But even after witnessing the deadly violence first hand, and being reminded of it again at the scene of the crime, many Republican senators appeared no closer on Wednesday to convicting former President Donald Trump on the charge of “incitement of insurrection.”

While they were struck by the impeachment managers’ presentation, these Republicans said that the House Democrats did not prove Trump’s words led to the violent actions. They compared the January 6 riot to last summer’s racial justice protests and criticized how the trial is being handled, reported CNN.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said he couldn’t believe “we could lose the Capitol like that” but added that it didn’t change his mind on whether to acquit Trump during the trial. “I think there’s more votes for acquittal after today than there was yesterday,” he said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is reportedly not pressuring his colleagues to acquit Trump even as the impeachment trial appears poised to wrap as soon as this weekend.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), an adviser to McConnell who hasn’t made a decision about whether to convict Trump, said he wasn’t getting any pressure from leadership.

Meanwhile, senior aides on the impeachment team said Thursday’s arguments would turn to the aftermath of the attack, including Mr. Trump’s role. They also plan to examine the harm caused by the riots, both physical and otherwise, the President’s lack of remorse and the legal issues that apply in this case.

“We on the team and the managers, we remain convinced that that evidence has the power to change minds and indeed we think we saw even a little bit more movement yesterday,” an aide said. “At the end of the day today, I think many of the questions raised by the senators who spoke to the press last night will have been answered thoroughly and their duty to convict will be clear.”

On Wednesday, the impeachment managers spent hours building the case that Mr. Trump was responsible for inciting the mob that assaulted the Capitol, arguing the attack was the violent culmination of months of efforts by the former president to undermine the integrity of the election.

The managers revealed previously unseen security footage from inside the halls of Congress to drive home just how close the rioters came to lawmakers, staff and Vice President Mike Pence, who had resisted Mr. Trump’s entreaties to obstruct the counting of electoral votes.

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Dems rush $ 1.9 trillion relief bill

$1400 stimulus checks may get more targeted as President Biden is open to changes.

Washington: The US House of Representatives approved on Wednesday a budget resolution that would allow Congress to pass President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package without Republican support.

The Democrats-controlled House passed the budget resolution by a vote of 218-212, with no Republicans supporting the measure, reports Xinhua news agency.

“While bipartisan talks continue, today’s passage of the 2021 budget resolution ensures that we have another path to enacting President Biden’s ‘American Rescue Plan’,” House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth said in a statement.

The package includes over $400 billion to combat the pandemic directly such as more funding for testing and vaccine distribution; roughly $1 trillion in direct relief to households; and over $400 billion for hard-hit small businesses and communities.

On stimulus checks, one possible compromise would be to provide the full $1,400 only to individuals making no more than $50,000 and married couples making no more than $100,000 while the current threshold stands at  $75,000 for individuals and $150,000 for couples.

The Senate is expected to approve the budget resolution later this week.

Then both chambers will need to approve a budget reconciliation package that includes the Covid-19 relief deal, according to local media.

Using budget reconciliation, Democrats could push the relief package through the Senate with a simple majority, rather than the 60 votes needed for most legislation.

The party breakdown in the Senate is 50-50 now, with Vice President Kamala Harris having the power to cast the tie-breaking vote to give Democrats the majority.

“I think the President has been clear there is an urgency to delivering relief to the American people. And it’s important and vital that the House and Senate work quickly to get this bill packet passed,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

However, Republicans complained that using budget reconciliation to move forward the relief package would undermine Biden’s message of bipartisan cooperation and unity.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk about unity, but White House staff and congressional Democrats are working from the opposite playbook,” Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell tweeted Wednesday. “Senate Republicans will be ready and waiting with a host of amendments to improve the rushed procedural step that’s being jammed through,” he said.

A group of Republican Senators led by Susan Collins from the state of Maine on Monday unveiled their $618 billion Covid-19 relief proposal, falling short of Democrats’ demands.

Following a meeting between Biden and Democratic senators at the White House on Wednesday, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that “we must go big and bold” as this is a once-in-a-century health and economic crisis.

“We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in that, in that big bold program that America needs,” he said.

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McConnell finally congratulates Biden, Harris after electoral college tally

Washington: A day after the Electoral College certified Joe Biden’s victory, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acknowledged the Democrat’s election victory and referred to him as President-elect.

Noting that while millions wished the elections would have yielded a different result, “our system of government has processes to determine who will be sworn in on January 20. The Electoral College has spoken,”  McConnell said on the Senate floor.

“Today I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden. The President-elect is no stranger to the Senate. He has devoted himself to public service for many years,” he said.

“I also want to congratulate the Vice President-elect, our colleague from California, Senator Harris. Beyond our differences, all Americans can take pride that our nation has a female Vice President-elect for the very first time,” he said.

Interestingly, McConnell’s remarks came after Russian President Vladimir Putin belatedly congratulated Biden, and expressed hope that their two nations “which bear special responsibility for global security and stability, despite their differences can truly contribute to solving many problems and challenges that the world is currently facing”.

McConnell also lavishly praised Donald Trump presidency’s accomplishments, including “economic prosperity”, “foreign policy”, “judicial appointments”, and “bold regulatory changes”, saying that “it would take far more than one speech to catalogue all the major wins the Trump administration has helped deliver for the American people”.

Time magazine has declared Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as Person of the Year, crediting the duo or ‘Changing America’s story”. (Pic courtesy Time)

Trump, besides many Republican members of the Congress, is yet to concede defeat.

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Top Republicans creating distance from Trump

The President’s weakened position as he heads into the final stretch of the campaign is giving prominent members of the GOP greater latitude to express their concerns about the direction that Trump has steered the Republican Party as they look to protect their own ambitions and futures.

Senator Ben Sasse, Nebraska

“I don’t think the way he’s (Trump) led through Covid has been reasonable or responsible or right,” Ben Sasse said in an audio now public.  “The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor.”

“We are staring down the barrel of a blue tsunami,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

He has said recently that he has not visited the White House in some months because he doesn’t think the White House coronavirus protocols are adequate.

He has also resisted White House negotiating a deal in the range of 2 trillion dollars with Speaker Pelosi.

Senator Lamar AlexanderTennessee

“Fauci is one of our country’s most distinguished public servant. If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat.”

Former NJ Governor Chris Christie

He contracted coronavirus likely at a White House event, and spent seven days in ICU. He has expressed his regrets about not wearing a mask at the White House because of false sense of security arising out of supposedly rigorous coronavirus testing regimen there.

John Kelly, ex-White House chief of staff

The retired Marine general has said this to friends about Trump: “The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life.”

Senator Mitt Romney, Utah

Mitt Romney released a statement last week stating that the President’s refusal to denounce “the absurd and dangerous conspiracy theory” QAnon during Thursday night’s town hall “continues an alarming pattern.”

The 2012 GOP presidential nominee said Trump was part of a pattern where politicians and parties “refuse to forcefully and convincingly repudiate groups like Antifa, White supremacists and conspiracy peddlers.”

“Rather than expel the rabid fringes and extremes, they have coddled or adopted them, eagerly trading their principles for the hope of electoral victories. As the parties rush down a rabbit hole, they may be opening a door to a political movement that could eventually eclipse them both.”

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Trump’s top court nominee set to be confirmed

Washington: The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday scheduled an Oct. 22 vote on approving Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court even as Democrats made procedural objections and said the rush to confirm the nominee was unprecedented.

As the hearing unfolded in Washington, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said in Kentucky that the Senate had the votes to confirm Barrett to the high court, essentially assuring that the efforts by Democrats to delay her confirmation will be unsuccessful.

That time frame would allow her to be seated ahead of the Nov. 3 election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee.

The developments came after Barrett faced two days of intense but civil marathon questioning by senators on the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and Wednesday. She parried tough questions from persistent Democrats on how she will rule on contentious matters such as Roe vs Wade, Obamacare, same sex marriage.

Barrett’s confirmation to the Supreme Court will give the nine-member panel its sixth Republican appointee and its third Trump pick, shifting the balance of the court further in favor of Republicans. The 48-year-old federal appeals court judge could sit on the bench for decades.

 

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GOP could face “bloodbath of Watergate proportions”: Ted Cruz

Washington: Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) told CNBC on Friday that the GOP could face “a bloodbath of Watergate proportions” on Election Day if voters are feeling “depressed” about the economy and the pandemic.

“I am worried. It’s volatile, it’s highly volatile … if people are going back to work, if they’re optimistic, if they’re positive about the future, we could see a fantastic election — the president getting reelected with a big margin, Republicans winning both Houses of Congress and I think that’s a real possibility,” Cruz said, adding,

“But I also think if on Election Day people are angry and they’ve given up hope and they’re depressed, which is what Pelosi and Schumer want them to be, I think it could be a terrible election. I think we could lose the White House and both houses of Congress, that it could be a bloodbath of Watergate proportions.”

Meanwhile,  a few Republicans have reportedly started to separate themselves from President Trump and his possible political collapse, focusing on his carelessness with the virus.

 A senior Republican official told Axios new site that this is less about shaping this election, and more about preparing for the aftermath.

Note what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in Kentucky last Thursday: “I haven’t been to the White House since August the 6th.” He added, “I personally didn’t feel that they were approaching the protection from this illness in the same way that I thought was appropriate for the Senate [masks and distancing] … I think we’ve shown that … we can function safely.” McConnell also did not back $1.8 trillion White House stimulus plan, saying he will move a bill in Senate of trimmed, targeted stimulus.

Also this week, in her sole face-to-face debate, embattled Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), pressed repeatedly, wouldn’t say whether she’s proud of her support for Trump, CNN reported.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C), who’s in one of the closest Senate races, acknowledged in an interview with WRAL TV that he erred in going without a mask at a White House reception that has been linked to a cluster of cases, including his own.

The bottom line, comments Axios, is that most Republican consultants fear that the White House is gone — they’re pinning their hopes on the Senate.

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McConnel unveils ‘skinny’ corona relief bill; 2nd cash stimulus not there

By The SATimes News Service

Washington: The Senate is expected to vote on a new stripped-down coronavirus relief package this week.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the “targeted” proposal focuses on “some of the very most urgent healthcare, education and economic issues.”

It does not contain every idea our party likes. I am confident Democrats will feel the same. Yet Republicans believe the many serious differences between our two parties should not stand in the way of agreeing where we can agree and making law that helps our nation,” McConnell said in a statement, reports al.com.

The bill includes $300 a week for expanded unemployment insurance benefits through the end of the year and $257 billion for a second round of the small-business focused Paycheck Protection Program. The bill also includes $105 billion for schools and $16 billion for expansion of coronavirus testing.

The GOP proposal does not include another round of direct stimulus payments to Americans.

The previous round of stimulus payments included up to $1,200 per person and both parties had indicated they wanted another round to be part of a second relief plan and those negotiations are continuing.

The revamped bill is expected to cost about $500 billion. The measure would need 60 votes to pass, something deemed unlikely. Republicans are aiming to present a solid front, however, with backing from 51 GOP Senators.

Democratic leadership have deemed the bill a “non-starter.”

“Senate Republicans appear dead-set on another bill which doesn’t come close to addressing the problems and is headed nowhere. This proposal is laden with poison pills Republicans know Democrats would never support,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement.

McConnell said the vote could occur as soon as Thursday.

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McConnell, Pelosi expect a relief deal, but chasm remains

Washington: The two most powerful lawmakers in Washington told CNBC on Thursday they believe Congress will strike a coronavirus relief agreement but said major differences must be resolved during an increasingly bitter process.

“Exactly when that deal comes together I can’t tell you, but I think it will at some point in the near future,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on “Squawk on the Street.”

Also speaking to CNBC, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said she expects an agreement to boost an economy and health-care system devastated by the pandemic.

Negotiators have struggled to craft an aid bill. The two sides have to decide how to extend extra federal unemployment insurance, continue a moratorium on evictions from federally backed housing, help schools educate students safely and offer relief to cash-strapped state and local governments.

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have repeatedly cited progress after a series of meetings with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. But they have failed to reach an accord. The four officials planned to meet again at 5 p.m. ET on Thursday, NBC News reported.

“Will we find a solution? We will,” Pelosi told CNBC. “Will we have an agreement? We will.”

Democrats and the White House have apparently started to yield ground on issues including unemployment insurance and funding for the U.S. Postal Service. They still appear far from any consensus as millions of people face the prospect of slipping into poverty.

On Wednesday, Meadows said the sides “continue to be trillions of dollars apart” on legislation. Last week, the GOP proposed a roughly $1 trillion relief plan. Republicans took a more narrow approach than House Democrats, who passed a $3 trillion package in May.

Meadows has indicated the Trump administration could pull out of talks and try to address jobless benefits and the eviction moratorium by executive action if the sides fail to reach an agreement by Friday. Schumer insisted Wednesday that Democrats “are not walking away” from talks.

It is unclear what President Donald  Trump can accomplish through unilateral action, as he needs Congress to approve funding for programs. Even so, Pelosi said she hopes Trump takes steps himself to stop evictions.

“He can extend the moratorium, and I hope that he does,” she said.

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