The GOP’s push to quickly confirm another conservative Supreme Court justice is overshadowing the ongoing coronavirus pandemic in Washington and makes the odds of another federal relief package even less likely before the November election.
As the U.S. reached the grim pandemic milestone of 200,000 deaths on Tuesday, the focus in the GOP-controlled Senate was on filling the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat and solidifying a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for decades to come.
Senate Republicans met behind closed doors to discuss the timing of hearings and a confirmation vote ― which is expected before the Nov. 3 election.
“It seems to me the GOP said, ‘We don’t care about COVID, we just want to get this done,’” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters on Capitol Hill.
In reality, negotiations between the Trump administration and congressional Democrats over another fiscal stimulus package for millions of Americans and businesses suffering amid the pandemic have been stalled for months. Congress is struggling to even do the bare minimum and avert another government shutdown at the end of the month.
Democrats last month blocked a narrow GOP coronavirus bill with aid for businesses, schools and the unemployed because, they said, it failed to adequately address the scope of the public health crisis and the accompanying economic devastation. It did not include rental assistance or aid to cities and states, which Democrats have insisted on.
“Either Republicans do not understand the gravity of the situation or do not care about the needs of America’s working families,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement on Tuesday before a moment of silence in the House in honor of the victims of the pandemic.
Trump again attempted to downplay the pandemic at a campaign rally on Monday by saying it affects “elderly people with heart problems and other problems.”
“It affects virtually nobody. It’s an amazing thing,” he added.
The number of people seeking and collecting unemployment benefits has remained at historically high levels in recent weeks, a sign that the recovery in the labor market has lost momentum. More than a million people are losing their jobs every week ― more than the number who lost jobs in any given month of the Great Recession that started in 2007.
Trump’s partial replacement for expanded unemployment benefits, meanwhile, has begun to run dry in several states. And several key provisions of the $3 trillion economic stimulus package known as the Cares Act that Congress passed in March are due to expire at the end of the month, including its protections for airlines and thousands of their employees.
There’s little hope among either party that a breakthrough will come any time soon.
Republicans continue to blame Democrats for standing in the way of delivering more aid to those suffering amid the pandemic, even though the GOP argued for a monthslong pause to more congressional action over the summer.
“We ought to be able to do both,” Sen. John Barrasso (R) of Wyoming told reporters on Monday when asked about the Supreme Court fight and its impact on another coronavirus stimulus bill. “We’re going to continue to talk about the fact that people need help, people want to get back to work, in school, and the Democrats have voted to block it all.”
Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas acknowledged the Supreme Court battle added “some complexity” to the odds of Congress reaching a deal on more coronavirus stimulus, but he, too, pinned the blame on the other party.
“I hadn’t seen Speaker Pelosi very interested in reaching a coronavirus deal,” Cornyn said. “I hope that’s still possible and I’ve heard some rumors that there was some movement, but we don’t have a whole lot of time.”
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