It appeared that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was prepared to wait until March 23–after a Senate recess–to consider a bill in response to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. But something of a mutiny seems to have forced his hand.
“The Senate will act when we come back and we have a clearer idea of what extra steps we need to take,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), a close ally of McConnell’s, told an assemblage of reporters on Wednesday when asked if and when the upper chamber would consider the emergency Coronavirus response bill passed by the House of Representatives.
McConnell’s telegraphed desire to maintain business as usual by sending the full Senate home for weeks amidst rapidly snowballing panic, cancellations and cases of viral infection was instantly met with shock and disbelief.
“This is dangerously irresponsible,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss told Law&Crime. “The disease is spreading, the public is struggling to get access to testing kits that provide results in a reasonable period of time, and public events are being cancelled, but the Senate is going to go on recess? I can’t imagine they’ll be hosting many town halls in their home states.”
House Democrats are moving forward with their bill regardless—aiming for swift passage of a multibillion dollar effort to provide free Coronavirus testing, paid sick leave, extended unemployment benefits, and more.
There was discussion that Hyde amendment language being included in the bill is a major “sticking point” for Republicans.
“A key sticking point in the talks appears to be GOP demands to include Hyde amendment language in the bill to prevent federal funds from being used for abortion,” noted Bloomberg News reporter Erik Wasson.
”Incredible,” remarked Matt Ford, a writer for The New Republic focused on law and democracy.
But there was also a bit of dissension among the Republican ranks.
“Due to the need to work on additional efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate should cancel its recess and remain in session next week,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said via Twitter—undercutting the majority leader and any special leverage for ramming through Hyde Amendment language into the congressional response package.
Several other GOP senators from various states also insisted that insisting McConnell cancel the scheduled recess.
The Kentucky Republican swiftly reversed course on the idea that there would be a recess.
“Notwithstanding the scheduled state work period, the Senate will be in session next week,” McConnell tweeted mid afternoon on Wednesday after a fusillade of public and private criticism. “I am glad talks are ongoing between the Administration and Speaker Pelosi. I hope Congress can pass bipartisan legislation to continue combating the coronavirus and keep our economy strong.”
McConnell’s volte-face was met with praise.
Donald Trump Jr. praised the move while criticizing Democrats for being “petty.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the recess cancellation was the “right decision.”
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images]
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