A subtle power shift is emerging on Capitol Hill as Republicans face a possible future that might no longer include President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE.
The shift has been most apparent in the dynamics surrounding negotiations on a new coronavirus relief package.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Trump casts doubt on hopes for quick stimulus deal after aides expressed optimism Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid MORE (R-Ky.) has sought to avoid a vote on a massive stimulus package that would badly divide the Senate GOP conference right before Election Day, even as Trump urges Republican senators to “go big.”
McConnell told Republican colleagues at a lunch meeting Tuesday that he warned the White House against a vote on a massive stimulus package before election day. He quipped that he knew his message that was delivered in a private meeting would get out to the public very quickly.
“He made his statement prefaced by ‘this will probably be on Twitter in a few minutes,’” said a GOP senator recounting Tuesday’s meeting.
A majority of GOP senators oppose a bigger coronavirus relief package, even as Trump pushes for one.
“Mitch understands his troops,” the senator said. “He’s made the calculation that it’s not helpful to bring it to the floor because it would show we’re not on the same page as the president. There would be a lot of Republican nos.
It’s just one of the emerging differences between the two pillars of GOP power in Washington.
Republican lawmakers also have concerns about the management of Trump’s re-election campaign, ranging from his performance during the first debate, to its cash shortage, to the president’s tendency to highlight politically divisive topics instead of focus on the issues.
Trump’s campaign has had increasing trouble raising money as donors have started to shift their resources to saving the Senate GOP majority and building a firewall against the possibility of a Democratic-controlled White House and House. Trump’s grassroots fundraising arm is working harder and spending more on every dollar it raises compared to earlier this year.
There’s no real question of McConnell’s loyalty to Trump.
He has publicly predicted that Trump will win re-election and has pulled out all the stops to confirm Trump’s nominee, Amy Coney BarrettAmy Coney BarrettOn The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Energy: Barrett punts on climate, oil industry recusals | Ex-EPA official claims retaliation in lawsuit | Dems seek to uphold ruling ousting Pendley Amy Coney Barrett is beacon for new kind of feminism in America MORE, to the Supreme Court before the Nov. 3 election, something the president wanted.
McConnell also told reporters Tuesday that he would likely put a Trump-backed coronavirus-relief deal on the Senate floor, even though it is likely to draw significant opposition from members of his conference.
At the same time, GOP senators say the dynamics also illustrate a reality that many GOP senators aren’t sure Trump, who is trailing Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE in polls two weeks before Election Day, will be around after Jan. 20.
“There is this growing sense that if it’s more likely that Republicans retain the majority and the president is not re-elected, then obviously McConnell becomes the most powerful Republican in Washington,” said a second Republican senator.
McConnell is also up for reelection this year and has been a top Democratic target, but GOP senators feel confident he’ll win reelection. A new Mason-Dixon poll published Wednesday showed McConnell leading his Democratic challenger, Amy McGrath, by nine points.
Trump’s position is much more precarious as polls show him trailing in a slew of key battleground states including Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin.
McConnell has repeatedly downplayed expectations of a COVID-19 relief deal with House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of ‘close contact’ after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.), asserting that he does not believe she is negotiating in good faith, and warned that a $1.8 trillion or bigger package would be too expensive.
“I don’t think so. That’s where the administration is willing to go. My members think half a trillion dollars, highly targeted, is the best way to go,” he told reporters in Kentucky last week.
At the same time, White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits MORE on Wednesday waved away the suggestion that McConnell has put a brake on the negotiations with Pelosi.
“The leader’s been very helpful. Obviously, we continue to stay engaged with the leader on a regular basis. And so I don’t know that there’s any blame to be put on Leader McConnell or the administration in terms of our discussions together,” he told reporters.
Senate Republican Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneGOP coronavirus bill blocked as deal remains elusive Clyburn predicts action on coronavirus relief after elections GOP to Trump: Focus on policy MORE said McConnell’s position on the deal “is dictated by the math.”
“He knows where the votes are. As much as we all want to get a deal, a deal that would pass in the Senate with all Democratic votes and a handful of Republicans is not an outcome the leader would like to make happen. He’d like to see a deal where you get a majority of Republicans in support of policies that we actually think are good in terms of addressing the virus,” he said.
Thune has said on several occasions recently that he doesn’t think there are even 13 Republican votes to pass a package along the lines of what Mnuchin and Pelosi are currently discussing.
Democrats control 47 seats and would need at least 13 Senate GOP crossovers to pass a package packed full of their priorities, such as Affordable Care Act premium subsidies, which are under discussion.
Republican senators warned Meadows during a lunch meeting Wednesday not to chase a deal with the Democrats if Pelosi continues to ratchet up the price tag of the package.
“I think there’s a general feeling that bidding up and up is not going to be well-received,” said Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoBill to expand support for community addiction treatment passes House Hillicon Valley: Senate panel votes to subpoena Big Tech executives | Amazon says over 19,000 workers tested positive for COVID-19 | Democrats demand DHS release report warning of election interference GOP senators call on Trump to oppose nationalizing 5G MORE (R-W.Va.) said after the lunch.
McConnell has publicly checked Trump in other ways.
The GOP leader admonished the president a few weeks ago for not condemning white supremacist groups such as the white boys after Trump’s first debate with Joe Biden.
He also was quick to put out a statement late last month pledging “an orderly transition of power” after Trump refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost the Nov. 3 election.
With control of the White House and Senate at risk, some Senate Republicans are putting their own political livelihoods ahead of Trump’s, making a case that donors should prioritize building a firewall in the Senate.
The second Republican senator said it’s “the sense among my colleagues” that Republicans have a better chance of keeping control of the Senate because “that’s something we can somewhat control” while they have little control over how Trump runs his campaign.
“Maybe Republicans are kind of promoting that possibility because then our money becomes more of a priority,” the senator added, referring to the importance of a Senate GOP firewall if Biden wins the presidency.
Some GOP donors also see a Senate GOP majority as a better bet than a Trump second term.
Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor, told NBC News last month that “big donors are increasingly focused on the Senate.”