(CNN) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has kept fellow Republicans at bay by saying Congress should wait before passing another rescue package — but that could soon change.
Publicly and privately, Republicans are signaling that they believe the Senate will have to move beginning in June on another recovery package, calls that many believe will intensify next month after senators hear concerns about the deteriorating economy in their states during next week’s Memorial Day recess.
And some are quietly urging President Donald Trump to get more involved.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’s pushing Trump to get behind a plan to pump more money into infrastructure projects — even though that idea has gotten an icy reception from McConnell so far.
“I want to do infrastructure,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said to CNN. “I told Trump, this is the time. We got it teed up. This is the time to go big. … It really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to give a facelift to the country.”
Graham isn’t alone. Other powerful members of the Senate GOP Conference, including two committee chairmen — Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri and Roger Wicker of Mississippi — want to move on an infrastructure package to pump money into roads, bridges and transportation projects.
“I think June doesn’t need to come and go without a phase four,” said Wicker, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, referring to a fourth major rescue package after nearly $3 trillion has been approved by Congress this spring alone.
“Optimistically, we might move before the Fourth of July,” said Blunt, a member of McConnell’s leadership team. “I do think we will move on phase four before the August break.”
The talk underscores the growing realization that Republicans may have to soon coalesce around a package of their own after uniting in opposition against a sweeping $3 trillion rescue plan pushed through the House last week by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, calling it a “liberal wish list.” Democrats have attacked McConnell for bringing back the Senate but not putting a new recovery bill on the floor and instead confirming Trump’s nominees, a strategy the GOP leader has defended by saying committees are doing oversight work and Washington needs to assess how emergency aid has been spent so far.
But getting unity behind a policy prescription is bound to prompt sharp GOP divisions, given some want to approve narrow changes to existing law and others want to pass another ambitious proposal touching on different aspects of the economy and give direct assistance to Americans. And some Republicans say enough is enough.
“I’ll do everything I can on my part to stop us from going further in debt by passing out money we don’t have,” said Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican.
The debate has occurred daily for Senate Republicans over boxed lunch in the vast spaces of the Senate Hart Building.
There, Republicans have been debating ideas, including giving unemployed workers a bonus for returning to companies that reopen, giving small business owners more flexibility on how they handle forgivable loans under the Paycheck Protection Program, providing states and cities more leeway in how they spend $150 billion that’s been already approved or whether to give those governments and other distressed industries another massive bailout from Washington.
Sen. Mike Braun, a freshman Republican from Indiana, said many Republicans want to wait to see how the reopening of states affects the economy before deciding what additional stimulus is needed.
“There’s no real urgency,” Braun said. “There’s no kind of coalescing that I can see.”
But others, particularly in difficult reelection races, have become more vocal in recent days in pushing back.
Sen. Cory Gardner, who faces voters in Colorado in the fall, said Wednesday he would try to prevent the Senate from taking a recess next week because he said urgent action is now needed.
“We have an opportunity to perfect the Paycheck Protection Program, to pass legislation to help infrastructure, to create stimulus jobs, economic opportunity. We should be doing everything we can.”
Asked if he was frustrated with McConnell, Gardner said: “We need to get the job done.”
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, locked in a competitive reelection bid, also indicated that it was time to start bipartisan talks with House Democrats over a new package.
“I would like to see us start negotiating with the House,” she said.
Collins signed onto a bipartisan bill with two other Republican senators — Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — to inject $500 billion in emergency aid into states, cities and counties, a figure that’s in line with the demands of the National Governors Association.
“If we don’t provide additional aid, the consequences are going to be massive layoffs and huge reductions in services,” Collins said.
But most Republicans have thrown cold water on the idea — or pushed plans of their own.
Sen. John Kennedy, also a Louisiana Republican, convened a small group of Republicans who met with Trump at the White House earlier this month. The pitch: Kennedy’s bill to allow states and localities to use their existing federal aid on operational expenses not related to the coronavirus. It would not provide new money to states and cities.
Kennedy said Wednesday that McConnell told him he’d support the effort. But the Louisiana Republican isn’t convinced yet.
“I have learned that in DC everybody who smiles at you is not your friend, and you have to watch what people do — not what they say,” Kennedy told CNN. “That’s not directed toward Mitch (McConnell), that’s just the way it is in Washington. The bill hasn’t moved. When it’s put on the floor, I know he’s supportive.”
On Wednesday, GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida blocked Kennedy’s effort to set up a vote for his bill, something he’s done before.
McConnell has argued for weeks publicly and privately to his conference that accelerating another stimulus bill isn’t necessary, particularly since much of the nearly $3 trillion in federal aid hasn’t been spent, including to state and local governments. McConnell’s view is largely echoed by members who hail from states where the coronavirus impact may not have been felt like it was in places like New York or New Jersey.
“I think all of us believe we need to see how the money that has gone out so far has been spent,” Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming and member of McConnell’s leadership team, told CNN. “Until we have a real sense of what the real needs are, people are not feeling rushed to do something.”
But even some conservative members are eager for something now.
“My own view is I think we ought to be pushing jobs pretty hard,” Sen. Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, who has proposed a plan that would in part create a refundable payroll tax rebate of up to 80% to cover payroll costs for firms affected by the crisis.
Blunt, the senior senator from his state, who is a member of the leadership team, didn’t rule out Hawley’s idea but noted that the plan is “a heavy financial commitment” and is “dramatically further” than what other countries are exploring.
But Blunt added: “Personally, I’d like to see infrastructure. I’m probably closer to where the President is on that topic than where a number of my colleagues are.”
Wicker said the Senate needs to “seriously consider putting part of the infrastructure bill” in the next phase, along with potentially providing aid to ailing industries, including tourism and restaurants.
Asked if McConnell is on board, Wicker said: “He’s coming around, but not yet.”
Many other Republicans aren’t — and are looking at narrow fixes to existing law, including to the small business Paycheck Protection Program.
The Senate may have an opportunity to act on changes to the program now that the House plans to vote next week on a narrow overhaul — namely to eliminate a rule that requires recipients of the money to use three-quarters of it on payroll costs and limit other costs to no more than 25%. The bill also would extend the eight-week period to use the money to 24 weeks. But, Republicans and Democrats have privately expressed concerns about the way the House’s bill is structured.
Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican from Iowa who faces voters in the fall, has been supportive of her leadership’s plans to hit pause on another package and added:
“We need to be thinking — what does that next phase look like,” she said.
- Indiana State Department of Health coronavirus information (includes phone number to state hotline)
- WISH-TV coronavirus coverage
- Indiana Back on Track plan
- Revised Stage 3 of Indiana Back on Track plan
- Marion County reopening order from May 13, 2020
- WISH-TV’s “Gr8 Comeback”
- Coronavirus COVID-19 global cases map from John Hopkins University
- CDC’s coronavirus page
- Marion County Public Health Department coronavirus information
- Apply for the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program
Indiana coronavirus timeline
With updated information from the Indiana Deaprtment of Health on May 29, this timeline reflects updated tallies of deaths and positive tests prior to that date.
- March 6: Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) confirms the first case in Indiana. Officials say the Marion County resident had recently traveled to Boston to attend a BioGen conference as a contractor.
- March 8: ISDH confirms a second case. An adult in Hendricks County who had also traveled to the BioGen conference was placed in isolation. Noblesville Schools say a parent and that parent’s children will be self-quarantining after attending an out-of-state event where someone else tested positive.
- March 9: Avon Community School Corp. says a student on March 8 tested positive.
- March 10: ISDH launches an online tracker. Ball State University basketball fans learn the Mid-American Conference tourney will have no fans in the stands. Three businesses operating nursing homes in Indiana announce they will no longer allow visitors.
- March 11: The Indianapolis-based NCAA announces the Final Four basketball tournaments will be conducted with essential staff and limited family attendance. The Big Ten announces all sports events, including the men’s basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, will have no fans starting March 12. Ball State University suspends in-person classes the rest of the spring semester. NBA suspends all games, including the Indiana Pacers, until further notice. Butler University and the University of Indianapolis extend spring break, after which they will have virtual classes.
- March 12: Gov. Eric Holcomb announces new protections that led to extended public school closings and the cancellation of large events across the state. The NCAA cancels its basketball tournaments. The Big Ten suspends all sporting events through the winter and spring seasons. The league including the Indy Fuel hockey team suspends its season. Indy Eleven says it will reschedule four matches. Indianapolis’ annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is canceled.
- March 13: Indiana’s total of positive cases rises to 15. The Indiana High School Athletic Association postpones the boys basketball tournament. Wayzata Home Products, a Connersville cabinet maker, shuts down and lays off its entire workforce due to market uncertainty. Gov. Holcomb announces actions including the elimination of Medicaid co-pays for COVID-19 testing and the lifting of limits on the number of work hours per day for drivers of commercial vehicles. Franklin College says it will begin online classes March 18 and empty residence halls of students in two days. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis closes indefinitely. The Indianapolis Public Library joins other libraries across Indiana and closes all facilities indefinitely.
- March 14: The Indiana Gaming Commission says all licensed gaming and racing operations will close in two days for an indefinite period.
- March 15: Indiana had its first death. St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis announces it will suspend all elective, non-urgent surgeries.
- March 16: Indiana had its second death. Gov. Holcomb announced the first Hoosier death. He closes bars, restaurants and nightclubs to in-person patrons, but maintains carryout and delivery services.
- March 17: Indiana had its third and fourth deaths. ISDH announces Indiana’s second death. Indiana’s Catholic bishops cancel masses indefinitely. Gov. Holcomb activates the National Guard. Purdue, Butler and Indiana State universities cancel May commencement ceremonies.
- March 18: Indiana had its fifth death. Eli Lilly and Co. says it will use its labs to speed up testing in Indiana. The 500 Festival announces suspends all events. Simon Property Group closes all malls and retail properties.
- March 19: Gov. Holcomb extends Indiana’s state of emergency into May. Holcomb says he’ll close all K-12 public and nonpublic schools. Standardized testing was canceled. The state’s income-tax and corporate-tax payment deadline was extended to July 15. Holcomb says the state will waive job search requirements for people applying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament was canceled. The Marion County Emergency Operations Center upgrades to Level 1 status.
- March 20: Indiana’s death toll rose to 9. ISDH announces Indiana’s third death. Gov. Holcomb moves the state’s primary election to June 2. Indiana University says it is postponing May commencement ceremonies on all campuses.
- March 21: Indiana’s death toll rises to 14. ISDH announces Indiana’s fourth death. Indiana National Guard says it and the Department of Transportation are distributing medical supplies to hospitals.
- March 22: Indiana’s death toll rises to 19. ISDH announces seven deaths.
- March 23: Indiana’s death toll rises to 24. Holcomb orders Hoosiers deemed nonessential to “stay at home” from March 24-April 7. Eli Lilly & Co. begins drive-thru testing for the coronavirus for health care workers with a doctor’s order. Ball State University cancels the May commencement.
- March 24: Indiana’s death toll rises to 29. Fred Payne of Indiana Workforce Development says any Hoosiers out of work, including temporary layoffs, are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.
- March 25: Indiana’s death toll rises to 35. Indianapolis Motor Speedway announces the Indianapolis 500 is moved to Aug. 23. IndyGo suspends fares and changes its ride schedules.
- March 26: Indiana’s death toll rises to 44.
- March 27: Indiana’s death toll rises to 47.
- March 28: Indiana’s death toll rises to 58.
- March 29: Indiana’s death toll rises to 76. President Donald Trump announces in a press conference that the national social distancing recommendation will be extended by 30 days.
- March 30: Indiana’s death toll rises to 91. Indiana health commissioner Dr. Kristina Box predicts the arrival of the surge in cases and deaths could come in mid-April to late April, but could be as late as mid-May, “but we don’t know.”
- March 31: Indiana’s death toll rises above 100, to 113. Gov. Holcomb extends the limits of bars and restaurants to offer only “to go” and “carryout” through April 6. Health commissioner Box, asked about when Indiana will be in a surge of COVID-19 cases, says she thinks the surge is starting.
- April 1: Officials extend Marion County’s “stay at home” order through May 1. Marion County health officials say they will start COVID-19 testing services for front-line employees. Gov. Holcomb announces the #InThisTogether campaign.
- April 2: The state announces K-12 schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. The Indiana High School Athletic Association cancels spring sports seasons.
- April 3: Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. The state receives a federal Major Disaster Declaration for all 92 counties. The Indiana National Guard says it, the Army Corps of Engineers and state health officials will begin to assess sites for alternate health care facilities.
- April 4: Indiana’s death toll rises above 200.
- April 6: The state reports a Madison County nursing home has had 11 deaths. Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. He also limits additional businesses to carry-out only.
- April 7: Indiana’s death toll rises above 300. Indiana health commissioner Box says four long-term care facilities have 22 deaths that appear to be related to COVID-19.
- April 10: ISDH said 24 residents of a long-term care facility in Madison County have died from COVID-related illness.
- April 11: Indiana’s death toll rises above 400.
- April 14: Indiana’s death toll rises above 500.
- April 16: Tests ID more than 10,000 Hoosiers with coronavirus. The governor says he expects Indiana to experience a reopening in early May.
- April 17: Indiana’s death toll rises above 600. The governor says that he will extend the “stay at home” order through May 1.
- April 20: Indiana’s death toll rises above 700. Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order to May 1. The governor also says, if the medical supply chain is in good shape, other elective medical procedures can resume April 27.
- April 22: Indiana’s death toll rises above 800. The Tyson facility in Logansport voluntarily closes so 2,200 employees can be tested for COVID-19.
- April 24: Indiana’s death toll rises above 900. The Indianapolis City-County Council approves $25 million to help small businesses. Fishers City Council creates a city health department with a plan to test every resident.
- April 25: ISDH says it will launch an antibody testing study for Hoosiers; thousands of residents were randomly selected to participate in the study.
- April 27: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,000.
- April 28: Indiana officials say they will open COVID-19 testing to more Hoosiers, with expanded criteria and new testing services at 20 sites around the state.
- April 29: The state says it will spent $43 million on contact tracing.
- April 30: Indianapolis extends its stay-at-home order through May 15.
- May 1: Gov. Holcomb announces a phased reopening plan for the state of Indiana. He also extends the stay-at-home order to May 4.
- May 3: Tests ID more than 20,000 Hoosiers with coronavirus.
- May 4: Indiana enters Stage 2 of its Back on Track plan, which excludes Cass County until May 18, and Lake and Marion counties until May 11.
- May 6:The state begins testing for all Hoosiers at 20 sites, with plans to expand the number of sites to 50 in a week. Ivy Tech Community College says it will continue virtual classes when summer courses begin in June.
- May 8: Cris Johnston, director of the Office of Budget and Management, says the state missed out on nearly $1 billion in anticipated April revenues; all state agencies will be given budget-cutting goals. Purdue University OKs plans to reopen for the fall semester with social distancing and other safety measures.
- May 11: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,500.
- May 13: The first phase of a state-sponsored study of the coronavirus estimated about 186,000 Hoosiers had COVID-19 or the antibodies for the novel virus by May 1. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced plans for limited reopenings of worship services, retail establishments, libraries and restaurants.
- May 14: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,600.
- May 17: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,700. Marion County’s death toll rises above 500.
- May 18: Indiana reports its first case of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in a child. The Farbest Foods turkey-processing plant in Huntingburg is closed for three days; 91 people have tested positive there.
- May 21: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,800. Tests ID more than 30,000 Hoosiers with coronavirus.
- May 22: Indiana advances to Stage 3 of the Back on Track reopening plan. Indianapolis closes portions of five streets to allow restaurants to reopen with outdoor dining only.
- May 27: The U.S. death toll rises above 100,000. Indiana University says the fall semester will have in-person and online courses, plus an adjusted calendar through May 2021. Ball State University says the fall semester will be 13 straight weeks of in-person classes with no day off on Labor Day and no fall break.
- May 28: Indiana’s death toll rises above 1,900.
- May 29: Places of worship in Marion County can begin holding indoor services at 50% capacity with proper social distancing. Jim Schellinger, Indiana secretary of commerce, said the federal Paycheck Protection Program has made 73,430 loans in Indiana totaling $9,379,164,461, the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program has made 5,070 loans in Indiana totaling $445,428,500, and the federal Economic Injury Disaster Loans Advance program has made 38,365 grants in Indiana totaling $136,554,000.
- June 1: Marion County restaurants can begin serving customers indoors and outdoors with 50% capacity. Marion County salons, tattoo parlors can reopen by appointment only. Marion County gyms, fitness centers and pools can open with 50% capacity and no contact sports.