Frustration among many Senate Republicans, not to mention Democrats, toward the White House has hit a fever pitch, with many lawmakers — including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — admitting they could break for the August recess without a stimulus bill.
The latest: The Senate left for the weekend Thursday evening without even circulating a draft bill that McConnell says will be used as a starting point for negotiations — and many blame the White House.
Behind the scenes: Multiple GOP Hill aides involved in the stimulus negotiations tell me they feel Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows have undermined the legislative process.
- "They came in at the back end with a ton of unrealistic requests, like zeroing out funding for testing and forcing the FBI building into the package," one congressional aide said. (The president initially wanted a line in the bill to build a new FBI headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. )
There was also early skepticism among GOP lawmakers about their role in the talks, according to conversations with seven Republican Hill staffers involved in the crafting of the bill.
- Mnuchin, the White House's key negotiator during the passage of the CARES Act, was criticized by members for his willingness to cut deals with Democrats and "give away the store," as one lawmaker put it.
- He's also been given vast powers under the CARES Act on how the implementation is done. "He can make a lot of decisions unilaterally, and that has added to the skepticism on the Hill," a GOP staffer said.
Meadows has taken a bigger role in stimulus talks this time around and is viewed as Mnuchin's foil, two administration officials told Axios. But it's taken him a while to get the president on the same page as GOP senators.
The other side: "Meadows and Mnuchin have been working closely with Senate GOP leadership. They spent the afternoon on the Hill yesterday working on priorities the White House and Senate R’s can unite around. They’ll be back on the Hill today. They’re also in constant contact with McConnell and [House GOP Leader Kevin] McCarthy," a White House official told Axios.
The bottom line: Republican leaders privately admit that if negotiations are a failure, the White House and Republicans will take the political hit since they're running the show.