Senate Republicans Sit Out the Coronavirus Crisis


(Bloomberg Opinion) --

Remember the U.S. Senate? It used to be sort of important. Lately? Mitch McConnell was ready to take a week-plus recess without completing action on a coronavirus and economic stimulus bill until some Republican senators realized how bad that would look. So instead, on Thursday afternoon they just left until Monday. Afternoon.

Hey, what's the hurry, right? The nation is doing just fine. Nothing much going on.

Donald Trump, to his credit, wants a bill. Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats want a bill containing a number of items. Trump wants a payroll tax cut. McConnell wants … well, apparently he wants to go home for the weekend. He doesn't like the House proposal. He doesn't like Trump's idea. He doesn't have his own proposal. He hasn't asked Senate Republicans to develop a proposal. He just wants Pelosi and the White House to come to an agreement, which they were reportedly close to doing Thursday night. But he wasn't willing to keep the Senate around to approve it as quickly as possible if there is a deal.

Now, it's easy to understand why McConnell doesn't want to negotiate directly with Pelosi. Even though a compromise bill supported by both of them would easily pass both chambers by veto-proof margins, it's the kind of action that would put him in line for criticism from Trump - perhaps right away for supposedly failing to make a good deal, or perhaps later on if things go badly. Indeed, Pelosi in negotiating with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is surely aware that Trump could at any minute decide to undercut whatever Mnuchin is saying.

That's not a good enough excuse. Not this time. McConnell must know by now - he certainly should know by now - that the fate of the president and of his Senate majority rests on getting the policy right, whether Trump understands it or not. It's obvious the markets have no confidence in the federal government. Passing almost anything can only help at this point.

McConnell has repeatedly ignored what's good for the nation in order to protect Republican senators. For better or worse, that's more or less his job - and if Republican senators weren't right behind him, he wouldn't be doing it. This time, however, he's not doing that; he is, instead, keeping his own hands clean at the expense of his party, his caucus, and the nation.

What's more, given Trump's indifference to policy, the agreement between the House and the administration is almost certainly going to reflect Democratic priorities far more than whatever it is that Senate Republicans might want. Which just gets back to the original problem: What exactly would be the Senate Republican response to the events of this last week? And if they don't have any idea, why exactly are they in office?

1. Geneva Cole at the Monkey Cage on conservative identity.

2. William Burns on the state of the State Department.

3. Susan Glasser on Trump and the pandemic.

4. Kevin Drum on Republicans and reality.

5. James Fallows on Trump's oval office speech.

6. Kyle Barry on judicial elections.

7. And Matthew Green at Mischiefs of Faction on Pandemic, the game.

To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tracy Walsh at

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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