Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., praised the coronavirus stimulus bill that's poised to pass Congress Monday after months of stalled negotiations, but added that Democrats could have had the same deal months ago had they not prioritized damaging President Trump's reelection hopes.
"It's not too little, too late," McConnell told "The Daily Briefing." "It's directly targeted at exactly what the country needs right now. If, after the new [Biden] administration comes in, they want to advocate more, we'll take a look at it, based on conditions in the country at that time."
Congressional leaders agreed Sunday on a $900 billion coronavirus package that provides direct payments to most Americans, targeted relief for small businesses, funding for vaccinations, and expanded unemployment benefits. Combined with a $1.4 trillion ominbus bill to fund the government through September, lawmakers will vote on roughly $2.3 trillion in new spending. It is expected to pass, and Trump has signaled he will immediately sign it.
McConnell also fired back Monday at claims by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other Democrats that Republicans had been responsible for the impasse on the second round of coronavirus relief.
"The facts are not irrelevant," McConnell said. "I said back in July what the country needed was a package roughly of a trillion dollars focused on kids in school, small businesses, health care providers, and direct cash payments ... We started advocating that in July and August. The talks were unproductive, so I essentially put that bill on the floor of the Senate in both September and October. Not a single Democrat supported it. Their view was, give us everything we want or we won't give you anything.
"It's noteworthy." McConnell added, "that at the end they finally gave us what we could have agreed to back in July. I think what held it up was they did not want to do anything before the presidential election. I think they felt that would disadvantage the president."
Senate Democrats repeatedly blocked smaller Republican relief bills, including a $500 billion package in October, and Pelosi said throughout 2020 she would not go below $2 trillion in any legislation. She changed her tune after Joe Biden's election victory, endorsing a roughly $908 billion package and citing the "new president" in her reasoning.
McConnell has often discussed his childhood battle with polio, and stressed to Fox News host Dana Perino that the quickest return to normalcy for the country would come through vaccinating the public as "rapidly as we possibly can."
"It's important for the leaders in the country to step up, take the vaccine, and help reassure the American public, because polls indicate about half the public is either skeptical about taking the vaccine or doesn't want to take it at all," he said. "That has to change, because we can't solve this problem until large numbers of Americans are vaccinated.
"As a polio victim myself, I fully understand the significance of vaccines. This vaccine was developed in under a year. A modern medical miracle. And we need to take the vaccine."
McConnell also told Perino that he would push for liability protection against coronavirus-related lawsuits in any future relief legislation.
"I think liability relief is really important is not just for small businesses," he said. "It's universities, it's nonprofits, it's hospitals, doctors, nurses ... [an] epidemic of lawsuits is already developing. These people need to be protected because they were doing the best they can with an unknown disease, and if there is another coronavirus relief bill after the first of the year, I'm going to insist that liability protection for these universities and health care providers is a part of it."
Democrats are enthusiastic about passing larger-scale relief once Biden takes office, particularly if they reclaim the Senate majority by sweeping Georgia's two Senate runoff races on Jan. 5. McConnell said Republicans holding onto those seats would force Biden to govern as a moderate.
If Republicans keep the Senate majority, McConnell will spend at least the next two years negotiating with a longtime former Senate colleague in Biden. Commenting on Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon recently calling Republicans "f---ers' and McConnell himself "terrible," he said it was "not helpful."
"I know the new president and know him well, and that's the kind of thing I don't think he would've said," he said. "My guess is she was probably taken to the woodshed after saying that."