“Congress needs to act now,” Biden pleaded last week. “The consequences of inaction are severe.”
But the fight over immigration is just the latest in a series of stumbles Congress has had trying to respond to an unpredictable and ever-changing virus.
“We had a bipartisan agreement and unfortunately, because of an extraneous issue, we aren’t going to be able to get the 10 Republican votes we need to pass it,” said Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
This is the second time a tentative deal on a Covid relief package has been scuttled in just over a month. In March, a $15.6 billion package that had been negotiated by House and Senate leaders collapsed when a group of House Democrats revolted against it because of how it was paid for. Just weeks later, another hard-fought deal was negotiated, but it was smaller, totaling just $10 billion instead of almost $16 billion.
“When they blew that agreement up, you are trying to do this as a freestanding bill, and it just gets that much more complicated,” said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the GOP whip. “There are a lot of issues surrounding this now. … We will see where it goes from here.”
It’s still possible that senators will be able to find a way forward after the Easter recess, but it’s not clear the 10 GOP votes will materialize without a vote on the immigration amendment. And GOP senators point out that the longer the bill hangs out, the harder it may be to get across the finish line at all.
“Ten billion dollars is a lot of money,” said Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio. “I think it is reasonable to say, ‘Let’s have a handful of amendments on each side.’ “
Asked if he was afraid the bill may never happen now that lawmakers have left for the recess, GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said, “Never is a long time.”
“I think we need to deal with it, and I think we can figure out how to deal with it, but the Title 42 announcement was a real problem,” he said.
Blunt offered that the administration’s timing on its decision to roll back Title 42, which essentially signaled there was no longer a public health crisis at the border, had imperiled the fate of the bill.
“There might have been an amendment issue, but not an amendment that Democrats saw as kryptonite,” he said.
Democrats are insistent that eventually the Covid relief will pass. It may just take some time to sort out the details.
“It will get through,” said Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia. “We are playing a little bit of Russian roulette here. What if the virus spikes? I don’t know what is the current inventory of supplies?”
CNN’s Manu Raju and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.