WASHINGTON – A small but singularly influential group is a driving force for an agreement on a stalled coronavirus relief bill: Endangered Senate GOP incumbents who need to win this fall if Republicans are going to retain control of the majority.
Confronted with a poisonous political environment, vulnerable Senate Republicans are rushing to endorse generous jobless benefits, child care grants, and more than $100 billion to help schools reopen. Several of them are refusing to allow the Senate to adjourn until Washington delivers a deal to their desperate constituents.
Sen. Martha McSally, who has fallen behind in polls in Arizona, is breaking with conservatives to endorse a temporary extension of a $600 per week supplemental benefits. Republicans up for reelection such as John Cornyn of Texas and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are demanding results before returning home to campaign. And Sen. Susan Collins is in overdrive, backing help for cash-starved states and local governments — and Maine's shipbuilding industry.
The opinions of senators up for reelection are of more consequence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell than those held by conservatives like Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who are broadcasting their opposition to the emerging legislation as costly and ineffective. As other Republicans gripe that they're going to have to swallow a deal brokered by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the vulnerable Republicans are craving just such a bipartisan result.
“Maybe eight Republicans who are up in tough states have a bigger interest in getting this COVID-19 bill done," said Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio. “I think that's accurate."
Republican strategists, grappling with a political environment for their party that has worsened over the summer, said it's imperative for GOP lawmakers to be able to head back to their states and districts with a deal in hand to show voters they are taking the pandemic and the economic fallout seriously.
“GOP Senate candidates need a deal, a good deal ... so they can get home and campaign on helping small businesses get up and moving again,” said Scott Reed, the chief political strategist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Republican operative Corry Bliss said it was crucial for incumbents facing tough re-election fights to “have wins” to highlight through the fall.