U.S. COVID-19 aid talks go on but Republican leader says deal unlikely before election

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would resume talks on a possible COVID-19 stimulus package with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Friday, while Senate Republicans voiced doubts that a deal can be reached before the Nov. 3 election.

FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media after a lunch with Republican Senators, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo/File Photo

The leading Democrat in Congress, Pelosi said she hoped to reach an agreement on long-sought coronavirus relief as she prepared for a third straight day of talks with Mnuchin, representing the White House in their talks.

Republican President Donald Trump initially withdrew from the negotiations this week only to regain interest in forging a bipartisan accord.

“I do hope that we will have an agreement soon,” Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, said on MSNBC. She emphasized aid for state and local governments to help pay salaries for police, healthcare workers and other first responders.

That has proven to be a major dividing line throughout months of negotiations. The pandemic has infected at least 7.6 million people in the United States and killed more than 212,000.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, said he doubts lawmakers would pass a package before the Nov. 3 presidential election.

“The proximity to the election and the differences of opinion over what is needed at this particular juncture are pretty vast,” McConnell told a news conference in his home state of Kentucky.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz also voiced skepticism over the prospects for a pre-election agreement, blaming Democrats for a lack of progress up to now. Neither McConnell nor Cruz has taken part directly in negotiations.

McConnell said prospects for standalone assistance for the airline industry were unclear.

“If there’s another package, I think there’s pretty widespread agreement that airlines ought to be part of it,” McConnell said. “As to whether the system would swallow an airlines only … that’s not clear either. So, I just think the situation’s kind of murky.”

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