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How did Mitt Romney, GOP senators’ sit-down with President Biden on COVID-19 relief go?

SHARE How did Mitt Romney, GOP senators’ sit-down with President Biden on COVID-19 relief go?
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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, left, Vice President Kamala Harris, President Biden and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, discuss a coronavirus relief package in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — After meeting with President Joe Biden on Monday about his massive COVID-19 relief plan and a much smaller Republican proposal, Sen. Mitt Romney said there are differences in almost every area.

“I can tell you there was not an agreement reached,” the Utah Republican told Utah reporters via videoconference, adding that they never expected that their plan “would be adopted or rejected on the spot.”

Vice President Kamala Harris also attended the two-hour meeting with 10 GOP senators in the Oval Office, the first meeting Biden has had in the White House with people other than his staff. Romney described the exchange as “respectful.”

Biden and the senators went through their respective plans point by point and had a “full airing” of their different points of view, Romney said. The president, he said, directed his staff to work with the senators and their staffs to see if there is common ground.

“It was not a check-the-box meeting. It was a serious discussion of differences and I don’t know what will result from it,” Romney said, adding that Biden has “genuine interest in working with us.”

The senators say their plan has many of Biden’s priorities, including more funding for vaccine production and distribution, extending enhanced federal unemployment benefits, nutrition assistance for struggling families, additional small business aid, reopening schools and resources for child care.

But the two plans are billions of dollars apart.

The Republican $618 billion proposal, which contains another $1,000 in direct payment to Americans, is less than a third of the $1.9 trillion plan Biden has touted and that has Democratic support. In a tweet earlier Monday, Biden called on Congress to “immediately” pass his American Rescue Plan, which includes $1,400 relief checks. The two sides disagree on the income threshold for the payments.

Biden is calling for $170 billion to reopen the nation’s schools, while the Republican proposal has $20 billion. Biden wants $360 billion for state and local governments, the GOP plan calls for none.

Romney said he can’t “begin to predict” whether the Biden administration would work toward a bipartisan package or push ahead with House and Senate Democrats to pass the president’s plan.

Biden agreed Sunday to meet with the GOP senators, but the White House on Monday indicated it would be a chance for the president to listen but not negotiate with them.

“What this meeting is not is a forum for the president to make or accept an offer,” press secretary Jen Psaki said at a White House briefing. 

Psaki also said Biden is more concerned about his proposed $1.9 trillion being too small than being too big.

Asked if Biden thinks it’s more important to go big or be bipartisan, Psaki said the president believes he can have both.

It’s important to him that he hears this group out on their concerns, on their ideas. He’s always open to making this package stronger and he also remains in close touch with Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi, Majority Leader (Chuck) Schumer and he will continue engagement throughout the day and in the days ahead,” she said.

Schumer, D-N.Y., on Sunday dismissed the GOP senators’ plan as inadequate. He said they should go back to the drawing board and then talk to him and Democrats.

“They should negotiate with us, not make a take-it-or-leave-it offer,” he told the New York Daily News.

Since March 2019, Congress has passed five bipartisan COVID-19 relief bills and provided more than $4 trillion in aid. The latest package approved in December provided $900 billion in additional aid, including $600 in direct payments to individuals.

The Republican senators — Romney, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Indiana Sen. Todd Young, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, South Dakota Sen. Mike Rounds and North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis — argue that “billions of dollars” from the December package as well as CARES Act money allocated last March has yet to be spent.

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Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, front, Vice President Kamala Harris, left, President Biden and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, discuss a coronavirus relief package in the Oval Office of the White House on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press