Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan  and  Ohio Democrat Sen. Sherrod Brown got into a testy exchange on the Senate floor over wearing masks to protect others from COVID-19.

Brown asked Sullivan to “please wear a mask as he speaks.”

“I don’t wear a mask when I’m speaking, like most senators,” snarled a visibly angry Sullivan toward Brown. “I don’t need your instruction.”

The tone shocked onlookers.

“I know you don’t need my instruction,” shot back Brown. “But there clearly isn’t much interest in this body in public health. We have a president who hasn’t shown up at a coronavirus task force meeting in months. We have a majority leader (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.) that calls us back here to vote on an unqualified nominee and at the same time to vote on judge after judge after judge, exposing all of the people who can’t say anything. I understand. People in front of you and the presiding officer. And exposing all the staff here. And the majority leader just doesn’t seem to care.”

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The coronavirus has killed more than 247,000 Americans this year and infected at least 11.1 million — some 1 million of them in just the past week.

Yet in Congress, where talks over economic relief bills stalled out months ago, lame-duck approval of aid is hardly front-of-mind. 


The urgency of the nationwide surge in virus cases, spiking hospitalizations and increasing death toll has hardly resonated in the nation’s capital as its leaders are vexed by transition politics and trying to capitalize on the promise of a vaccine. 

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There’s no progress in Congress. The split-decision election — in which Democrats absorbed sizable losses in House races despite defeating President Trump— hasn’t sparked any movement or prodded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., or McConnell to switch from their pre-election postures.

Pelosi wants to go big, say $2 trillion; McConnell wants a smaller package in the $500 billion range that his rightward-tilting colleagues can live with. Moving toward somewhere in the middle would be difficult for both camps.

Trump is a disruptive factor on Capitol Hill and no deal is possible without his buy-in, or at least his signature. Without a better and more reliable signal of Trump’s intentions, both McConnell and Pelosi could be wary of navigating the turbulence required to forge an agreement.

The results of the election have also weakened the negotiating position of Pelosi, who played hardball during the weeks leading up to the election, only to come away empty-handed. But she is not — yet — wavering from her insistence on a sweeping and comprehensive relief bill rather than the more targeted approach favored by Republicans.

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