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Sen. Portman Hopeful Talks With Biden Will Lead To COVID-19 Relief Compromise

In this April 16, 2018 file photo, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, speaks during a news conference at a Kroger supermarket as the company announces new associate benefits attributed to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, in Cincinnati.
John Minchillo
Associated Press

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) was among the 10 Republican Senators who met with President Biden on Monday to talk about their COVID relief packages. Even though the Republicans' plan is a third the size of the one Democrats want, Portman is hoping for more talks on those dueling deals.

Portman said the Senators had a "good meeting" with Biden over their COVID relief plans, which include some common elements.

But Biden’s $1.9 trillion package includes $350 billion in emergency funding for state and local governments, and the Republicans’ $600 million proposal does not. Portman said that could be a bargaining point.

“I support more state and local, but it should be based on need. Obviously not all of my Republican colleagues agree. So that's not in our initial proposal. But that would be something that would be included to get into a real negotiation," Portman said.

Ohio other Senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown, is backing the idea of a fund with half the money for cities, towns and villages and the other half for counties. Several Ohio cities have said they spent all the earlier CARES Act pandemic relief funding they received.

The Republicans are also looking at fewer and smaller benefits, including $1,000 in direct payments to individuals earning up to $40,000 a year, or $80,000 for couples, in contrast to the $1,400 direct payments to more individuals that Democrats proposed.

On the issue of the upcoming Senate trial of former President Trump, Portman said he will be an impartial juror in the trial, athough he said he questions the constitutionality of the trial.

"I've got real questions about the constitutionality of holding a Senate trial and removing from office someone who is gone," Portman said. "He's an outside citizen."

Portman sided with 44 other Republicans in voting to debate the question of constitutionality. However, all Senate Democrats and five Republicans voted to move forward with the trial, although Trump's defense team continues to arguehe cannot be impeached no that he's out of office.

In a memo to the Senate, impeachment managers from the U.S. House argue that there is already precedent for holding former officeholders responsible for their actions, and argued that "Presidents do not get a free pass to commit high crimes and misdemeeanors near the end of their term."

Portman has said he won't seek re-election in 2022, touching off a scramble among Republicans and Democrats who are interesting in running to replace him. No candidates have officially stepped forward, although many people mentioned as likely contenders – such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted – have withdrawn their name already.