WASHINGTON - As coronavirus aid negotiations between top White House officials and Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress bogged down over the past week, the question reverberating through near-empty Capitol hallways has been "Where's Mitch?" That's Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader with the reputation of being a legislative mastermind and a tough, wily deal-maker. McConnell, a Republican like President Donald Trump, said on Tuesday he is deliberately hanging back as Congress's top Democrats and White House negotiators work out a deal to help American families stay afloat during severe economic times caused by the coronavirus pandemic. If they reach a deal, he said, it would be "something I'm prepared to support even if I have some problems with certain parts of it." Unlike in past showdowns over spending and borrowing authority bills, McConnell would not bring a strong hand to negotiations - his party's 53-member majority in the 100-seat Senate is deeply fractured over his $1 trillion package, with dissenters expected no matter what emerges from the talks. The betting is that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows could have an easier time without McConnell in the room as they try to craft a bill that will need Democratic support for passage anyway. An arm's-length appearance could also help deflect fallout if this legislative battle ends poorly, something that could be on his mind as he seeks to retain his seat in congressional and presidential elections in November. That's not to say that McConnell has gone AWOL. While he may not be in the sessions, he is in close touch with the White House behind the scenes. "He's definitely giving guidance," Senator Bill Cassidy told Reuters on Tuesday. "Clearly Mnuchin and his team are the ones negotiating directly. But I certainly get a sense that they're going in there knowing that which McConnell will accept and that which he will not." Senator Mike Rounds called McConnell's approach pragmatic. "In the past he's made it clear that unless you have House Democrats on board and you have the White House on board, you,
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