A bipartisan coronavirus relief bill would be easier to pass: GOP Sen. Rob Portman

He also said, "I don't think (Biden) does go far enough on Saudi sanctions."

February 28, 2021, 2:06 PM

Coronavirus relief would be easier to pass if it were truly bipartisan, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week," adding that he thinks Democrats should trim the coronavirus relief bill to make it more targeted -- and to garner more support from Republicans.

"There's an easy answer to this, let's make it bipartisan," Portman told ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos.

"We can continue to work together and in this case, it would be very easy to get Republican support for a COVID relief package," he added.

According to the New York Times, there is Republican voter support for this package -- 40%.

"That is certainly one definition of bipartisanship," Stephanopoulos pressed.

Portman said he believes people support additional relief money for themselves, but that there are items in the bill which aren't relevant to coronavirus relief.

"Yeah, if -- you know -- checks are coming out to people's homes that's going to be popular, but that doesn't mean that this is the right bill. It's $1.9 trillion -- more than half of it won't even be spent in this calendar year," Portman responded.

"There are a number of things in here that have nothing to do with COVID relief," he said. "It's just not targeted. We have a Republican alternative. As you know, we've been talking with the president and his people about it, but got no response, which is much more targeted and focused on the real health care and economic matters that are urgent and that's what we ought to do."

Portman pointed to Republican packages during the Trump administration, and told Stephanopoulos that it was clear that the GOP would be in favor of additional relief. Prominent members of the party, were in Orlando, Florida, this weekend for the Conservative Political Action Conference, and on Saturday, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., criticized the Democrats' relief package.

"They're using COVID -- we just passed a COVID bill 45 days ago that Donald Trump signed into law -- they haven't even spent all that money yet," Nunes said.

Portman said that while former President Donald Trump -- who remains a central focus of CPAC this year -- is still popular within the party, according to polling, policies are what voters are really looking for from its lawmakers.

"I do think the policies are what is even more popular and that's why Republicans did pretty well in 2020, other than at the presidential level," he said. "That's where we ought to focus."

Stephanopoulos pushed Portman on the role of Trump within the party.

"But can you talk about that when President Trump is out there in the lead?" he asked.

"Well, it sometimes makes it more difficult. But look, I think he has an opportunity today to talk about his accomplishments, instead of talking about personalities ... talk about what you did," the senator said, referring to Trump's anticipated speech at CPAC on Sunday afternoon.

On "This Week," Portman also took aim at President Joe Biden's stance on Saudi Arabia and his decision -- announced late this week -- not to further punish Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi King Salman's son and heir to the Saudi throne, after an unclassified report from the U.S. intelligence community determined that he approved an operation to capture or kill journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"But you have to give him credit, he's increased sanctions and increased the travel bans on those individuals directly responsible," Portman said. "I do think there ought to be something additional that focuses on him. And it could be along the lines of sanctions or travel bans, just as they've done for those directly involved with the killing of Khashoggi."

"Look, I know this is tough, because Saudis are pushing back right now on Iran. That's very important," he added. "So it's a delicate area and as we said earlier, it's easy to campaign but harder to govern. But I think there should be something directly related to the crown prince."

Fred Hiatt, a friend of Khashoggi's and the editorial page editor at The Washington Post where Khashoggi worked, also told Stephanopoulos in a separate interview on Sunday that he did not think the Biden administration went far enough in punishing the crown prince, either.

"I think the question is, what can you do so that the next time MBS or another would-be butcher like that is thinking about doing a heinous crime like this, will stop and think it's not worth doing," Hiatt said, referring to the crown prince by his initials. "And so far, the calculation for (Biden) is, you know, he's paid a price and the release of the report last week was a good step forward. But it's not a sufficient price. And, you know, Biden's own Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week said that those responsible for the reprehensible murder of Jamal Khashoggi must be held accountable. We now know that the man most responsible is the crown prince -- and he hasn't yet been held accountable."