McConnell blocks Senate Democrats’ initial attempt to approve $2,000 stimulus checks amid growing pressure on GOP leader to act
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Tuesday blocked consideration of a House bill that would deliver a $2,000 stimulus payments to most Americans — spurning a request made by President Trump even as more Senate Republicans voiced support for the dramatically larger checks.
McConnell’s move was just the beginning of a saga that is likely to engulf the Senate for the rest of the week. Democrats are pushing for an up-or-down vote on the House bill, while more Republicans acknowledge a need for larger stimulus checks.
Those included calls from Georgia’s two embattled Republican senators — David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — who find themselves in the midst of a tough re-election battle that will decide the fate of the chamber next week. GOP Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska also lent support Tuesday, declaring that “people are hurting and we need to get them more aid.”
McConnell instead took note of Trump’s Sunday statement that called for not only larger checks, but also new curbs on large tech companies and an investigations into the November election — and suggested they would be dealt with in tandem.
“Those are the three important subjects the President has linked together,” he said. “This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”
The shifting Senate winds come a day after the House passed a bill to plus up stimulus checks with a bipartisan 275-134 vote. That proposal, called the CASH Act, aims to boost the $600 payments authorized in the massive year-end spending-and-relief package that Trump signed Sunday by another $1,400.
After McConnell spoke Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) then made a request to take up the House-passed bill.
“There’s a major difference in saying you support $2,000 checks and fighting to put them into law,” he said. “The House bill is the only way the only way to deliver these stimulus checks before the end of session. Will Senate Republicans stand against the House of Representatives, the Democratic majority in the Senate, and the president of their own party to prevent these $2,000 checks from going out the door?”
McConnell objected without further comment.
The debate has created strange political bedfellows, aligning Trump with his Democratic foes in Congress, who have sought larger stimulus payments for months amid signs that the economy has worsened.
The Georgia senators joined Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who endorsed the idea on Monday, and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of its earliest proponents.
“Absolutely, we need to get relief to Americans now, and I will support that,” Loeffler said on Fox News. Perdue, meanwhile, tweeted hours later he backs “this push for $2,000 in direct relief for the American people.”
The new wave of Republican support left Hawley convinced hours later that the Senate has “got the votes” to advance the proposal, adding in a tweet: “Let’s vote today.”
Emboldened politically, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) also issued his own ultimatum on Monday, threatening to hold up the chamber unless lawmakers are able to vote on the heightened stimulus payments.
The addition of new Republican support only further intensified the political pressure on McConnell, who now must navigate a path that addresses the president’s concerns without exposing his party to political attacks one week before a pair of Georgia special elections that will determine the Senate majority.
The comments from Loeffler and Perdue came as Sanders’s demand for a vote on the House’s $2,000 checks bill raised the prospect that the two senators would have to to spend several unexpected days in Washington amid the closing week of their re-election campaigns.
Trump also weighed in Tuesday morning: “Give the people $2000, not $600. They have suffered enough!” he wrote in a tweet that shared news of Sanders’s ultimatum.
Sanders’s threat scrambled a tight timeline for the final days of the current Congress, which will end on Sunday when the new class of lawmakers is sworn in. Besides the drama over Trump’s late demands, the Senate must also weigh in on Trump’s pending veto of the annual Pentagon policy bill.
The House voted overwhelmingly to override the veto Monday, setting up action in the Senate. An informal plan of holding the vote on Wednesday and sending senators home until the Jan. 3 swearing-in could very well be threatened by the checks drama: Sanders is threatening to withhold his consent for an earlier vote on the veto unless McConnell allows a vote on the larger checks — meaning a final vote on the override could be pushed to Friday.
“Let me be clear: If Senator McConnell doesn’t agree to an up or down vote to provide the working people of our country a $2,000 direct payment, Congress will not be going home for New Year’s Eve,” Sanders said in a statement late Monday. “Let’s do our job.”
Acceding to Sanders is not an easy choice for the majority leader: The larger checks have only scant support among Senate Republicans, who insisted for months than any pandemic relief measure following on the March Cares Act cost taxpayers no more than $1 trillion.
Adding $2,000 checks to the roughly $900 billion package that Trump signed Sunday would add $464 billion to the cost of the legislation — a staggeringly high price tag for many Republicans who have spent years fretting publicly about a growing national debt.
Both Loeffler and Perdue have taken public credit in their campaigns for delivering the $600 checks in the signed bill. But they have not weighed in on the $2,000 checks, while their Democratic opponents — Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, respectively — have both enthusiastically embraced the larger amounts.
There are significant pockets of support for larger checks inside the GOP: Hawley was an early and aggressive support of direct stimulus checks, pushing with Sanders for $1,200 checks at a time when most Republicans preferred to see smaller payments or no checks at all. And Rubio lent support to the larger checks on Monday.
“I agree with the President that millions of working class families are in dire need of additional relief, which is why I support $2,000 in direct payments to Americans struggling due to the pandemic,” Rubio said in a statement, adding: “I share many of my colleagues’ concern about the long-term effects of additional spending, but we cannot ignore the fact that millions of working class families across the nation are still in dire need of relief.”
Trump’s demands are not limited to larger checks. In a Sunday statement released after he signed the massive stimulus bill, Trump said the Senate would “start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.”
“Section 230” is a reference to a 1996 federal law that broadly indemnifies tech platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google for the actions of their users. Trump has railed against the tech companies as they have started to crack down on his unfounded postings alleging voter fraud in the November election, as well as much more aggressive actions targeting postings made by his supporters containing threats and disinformation.
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who worked to convince Trump to sign the relief bill, said in an interview Monday that there would be a vote on the checks and on the law governing tech companies, but he did not know if those votes would be held before the current Congress adjourns.
He predicted that if there was a stand-alone vote on the $2,000 checks, it would pass the Senate with the necessary 60 votes.
“What drove [Trump’s] thinking was, I’m not going to give in until I get a vote on the checks in the Senate, and I’m not going to sign this bill until we finally address section 230,” he said. “I don’t know how Mitch is going to do it.”