Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Democrats to pass a bill that would increase coronavirus relief payments from $600 to $2,000 for most Americans.
McConnell objected to calls by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for unanimous consent to approve the $2,000 payments. In a bit of parliamentary maneuvering, Sanders then blocked McConnell’s bid to unanimously override President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, tying to the two issues together while leaving both in limbo with just a few days left before the 116th Congress comes to a close on Sunday.
Both the $2,000 payments and the NDAA veto override were passed by the House on Monday. The larger stimulus checks passed 275-134, with 44 Republicans joining 231 Democrats in favor of the increased payments and 130 Republicans opposed. House lawmakers voted 322-87 to override Trump's veto of the defense bill.
The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation said Monday that increasing the direct payments from $600 to $2,000 and expanding eligibility as the House-passed bill did would cost $464 billion.
McConnell’s strategy: Speaking on the floor of the Senate, McConnell recognized that Trump had demanded that the coronavirus relief legislation, which was signed into law on Sunday, include the $2,000 payments. He also referred to two of Trump’s other complaints about the bill: that it failed to remove legal protections for tech firms contained in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act or provide for further investigations of alleged election fraud.
“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together. This week the Senate will begin a process to bring those three priorities into focus,” McConnell said, while remaining vague about how those issues — and the timing of votes — might play out.
McConnell’s on Tuesday reportedly filed a bill tying the $2,000 payments — which he and other Republican leaders oppose — to Trump’s additional demands. The move is sure to undermine support for the bill among Democrats, who are unlikely to vote in favor of eliminating Section 230 or opening investigations into the recent election. In a statement, Schumer said that McConnell’s combined bill "will not pass the House and cannot become law – any move like this by Sen. McConnell would a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check."
Trump responds: The president replied to McConnell’s vote block in a tweet: “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH! Also, get rid of Section 230 - Don’t let Big Tech steal our Country, and don’t let the Democrats steal the Presidential Election.”
Trump also attacked Republican leaders, calling them “weak and tired” for allowing the override vote on the NDAA to proceed.
Strange bedfellows: The conflict is creating some unusual alliances, with Democrats backing Trump on the larger relief payments and GOP leaders threatening to defy a president they have been loath to cross in the past.
While most Republican senators oppose the effort to increase the relief payments, a handful have expressed support, including Sens. Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Marco Rubio (R-FL). Facing runoff elections next week, GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia have also recently gotten behind the effort.
What’s next: McConnell may have effectively killed off the $2,000 checks since his combined bill won’t pass the Senate and the House is done for the year.
A Senate vote to override the NDAA is now delayed until January 1 at the earliest, Roll Call said, and senators my now face several days of debate and maneuvering on the relief payments.
“McConnell’s move was just the beginning of a saga that is likely to engulf the Senate for the rest of the week,” The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis and Tony Romm reported.