Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday punted on a House-passed bill to increase coronavirus relief payments to $2,000 despite mounting bipartisan support for the checks, including from President Donald Trump.
McConnell acknowledged that Trump, as he signed on Sunday the most recent COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress, also asked for action on three areas of concern for him, including the stimulus payments. The other issues on Trump’s wish list are intensified election security and lesser liability protections for social media companies.
The Democratic-controlled House on Monday passed a bill to more than triple the relief payments from the $600 in the bill Trump signed to $2,000, with dozens of Republicans voting in favor of it. The Senate’s Democratic leadership is pressing McConnell to bring the measure calling for $2,000 payments to a vote in the chamber, but the majority leader has so far refused to commit to that.
McConnell on Tuesday offered a vague preview of his legislative plan as the current congressional session draws to a close shortly into the new year. “This week, the Senate will begin a process” to bring the three issues raised by Trump “into focus,” he said from the Senate floor.
Moments later, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) sought unanimous consent for the Senate to take up the $2,000 payments bill.
The heftier checks “could mean the difference between American families having groceries for a few extra weeks or going hungry,” Schumer said in a floor speech. He then asked, “Will Senate Republicans fight for a vote on the House-passed [bill] or will they look some other way?”
McConnell swiftly blocked Schumer’s request.
After a monthslong impasse, Congress last week finally passed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package. But Trump, whose administration helped negotiate the bill, stunned Republicans when he urged lawmakers to increase the $600 payments outlined in the legislation. For a few days he left the impression he might veto the bill, before ultimately signing it while noting his objections.
Some Democrats, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have been pushing for $2,000 stimulus checks for months. They are now offering their full-throated support for Trump’s call for the higher payments.
At least five Senate Republicans ― including Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina ― have said they would vote in favor of the heftier checks. GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia announced their support for the payments on Tuesday, a week ahead of the pivotal runoff races in their state that will determine which party controls the Senate in the next congressional session.
McConnell signaled Tuesday that the $2,000 payments could be negotiated as part of a deal tackling the two other issues Trump wants addressed. It’s unclear, however, when such negotiations would take place.
Sanders on Monday said he would filibuster a Senate vote to override Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act, scheduled for Wednesday, to pressure McConnell to bring the $2,000 payments bill to a vote.
Sanders on Tuesday called for McConnell to hold a vote on the $2,000 checks bill immediately after a scheduled NDAA veto override vote on Wednesday, but the Republican leader rejected the request.
“Working families need help now ― not next year ― but right now,” Sanders said in a Senate floor. “Now it is time for the Senate to step up to the plate and do what the working families of this country overwhelmingly want us to do.”
He continued: “Hunger in America is at the highest level that it has been for decades, with moms and dads struggling to feed their kids and working families lining up mile after mile to get emergency food packages. … All of this taking place in the wealthiest country in the history of the world.”
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