Mitch McConnell refuses to separate checks from unrelated Donald Trump demands
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s attempt to unanimously pass a bill to increase direct payments in the year-end coronavirus relief package to $2,000.
The Kentucky Republican later Tuesday introduced a bill that would boost the size of the checks to $2,000 from $600, repeal Section 230 legal liability protections for internet platforms and create a commission to study election issues. The bill would meet all of President Donald Trump’s recent demands, which are unrelated, but would not get Democratic support and become law.
Through the bill, Republicans would both avoid the act of actually passing $2,000 payments but allow GOP senators running for reelection in Georgia’s Jan. 5 runoffs to express support for Trump’s priorities.
In a statement Tuesday, Schumer said if McConnell “tries loading up” the bill “with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country,” larger direct payments would not become law.
“Any move like this by Sen. McConnell would be a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check,” he said.
McConnell faces pressure to act after the House — with nearly all Democrats and a few dozen Republicans on board — voted Monday to increase the cash deposits to $2,000 from $600. Senate Republicans wary of spending more on pandemic aid are looking for a way to both meet the demands of a president who called the year-end coronavirus relief and funding bill a disgrace and hold on to their majority during races overshadowed by the crisis.
McConnell brought the chamber back this week with one major goal: overriding Trump’s veto of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. He has not yet committed to bringing the $2,000 payment bill up for a vote, and it is unclear now how one would take shape.
Still, Democrats tried to use the limited tools at their disposal to force a vote. Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, McConnell said he planned to set up a Wednesday vote on the veto override.
He outlined three priorities Trump said he wanted Congress to address when he signed the coronavirus relief and government spending bill into law Sunday: larger direct payments, Section 230 legal liability protections for internet platforms and unfounded concerns about widespread election fraud. He said that “this week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”
Schumer then called for the Senate to vote on both the defense bill veto override and the $2,000 payments and “let the chips fall where they may.” When he asked for unanimous consent to increase the size of the checks, McConnell objected.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., then requested a vote on the larger payments after Wednesday’s vote on the National Defense Authorization Act. McConnell again objected. Then, Sanders followed through on his threat to delay consideration of the veto override by objecting to a Wednesday vote.
As the Senate needs unanimous support to move quickly on most issues, any one senator can grind activity to a halt if they choose. The chamber now likely will not vote on overruling the president on the defense bill until the new year. It could then move on to the stimulus checks legislation.
Trump escalated the pressure on Republicans to pass larger payments Tuesday afternoon. However, he indicated he would like to tie the relief to Section 230 reform and his desperate efforts to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s November victory. The president’s lawyers have repeatedly failed to prove systemic voter fraud cost him the election.
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