U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked Democrats’ push to immediately bring President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger $2,000 US COVID-19 relief cheques up for a vote, saying the chamber would “begin a process” to address the issue.
Pressure is mounting on the Republican-led Senate to follow the House, which voted overwhelmingly on Monday to meet the president’s demand to increase the cheques from $600 US as the virus crisis worsens. A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, have said they will support the larger amount. But most Republican senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.
The outcome is highly uncertain heading into the rare holiday-week session.
“We should not adjourn until the Senate holds a vote,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said as he made a motion to push it toward a vote.
McConnell, who has said little publicly on Trump’s request, objected but gave almost no indication of his plans ahead.
“The Senate will begin a process,” the Republican leader said. He said he plans to bring the president’s demand for the $2,000 cheques and other remaining issues “into focus.”
The showdown has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office for the new year. It’s preventing action on another priority — overturning Trump’s veto on a sweeping defence bill that has been approved every year for 60 years.
The president’s last-minute push for bigger relief cheques deeply divides Republicans, who are split between those who align with Trump’s populist instincts and those who adhere to what had been more traditional conservative views against government spending. Congress had settled on smaller $600 payments in a compromise over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.
Liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the relief aid are blocking action on the defence bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $2,000 for most Americans.
The two Republican senators from Georgia, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, announced Tuesday they support Trump’s plan for bigger cheques as they face Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate.
“I’m delighted to support the president,” said Perdue on Fox News. Loeffler said in an interview on Fox that she, too, backs the boosted relief cheques.
Trump tweeted his demands ahead of Tuesday’s Senate session: “$2,000 for our great people, not $600!”
The House vote late Monday was a stunning turn of events. Just days ago, during a brief Christmas Eve session, Republicans blocked Trump’s sudden demand for bigger cheques as he defiantly refused to sign the broader COVID-19 aid and year-end funding bill into law.
Trump fumes and golfs
As Trump spent days fuming from his private club in Florida, where he is spending the holidays, dozens of Republicans calculated it was better to link with Democrats to increase the pandemic payments rather than buck the outgoing president and constituents counting on the money. Democrats led passage, 275-134, but 44 Republicans joined almost all Democrats in approval.
Together with votes this week to override Trump’s veto of a sweeping defence bill, it’s potentially one last confrontation between the president and the Republican Party he leads as he imposes fresh demands and disputes the results of the presidential election. The new Congress is set to be sworn in Sunday.