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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Loeffler, Perdue join growing number of Senate Republicans backing $2,000 stimulus checks

Loeffler, Perdue join growing number of Senate Republicans backing $2,000 stimulus checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) walks to his office at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, on Monday, Dec. 21.

"Two more Senate Republicans on Tuesday expressed support for delivering $2,000 stimulus checks to most Americans, adding to the pressure on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to hold a vote on a proposal that most other members of his party had opposed before President Trump intervened.

The latest calls came from Georgia’s two embattled Republican senators — David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler — as they find themselves in the midst of a tough re-election battle that will decide the fate of the chamber next week. Both said they support the $2,000 checks that Trump has sought to advance in recent days, joining Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who endorsed the idea on Monday, and Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of its earlier 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 House of Representatives on Dec. 28 voted on a bipartisan basis to boost stimulus checks set to go out to American households from $600 to $2,000. (The Washington Post)

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.”

The shifting Senate winds come a day after the House passed a bill to plus up stimulus checks with a broad bipartisan 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. The CASH Act would effectively increase the $600 stimulus checks by another $1,400.

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. 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.

Aides to McConnell declined to comment Monday. McConnell is expected to lay out the Senate’s next moves around noon on Tuesday, when he is expected to speak on the Senate floor. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Monday he will move to pas the House checks bill later on Tuesday, though such a move could be easily blocked by Senate Republicans.

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: Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) 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 Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) 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.

Despite Trump’s statement, McConnell has not acknowledged any such “process.” One option for Republicans is to combine the larger checks with Trump’s other demands into one package, which would likely alienate Democrats and block progress on any further changes to the already-passed covid aid bill.

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.”

Loeffler, Perdue join growing number of Senate Republicans backing $2,000 stimulus checks

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