Washington — Following the House’s approval Monday of legislation to boost the direct payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000, all eyes are on the Republican-controlled Senate, which will soon decide whether to back President Trump’s demand for increased coronavirus relief checks or split with the president in his waning days in office.
The House passed the bill introduced last week 275 to 134 and brought to the floor for a vote in response to the last-minute request from Mr. Trump to send $2,000 checks to Americans grappling with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Forty-four Republicans joined with their Democratic counterparts in support of the measure.
The bill now heads to the Senate where its fate is uncertain, and it remains unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will even bring it to the floor for a vote. In remarks on the Senate floor, McConnell noted Mr. Trump’s position on three issues — the added relief to the American people through direct payments, reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides a powerful legal shield to social media companies, and voter fraud — but did not make it clear how he intends to proceed.
“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together,” he said. “This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”
While Republicans resisted efforts by their Democratic colleagues to approve a coronavirus relief package with a $1 trillion price tag, a growing number of GOP senators have announced their support for the increased direct payments, including Georgia’s two Republican senators who are on the ballot in a pair of runoff elections January 5.
Senator Kelly Loeffler took to Twitter earlier Tuesday to announce her backing for the $2,000 payments, saying, “I agree with @realDonaldTrump — we need to deliver $2,000 direct relief checks to the American people.” Senator David Perdue quickly followed, tweeting, “President @realDonaldTrump is right — I support this push for $2,000 in direct relief for the American people.”
For the measure to pass the Senate and head to Mr. Trump’s desk for his signature, 12 Republicans would need to join all of their Democratic colleagues. The $2,000 relief checks already have the backing of Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida, but could face opposition from the party’s more fiscally conservative members.
The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated replacing the $600 direct payments approved in the latest coronavirus relief package with $2,000 checks would cost roughly $463.8 billion.
But Hawley said Tuesday “we’ve got the votes,” and called for the Senate to take up the bill.
Amid the uncertainty of whether McConnell will bring the legislation to the floor, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asked to pass the measure by unanimous consent. But McConnell objected, blocking the request.
“Even in our deeply divided times, this issue has united Americans from coast to coast and bridged the massive political divide here in Washington,” Schumer said in a Senate floor speech. “A vast majority of the public, Republican and Democrat, strongly supports $2,000 checks. An overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House strongly supports $2,000 checks. Senate Democrats strongly support $2,000 checks. Even President Trump supports $2,000 checks. There is one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting $2,000 checks?”
Following McConnell’s objection, Mr. Trump said the Senate must approve the $2,000 checks “ASAP” unless they have a “death wish.”
“$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. Get tough!” he tweeted.
The push for increased relief payments to Americans was driven by an 11th hour-demand from Mr. Trump last week for Congress to raise the amount in a coronavirus relief package approved by lawmakers last week from $600 to $2,000.
The president suggested he would not sign the measure, which was combined with a $1.4 trillion government spending bill, calling it a “disgrace” and pushing the nation closer to a government shutdown.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi swiftly seized on Mr. Trump’s demand, and on Christmas Eve, the House attempted to pass by unanimous consent a bill to provide $2,000 checks. But Republicans blocked the proposal.
Then, on Sunday, the president unexpectedly relented and signed the package. Still, he continued to push for the $2,000 relief checks and said the Senate would “start the process for a vote.”
He tweeted Tuesday, “$2000 for our great people, not $600! They have suffered enough from the China Virus!!!”