WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks was all but dead Wednesday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed an alternative approach of loading up the bill with other White House priorities that appeared destined to fail.
The roadblock mounted by Senate Republicans appears unsurmountable, even as pressure builds to approve the bigger checks. Trump wants the Republican-led chamber to follow the House and increase the checks from $600 for millions of Americans. A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, agree. But most GOP senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.
Senators will be back at it after McConnell blocked a vote Tuesday, but his new bill — which includes the formation of a commission to investigate the 2020 election as well as a complicated repeal of big tech liability protections — does not have enough support to pass.
“What we’re seeing right now is Leader McConnell trying to kill the checks — the $2,000 checks desperately needed by so many American families,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said at the Capitol.
Liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the relief aid are blocking action on the defense bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $2,000 for most Americans.
“The working class of this country today faces more economic desperation than at any time since the Great Depression of the 1930s,” Sanders said. “Working families need help now.” He also tried to force a vote on the relief checks, but McConnell objected a second time.
The GOP blockade is causing turmoil for some as the virus crisis worsens nationwide and Trump amplifies his unexpected demands.
The two GOP senators from Georgia, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, announced Tuesday they support Trump’s plan for bigger checks as they face Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in runoff elections that will determine which party controls the Senate.
Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida, among the party’s potential 2024 presidential hopefuls, also are pushing the party in the president’s direction.
Other Republicans panned the bigger checks, saying the nearly $400 billion price tag was too high, the relief is not targeted to those in need and Washington has already dispatched ample sums on COVID aid.
In the House, 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. House Democrats led passage, 275-134, but 44 Republicans joined almost all Democrats on Monday for a robust two-thirds vote of approval.
It’s highly likely that McConnell will set up votes ahead on both the House-passed measure supporting Trump’s $2,000 checks as well as his own new version, as a way to give senators a chance to show they took action.
That’s a process that almost ensures neither bill will pass.
Trump’s push could fizzle out in the Senate but the debate over the size and scope of the year-end package — $900 billion in COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September — is potentially one last confrontation before the new Congress is sworn in Sunday.
The COVID-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $300, through March 14 — as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.
Americans earning up to $75,000 will qualify for the direct $600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional $600 payment per dependent child.
Associated Press writer Ashraf Khalil in Washington contributed to this report.