Fate of $2,000 coronavirus aid checks in doubt as Senate leader McConnell blocks immediate action – USA TODAY

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The fate of President Donald Trump’s call to increase pandemic aid checks to $2,000 was in doubt Tuesday as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Democrats’ initial attempt to approve increased payments. 

All eyes are on McConnell and whether he will allow a bill increasing the one-time payments from $600 to $2,000. After blocking quick passage of a measure that would increase the payments, the Kentucky Republican introduced a bill Tuesday that includes demands by the president – on contentious issues that Democrats are not likely to support and thus would kill any chances of increasing aid payments.

The bill would increase checks to $2,000 but includes a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which grants certain legal protections for big tech companies, and would establish a commission to study election fraud. The commission would examine many of the  concerns Trump has raised since losing the election and would “make recommendations to Congress to improve the security, integrity, and administration of Federal elections,” the bill says. The president hasn’t provided proof to back his claims, and the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud in last month’s election.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., circulated copies of the bill, noting there was no way Democrats would support the legislation and it stood no chance of reaching Trump’s desk.

“If Sen. McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH (Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help) Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country, it will not pass the House and cannot become law – any move like this by Sen. McConnell would a blatant attempt to deprive Americans of a $2,000 survival check,” Schumer said in a statement. “Will Senate Republicans go along with Sen. McConnell’s cynical gambit or will they push him to give a vote on the standalone House-passed CASH Act?”

The measure McConnell introduced hasn’t been scheduled for a vote, and it’s unclear whether it will receive the backing of his conference, some of whom have voiced support for increasing aid payments to struggling Americans.

On the Senate floor earlier Tuesday, McConnell hinted at the prospect of linking aid payments, the Section 230 repeal and the election study, noting the president’s demands. 

“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together. This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

McConnell’s proposal could hinder any chances of passing increased aid checks as Democrats and Republicans differ on the issues of big tech immunity and election integrity. Democrats called on the Kentucky Republican to pass a standalone proposal  on raising aid checks.

Trump threatened Republicans on Twitter after McConnell blocked the effort to raise relief payments, telling conservatives to “get tough” and immediately approve more funds for Americans.

“Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH!” Trump wrote. “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!”

The Senate majority leader did not give a timeline for when or if the chamber might take up increased relief payments or Trump’s other demands. The House passed a measure Monday that would raise the payments to $2,000 with bipartisan support. Forty-four House Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the measure as 130 rejected it. 

Schumer attempted to put more pressure on McConnell over the matter before the GOP leader blocked his unanimous consent request to pass increased aid payments. Schumer noted, “McConnell holds the key to unlocking this dilemma” and could simply allow his request to pass and give Americans more financial help. 

“$600? Nope, it’s not enough,” Schumer said on the Senate floor. “$2,000 stimulus checks could mean the difference between American families having groceries for a few extra weeks or going hungry. The difference between paying the rent or being kicked out of your home that you’ve lived in for years. It could buy precious time for tens of millions of people, as the vaccine thankfully makes its way across the country.”

The proposal has put the GOP in a precarious position. For months, Senate Republicans have urged limiting the size of the aid payments, citing concerns about the national debt. But after his own administration negotiated a $900 billion coronavirus relief package, Trump demanded that Congress increase the payments from $600 to $2,000. 

More:House approves increasing coronavirus aid checks to $2,000 for Americans, sends bill to Senate

Though a handful of Senate Republicans have come out in favor of increasing relief checks, most are opposed. Holding a vote on the measure would put senators on the spot to either reject Trump’s demands for increased checks or relent on long-held objections to adding to the debt. 

Further complicating matters, both of Georgia’s GOP senators – Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue – announced Tuesday they favor increasing checks from $600 to $2,000. Both face close runoff elections next week that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate, and their Democratic opponents have ramped up attacks over the coronavirus aid debacle. 

Their support ramped up pressure on McConnell, who is keen on helping Loeffler and Perdue win their races Jan. 5.

The Senate faces another difficult vote on overriding Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. The House voted Monday to override the president’s veto, shifting the measure to the Senate. 

McConnell scheduled a vote to override Trump’s veto Wednesday, but Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., objected in hopes of holding up Senate business until the majority leader scheduled a vote on increasing relief payments. 

More:House overrides Trump’s National Defense Authorization Act veto – the first of his presidency

The NDAA, a $741 billion national security package, would raise troops’ pay, direct the purchase of weapons and set military policies. It passed the House and Senate with overwhelming support by both parties but drew Trump’s ire largely over two policies. 

The bill addresses stripping names, symbols, displays, monuments and other paraphernalia that honor the Confederacy. It would establish a commission to study and develop a plan, its cost and the criteria for renaming bases such as the Army’s Forts Benning, Bragg, Hood and others. Trump has said he is against changing the names of bases named for Confederate military leaders.

Trump criticized the legislation for not including language that would strip social media companies from the protections they enjoy under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The measure, adopted in 1996, prevents companies such as Twitter and Facebook from being sued by anyone claiming to be harmed by a post. 

The Senate is likely to consider the veto override this week. If passed, it would mark the first time Congress has overridden a Trump veto since the start of his presidency. 

Contributing: Rebecca Morin

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