Politics

House Republicans Block $2,000 Coronavirus Stimulus Checks, Defying Trump


House Republicans defied President Donald Trump’s wishes on Christmas Eve, blocking the passage of a proposal to include $2,000 stimulus checks — something the president demanded in an angry video posted to Twitter on Tuesday night while threatening to upend months of negotiations over government funding and coronavirus relief.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) dared Republicans to object to Trump’s call for bigger direct payments, something Democrats have been arguing in favor of for months, by putting up a clean bill for $2,000 stimulus checks on the House floor, while most lawmakers weren’t in town, and trying to pass it via unanimous consent.

In what was less than a minute of action on the House floor Republican Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) rejected the unanimous consent attempt, as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Republicans would do.

McCarthy put out a letter Wednesday night calling on Pelosi to reopen negotiations on government spending and the COVID-19 relief bill. Pelosi has scheduled for another round of votes on Monday, Dec. 28, when lawmakers are expected to come back to town.

Congress had passed — with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate — a $900 billion coronavirus relief package Monday, alongside a $1.4 trillion government spending bill meant to fund federal agencies for a whole year. Trump was said to have been on board with the proposal, which extended an additional $300 per week in unemployment benefits for roughly three more months and approved a round of $600 checks to Americans making less than $75,000.

But on Tuesday, Trump released a video threatening to veto the legislation altogether, risking a government shutdown and leaving 12 million unemployed Americans in the lurch as federal programs for the jobless expire Dec. 26. 

Among Trump’s demands were something his fellow Republicans in Congress have been fighting against: bigger checks.

“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple,” the president said Tuesday night on a four-minute video he posted on Twitter, decrying the government spending bill and COVID-19 relief package Congress has spent the last month tediously negotiating.

Top congressional Democrats played along with Trump’s demands, knowing that forcing a vote on the proposal would either result in a policy win — with bigger stimulus checks for Americans — or a political one, where Republicans have to not only defy Trump but also show Americans they don’t want to give them more money during this health crisis.

On Thursday, Pelosi got the latter.

But by insisting on calling Trump’s bluff through a unanimous consent vote that would not require House members to return to Washington from their Christmas vacations, some skeptics warned that Pelosi’s move was little more than political theater since a single member’s objection could derail the bill’s approval. Adam Jentleson, a former aide to Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, called on Pelosi to summon the House back into session for a roll call vote, arguing that it would either result in the expanded relief package’s passage or put Republican members on record voting against the $2,000 stimulus checks. Pelosi is now doing that, but it will be after federal programs for jobless Americans expire on Dec. 26.

Trump did not explicitly state he would veto the spending bill and COVID-19 relief package. But it was clear he was not happy with either.

On Tuesday, Trump misleadingly conflated the government spending bill with the coronavirus relief bill in an effort to characterize it all as “wasteful spending.” 

“It’s called the COVID relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” Trump said. He then rattled off obscure items, such as U.S. aid to Cambodia and Myanmar, from the annual federal appropriations bill that Congress has combined with the COVID-19 relief bill, making it sound as if Congress had packed the relief bill itself with unrelated spending. 

Trump’s own budget, which his administration submits to Congress every year, has previously included all the funded measures he decried via Twitter video. But after vetoing the national defense bill this week, it’s clear Trump is willing to go against Republican leaders in Congress and those in his own administration who had negotiated these bills.

In the end, the decision to block larger stimulus checks puts Republicans in a difficult political position. Though their objection doesn’t have the same power as an official roll call vote against the larger checks, they have effectively taken a public stance against both Trump, who remains deeply popular with the GOP base, and the $2,000 stimulus payments he proposed. 

In Georgia, where two Democrats, Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, are due to face off against Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in a Jan. 5 runoff election, the Democratic Party is already hoping that the scuttled effort to expand the stimulus could boost their chances of victory. Ossoff and Warnock have both embraced the call for $2,000 stimulus checks. If they win in January, Democrats will effectively take control of the Senate.

A week before Trump’s comments, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged that the political stakes of the Georgia races made passage of a COVID-19 relief bill with direct cash payments more urgent.

“Kelly and David are getting hammered” on the issue of stimulus checks, McConnell reportedly told Republican senators.

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