The next two weeks on Capitol Hill will test the legislative branch’s ability to confront a President who Democratic and Republican aides have acknowledged is coming unmoored, lashing out at anyone — especially Republicans — who don’t do exactly what he asks.
Earlier this week, Congress passed the massive coronavirus relief bill, which included up to $600 payments to all Americans making under certain income levels. Single people who earn up to $75,000 would receive the full $600 direct payment, and couples earning up to $150,000 would receive $1,200. But on Tuesday, President Donald Trump signaled he wouldn’t sign the bill if Congress doesn’t amend the legislation and raise the “ridiculously low” $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 or $4,000 per couple.
On Thursday, House Democrats offered legislation via a unanimous consent agreement that increased the stimulus checks to $2,000. It was blocked. Republicans asked for consent to reconsider foreign aid funding that was in the omnibus. It was blocked. That sets up a dramatic next week on the floor.
Monday, Monday, Monday
There are two things to watch Monday. First, the House is expected to try and override the President’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. The government also runs out of funding at midnight Monday going into Tuesday.
It’s still unclear if the House will have the votes to override the President’s veto on the massive Pentagon policy bill. The chamber passed the NDAA with a veto-proof majority 335-78. But, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said he won’t vote to override Trump now that it’s coming back. How many Republicans follow in those footsteps isn’t known. Thirty-seven Democrats voted against the proposal and could always flip their votes to override Trump’s veto, but it’s not clear they’d do that.
Once Republican leadership said they were going to let members make up their own mind about how to deal with this vote Monday, it became a lot harder to know what exactly will happen.
Meanwhile, lawmakers will need to pass another continuing resolution Monday while members wait to see what Trump will do on the spending and stimulus bill in order to prevent a government shutdown. No one knows if Trump will sign the funding extension.
If the House successfully overrides Trump’s veto on NDAA, the plan right now is for the Senate to try to do the same on Tuesday. Senators will be notified if a vote is going to be scheduled. A few factors are up in the air, including the fact that any one senator could object to moving to vote to override Trump’s veto. If that happens, McConnell will have to wait out the clock. That delays the entire process for several days and members would likely deal with it when they return on Sunday, January 3.
Meanwhile, a series of stimulus-related provisions are going to begin lapsing.
The Brookings Institution estimates that starting Saturday, about 10 million Americans are set to begin losing extended unemployment insurance. About 3 million more will begin losing benefits in the weeks that follow, depending on rules in their state. By the end of December, other provisions like the federal eviction moratorium expire. And while it can be extended through an executive order, the uncertainty here is jarring for people who are don’t know if they will have somewhere to live in the new year.
Transfer of power
Then, there is the matter of affirming Joe Biden as the next president of the United States.
On January 6, the House and Senate will meet in a joint session of Congress to count the electoral votes. There is an effort underway right now for a small group of House members led by GOP Reps. Mo Brooks and Jim Jordan to challenge those results. But in order to do that, they’ll need a senator to step forward with them.
Regardless, the effort will ultimately fail, but it could force a long and arduous day for leadership. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has privately discouraged his members from participating in what is supposed to be a relatively perfunctory process. Majority Whip John Thune said the effort would go down “like a shot dog.”
Clock is ticking
One more important note: These massive stimulus and spending bills don’t always hold up well under prolonged scrutiny. The longer the legislation hangs out, the more people understand what is inside of it, the more members and constituents back home begin being to lay out their concerns, the harder it becomes to pass the bills again.
The massive spending bill is the culmination of months-worth of staff work. Many of the items included on foreign aid were part of the President’s own budget request. But, that doesn’t matter if suddenly it becomes impossible to vote for because of political pressure.
The idea that Congress will just be able to wait until a new President comes in or will be able to simply override Trump’s veto on these items is probably an oversimplification at this point. Yes, the bill passed with massive margins, but would it pass again by the same numbers after Trump torpedoed it? After your constituents started calling, now that they know exactly what is inside? That’s a much harder question and one we don’t have the answer for right now. Republican members are mad right now, but are they willing to publicly go up against Trump?
“Trump’s designated negotiator (the treasury secretary) negotiated this bill, he signed off on the bill. He asked me to vote for the bill. And now? He’s against the bill,” one Republican member said Wednesday.