On Sunday night, as part of his face-saving efforts following his utter capitulation to Congress in signing the Covid-19 stimulus relief legislation, President Donald Trump insisted that “the Senate will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.”
The last two claims there from Trump are utter bunk; there appears to be little will among Senate Republicans to rethink the way social media companies regulate content or to spend months digging for voter fraud claims that are, well, nonexistent.
It’s Trump’s first point — that the Senate “will start the process for a vote that increases [stimulus] checks to $2,000” — that is by far the most realistic and politically problematic suggestion for Republicans.
Why? Because it puts them in a very small box: Either vote to massively increase the national debt — by giving $1,400 more to every qualifying individual in the country — or vote against what is much-needed money for people who have been devastated by the economic effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
So, either violate a bedrock principle of conservatism (the government is spending us into unmanageable debt!) or be attacked as heartless by Democrats. It’s a lose-lose. Bigly. Especially if you are Sens. Kelly Loeffler or David Perdue, both locked in tight runoff races on January 5. Both incumbent Republicans need base conservatives with them to win, so a vote for more government spending isn’t a good one.
But they also can’t actively agitate the rest of the state — including swing voters in the suburbs who want the government to help those struggling as much as they can. It’s a nearly impossible line to walk, politically speaking.
And Democrats know it. “I will vote for you to have a $2000 relief check,” tweeted Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff. “David Perdue won’t.”
It’s why they immediately began to push Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to hold a vote like Trump wants.
“The House will pass a bill to give Americans $2,000 checks,” tweeted Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Sunday night. “Then I will move to pass it in the Senate. No Democrats will object. Will Senate Republicans?” (The Senate gaveled in — and out — of a pro forma session in under 30 seconds Monday morning, blocking Schumer from making any legislative moves.)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) was also quick to demand a vote, saying in a statement (bolding is mine):
“Now, the President must immediately call on Congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000, which will be brought to the Floor tomorrow. Every Republican vote against this bill is a vote to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny the American people the relief they need.“
McConnell, who didn’t get to where he is by being dumb, understands the obvious peril in bringing this to the floor for a vote. In his statement on Sunday night, he congratulated Trump for signing the bill into law — something, of course, Trump could have and should have done days ago — but studiously avoided any talk of scheduling a vote on bumping up the current stimulus checks from $600 per individual to $2,000.
And of course, if you read the Trump statement clearly, it’s apparent that McConnell did not in fact promise the President a vote on the $2,000 checks. “The Senate will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000,” is not “The Senate will vote on $2,000 checks.“
The question going forward, then, is this: How hard will Trump push for that $2,000 check vote? And how hard will McConnell fight it?
Remember that McConnell was just reelected in November to a seventh term, and on January 20, Trump will no longer be president. Those two facts may stiffen McConnell’s resolve — as will the fact that forcing a vote on these $2,000 checks could be a breaking point in the battle for the Senate majority happening right now in Georgia.
Trump doesn’t really care about any of that. He wants his final act as President to be sending more money to people because, he undoubtedly believes, it is a good thing for him politically if and when he wants to run for president again in 2024. Remember that time I gave you that money! and all that.
This will be a major test for McConnell. If this winds up getting to a vote — either on cloture (to end debate) or a final floor vote — it is very bad news for Senate Republicans. And could even cost the majority.