Republicans block $ 2,000 virus stimulus checks despite Trump’s demand

WASHINGTON (AP) – House Republicans rejected a Democratic nomination on Thursday to approve President Donald Trump’s far-off demand for direct payments of $ 2,000 to most Americans, while he ponders whether to sign a bill on long-awaited relief from COVID-19.

The confrontation on TV came when the Democratic-controlled chamber met for a pro forma session that had been scheduled in anticipation of Trump’s signature on the massive end-of-year legislative package, which brings together $ 1.4 trillion in government spending with the tough guys he fought the COVID-19 package and dozens of unrelated but bipartisan bills.

Instead, the House’s 12-minute session on Thursday turned into unconvincing theater in response to Trump’s veto reflections on the package, which was negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Trump’s behalf. Majority leader in the House, Steny Hoyer, the House’s second Democrat, sought unanimous approval from all House members to pass major checks, but Republican Party leader Kevin McCarthy, who was not present in the almost empty chamber, denied approval.

If Trump went ahead with his implicit veto threat, delivered via video clip on Tuesday, the government would likely experience a brief partial government shutdown starting on December 29. This would also delay the delivery of the $ 600 direct payments that the account contains and other aid for the unemployed and people facing eviction.

The pressure for larger payments created a rare common cause between Trump and some of the more liberal members of Congress. California Mayor Pelosi said he had fought for the highest stipends during prolonged negotiations only to decide on the lowest number when Republicans refused. Democrats plan to hold a roll call vote on the proposed $ 2,000 check on Monday when members of the House return to Washington.

Senate Republicans, led by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, opposed checks over $ 2,000 because they were too expensive and misdirected.

The way forward, including efforts to avoid a layoff or perhaps even go through a last-minute extension to unemployment insurance checks that expire soon, has remained unclear. Any shutdown would probably be brief, but nothing is certain.

“We are not going to let the government close, nor are we going to let the American people down,” said Hoyer. “Discussions continue between the Mayor, the Secretary of the Treasury and the administration.”

The optics look terrible for Republicans, who praised the relief package for COVID-19, which was approved on Monday by sweeping votes after the White House assured Republican leaders that Trump supported the project. He also created more Trump-related headaches for Georgia GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are fighting for their political lives – and for continued control of the GOP in the Senate – in two January 5 elections in Georgia.

“The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill,” Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said on Thursday. “And I still hope that’s what he decides.”

But instead of winning the comprehensive aid package, one of the biggest in history, Trump is attacking Republican leaders over the presidential election – for recognizing Joe Biden as president-elect and rejecting his campaign to challenge the results of the Electoral College when they are counted in Congress on January 6.

“It is Christmas Eve, but it is not a silent night. Not everything is calm. For many, nothing is brilliant. And for many, they are not sleeping peacefully, ”said Dep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich. “I had a meeting at the city hall last night that made people cry, people terrified of what will happen.”

The president’s pressure to increase direct payments for most Americans from $ 600 to $ 2,000 for individuals and $ 4,000 for couples shares the party with a politically painful test of loyalty.

Republican lawmakers traditionally refuse large spending and many have never fully embraced Trump’s populist approach. Their political DNA tells them to oppose a more expensive aid package. But now they are being asked to support the president.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Republican House legislators complained that Trump threw them under the bus, according to a Republican on the private conference call and granted anonymity to discuss the matter. Most voted for the package and asked leaders to watch cable news programs to explain its benefits, the person said.

Democrats took advantage of Republican confusion to push for priority. Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic opponent, simply tweeted on Tuesday night: “Checks for $ 2,000 now.”

The relief bill that Trump is criticizing would establish an additional $ 300 a week temporary unemployment benefit, along with a new round of hard-hit business, restaurant and theater subsidies and money for schools, health care providers and tenants facing eviction.

Although Mnuchin represented the White House in the negotiations, Trump attacked the bipartisan effort in a video he tweeted on Tuesday night, suggesting that he cannot sign the legislation.

Protesting a series of provisions in the broader government financing package, including the pillars of foreign aid included each year, Trump called the project a “disgrace”.

Trump has not specifically promised to use his veto power, and there may be enough support in Congress to replace him if he does. But the consequences would be serious if Trump reversed the legislation. That would mean no federal aid for struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help distribute vaccines. To make matters worse, as lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to a comprehensive financing measure, the government would close on December 29.

The final text of the 5,000-page bill is still being prepared by Congress and should not be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature before Thursday or Friday, an aide said.

This complicates the schedule ahead. If Trump vetoes the package, or allows it to expire with a “pocket veto” at the end of the year, Americans will be without large amounts of COVID help.

A resolution can be forced on Monday. That’s when a provisional funding bill passed by Congress to keep the government funded while the paperwork was being compiled expires, with the risk of a federal strike.

The House is already scheduled to return on Monday, and the Senate on Tuesday, for a vote to overturn Trump’s veto on the mandatory defense bill. Democrats have announced that they will force a roll-call vote to approve Trump’s $ 2,000 check proposal, as well as a temporary government funding measure to prevent closure, Hoyer said on Thursday.

The Senate passed the huge aid package by 92 votes to 6, after the House passed it 359 to 53. Those total votes would be enough to override a veto if Trump decided to take that step.

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