Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Tuesday appeared to be preparing a poison pill to doom the chances of increasing COVID-19 stimulus checks to $2,000.
Though a handful of Republicans announced their support for increasing the check amount after President Donald Trump insisted the existing $600 figure was too small, several more would need to join Democrats to get the extra cash over the finish line.
McConnell is reportedly especially sensitive to the runoff election next week — in which Sens. David Perdue (R-GA) and Kelly Loeffler (R-GA) will face off against Raphael Warnock (D) and Jon Ossoff (D) — that will determine the partisan balance of the Senate.
After weeks of attacks from Warnock and Ossoff for not getting behind the effort to give Americans more money, both Republican senators on Tuesday announced that they would support the increase to $2,000 checks.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has insisted that the checks get a Senate vote before the vote to override Trump’s veto of the annual defense package, leaving Republicans a tough choice: Approve the additional relief money, or stick with their ideological guns, reject the cash, and risk ticking off Trump and his base of voters in Georgia.
So McConnell on Tuesday appeared to be positioning those senators and others for a painless way out: In addition to the House-passed measure to increase check amounts to $2,000, he introduced another measure — one that included both the $2,000 figure and other pet projects of Trump’s. On top of the larger checks, the McConnell package repeals Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and amplifies Trump’s delusional claim that the 2020 election was fraudulent.
Trump’s grudge against Section 230 — which generally protects websites from liability for what their users post — was one of the reasons he said he vetoed the annual defense spending bill, which did not include a repeal as Trump demanded.
Democrats largely don’t support repealing Section 230, nor are they likely to support the so-called “2020 Bipartisan Advisory Committee” that McConnell’s package would establish. According to a text of the McConnell package published by The Washington Post, the committee would study “the scope of any improper and fraudulent votes that were cast in the election,” among other things.
If McConnell offers Republican senators an opportunity to support all of these measures at once — Section 230 repeal, a voter fraud committee and $2,000 checks — he may be able to avoid spending the extra relief money while also avoiding Trump’s wrath: Republicans like Loeffler and Perdue can vote for the package deal with the near-certain assurance that it won’t actually pass into law, while still claiming to have supported $2,000 checks.
In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said the McConnell package deal “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.”
“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?” Schumer wondered aloud.
McConnell signaled earlier Tuesday that he would concoct a package deal, referring to the $2,000 checks, Section 230 repeal and “the sanctity of America’s ballots” as “three important subjects the President has linked together.”
“This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus,” he said.
This post has been updated.