Here we go again: 221 days ago, the House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act for coronavirus relief. That bill had another round of $1,200 direct payments to people. So did the compromise $2.2 trillion bill they passed 82 days ago. The occupier of the Oval Office didn’t do a goddamned thing to try to force Mitch McConnell into working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to get that relief passed.
So now Trump is derailing the just-passed coronavirus relief effort, probably just to screw McConnell for the sin of admitting publicly that Joe Biden won the election. He’s demanding Congress send him a bill with $2,000 direct payments. Pelosi had the right answer: “Let’s do it!” And congressional Democrats piled on, putting the onus on McConnell to “DO THIS!” as Sen. Chuck Schumer tweeted. So what happens now? Who knows? It’s Trump.
What we do know is that the House is in for a short, pro-forma session Thursday, Christmas Eve. Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are ready to use that session to ask for unanimous consent and pass a bill this week to release those $2,000 checks. That bill is ready and waiting, courtesy Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashica Tlaib. However, it only takes one Republican to be on the floor Thursday to block that and that’s probably what’s going to happen. But! On Monday, Democrats can come back (which they were planning on anyway) and put the bill up under suspension of the rules, the procedure they use to pass non-controversial bills, or in this case a bill to put even more pressure on Mitch McConnell. Suspensions require 2/3 majority, which could be achievable on the Monday after Christmas, and can only happen on Mondays and Tuesdays. So those are the House options.
Complicating every damned thing is that the combined coronavirus relief bill is linked to an omnibus spending bill and that the package was so massive, Congress couldn’t just pass it all in one go and get it on Trump’s desk for a signature before the government funding ran out under the then-current continuing resolution. So when they passed it Monday evening, they also passed a seven-day continuing resolution, giving them time to actually print the thing, get all the officials’ signing-off done, and ship it to Trump. Trump signed off on that CR, which expires Monday night. So there’s a government shutdown threat embedded in Trump’s maybe refusing to sign the relief bill. Not only would the government shut down, the emergency extension for unemployment benefits expires this week and it wouldn’t be re-upped. So while Trump is saying everyone deserves $2,000, he’s also willing to cut them of unemployment insurance (though the chances of his being aware that this is even a thing are slim).
For his part, McConnell hasn’t said anything in response. But a couple of Republican senators piped up to support Trump’s call for more money. Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted “Appreciate the fact that Speaker Pelosi supports President @realDonaldTrump’s idea to increase direct payments to $2,000 per person. The American people are hurting and deserve relief. I know there is much bipartisan support for this idea. Let’s go further.” Sen. Josh Hawley, the Republican from Missouri who has been pushing for larger direct payments for months tweeted “workers deserve much more than $600, as I have repeatedly said & fought for. And there’s obviously plenty of $$ to do it – look at what Congress threw away on corporate giveaways & foreign buyouts. Let’s get it done.”
The bill will probably not reach Trump until Thursday or Friday. That’s where we stand as of now. The last word for the moment goes to Pelosi: