The $600 stimulus checks from the latest coronavirus relief bill are on the way, as the Senate continues to debate whether to tack on an additional $1,400. Senate Democrats and a handful of Republicans are trying to get that to happen. Sen. Mitch McConnell is intent on stopping it. He blocked the vote on the floor Tuesday. Twice.
Trump woke up Wednesday morning with the checks on his mind. “$2000 ASAP!” he tweeted. McConnell doesn’t want that, and he’s maneuvering to stop it. He set two bills in motion on Tuesday to be voted on later in the week: the House $2,000 direct payments and a bill that combined the $2,000 with a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and an election fraud commission. Poison pills to the Democrats. McConnell’s aim is to divert Republican votes to the second bill, allowing the two Georgia Republicans who are fighting for their political lives in the Jan. 5 runoff election to say they supported Trump and Georgia voters. Democrats won’t vote for it and the House would never take it up. So McConnell will have effectively given Trump what he wanted—the vote on the $2,000, election fraud, and punishing Twitter for making Trump mad—without any one of those things passing.
It’s not like that strategy is not obvious to anyone paying attention. “Senator McConnell knows how to make $2,000 survival checks reality and he knows how to kill them,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer in a statement Tuesday night. “If Sen. McConnell tries loading up the bipartisan House-passed CASH Act with unrelated, partisan provisions that will do absolutely nothing to help struggling families across the country.”
There’s a way—if Trump really means it when he says he wants everyone to have $2,000—to make it happen. Former deputy chief of staff to Harry Reid and Senate procedure wonk Adam Jentleson explained in a tweet thread. “If Trump wants the checks so bad he should ask Pence to preside (VP is president of the Senate. Under Senate rules, floor recognition goes to ‘the Senator who shall first address’ the presider. Pence could recognize a senator who will bring the House-passed bill up for a vote.” The rule, he says, is that “the senator who first addresses the presiding officer is recognized, left up to the presider’s judgment.” The key part of this would be Pence, acting for Trump, taking on McConnell. McConnell would, Jentleson explained, “have to hold his conference and the confrontation would put GOP senators on the spot, pitting them between Trump and McConnell. I wonder which side aspiring 2024ers would choose.”
We’ll know more about how McConnell intends to proceed Wednesday afternoon. He’s calling the Senate in a live quorum call at 5 PM ET to try to move them on to overriding Trump’s veto of the defense authorization bill. Sen. Bernie Sanders intends to block that effort until McConnell also schedules a clean vote on the $2,000 survival checks. All of this sets up McConnell to have to file a cloture vote to proceed to the veto override, which will delay the Senate and force it to be in session on Friday, New Year’s Day.