U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell blocks quick vote on boosting federal COVID-assistance payments to $2K

Mitch McConnell
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Screenshot.

WASHINGTON — Republican U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked a push by Democrats for an immediate vote to give $2,000 COVID-19 relief payments to Americans, notwithstanding President Trump’s appeal for the extra money.

On the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell (R-Ky.) noted Trump’s calls for the larger checks but also for action on two other matters: a repeal of liability protections for social-media companies, and an investigation into the integrity of the November election.

“Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together,” he said. “This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”

Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was among several Republicans who have signaled that they could support the larger relief payments.

“I share many of my colleagues’ concern about the long-term effects of additional spending, but we cannot ignore the fact that millions of working class families across the nation are still in dire need of relief,” Rubio said.

The House voted Monday evening to more than triple the $600 direct payments in the massive coronavirus relief package signed into law Sunday night. The vote was 275-134, with 44 Republicans joining all but two Democrats in support.

During negotiations over additional pandemic relief measures, the Senate’s GOP majority had balked at repeating the $1,200 payments sent this spring when unemployment rolls surged nationally.

Instead, the $900 billion, bipartisan coronavirus relief bill that passed Congress last week included $600 checks to Americans who earn up to $75,000, with additional payments for dependent children and partial payments to those earning above that amount.

After that measure was approved, Trump suddenly dismissed those direct payments as too low, and called on Congress to approve $2,000 checks. Democrats quickly supported that call, saying they had sought more aid to those struggling amid the pandemic.

House Republicans blocked an attempt last week by Democrats to fast-track larger stimulus checks. But in his signing statement Sunday evening, Trump repeated his call for $2,000 checks, declaring that “much more money is coming.”

Increasing those $600 checks to $2,000 would cost $464 billion, according to an analysis from the Joint Committee on Taxation, which prepares cost estimates for Congress. That’s roughly half of the cost of the overall relief package passed last week.

It’s not clear what comes next in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Democrats also are pushing for a vote. In his statement Sunday evening after Trump signed the coronavirus relief bill, McConnell did not mention the president’s comment that the Senate would “start the process for a vote” to boost those checks.