US Senator Mitch McConnell has not been to the White House, which is experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak, for two months.
A growing split between outgoing President Donald Trump and Republicans in the United States Congress widened on Wednesday as the Senate moved closer to overriding a Trump veto and Republican leaders rejected his bid for $2,000 stimulus cheques for Americans.
In a one-two punch, the Senate voted overwhelmingly, 80 to 12, to begin reversing President Donald Trump’s veto of the US’s annual defence authorisation. The action set up a final vote to override Trump’s veto on New Year’s Day.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans also broke with Trump by rejecting his proposal to increase forthcoming economic stimulus cheques to eligible US citizens from $600 to $2,000 a person.
Republican leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, which sought to meet fellow Republican Trump’s demands for bigger checques, “has no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate.”
“We just approved almost a trillion dollars in aid a few days ago,” he said.
Congress had passed a nearly $900bn COVID-19 relief bill earlier this month that included $600 cheques to individuals. Increasing those pay-outs to $2,000 would cost an estimated $464bn.
The defence authorisation bill which Trump sent back to Congress on December 23, provides a pay rise for US troops, sets Pentagon policies and defines major weapons system goals for the year ahead, among other provisions.
Trump had objected to several elements included in the legislation by members of Congress to limit his plans to redeploy US troops stationed overseas and require the Pentagon to remove the names of Confederate generals from military bases.
It would be the first time in the four years of Trump’s presidency that Congress has reversed the president’s veto and would mark the end of this session of Congress just two days before a new Congress is to be sworn in on January 3.
Trump had signed the COVID-19 relief bill reluctantly, saying the $600 in direct aid to Americans suffering from unemployment, hunger and eviction during the pandemic was paltry.
McConnell suggested Republicans would be open to considering “smart targeted aid, not another firehose of borrowed money”.
The split among Republicans over the stimulus cheques holds potential political risk as two incumbent Republican US Senators in George battle for re-election against Democratic challengers.
Senators David Purdue and Kelly Loeffler, who had opposed higher payments, switched positions yesterday and joined Trump in advocating for the $2,000 cheques.
“The Senate Republicans risk throwing away two seats and control of the Senate,” said Newt Gingrich, a former Republican congressional leader, on Fox News.
He called on Senate Republicans to “get a grip and not try to play cute parliamentary games with the president’s $2,000 payment.”
But Republican Senator John Cornyn told reporters at the US Capitol that he thought it unlikely that Congress would act to increase the cheques given McConnell’s remarks, the Reuters news agency reported.
Asked if he expected Republicans to face political blow-back, Cornyn said, “No, not in any normal world,” noting that Congress had already approved trillions of dollars in relief for an economy battered by the pandemic.
Trump had ramped up pressure on fellow Republicans to back the bigger COVID-19 stimulus checks for struggling Americans in a series of tweets during recent days.
“$2000 ASAP!” Trump wrote on Twitter early on Wednesday. The tweet prompted one of Trump’s political adversaries, Senator Bernie Sanders, to needle Republicans by displaying the president’s words on a poster during debate on the Senate floor.
Bernie Sanders reading Trump tweets on the Senate floor.
There did not appear to be a break in the time-space continuum. https://t.co/JkDyxCK4uY
— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) December 30, 2020
The House of Representatives overturned Trump’s defence bill veto by a wide margin on December 28.
Late on Tuesday, the Senate leader had introduced a bill that combined the $2,000 checks with provisions scrapping certain legal protections for social media companies and calling for a study of election security, a key issue for Trump.
The parliamentary manoeuvre looked designed to kill off prospects for all three issues.
On Tuesday the president attacked Republican leaders as “pathetic” and accused the party of having a “death wish” if it did not back raising the stimulus payments or scrap the legal protections for social media companies.
Congressional Republicans have largely stuck with Trump through four turbulent years, but the president is angry that they have not fully backed his claims of election fraud.
Cracks in Trump’s relationship with Republicans legislators began to show after McConnell, the top congressional Republican acknowledged Trump’s rival Joe Biden had won the 2020 presidential election.
President-elect Biden is scheduled to be inaugurated on January 20.