• The Star Staff

McConnell links $2,000 stimulus checks to voter security and tech protections

By Cate Edmondson

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, blocked an effort to hold an immediate vote to increase stimulus checks to $2,000 on Tuesday, saying instead that the Senate would “begin a process” to consider bigger payments, along with other demands issued by President Donald Trump, leaving the fate of the measure unclear as more Republicans clamored to endorse it.

McConnell did not elaborate further on how — or when — the Senate would move to consider Trump’s demands, which the president made Sunday after finally agreeing to sign a $900 billion stimulus package and government spending bill into law. Trump had held the package hostage for days, insisting that lawmakers more than triple the direct payments to $2,000 from $600, remove a legal shield for companies like YouTube and Facebook and investigate “very substantial voter fraud.”

The president relented only after Republican lawmakers persuaded him to sign the legislation, saying Sunday that he had been promised Congress would take up his demands.

McConnell’s decision to block a vote on increasing the stimulus payments came as a growing number of Republican senators voiced support for the larger checks, and as pressure mounted on the Senate to vote on the measure.

Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, tried to force an immediate vote on increasing the size of the checks using a procedural tactic that allows senators to advance legislation unless another senator objects. McConnell blocked the measure.

“Senate Democrats strongly support $2,000 checks. Even President Trump supports $2,000 checks,” Schumer said. “There’s one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting $2,000 checks?”

A growing number of Republican senators have endorsed higher stimulus payments, including Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both Georgia lawmakers facing tight runoff elections next week, who announced Tuesday that they supported larger stimulus checks.

They joined a handful of others, including Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have backed increasing the checks to $2,000. But the majority of Senate Republicans have so far remained opposed to the plan.

McConnell’s decision to link all of Trump’s demands together could doom any chance of passage. While Democrats all support larger checks, they are unlikely to endorse a hasty overhaul of the legal shield in place for social media companies, especially measures put forward by Republican senators aimed at confronting what they believe is anti-conservative bias.

Democrats are also likely to resist anything that could be seen as trying to undermine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, as Trump has suggested. McConnell, who has privately urged his members not to object to the election results when Congress meets on Jan. 6 to ratify them, portrayed the president’s request as “exploring further ways to protect the sanctity of American ballots.” But Trump has been laser-focused on getting Congress to investigate “the very substantial voter fraud which took place,” an assertion he has repeated contrary to considerable evidence.

The House voted Monday evening to increase the size of the checks to $2,000, daring Senate Republicans to either approve the heftier sum or defy Trump. The president kept up his campaign for the measure Tuesday, demanding in a tweet “$2000 for our great people, not $600!”

The House vote, which just reached the two-thirds majority needed to pass, came a day after Trump finally signed off on a $900 billion pandemic relief package he initially denounced as a “disgrace” and refused to sign. The legislation, which passed 275-134, was supported by 44 Republican members.

In signing the relief bill Sunday night, Trump claimed in a statement that the Senate would “start the process for a vote” on legislation that would increase direct payments and pledged that “much more money is coming.”

Republican lawmakers in the House were visibly frustrated with Trump’s demand. Some of the president’s closest allies, including Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, and Jim Jordan of Ohio, voted against the measure, and Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, complained on the House floor that the proposal had been “hastily dropped on us at the last minute” and wouldn’t assist those who needed it most.

“I worry that this whopping $463 billion won’t do what’s needed, stimulate the economy or help workers get back to work,” Brady said.

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