McConnell wants to combine Trump, asks potential ‘poison pill’ for stimulus investigations

The Kentucky Republican, shortly before he adjourned the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, introduced a bill that would combine increased direct payments with a repeal of online liability protection known as Section 230 and the establishment of a commission to curb voter fraud. study. The latter two issues have been a major driver of Trump’s anger in the wake of his general election loss – the latter of which no evidence has been presented so far.

While the move does not guarantee McConnell will bring the bill to the vote, it does offer a substantial option if time – and the political winds – push the chamber in that direction. It is also one that will be almost certain not to get the votes.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the bill a “cynical game” and said it would serve as a “blatant attempt” to ensure direct payments of $ 2,000 were not made by law. not be signed.

But McConnell’s move was crucial for several reasons in the last chaotic days of the 116th Congress.

With two politically-threatened GOP senators just days away from the by-elections – Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia – announcing their support for Trump’s demand for $ 2,000 checks, McConnell has found himself in a position to win the vast majority of his time as a Republican. leader tries to avoid: Navigate through a divided conference. Republican senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri are also behind the pressure to expand payments, with Hawley playing a key role in bringing the issue to the fore.

However, the group is hardly a majority. A significant number of Senate Republicans are having trouble with the measure passed by the House to increase direct payments.

Senator Patrick Toomey, a Republican in Pennsylvania, called the direct payments, given their size and scope, “not a sound economic policy.”

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican in Texas and McConnell’s ally, said he was opposed to the independent increase in direct payments, saying that given the amount Congress has so far approved in Covid relief, more attention needs to be paid. placed on these efforts.

“It’s just opportunistic on the part of the House,” Cornyn said of House Democrats. “They have a problem and it seems unfortunate that it drowns out all the other things we did.”

By tying together all of Trump’s demands, especially with policies that Democrats almost certainly oppose, McConnell gives himself an option that he would give Republicans something to vote for if he raised it with little risk of it becoming law. could be.

“If we start adding poison pills to the $ 2,000 bill, it’s just another way of telling the American people that this body does not support $ 2,000 payments,” Sen said. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said about the additional provisions.

McConnell blocks attempts to increase direct stimulus payments quickly

McConnell, with this alternative bill, binds all of Trump’s demands into a single piece of legislation. While assistants say it is unclear whether the bill will come – there is a possibility that the 116th Congress will come to an end without any action being taken – it would serve as a way to address the president’s issues. speak and give the two Republican senators from Georgia in strict runoff to vote.

Even without a vote, the existence of the bill itself appears to meet Trump’s demands in a Sunday statement that the Senate ‘begins the process for a vote raising the checks to $ 2,000, repeals Article 230 and’ an investigation into voter fraud is underway. ‘

By introducing the bill and posting it to the Senate calendar, McConnell technically began the process. McConnell apparently indicated the very specific language in his earlier Senate floor remarks, pointing out that the chamber would “begin a process” to meet the president’s demands.

However, Trump continued to hit the drums over the increased payments on Twitter – and to attack Republican leaders.

“Unless Republicans have a death wish and this is the right thing to do, they should approve the $ 2,000 payment as soon as possible,” Trump tweeted. “$ 600 is NOT ENOUGH! Also get rid of Article 230 – Do not let Big Tech steal our country, and do not let the Democrats steal the presidential election. Be difficult!”

But, as is often a feature of Trump’s dealings with Congress, it has remained unclear whether he wants the vote on extended direct payments as an independent measure or combined with the other elements. This ambiguity somehow opened the door to McConnell’s legislative offer.

Trump bounces off Republicans after overpowering his veto

Before taking any action on stimulus payments, McConnell made it a priority for the House to stay on track to process Trump’s veto of the National Defense Act, which does not include the changes Trump made in Article 230 did not want. McConnell initially tried to set the vote for Wednesday, but Senator Bernie Sanders objected, making it clear he would provoke the process unless the Senate held an up-and-down vote on the door. successful stimulus test measure.

“The working class of this country today faces more economic despair than ever before since the Great Depression in the 1930s,” said Sanders, a Vermont independent who was instrumental in increasing the size of direct payments. , said.

However, Sanders can not stop the NDAA dominance – just pull it out. And several GOP aides have noted that a lengthy process over the NDAA Republicans opposed to the check may help and not want to act at all on the direct payments before the end of the 116th Congress on Sunday.

Earlier Tuesday, McConnell only promised on the Senate floor that he would “begin the process” of addressing the issues raised by Trump. He never committed to votes, on stimulus checks or anything else. It offers him a path if he decides to take it, but at this point nothing is locked up, assistants say.

This story was updated on Tuesday with additional developments.