By Phil Mattingly, CNN
Updated 10:45 AM EST, Wed December 30, 2020
(CNN)Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced legislation Tuesday to combine two additional demands from President Donald Trump to an expansion of direct stimulus payments as part of the Covid-19 relief package, raising Democratic concern the pathway for expanded stimulus payments would soon be short-circuited.
The Kentucky Republican, shortly before adjourning the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, introduced a bill that would combine increased direct payments with a repeal of the online liability protections known as Section 230 and the establishment of a commission to study voter fraud. The latter two issues have been significant drivers of Trump’s ire in the wake of his general election loss — the latter of which with zero evidence presented to this point.
While the move doesn’t guarantee McConnell will bring the bill up for a vote, it provides a substantive option should time — and the political winds — press the chamber in that direction. It’s also one that would be all but certain to fail to garner the votes for passage.https://603fdc3432422523b4d3157fccea4d7c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html?n=0
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the bill a “cynical gambit” and said it would serve as “a blatant attempt” to ensure the $2,000 direct payments were not signed into law.
But McConnell’s move was crucial for several reasons in the final chaotic days of the 116th Congress.
With two politically endangered GOP senators just days away from runoff elections — Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia — announcing their support for Trump’s push for $2,000 checks, McConnell has found himself in a position he spends the vast majority of his time as Republican leader trying to avoid: Navigating a divided conference. Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Josh Hawley of Missouri are also behind the push to expand the payments, with Hawley playing a central role in pushing the issue to the forefront.
The group is hardly a majority, however, aides say. A significant number of Senate Republicans have problems with the House-passed measure to increase the direct payments.
Sen. Patrick Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican, called the direct payments, given their size and scope, “not sound economic policy.”
Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican and ally of McConnell’s, said he was opposed to the standalone direct payments increase and said given the amount Congress has appropriated in Covid relief up to this point, more focus should be placed on those efforts.
“This is just opportunistic on the part of the House,” Cornyn said of House Democrats. “They’ve got an issue and unfortunately it seems to be drowning out all the other good stuff we’ve done.”
By tying all of Trump’s demands together, particularly with policies Democrats are almost sure to oppose, McConnell gives himself an option that, should he bring it to the floor, would give Republicans something to vote for with little risk it could become law.
“If we start adding poison pills to the $2,000 payment bill, that is just another way of telling the American people that this body doesn’t support $2,000 payments,” Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said of the additional provisions.