With President Donald Trump and the two top Democrats in Congress now behind the push for $2,000 direct payments, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Wednesday faced growing pressure from lawmakers and activists who characterized the Republicans as the two chief obstacles remaining in the way of significantly larger relief checks.
"Hey, Senator McConnell. The ball's in your court," tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.), a leader in the progressive push for larger direct payments that began months ago. "Schumer, Pelosi, and Trump all want us to pass a $2,000 direct payment for working-class Americans who are facing more economic desperation than at any time since the Great Depression. Leader McConnell, let the Senate vote!"
"The McConnell Senate now has no excuse for refusing $2,000 checks to workers making incredible sacrifices during the holiday season amid a pandemic that President Trump and his allies bungled from the beginning."
—Jeremy Funk, Accountable.US
Just 24 hours after the House and Senate approved a roughly $900 billion relief package that would extend soon-to-expire unemployment benefits and send $600 payments to many Americans, Trump on Tuesday night released a video address in which he slammed the legislation as a "disgrace" and suggested he might not sign it if lawmakers don't increase the size of the checks to $2,000, among other changes.
If Trump refuses to sign the relief legislation, which was paired with a sprawling omnibus spending package, the government will shut down on December 29 and 14 million people could lose unemployment benefits.
Many Democratic lawmakers and the party's leadership quickly seized upon Trump's demand for larger relief checks, vowing to request unanimous consent this week to boost the direct payments and slamming their Republican counterparts for persistently opposing robust relief for the increasingly desperate U.S. public. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) late Tuesday unveiled a one-page amendment that would hike the $600 payments currently in the relief bill to $2,000.
"I'm 100% on board with $2,000 survival checks for struggling families," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted Wednesday. "House and Senate Dems are united on this. What do you say, Senate Majority Leader McConnell? Does your caucus have the heart to give the American people the relief they've needed for months?"
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) added that Democrats are "ready to pass $2,000 survival payments."
"Senate Majority Leader, are you?" Lee asked.
In a Dear Colleague letter on Wednesday, Pelosi wrote that moving ahead with the unanimous consent request "requires the agreement" of McCarthy.
"If the president truly wants to join us in $2,000 payments, he should call upon Leader McCarthy to agree to our unanimous consent request," Pelosi added. "We are scheduled to go in for a pro forma session tomorrow at 9:00 am. We are awaiting word from Leader Hoyer as to whether Leader McCarthy will agree to or reject our unanimous consent request."
Neither McCarthy nor McConnell have commented publicly on Trump's demand for $2,000 checks.
Even if McCarthy agrees to the Democrats' unanimous consent request, it is highly unlikely that the request will ultimately be granted, given that any single lawmaker can block the effort. Outside progressives are urging Pelosi to call members of the House back to Washington, D.C. for a floor vote on the $2,000 payments if the unanimous consent request fails.
Should the measure clear the House, it would face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate—a reality that further highlights the stakes of the Senate runoffs in Georgia. As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock have both endorsed $2,000 checks.
"If you don't see that in your bank account," tweeted Natalie Montelongo, executive director of People First Future, "you have Mitch McConnell to thank."
Jeremy Funk, spokesperson for watchdog group Accountable.US, said in a statement Wednesday that "McConnell and his fellow Senate obstructionists found plenty of money for tax goodies for corporations and the richest among us in the latest stimulus bill." Among the giveaways, as the New York Times reported, is a provision that tax experts are describing as "a $200 billion giveaway to the rich."
"The McConnell Senate now has no excuse for refusing $2,000 checks to workers making incredible sacrifices during the holiday season amid a pandemic that President Trump and his allies bungled from the beginning," said Funk. "The rich and powerful are already poised to have a very merry holiday season thanks to McConnell's stimulus handouts. The least he can do is support a less-than-insulting bit of additional help for the tens of millions out of work in the Trump recession. They're the ones who really need a Christmas bonus."