The US House has voted overwhelmingly to increase Covid-19 relief checks to $2,000, meeting President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger payments.
The bill will be to the GOP-controlled Senate, where the outcome is highly uncertain.
Democrats led passage, 275-134, their majority favoring additional assistance, but dozens of Republicans suddenly joined in approval. While Democrats favored bigger checks, Congress had settled on smaller $600 payments in a compromise over the big year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law. The president’s GOP allies opposed more spending and Trump’s push puts them in a difficult spot.
The vote was a stunning turn of events from just days ago, when House Republicans blocked Trump’s demands during a Christmas Eve session. After Trump spent days fuming from his private club in Florida, where he is spending the holidays, dozens of Republicans preferred to link with Democrats rather than buck the outgoing president. Senators were set to return to session Tuesday, forced to consider the measure amid similar, stark GOP divisions.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi declared, “Republicans have a choice: Vote for this legislation or vote to deny the American people the bigger paychecks they need.”
The showdown could end up as more symbol than substance. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has declined to say publicly how the Senate will handle the bill when Democrats there try to push it forward for a vote on Tuesday.
After the robust House vote, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer warned, “There is no good reason for Senate Republicans to stand in the way.”
“There’s strong support for these $2,000 emergency checks from every corner of the country,” Schumer said in a statement. “Leader McConnell ought to make sure Senate Republicans do not stand in the way of helping to meet the needs of American workers and families who are crying out for help.”
The legislative action during the rare holiday week session may do little to change the $2 trillion-plus COVID-19 relief and federal spending package that Trump signed into law Sunday, one of the biggest bills of its kind providing relief for millions of Americans.
That package — $900 billion in COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies — will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown that otherwise would have started Tuesday, in the midst of the public health crisis.
Democrats are promising more aid to come once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.
Biden told reporters at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, that he supported the $2,000 checks.
Trump’s sudden decision to sign the bill came as he faced escalating criticism from lawmakers on all sides over his eleventh-hour demands. The bipartisan bill negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had already passed the House and Senate by wide margins. Lawmakers had thought they had Trump’s blessing after months of negotiations with his administration.
The president’s defiant refusal to act, publicized with a heated video he tweeted just before the Christmas holiday, sparked chaos, a lapse in unemployment benefits for millions and the threat of a government shutdown in the pandemic. It was another crisis of his own making, resolved when he ultimately signed the bill into law.