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The roadblock mounted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not be sustainable as pressure mounts. Trump wants the Republican-led chamber to follow the House and increase the checks from $600 for millions of Americans. A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, have said they will support the larger amount. But most GOP senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of bucking Trump.
The showdown over the $2,000 checks has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office for the new year. It’s preventing action on another priority — overturning Trump’s veto on a sweeping defence bill that has been approved every year for 60 years.Saying little, McConnell signalled an alternative approach to Trump’s checks that may not divide his party so badly, but may result in no action at all.The GOP leader filed new legislation late Tuesday linking the president’s demand for bigger checks with two other Trump priorities _ repealing protections for tech companies like Facebook or Twitter that the president complained are unfair to conservatives as well the establishment of a bipartisan commission to review the 2020 presidential election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden.The president’s last-minute push for bigger checks leaves Republicans deeply split between those who align with Trump’s populist instincts and those who adhere to what had been more traditional conservative views against government spending. Congress had settled on smaller $600 payments in a compromise over the big, year-end relief bill Trump reluctantly signed into law.Liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the relief aid are blocking action on the defence bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $2,000 for most Americans.
In the House, dozens of Republicans calculated it was better to link with Democrats to increase the pandemic payments rather than buck the outgoing president and constituents counting on the money. House Democrats led passage, 275-134, but 44 Republicans joined almost all Democrats on Monday for a robust two-thirds vote of approval.It’s highly possible that McConnell will set up votes ahead on both the House-passed measure supporting Trump’s $2,000 checks as well as his own new version linking it with the repeal of tech company liability shield in “section 230” of communications law as well as the new presidential election review commission.That’s a process that almost ensures neither bill will pass.Trump’s push could fizzle out in the Senate but the debate over the size and scope of the year-end package — $900 billion in COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September — is potentially one last confrontation before the new Congress is sworn in Sunday.The COVID-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost 3– this time $300, through March 14 — as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.
___Colvin reported from West Palm Beach, Florida. Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta, Ashraf Khalil in Washington and Matt Ott in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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