Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images; Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images
After months of fruitless negotiation, Congress passed a long-awaited new wave of relief on Wednesday to counter the COVID-19 pandemic that's killed over 300 thousand Americans and upended daily life in the United States.
Though Americans from all corners of the country have been pressuring local officials on COVID relief for months, the bill passed by Congress—attached to an omnibus with caveats on tax breaks for racehorse owners and allocations for three-martini lunches—has been panned as insufficient.
A particular point of contention has been the amount allocated for direct relief checks to individual Americans.
The relief package agreed to by Republicans includes only $600 stimulus checks for Americans making under $75 thousand per year. This is half as much as the stimulus checks included in the CARES Act, which was signed into law at the end of March.
Though Democrats in the House of Representatives passed multiple stimulus packages with direct payments for working Americans—such as the Heroes Act—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to consider them in the Senate.
With promises that a new wave of relief would be top priority upon President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next month, Democrats agreed to the bill and Congress passed it before sending it to the Resolute Desk.
Though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and other White House liaisons assured President Donald Trump would sign the bill, a video posted to the President's social media accounts signaled an intention to veto it.
Calling the bill a "disgrace," one of Trump's grievances was the amount of direct relief to Americans:
"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2000 or $4000 for a couple."
The video comes just a week after Jeff Stein of the Washington Post reported that aides convinced Trump to back away from calls for greater direct relief, fearing it would blow up the already tenuous negotiations.
Now, it might do just that.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the President's bluff only hours later.
Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let's do it! https://t.co/Th4sztrpLV
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 23, 2020
Pelosi said that Democrats would immediately begin bringing a bill to the floor to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2000.
Sure enough Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) brought forth a single-page amendment that would do the trick.
Me and @AOC have the amendment ready. Send the bill back, and we will put in the $2,000 we've been fighting for that your party has been blocking. pic.twitter.com/GGXtJt77D9
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) December 23, 2020
With the Democratic Speaker of the House and the Republican President of the United States in agreement, all pressure falls on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whom Trump ousted as an ally this month for acknowledging President-elect Biden's election victory despite Trump's lies that the election was stolen.
To make matters worse, the two crucial Senate runoffs in Georgia that will decide whether Republicans maintain their Senate majority are just under two weeks away.
Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue—Georgia's incumbent Republican Senators—are already fighting for their political lives in the face of an election-induced schism within the GOP.
The Senate Majority Leader bucking the President's and the Speaker's efforts toward $2000 checks would almost certainly dampen Republican enthusiasm even further in a state that went blue in November's presidential election for the first time since 1992.
Though the bill passed with veto-proof majorities, it did so with officials voting under the impression that Trump would sign it. The latest revelation from the Oval Office may change the minds of his ever-loyal Republican Senators.
Essentially, Trump—however inadvertently—handed Pelosi and congressional Democrats a Christmas present that may end up wrecking his own party's efforts at Senate control.
We either get $2k stimulus checks or Trump helps make it crystal clear that Senate Republicans are to blame just days before 2 of them are up for re-election in a race that decides control of the Senate.
Merry Christmas, Mitch! https://t.co/F0rb49xEPz
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) December 23, 2020
Just can't get over the political gift that Trump gave to Nancy Pelosi.
She gets to clarify that she supports $2,000 and either gets to deliver it, or demonstrate that it's Republicans who are blocking that money, not her.
I hope she got him something nice for Christmas too...
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) December 23, 2020
Brilliant of Trump to highlight the fact that Republicans oppose bigger relief checks https://t.co/kOndT5sJoL
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) December 23, 2020
This is perfect, the bluff is called. Assuming Pelosi doesn't back out, either Americans get $2000 or McConnell/establishment GOP looks terrible, even to Trump supporters. https://t.co/KGSlRpR4z4
— Vaush (@VaushV) December 23, 2020
Let's see if I get this. After a day of McConnell et al bragging on Fox that they got people $600 checks despite Pelosi “blocking" it, Trump says “No! $2000!" And pelosi says “Yah! $2000!" So now GOP must accept $2000 or admit they lied about Pelosi & THEY blocked it. Delicious.
— Kurt "Masks Save Lives" Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) December 23, 2020
Congressional Democrats soon began applying pressure.
That's great! I first introduced a bill to provide a $2,000 direct payment with @SenKamalaHarris & @EdMarkey 7 months ago. Now, Mr. President, get Mitch McConnell and your Republican friends to stop opposing it and we can provide working class Americans with $2,000. Let's do it. https://t.co/fKvqBsqM0k
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) December 23, 2020
Mitch don't be the only reason people don't get $2000, let's do this. https://t.co/yuvsYUQX6m
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) December 23, 2020
We've been pushing for $2,000 for months! Let's get it done. Money in people's pocket—unanimous consent, GOP? https://t.co/MwkOrUqOvU
— Rep. Pramila Jayapal (@RepJayapal) December 23, 2020
I'm for this! But I've always been. So have my @HouseDemocrats colleagues. So let's hear it, @GOPLeader, are you for this? https://t.co/DSGJYBOdP0
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) December 23, 2020
Some speculate that Trump's announcement is his revenge on McConnell for acknowledging Biden's victory and for discouraging Senate Republicans from assisting Trump's effort to disrupt congressional certification of the election on January 6.
Trump was AWOL for a month licking his sore loser wounds...because everything is about him. Now its about revenge....he could care less about his supporters or hurting Americans...he just wants to hurt Mitch McConnell and Republicans who won't cheat for him.
— LiberalYogi (@Liberalyogi) December 23, 2020
I LOVE that giving people more money is Trumps revenge on Mitch McConnell for saying Biden is president elect. Republican infighting AND more money. Win-win in my book
— Sam (@hwsmithca) December 23, 2020
Two things. This may be trump's revenge on McConnell, and while it may make McConnell and some GOP uncomfortable for the next week, an increase won't pass the Senate, and trump will sign the bill. It may backfire in Georgia, causing even more Rs to not vote and more Ds to vote.
— mike smith (@realsmithmike) December 23, 2020
Time will tell if this development actually results in greater relief.