This week: Trump’s grip on Hill allies faces test
President Trump’s grip on congressional Republicans is being tested this week as GOP lawmakers weigh whether to stick with the president on multiple fronts.
The House is returning to Washington on Monday, while the Senate will get back in town on Tuesday for a rare year-end, post-Christmas session, capping off the final few days of a chaotic and historic election year.
Congress is poised for its ninth veto override attempt during the Trump administration and will take up at least one of the president’s priorities, back-to-back scenarios that could put a squeeze on GOP lawmakers.
Trump took a shutdown off the table over the weekend when he announced on Sunday night that he was signing a $2.3 trillion package, which includes $1.4 trillion to fund the government and $900 billion for coronavirus relief, after days of railing against the agreement and sparking fears of a year-end funding lapse in the middle of a pandemic.
But House Democrats will hold a vote Monday on legislation to increase the amount of the direct checks that individuals who make up to $75,000 will receive under the bill from $600 to $2,000, an amount supported by Trump and congressional Democratic leadership.
“As President, I have told Congress that I want far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $2,000 checks per adult and $600 per child,” Trump said in a statement.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), confirming that she will move forward with the previously-scheduled vote, pressured Trump to get congressional Republicans to support increasing the amount of the direct payments.
“The President must immediately call on Congressional Republicans to end their obstruction. … Every Republican vote against this bill is a vote to deny the financial hardship that families face and to deny the American people the relief they need,” she said in a statement.
Trump, in his statement, also said the Senate “will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.”
Asked about Trump’s claim, spokespeople for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed back to a statement released on Sunday night about the president’s decision to sign the bill. McConnell’s statement did not address any of the commitments Trump suggested had been agreed to.
The current Congress ends in six days, and any legislation to increase the stimulus checks to $2,000 or repeal Section 230, a legal shield for tech companies that has become a prime target for Trump, is all but guaranteed to fall short of the 60 votes needed to pass.
Asked if a proposal to provide $2,000 checks could pass the Senate, Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, told reporters late last week: “It would not.”
But Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) quickly vowed that he will try to pass the House legislation if it makes it to the Senate, forcing Republicans to decide whether to block it.
“The House will pass a bill to give Americans $2,000 checks. Then I will move to pass it in the Senate. No Democrats will object. Will Senate Republicans?” Schumer tweeted.
GOP Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) twice blocked a proposal for $1,200 stimulus checks, and Schumer’s effort to pass a higher amount is likely to be objected to as well.
Trump in his statement also said he would send a formal rescission request to Congress to claw back some of the spending. In a potential sign of how congressional leaders will handle such an effort, neither House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) nor Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) acknowledged the forthcoming ask.
And House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) immediately shot it down.
“The House appropriations committee has jurisdiction over rescissions, and our Democratic majority will reject any rescissions submitted by President Trump,” Lowey said in a statement.
The House will vote on Monday on whether to override Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which initially passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities.
Trump’s veto of the mammoth defense policy is his ninth, with neither the House nor Senate holding successful veto override votes of the previous eight.
But the NDAA could break that streak, forcing Republicans to pick between siding with Trump or a bill that has been signed into law for the past 59 years.
The bill passed the House this month in a 335-78 vote, above the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto. But the override has sparked division within the House GOP ranks, and could further scramble GOP support for the bill.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has said he will not support a veto override, while Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) has backed the effort.
If the House successfully votes to override Trump’s veto, the effort will go to the Senate. If the House isn’t able to override the veto, the effort is quashed.
The Senate is poised to return to Washington on Tuesday, when McConnell has said the chamber will have the opportunity to “process” Trump’s veto message.
The Senate passed the NDAA 84-13. But in a sign of the shifting political dynamics, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who supported it, has said he will not support a veto override, while some of the Democratic “no” votes have already said they will flip to support an override.
Though the Senate will come back into session on Tuesday, a final vote on whether to override Trump’s veto could be delayed for days. Though rare, opponents to overriding the veto could force the effort to jump through hoops including a 60-vote procedural hurdle.
“It will take more than one day if we have objections, and I think we probably will. So the question is, if the House, if they override it, then … we’ll have to set it up, and it may take a few days to do that,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) has hinted that he will drag out the procedural fight. Paul was one of 13 “no” votes when the chamber passed the defense bill earlier this year.
“I very much am opposed to the Afghan war,” Paul told reporters. “ I’ve told them I’ll come back to try to prevent them from easily overriding the president’s veto.”
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