Sanders, Hawley embrace odd couple status in push for stimulus checks

Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) are emerging as Congress’s latest odd couple as they push for a second round of stimulus checks. 

They are teaming up, and giving leadership a headache, by threatening to hold up a mammoth government funding bill, which could keep their colleagues marooned in Washington heading into Christmas. 

The two want their colleagues to pass language that is a replica of the March CARES Act that provided a $1,200 check to Americans making up to $75,000 per year. 

The unlikely pairing formally joined their efforts after Hawley went on morning TV late last week to announce he would be introducing a bill to provide a second round of relief checks. 

“Sen. Sanders alerted us that he had seen my announcement,” Hawley told The Hill. “He alerted us that he wanted to try to attach something to the CR [continuing resolution]. Asked if that was something I would be amenable to … and I said sure.” 

Asked about their odd couple pairing Hawley, laughed before adding: “Hey, as I’ve said, I’ll work with anybody. … It is an absolute mystery to me why this is not in” a bipartisan proposal. 

The two men are in many ways political opposites. 

Sanders, 79, is a self-described democratic socialist who has made two unsuccessful runs for the Democratic Party’s White House nod and has been around Washington since 1991. 

Hawley, 40, made a meteoric rise to join the Senate in 2019 and is under the microscope as a potential 2024 presidential contender as he positions himself to try to take the mantle of being a conservative populist. 

Before their current effort, they had never signed on to a bill sponsored by the other, according to tracking from Hawley votes for legislation backed by President Trump more than 85 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. Sanders does so just 15 percent of the time

But the push for stimulus checks is an example of where the Venn diagram of their divergent political beliefs and styles overlap. 

“Why don’t we take it one step at a time?” Sanders said, asked about their divergent political views. “It may be that we will have disagreements, but whatever that package may be this, stuff has got to be in it.” 

Hawley first said on Thursday morning that he was going to be introducing his own standalone bill, but just hours later he and Sanders were tag-teaming on the Senate floor and holding a joint scrum with reporters in the Capitol. 

Both had been drawing their own red lines, before joining forces, on the need for a second round of direct payments in any year-end deal, with Congress expected to leave town for the year as soon as Friday.

Hawley urged Trump earlier this month to veto any proposal that didn’t include the checks. The White House subsequently made an offer that included a second round of direct payments, though it was significantly below what Hawley and Sanders are pushing for. 

Trump, meanwhile, said over the weekend that he wants “to see checks  for more money than they’re talking about  going to people,” adding to Fox News that he’s “pushing it very hard.” 

Sanders, after releasing his own statement earlier this month warning he could not support a bipartisan group’s framework, released a letter with fellow progressives pushing leadership on checks. 

As they were publicly maneuvering, the two men had already discussed the need for more direct assistance earlier this month and if there was room for them to team up. 

The two talked for the first time during a Dec. 5 call, a day after their staff first touched base. Staff talks have continued over the past nine days. 

The two still appear to face an uphill climb.

Neither a bipartisan proposal from moderates, who unveiled their own legislative text on Monday, nor a GOP-only proposal from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) included a round of stimulus checks. 

The checks divide the GOP caucus, because of their cost, and critics argue it is more important that Congress provide a boost to unemployment benefits because those are targeted toward the jobless and unlikely to go into savings. 

“I don’t think it’s going to be in the deal, so it would have to be in some separate vote that they would get a chance to vote on that. I’m not sure how that would happen at this point,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), asked if the duo was going to get a vote. 

Asked if the duo could pose a problem for efforts to pass a government funding deal this week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell, replied, “That’s true.” 

“That’s what we do is deal with problems around here,” he said. 

Sanders is urging Democratic leadership to reject any agreement that doesn’t include another round of stimulus checks. 

“Congress cannot go home for the Christmas holidays until we pass legislation which provides a $1,200 direct payment to working class adults, $2,400 for couples, and a $500 payment to their children. This is what Democrats and Republicans did unanimously in March through the CARES Act. This is what we have to do today,” Sanders said in a statement. 

Tied up in their push is a government funding bill that leadership could unveil as soon as Tuesday. The bill will need to pass by Friday night in order to avoid a government shutdown. 

Asked about his ability to get a vote, Sanders warned that the “alternative is we’re going to spend Christmas here.” 

Hawley demurred Monday on whether he would be willing to hold up the broader legislation. Because of the compact timeline, leadership will need support from every senator to meet Friday night’s deadline. 

“We need consent for a lot of things in this body,” Hawley said. “I’ll just say at this point that it’s going to be an interesting week. I think all options are on the table.” 

Tags Bernie Sanders Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump John Cornyn John Thune Josh Hawley Mitch McConnell stimulus checks Unemployment

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