Republicans scramble to prevent year-end legislative disaster

Republican leaders in both chambers are scrambling to get a bipartisan coronavirus relief and government funding package across the finish line and avert a year-end disaster after President TrumpDonald TrumpThe Memo: The Obamas unbound, on race Iran says onus is on US to rejoin nuclear deal on third anniversary of withdrawal Assaults on Roe v Wade increasing MORE unexpectedly voiced last-minute objections to the legislation passed by Congress earlier this week.

Washington was blindsided Tuesday evening by Trump’s lengthy criticism of the $900 billion COVID-19 relief measure and $1.4 trillion omnibus that needs to be signed in the coming days to avoid a government shutdown.

Now, Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamLindsey Graham: GOP can't 'move forward without President Trump' House to advance appropriations bills in June, July The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her  MORE (R-S.C.), one of Trump’s most loyal Senate allies, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthySunday shows preview: Coronavirus dominates as White House continues to push vaccination effort Trump spokesman says defeating Cheney a top priority Gaetz, Greene tout push to oust Cheney: 'Maybe we're the leaders' MORE (R-Calif.) are trying to salvage the $2.3 trillion package, GOP sources said.


Graham is pushing for a vote on $2,000 stimulus checks, instead of the $600 direct payments in the bipartisan bill, and a sunset of Section 230 in the Communications Decency Act that shields social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter from lawsuits for content posted on their sites. Trump on Wednesday vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act for, among other things, not including a repeal of Section 230.

A Senate GOP aide said it makes sense for Graham to be involved with efforts to save the coronavirus-omnibus measure given the senator’s close relationship with Trump, who has recently soured on other Senate Republicans.

Trump has vented frustration with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellAssaults on Roe v Wade increasing Trump spokesman says defeating Cheney a top priority Biden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push MORE (R-Ky.) and Majority Whip John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneCheney fight stokes cries of GOP double standard for women Trump muddles Republican messaging on Afghanistan The Memo: Trump's critics face wrath of GOP base MORE (R-S.D.) for not putting up more of a fight to overturn the results of the presidential election. Trump even tweeted on Tuesday that Thune would face a primary challenge in 2022 when he’s up for reelection.

Graham on Wednesday said Congress should vote on language boosting the size of the stimulus checks and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“I support President @realDonaldTrump’s demand to increase direct payments for long-suffering Americans to $2,000 per person. And I also support his call to end Section 230 Big Tech legal liability protection. Let’s vote,” he tweeted.

But such a package — boosting the size of the stimulus checks and exposing social media platforms to liability over content — would face bipartisan opposition, as many Republicans are worried about the soaring deficit and many Democrats don’t want to take a punitive shot at tech firms.


On the House side, McCarthy told GOP colleagues during a conference call Wednesday afternoon that he spoke with Trump and was working to counter a request Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDefense lawyers for alleged Capitol rioters to get tours of U.S. Capitol Gaetz, Greene tout push to oust Cheney: 'Maybe we're the leaders' Free Speech Inc.: The Democratic Party finds a new but shaky faith in corporate free speech MORE (D-Calif.) planned to make on the House floor Thursday morning to increase the size of the stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. McCarthy’s proposal would be aimed at cutting spending, two sources familiar with discussions told The Hill.

McCarthy outlined his strategy Wednesday evening in a letter to Republican colleagues, accusing Democrats of “selective hearing” because they are seizing on Trump’s demand for a larger stimulus checks but ignoring his complaints about wasteful spending.

“They have conveniently ignored the concerns expressed by the President, and shared by our constituents, that we ought to reexamine how our tax dollars are spent overseas,” he wrote. “Thus, Republicans will offer a unanimous consent request to revisit the State and Foreign Operations title of the Omnibus so that we can fully address the concerns at hand.”

One House Republican who was on the Wednesday's call said GOP leaders would prefer to offer spending cuts instead of more than doubling the size of the stimulus checks in order to placate Trump.

“Pelosi is obviously playing politics, so this a countermove. It's basically cut the things the president was bitching about without doing the additional money [for stimulus checks],” the lawmaker said.

Democrats have seized on Trump’s bashing of the bill to put pressure on McCarthy and McConnell to back $2,000 stimulus checks.

“Americans need $2,000 checks. Senator McConnell: Americans need help NOW,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture How to fast-track climate action? EPA cutting super pollutant HFCs MORE (N.Y.) tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

House Republicans during a pro forma session Thursday morning rejected an effort by Democrats to pass a stand-alone bill by unanimous consent to provide $2,000 stimulus checks.

Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellNurses union lobbies Congress on health care bills during National Nurses Week OSHA sends draft emergency temporary standard for COVID-19 to OMB review Why the US needs a successful federal green bank MORE (D-Mich.), who was presiding over the House, said that under House guidelines, legislation can’t be considered by unanimous consent unless there is the approval of bipartisan House floor and committee leadership.

McCarthy had told Republican lawmakers during the Wednesday afternoon call that Republicans would block Pelosi’s request. GOP lawmakers say they are increasingly concerned about the $3.1 trillion federal deficit.

McCarthy told colleagues that Trump hasn’t made up his mind about whether to veto the massive COVID-19 relief and omnibus package, which he could hold at his desk until after the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3. If Trump doesn’t take action on the legislation during the 10 days that he’s allotted by the Constitution, excluding Sundays, it would result in a pocket veto and Congress could not vote to override it.

Instead, lawmakers in the new Congress would have to begin negotiating another package, something leaders want to avoid since it took more than seven months to strike a deal on the bill passed earlier this week.


Trump’s opposition to the bill caught lawmakers in both chambers by surprise, in large part because Treasury Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven MnuchinDemocrats justified in filibustering GOP, says Schumer Yellen provides signature for paper currency Biden's name will not appear on stimulus checks, White House says MORE and White House chief of staff Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsBoehner finally calls it as he sees it Stephen Miller launching group to challenge Democrats' policies through lawsuits A year with the coronavirus: How we got here MORE helped negotiate the package.

The $600 stimulus checks, which Trump now complains are too small, were first floated to Democratic leaders by Mnuchin in a Dec. 8 phone call.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told his GOP colleagues in a Wednesday call that he felt “Trump threw us under the bus.”

“The president was updated on this bill every step of the way by the GOP leadership. The COVID supplemental is a good compromise and the president should take it,” Bacon said in a public statement after the call, standing by his comments.

One looming deadline that has Republicans wringing their hands is Monday evening, when federal funding expires if Trump doesn’t sign the coronavirus relief and omnibus spending package into law. That would result in a government shutdown.

But before then is the so-called unemployment benefits cliff on Saturday, when two key programs providing benefits for millions of out-of-work Americans are set to expire.


Another major headache for GOP leaders is Trump’s veto of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress has enacted for 59 consecutive years.

McConnell had already scheduled the Senate to return to Washington for possible votes on Dec. 29, when he can begin the process of setting up a vote to override the defense bill veto. But Senate GOP leaders say they will only act if two-thirds of the House votes to override the veto.

McConnell, who has come under criticism from Trump for not joining his effort to overturn the election results in several swing states, kept out of the public spotlight Wednesday, giving his GOP colleagues little sense of what to expect.

“Everybody’s exhausted by the end of year stuff,” said one Senate GOP aide, who predicted that McConnell would try to override a veto of the coronavirus relief and omnibus spending package. “It’s a tough vote for half a dozen, up to a dozen Republicans but it’s not a tough vote."

“There are at least 19 Republicans that will override both vetoes,” the aide said of Senate override calculations.

--Updated at 10:19 a.m.