GOP senator warns $2K checks can’t pass, urges Trump to sign COVID deal

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, warned Thursday that President Trump’s demand for $2,000 stimulus checks can’t pass the Senate and urged him to sign a massive year-end agreement.

Blunt, acknowledging that he has “no idea” what Trump will ultimately do, said that it would be a “mistake” to try to renegotiate the bill, which ties $1.4 trillion to fund the government to $900 billion in long-sought coronavirus relief.

“It took us a long time to get to where we are. I think reopening that bill would be a mistake,” Blunt said. “The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill, and I still hope that’s what he decides.”

Asked if he knows what the president is going to do, Blunt added: “I have no idea what he plans to do.”

Blunt, the No. 4 member of GOP leadership, is the highest-ranking Senate Republican to weigh in since Trump blindsided Washington by trashing the sweeping agreement. The deal was negotiated with the administration; many of the items called out by Trump match his budget request, and the White House had publicly said the president would sign it.

Trump also specifically urged Congress to raise the level of direct payments in the coronavirus portion of the deal from $600 for individuals making up to $75,000 to $2,000. The idea was immediately seized on by Democrats, who accused GOP leadership of resisting a more robust second round of direct payments as part of the recent talks.

House Democrats tried to clear a bill greenlighting the $2,000 checks by unanimous consent on Thursday, but the effort was blocked by House Republicans. Democrats are expected to force a vote on the issue Monday. 

But Blunt warned that the idea was unlikely to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate, where the stimulus checks spark division within the caucus.

“If they do, I would be surprised if we dealt with it,” he said, asked about the House potentially passing a bill dealing with direct payments on Monday.

Asked if a bill providing $2,000 checks could get the 60 votes needed to ultimately pass the Senate, Blunt added: “It would not.”

As a counter to the House Democratic effort to squeeze Republicans on direct payments, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has called on Congress to “revisit” the State and foreign operations spending included as part of the $1.4 trillion piece that funds the government until Oct. 1.

Trump railed against money included in the government funding bill that provides aid to other countries, though the spending levels in many cases match what Trump requested of Congress through his budget

Blunt also dismissed McCarthy’s effort, warning that reopening talks on State Department and foreign aid funding could unravel the larger deal.

“Generally the regular appropriation bill includes things the administration asked for. Certainly, the negotiated foreign aid provisions would not benefit by opening that part of the bill up and frankly if you start opening part of the bill up it’s hard to defend not opening the whole bill up,” Blunt said.

Trump’s criticism of the year-end deal — he didn’t explicitly say he would veto it — comes as he’s cast uncertainty and chaos over Washington’s year-end.

Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), teeing up Congress to try to override him starting on Monday, and has handed out several pardons this week including to long-standing allies. There’s also concern that if he sits on the spending-coronavirus agreement, it could result in a pocket veto and Congress could not vote to override before the start of the 117th Congress.

Blunt warned that Trump’s actions were overshadowing some of the “positive things” Republicans have done during the administration.

“I think there are a lot of really positive things that the president accomplished that if we weren’t talking about these things we’d be talking about those positive things that he did and that would be to his advantage. And he’s made it really hard to talk about great advances we’ve made,” Blunt said.

“I think that would be to the president’s advantage if we were talking about his accomplishments rather than questioning decisions late in the administration,” he said. “But again, Congress has very little control over what the president can say.”

Tags checks Coronavirus COVID-19 Donald Trump Kevin McCarthy Roy Blunt

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