McConnell urges Senate to override Trump defense veto, vague on stimulus checks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday urged the Senate to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a $740 billion defense policy bill, saying the funding plan for the U.S. military could not be allowed to fail.

FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to the media after a lunch with Republican senators on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Senate convened on Tuesday for a rare year-end session to consider whether to override the veto and to weigh whether to increase direct stimulus payments for Americans reeling from the pandemic.

Hours earlier, Trump assailed leaders of his own Republican Party on Twitter, calling them “weak” and “tired” in an apparent effort to get the Senate to increase COVID-19 aid checks from $600 to $2,000 and to support his veto of the defense bill.

McConnell, the top Republican in the Senate, refused to cave to Trump’s demands on the military bill.

“For the brave men and women of the United States armed forces, failure is simply not an option,” he said. “So when it’s our turn in Congress to have their backs, failure is not an option either. I would urge my colleagues to support this legislation one more time, when we vote tomorrow.”

McConnell, did however, sought to appease Trump’s other demands. While he blocked immediate consideration of a measure to increase COVID-19 relief payments to $2,000, he suggested the Senate would at least examine the issue along with two others Trump has raised – limits on big technology companies and the integrity of elections.

“This week the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus,” he said.

With the New Year’s Day holiday on Friday and a new Congress due to be sworn into office on Sunday, lawmakers have only a short time to act.

A combined $892 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief package and $1.4 trillion spending bill that Trump signed into law on Sunday contains $600 checks for people hit hard financially by the coronavirus.

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U.S. stocks dipped into negative territory after McConnell rejected Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s call for the Senate to approve the increased stimulus aid by unanimous consent.

PARTING WAYS

Republicans in Congress have largely stuck with Trump through four turbulent years during which he was impeached, became the focus of an inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and oversaw the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic which has killed 333,000 people in the United States.

Due to leave office in 22 days, Trump is angry that his party’s lawmakers have not fully backed his false claims of fraud in his November election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, as well as their efforts to override a presidential veto for the first time since he took office in 2016 and their opposition to his efforts to give people bigger aid checks.

In a tweet storm just before the Senate session started, Trump attacked “weak and tired” Republican leaders.

“WE NEED NEW & ENERGETIC REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP,” he wrote in a tweet falsely claiming that voter fraud caused his defeat in the Nov. 3 election.

“Republican leadership only wants the path of least resistance. Our leaders (not me, of course!) are pathetic. They only know how to lose!” he wrote without mentioning any party leader by name.

Addressing the Republican-dominated chamber, Schumer said it should not adjourn until it addresses COVID-19 stimulus checks and the defense policy bill.

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Democrats believe the stimulus check issue could give them an advantage in two critical Georgia runoff elections next week that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate and the fate of President-elect Biden’s agenda when he takes office on Jan. 20.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Monday approved the increase in direct payments to $2,000. However, it faces a tough path in the Republican-led Senate, with many Republicans asserting it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars extra.

McConnell did not elaborate on what action, if any, the Senate would take on stimulus checks. Instead, he emphasized the importance of the current provisions in the bipartisan relief package that Trump signed on Sunday, calling it “our shot at getting help to working families on the urgent timeline that they need.”

Final passage of the COVID-19 aid increase in the Senate would require 60 votes and the backing of a dozen Republicans.

At least five Republicans have so far voiced support for the higher payments.

The House on Monday voted to override the president’s veto of the defense policy bill and if the Senate seconds the House action, it becomes law. It would be the first veto override of Trump’s presidency.

Trump said he blocked the defense legislation because he opposed a provision to rename military bases named after generals who fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War, and because he wanted it to overturn liability protections for social media companies, an issue unrelated to national security.

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