With a Senate vote on $2,000 stimulus checks looming, Republicans face an agonizing choice between defying Trump and abandoning a core tenet of conservatism

  • The GOP Senate faces a tough choice if the question of $2,000 COVID-19 stimulus checks comes to a vote. 
  • After President Donald Trump called for direct payments to increase, a proposal to increase them passed in the House on Monday, and now moves to the Senate.
  • All eyes are on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who decides the order of business.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer can bring the vote if McConnell doesn't, but the move can be blocked by any senator.
  • There are numerous sticky issues at play for the GOP — from fiscal conservatism, to defying Trump, to how it will play in the Georgia Senate runoffs. 
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The prospect of $2,000 COVID-19 stimulus checks reaching Americans is now just a Senate vote away — and the situation poses an agonizing choice for Republicans.

The House, powered by its Democratic majority, on Monday passed a bill to increase the $600 checks in the COVID-19 stimulus bill to $2,000.

The move came after President Donald Trump unexpectedly called for the larger checks last week.

Following the House vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, pledged in a statement to bring it to the Senate on Tuesday — putting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who decides the order of business, in a sticky position. 

The move would add an extra $464 billion to the cost of the overall stimulus package, which is currently around $900 billion, according to The Washington Post. 

Despite Trump's intervention, it's much more than most Republicans, including McConnell, have been willing to spend. And for the party overall, the picture is much more complicated than that.

There are several issues at play for Republicans, if they vote against raising the direct payments:

  • The prospect of defying a coalition — of sorts — between Trump and the Democrats.
  • Appearing heartless by denying a highly popular measure amid the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Being seen to adhere to principles of fiscal conservatism.
  • Maintaining control of the Senate, which hinges on a Georgia runoff election where stimulus is emerging as a key campaign issue.

GOP priorities are not as adamant as they appeared

Another round of direct payments to Americans as part of a second pandemic relief bill is a long-held desire of Democrats.

But in the frenzied later stages of negotiations, the party's key players had largely dropped it from their wish list as McConnell held a firm line on spending.

In the fall, Trump had said he wanted large payouts to Americans. But focused as he was on challenging the results of the 2020 presidential election, he took a back seat for much of the stimulus negotiations.

With Trump preoccupied, McConnell signaled in early December that Trump would only sign into law a much smaller package that followed classic Republican ideals of fiscal conservatism.

The first round of stimulus had already caused the national debt to spiral, according to Forbes. 

"At the risk of repeating something we all know, making law will require not just the Senate's approval, but also the signature of the President of the United States," he said in a December 2 statement, in which he continued to argue for spending of no more than around $500 billion.

McConnell's hardline stance ultimately pushed Democrats to reduce the cost of their overall demands by more than half.

But stimulus checks came back on the horizon mid-December when McConnell unexpectedly backed the inclusion of $600 payments. His shift in perspective came after he realized how badly the issue was affecting Republican candidates in the Georgia Senate runoffs, according to The New York Times. 

Those elections could tip the balance of the Senate from GOP hands into Democratic ones — and along with it McConnell's position as Senate majority leader. 

So on December 21, both chambers of Congress passed a $900 billion bill including $600 checks for some Americans, in full expectation of the president's signature. 

But the next day, Trump blazed back onto the scene. In a tweeted video, he trashed the bill as faulty on several levels and called for $2,000 checks. 

That was hurriedly embraced by leading Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The separate bill increasing the $600 checks to $2,000 — though not addressing any of Trump's other objections — was quickly put together and passed by the House on Monday.

Now it awaits a Senate vote, in which Republicans would have the awkward choice between giving Democrats what they want, or defying the president. 

Any one senator can block Schumer's bid to put the question to a vote on Tuesday. So it leaves all eyes on McConnell, whose role as Senate majority leader gives him the power to decide the order of business.

He has remained tight-lipped on the question in his most recent statements. 

One option could be to package the $2,000 checks up with other adjustments to the bill that Trump demanded — but the likely Democratic objections could again make the time frame too tight, and Trump's delay in signing the stimulus bill into law already cost 14 million Americans unemployment aid in the process.

Trump's pull on the party may also be waning. Set to leave office on January 20, he is in the lame-duck phase of his presidency. 

But his recent intervention shows he can still turn the tables dramatically when he wants to.

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