MACON, Ga. — President Donald Trump won’t get his coveted $2,000 stimulus checks — and he’s blaming the very Senate Republican leaders he’s trying to protect in the closing days of Georgia’s runoffs.
Trump’s last-minute moves to close out his presidency — from his demand for increased stimulus payments to his unsubstantiated claims about the 2020 election — have put Republicans in a bind ahead of the state’s runoffs next week that will determine which party controls the Senate. And the president’s messaging is ironically aligned with that of Democrats, who see a renewed opening on their broader push for more coronavirus relief aid after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.
Though he is actively campaigning for the state’s two incumbent GOP senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, holding a Monday night rally to drive turnout to help save the Republican majority, Trump is continuing to run roughshod all over the party’s message for Tuesday’s must-win runoffs and, some Republicans worry, giving Democrats a perfect opening.
On Friday, Trump called the Republican-controlled Senate “pathetic” for failing to deliver on the $2,000 stimulus checks and other demands he wanted to pair with it after the Senate voted to override his veto of the $741 billion defense policy bill.
“Now they want to give people ravaged by the China Virus $600, rather than the $2000 which they so desperately need,” Trump tweeted, referring to Senate Republicans. ”Not fair, or smart!”
Indeed, Democratic challengers Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff have been jumping all over the president’s demand to boost the pandemic relief payments by $1,400. It’s a major closing argument for them — especially on the heels of Senate Republicans blocking a stand-alone bill to increase the value of the checks.
“If David Perdue were serious about supporting $2,000 checks for the people, he would be putting maximum pressure on Mitch McConnell to pass that legislation right now,” Ossoff told reporters Thursday after an early morning New Year’s Eve campaign rally.
Campaigning an hour south of Atlanta on Friday, Warnock echoed Trump’s criticisms of GOP leaders, calling it “shameful.”
“We should have passed relief months ago. This is what happens when the politics becomes about the politicians,” Warnock said. “This is a lot of maneuvering between politicians. And they live a kind of privilege that allows them to do that.”
Democrats believe their best shot at securing more coronavirus aid money with Biden in the White House is contingent upon the party controlling the Senate, as GOP leaders have yet to commit to another round of funds. Ossoff and Warnock have been laser-focused on coronavirus relief measures, and Trump’s plea — coupled with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s resistance to the idea — has put Loeffler and Perdue in a tough spot.
Senate Democrats kept the chamber in session through New Year’s Day as they delayed an effort to override Trump’s veto of the annual defense bill, giving them a platform just days before the runoff to highlight the issue — as well as McConnell’s opposition to inflating the checks.
“[Americans] will know that Leader McConnell and the Republican majority have prevented them from getting the checks, plain and simple,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Friday.
Some Republicans are worried that these attacks are breaking through. A GOP operative who was granted anonymity to candidly assess the matter said some in the GOP “haven’t noticed that every single ad the Democrats are running is about Republicans opposing direct checks.”
Loeffler and Perdue said earlier this week they supported the $2,000 payment increase, after Trump pushed for it and Democrats used it as a wedge isue in the two races. They also blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for refusing Republicans’ offers on coronavirus relief measures in the run-up to the presidential election.
Other Republicans don’t think the issue is harming the campaigns, especially since Trump is not attacking Loeffler and Perdue directly. In contrast, Trump on Friday called on South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem to mount a primary challenge against Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican. And with 3 million votes already cast in the state’s early voting period, there’s little that can be done in this late stage to persuade voters, Republicans say, instead focusing on get out the vote events in the closing days. Loeffler spoke with Trump earlier Friday to reiterate support for the checks, according to a person familiar with the discussion.
Some Republicans argue the issue just won’t resonate at this point, with millions of early votes cast and more than $500 million spent defining the race. Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist who has been tracking the relief legislation, said the checks would be a “trendy culprit” for blame if Republicans go down on Tuesday, but doubted it actually had much impact this late in the game.
“Whatever the downside risk, the idea that this race would be a slam dunk for the GOP if they bit the half-trillion dollar bullet and passed bigger checks is highly dubious,” Donovan said. “Democrats have done an impressive job getting out their vote. Republicans now have to do the same, and that won’t be driven by the size of the stimulus.”
Despite joining calls from the president and Democrats to increase the amount of direct payments, neither Loeffler nor Perdue have called for a standalone vote on the measures, as Senate Democrats have been seeking back in Washington. Instead, the senators are pairing their support with Trump’s unrelated demands for voter fraud investigations and the repeal of a legal shield for social media companies.
“I’m with the president all the way on all three of those,” Perdue said at a campaign event earlier this week. Even if the measure were to have come up for a last-minute vote, however, he would not be able to support it because he is in quarantine after coming into close contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19.
Loeffler, in an interview Thursday, said she supports the checks, but did not say it should receive a standalone vote in the chamber. She repeated McConnell’s objections to the legislation as giving money to higher earners who didn’t need it.
“Of course I support these checks,” Loeffler said. “And [Pelosi] recently increased the income levels though, for example. What we don’t need to do is to be bailing out her blue state millionaires.”
Republicans believed they blunted Ossoff and Warnock’s criticisms over their Covid-19 measures after Trump signed the $900 billion coronavirus relief measure on Sunday, which was featured in Perdue’s and Loeffler’s campaign ads before it even received his signature. The campaigns were relieved when Trump ultimately signed the bill after initially suggesting he might veto it because he thought the value of the stimulus checks, $600, was too low.
Privately, some Republicans say they want Trump to cut it out, believing his broadsides will hurt Loeffler and Perdue as the party clings to the Senate majority. But they aren’t saying so publicly.
“The president’s continued broadside against Senate Republicans while the majority hangs in the balance is one the most unhelpful things he has done during his presidency,” said a GOP strategist.