Donald Trump challenged Senate Republicans to approve an increase in stimulus cheques to $2,000 per person, defying his own party leaders in Congress in one of the last political clashes of his presidency.
A day after the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation raising the direct payments from $600, Mr Trump urged the Republican-controlled Senate to do the same, despite the resistance of many lawmakers of his party to increased spending.
“Give the people $2,000, not $600. They have suffered enough!” Mr Trump wrote in tweet early Tuesday.
The US president’s pressure came as Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate majority leader, prepared to bring the upper chamber back into session after the holiday. Mr McConnell has not said whether he would schedule a vote on the larger direct payments.
The $600 payments were included in a $900bn stimulus bill signed into law by Mr Trump on Sunday. Higher direct payments would increase the cost of the stimulus bill by $464bn, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, and could support income and consumption as the US grapples with more coronavirus cases.
On Tuesday morning, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, two Georgia Republican senators facing difficult run-off races next week that could determine control of the upper chamber, backed Mr Trump’s bid for $2,000 payments, squeezing Mr McConnell even further on the issue.
Mr Perdue said in a tweet: “@realdonaldtrump is right — I support this push for $2,000 in direct relief for the American people.”
When asked if she supported the $2,000 payments, Ms Loeffler told Fox News: “The president has fought for our country from day one. He continues to fight for every single American. I’ve stood by the president 100 per cent of the time. I’m proud to do that. And I’ve said absolutely, we need to get relief to Americans now and I will support that.”
Democrats have been strongly in favour of the bigger stimulus cheques and urged Mr Trump to be more forceful with his party.
“If he actually does his job now and convinces Republicans to vote for larger direct payments, then bigger cheques could start going out next week,” Jack Reed, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island, said on Monday, adding: “It’s not enough for President Trump to just sit in his Mar-a-Lago estate and send a few tweets.”
As he turned up the heat on Mr McConnell over stimulus, Mr Trump also attacked Republican leadership in the upper chamber of Congress for their intention to override his veto of a $740bn defence spending bill. After the House voted to override his veto on Monday, a vote in the Senate along the same lines could happen in the coming days and would amount to a striking rebuke of the president.
Mr Trump objected to the defence bill in a bid to persuade Congress to repeal legislation granting technology companies immunity from liability for online content, and because of provisions restricting his ability to reduce US troop levels in Europe and Asia. He also criticised a measure requiring the Pentagon to rename military bases named after confederate generals.
“Weak and tired Republican “leadership” will allow the bad Defense Bill to pass,” Mr Trump said, adding: “Negotiate a better Bill, or get better leaders, NOW! Senate should not approve NDAA [National defence authorisation act] until fixed!!!”
Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, has signalled his intention to block a vote on overriding the defence bill veto until Mr McConnell agrees to hold a vote on the stimulus cheques, further complicating the picture for the Senate majority leader.