Democrats seize on Trump's push for $2,000 stimulus checks for boost in Georgia Senate race

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Democratic U.S. Senate candidates Jon Ossoff (R) and Raphael Warnock (L) of Georgia wave to supporters during a rally on November 15, 2020 in Marietta, Georgia.
Jessica McGowan | Getty Images

In the crucial Georgia Senate runoff races, Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are using President Donald Trump’s latest push for larger stimulus checks to bash incumbent GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

In video posted Tuesday night, Trump called the $900 billion Covid relief bill passed by Congress an unsuitable “disgrace” and urged lawmakers to make a number of changes, including increasing the $600 stimulus checks to $2,000.

The two Democratic Senate candidates, who have advocated for larger direct payments, wasted no time in responding to Trump’s move and criticizing their opponents.

“President Trump is, as ever, erratic and all over the place. But on this point, tonight, he’s right,” Ossoff said on CNN Tuesday night. “Six-hundred dollars is a joke. They should send $2,000 checks to the American people right now because people are hurting.”

“David Perdue, my opponent, who opposed even the first round of $1,200 checks … has obstructed direct relief for the last eight months, and now decided he wanted to cut it down to 600 bucks when people can barely feed their families through no fault of their own,” Ossoff added.

“As I’ve said from the start, the Senate should have acted on this months ago and support for Georgians should have been far greater. Donald Trump is right, Congress should swiftly increase direct payments to $2,0000,” Warnock said in a statement Wednesday.

“Once and for all Senator Loeffler should do what’s best for Georgia instead of focusing on what she can do for herself,” Warnock continued.

When asked at an event Wednesday whether she would support increasing direct payments to $2,000, Loeffler said, “I’ll certainly look at supporting it if it repurposes wasteful spending toward that, yes,” according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter Greg Bluestein.

Covid relief has been central issue in the tight election that will decide control of the Senate. If at least one Republican wins in the Jan. 5 election, the GOP will retain control of the upper chamber. If both Democrats win, Democrats will have control of the White House and Congress.

For months, Ossoff and Warnock have positioned themselves as the key to President-elect Joe Biden’s ability to deliver on his agenda of coronavirus relief, which includes more stimulus checks. The two have attacked Perdue and Loeffler for their handling of the coronavirus crisis. Perdue and Loeffler have blamed Democrats for stalling efforts to pass a relief package.

The Republican senators have allied themselves strongly with Trump, including supporting his baseless accusations of widespread voter fraud and attempts to overturn the election results.

Earlier in the negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly said on a call with GOP senators that “Kelly and David are getting hammered” in the runoff races on the issue of direct payments to individuals and families.

Before Trump released his video, Loeffler and Perdue were already touting the bill’s passage as a win. Perdue even released an ad Tuesday highlighting the bill as his accomplishment.

“After months of Democrats playing politics with Americans’ health and livelihoods by blocking additional relief for our families and small businesses, we finally have a path forward. During a crisis, we need proven leaders who can get things done,” Perdue and Loeffler said in a joint statement following the bill’s passage.

Now, the president’s opposition to the bill has potentially disrupted Perdue and Loeffler’s plan to deliver much-needed relief to their constituents in the final days before the Jan. 5 runoff.

If Trump vetoes the bill, Congress could override the veto; the measure passed with overwhelming majorities in both chambers. If Trump simply refuses to sign the bill, the 10-day deadline for presidential action could run into the new congressional session, at which point the bill could die altogether. In the video released Tuesday night, he did not elaborate on his plans.

The White House declined to comment and referred CNBC to the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign did not immediately respond. At an event Wednesday introducing his pick for Education secretary, Biden walked away when reporters asked about $2,000 stimulus checks.

Congressional Democrats have largely celebrated Trump’s push for bigger direct payments, a measure party members had been pushing for in Covid relief negotiations.

House Democrats, who hold a majority in the chamber, will seek to pass a measure for $2,000 direct payments by unanimous consent Thursday, Christmas Eve, according to a senior Democratic aide. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did not specify the day, but said in a tweet that the vote would happen this week. The House will be in a pro forma session, and it will only take one lawmaker to prevent its passage.

It remains to be seen whether larger direct payments would pass in the Senate, where several Republicans have resisted bigger stimulus payments.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Twitter Wednesday morning, “I support President @realDonaldTrump’s demand to increase direct payments for long-suffering Americans to $2,000 per person… Let’s vote.”

For now, the president’s move has created uncertainty for millions of Americans who were expecting to start receiving stimulus checks as soon as next week.

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