© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to journalists on Capitol Hill in Washington
By David Morgan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Donald Trump assailed leaders of his own Republican Party in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to try to get the Senate to accept his demands for $2,000 COVID-19 aid checks for Americans and his veto of a $740 billion defense policy bill.
In a tweet storm about his election loss to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and an expected vote to override his veto, the president attacked “weak and tired” Republican leaders.
“WE NEED NEW & ENERGETIC REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP,” Trump 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.
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 Americans.
But Trump is angry at his party’s lawmakers for not fully backing his claims of election fraud, trying to override a presidential veto for the first time in his tenure and opposing his efforts to give people pandemic aid checks of $2,000.
The Senate was scheduled to convene later on Tuesday for a rare year-end session in which Democrats are pushing for a vote to increase direct payments for Americans reeling from the pandemic from $600 to $2,000. The Senate will also weigh whether to override Trump’s veto of the defense policy bill.
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 thus the fate of Biden’s agenda when he takes office on Jan. 20.
Kelly Loeffler, one of two Republican candidates in the runoffs, expressed support for the increase on Tuesday. “I’ve stood by the president 100% 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,” she told Fox News.
However, the bill faces a tough path in the Republican-led Senate, with many Republicans noting that it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars extra.
Trump’s tweets put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow the chamber to vote on the measure, hours before the top Republican was expected to speak on the Senate floor at Noon (1700 GMT).
“$2000 for our great people, not $600! They have suffered enough from the China Virus!!!” the president tweeted.
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.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Monday approved the increase in direct payments to $2,000. The payments are earmarked for individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000.
Separately, the House on Monday voted to override the president’s veto of the defense policy bill. If the Senate seconds the House action, the bill becomes law. It would be the first veto override of Trump’s presidency, which ends on Jan. 20 when Biden takes office.
A Senate vote on the defense bill veto had been expected on Wednesday but could be delayed until the weekend by political wrangling over the stimulus money.
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.
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.
Final passage of the COVID aid increase in the Senate would require 60 votes and the backing of a dozen Republicans.
The Joint Tax Committee, a congressional panel that tracks federal spending, estimated on Monday that Trump’s $2,000 checks would cost $463.8 billion.
Three Republicans so far have voiced support for the higher payments: Senators Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley and Loeffler.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he would press for a vote on the checks later on Tuesday.
“The House just took a strong, bipartisan vote to pass $2,000 checks,” Schumer said in a tweet on Monday evening.
“I’ll move to pass the bill in the Senate. Workers, families and people are crying out for help. Every Senate Democrat is for this relief. Senate Republicans should not stand in the way.”
Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who has championed higher direct payments to Americans, has threatened to block the Senate from moving quickly to override Trump’s veto of defense bill until McConnell agrees to allow a vote on the $2,000 checks. Democrats including Senator Ed Markey are expected to join him.