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Trump push for larger Covid aid cheques dealt severe blow in Senate

Majority leader Mitch McConnell has opposed his fellow Republican Donald Trump in blocking the move.

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Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol building on Wednesday, where he all but killed off Donald Trump’s push for larger Covid relief cheques to most Americans (Susan Walsh/AP)

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol building on Wednesday, where he all but killed off Donald Trump’s push for larger Covid relief cheques to most Americans (Susan Walsh/AP)

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in the Capitol building on Wednesday, where he all but killed off Donald Trump’s push for larger Covid relief cheques to most Americans (Susan Walsh/AP)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has all but shut the door on President Donald Trump’s push for 2,000 dollar (£1,476) Covid-19 relief cheques, declaring Congress has provided enough pandemic aid as he blocked another attempt by Democrats to force a vote.

The GOP leader made clear he was unwilling to budge, despite political pressure from Mr Trump and even some fellow Republican senators demanding action.

Mr Trump wants the recent 600 dollars (£443) in aid increased threefold. But Mr McConnell on Wednesday dismissed the idea of bigger “survival cheques” approved by the House, saying the money would go to many American households that did not need it.

Mr McConnell’s refusal to act means the additional relief Mr Trump wanted is all but dead.

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Mr McConnell said the Senate would consider ‘smart targeted aid – not another firehose of borrowed money’ (Susan Walsh/AP)

Mr McConnell said the Senate would consider ‘smart targeted aid – not another firehose of borrowed money’ (Susan Walsh/AP)

AP/PA Images

Mr McConnell said the Senate would consider ‘smart targeted aid – not another firehose of borrowed money’ (Susan Walsh/AP)

“We just approved almost a trillion dollars in aid a few days ago,” Mr McConnell said, referring to the year-end package Mr Trump signed into law.

Mr McConnell added that if “specific, struggling households still need more help” the Senate would consider “smart targeted aid – not another firehose of borrowed money”.

The showdown between the outgoing president and his own Republican Party over the 2,000 dollar cheques has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office.

It is one last stand-off, together with the override of Mr Trump’s veto of a sweeping defence bill, that will punctuate the president’s final days and deepen the GOP’s divide between its new wing of Trump-styled populists and what had been mainstay conservative views against government spending.

Mr Trump has been berating the GOP leaders, and tweeted, “$2000 ASAP!”

President-elect Joe Biden also supports the payments and wants to build on what he calls a “downpayment” on relief.

“In this moment of historic crisis and untold economic pain for countless American families, the President-elect supports $2,000 direct payments as passed by the House,” said Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates.

The roadblock set by Senate Republicans appears insurmountable.

Most GOP senators seemed to accept the inaction even as a growing number of Republicans, including two senators in run-off elections on January 5 in Georgia, agreed with Mr Trump’s demand, with some wary of opposing him.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the 600 dollar cheques would begin to go out Wednesday. Congress had settled on smaller payments in a compromise over the massive, year-end Covid relief and government funding bill Mr Trump reluctantly signed into law. Before signing, though, Mr Trump demanded more.

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President-elect Joe Biden supports the larger cheques (Andrew Harnik/AP)

President-elect Joe Biden supports the larger cheques (Andrew Harnik/AP)

AP/PA Images

President-elect Joe Biden supports the larger cheques (Andrew Harnik/AP)

For a second day in a row, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tried to force a vote on the bill approved by the House meeting Mr Trump’s demand for the 2,000 dollar cheques.

“What we’re seeing right now is Leader McConnell trying to kill the cheques — the 2,000 cheques desperately needed by so many American families,” Mr Schumer said.

With the Georgia Senate run-off elections days away, leading Republicans warned the GOP’s refusal to provide more aid as the virus worsens could jeopardise the outcome of those races.

Georgia’s GOP senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are trying to fend off Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in run-off elections that will determine which party has the Senate majority. The two Republicans announced support for Mr Trump’s call for more generous cheques.

“The Senate Republicans risk throwing away two seats and control of the Senate,” Newt Gingrich, the former congressional leader, said on Fox News.

McConnell has tried to shield his divided Republicans from a difficult vote. On Wednesday he suggested he had kept his word to start a “process” to address Mr Trump’s demands, even if it means no votes will actually be taken.

“It’s no secret Republicans have a diversity of views,” he said.

Earlier, Mr McConnell had unveiled a new bill loaded up with Mr Trump’s other priorities as a possible off-ramp for the stalemate.

It included the 2,000 cheques being more narrowly targeted to lower-income households, as well as a complicated repeal of protections for tech companies like Facebook or Twitter under Section 230 of a communications law that the president complained is unfair to conservatives.

It also tacked on the establishment of a bipartisan commission to review the 2020 presidential election Mr Trump lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

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