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Politics & Government

McConnell Blocks Senate Vote On $2,000 Direct Payments

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

There are only two days left in 2020, but senators still have not finished their work for the year. The Senate should soon vote to override President Trump's veto of a critical annual defense bill. And more and more Republicans are joining Democrats and President Trump in a strange alliance in favor of increasing stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000 for every eligible person. NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell is trying to keep track of all the developments. She's here again.

Hey, Kelsey.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Hi, there.

KELLY: So give us the state of play in the Senate specifically, where they were supposed to vote today to overrides Trump veto. But that all fell apart because of this separate fight over stimulus checks. Get us caught up on where it all stands.

SNELL: Yeah, this was a bit of a roller coaster, to put it mildly. And timing over the veto override and the fate of the stimulus check got all intertwined - started with Democrats objecting to Republicans trying to hold a speedy vote to overturn the veto without voting on the stimulus money. And then Republicans objected to Democrats trying to hold a speedy up-or-down vote on the stimulus money, period.

Now everything is kind of in limbo. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to sort out the bind that President Trump left him in because President Trump says he wants a vote on the $2,000 checks, but he also wants votes on liability protections for social media companies and election security. McConnell tried to clear things up on the Senate floor this morning.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: Those are the three important subjects the president has linked together. This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.

KELLY: I'm trying to decode that, Kelsey - that line - begin a process to bring the priorities into focus. He's not exactly promising a speedy vote.

SNELL: Right. But then tonight, he moved to put a bill on the floor that includes the checks and the social media liability issue. Democrats say McConnell is setting up a scenario where every one of those things will fail. And they're kind - and McConnell's kind of blaming Trump for combining things. Democrats and some Republicans say they have the votes to pass the stimulus checks but not the other elements. And so everything's kind of clear as mud.

KELLY: Although I noticed that there are some Republicans - several of them, including the two Georgia senators who are in the runoff elections next week - they have come out - they have favored - come out in favor of those checks. Does that make it more likely the Senate will actually bring this to a vote?

SNELL: So the vote does seem like it's coming, but the list of Republicans growing is really interesting. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler are the two Georgia senators who are up for - in that runoff next week. And they are arguably the most important people to Mitch McConnell right now. They - you know, the decision that is happening in Georgia means the balance of the power is up for - balance of power in the Senate - I'm sorry - is up for grabs.

You know, Loeffler and Perdue have had to reverse themselves repeatedly over these checks. And it's - really highlights what a terrible bind Trump really did put them in. You know, McConnell and a lot of Republicans really oppose higher direct payments, and Trump undermined all of that messaging. So the move to put it on the floor is a step in the direction of clearing things up, but it may or may not satisfy Democrats who have their own demands on this.

KELLY: And meanwhile, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is making a move. Tell us what he's up to.

SNELL: Yeah, he says he's filibustering the vote to override the veto until there's this vote on the checks. You know, he's slowing down the process.

KELLY: What does that mean? Decode that one for us.

SNELL: (Laughter) Yeah, I mean, these things are so combined right now. And that's one of the crazy things about Congress. You know, he's slowing down the process. If he holds out, there's a chance the Senate could be forced to vote on the veto override on New Year's Day. Congress does end on - at midnight on Saturday, though, so there is at least a timeline (laughter).

KELLY: All right. We wish you luck holding out till Saturday. That's NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

Thank you.

SNELL: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.