Trump threw away his leverage by signing the COVID package with $600 checks and can now only watch as McConnell blocks $2,000 payments

McConnell/Trump
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with President Donald Trump at the White House on March 27, 2020.
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected President Trump's push for $2,000 stimulus checks Wednesday, blocking a vote on the issue proposed by Democrats. 
  • Trump is out of political options in his bid to have the sum bumped up from $600.
  • He had delayed signing the spending bill authorizing the checks in an attempt to pressure Congress to increase the figure.
  • But, faced with a looming government shutdown, he signed the bill on December 27.
  • Without the threat of a veto, and with firm opposition from McConnell, Trump has nowhere to go.
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The conflict between President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell escalated Wednesday, when McConnell effectively ended the president's bid to hike stimulus checks to $2,000. 

McConnell appears to have outfoxed the president, who can do little more than shout from the sidelines as he presses the case for higher checks.

Trump had demanded higher checks while delaying his approval of a vast spending bill, which included checks for $600 as part of a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package, alongside other routine government spending.

He received the bill on December 21, and for for six days used the threat of his veto power to pressure congress into action, and was supported by Congressional Democrats.

But, faced with a looming government shutdown, Trump caved and signed the bill on December 27.

Since then, the power to hold up proceedings reverted to McConnell, who opposes larger checks and can use the Republican majority in the Senate to block the issue.

Though McConnell has not explicitly killed the measure, he has made GOP support conditional on tying it to repealing protections for technology firms and holding a probe into Trump's claims of fraud in the 2020 election.

He said there is no hope for considering the $2,000 checks in isolation, and the extra conditions make the bill unacceptable for Democrats.

Since those conditions are both also things Trump wants, he will struggle to oppose the extra asks from McConnell, effectively spoiling the unlikely alliance between Trump and the Democrats.

Some commentators said events this week have showed that McConnell, not Trump, is now the dominant figure in the GOP. 

Defeated on the substance of the issue, and in a feud with his own party, Trump can still take revenge. 

The president is said to be determined to take damage congressional Republicans for not doing more to support his bogus election fraud claims, and can cause additional problems for GOP leadership by pressing the issue of the checks.

In an acknowledgement of their popularity, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, the Republican candidates in the crucial January 5 Senate runoff, declared their support for Trump's $2,000 checks. 

Many congressional Republicans, seemingly wary of attracting Trump's wrath, also backed the increase. 

It's an extraordinary sign of the hold Trump still has over the party and its supporters, since opposition to higher government spending is generally a core principle of Republican ideology. 

If Trump wants to increase the pressure on McConnell, he could boycott rallies for the GOP candidates in Georgia ahead of the election, as the Daily Beast's Sam Stein has noted, and dampen enthusiasm among his base.

Democrats have been exploiting the dispute between the White House and congressional GOP, forcing McConnell to block their bid for a vote on the issue to highlight divisions in the party. 

Several congressional Republicans sided with the White House in the battle over the checks, indicating a growing divide in the GOP between Trump loyalists and GOP leaders focussed on the incoming Biden administration. 

Now, if Republicans lose the elections and their control of the Senate, it will be easy to place at least part of the blame on McConnell, leaving his victory a hollow one.

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