Presidential Transition Live Updates: McConnell Suggests Senate May Consider $2,000 Stimulus Checks

Senator Mitch McConnell’s decision to link together all of President Trump’s demands could doom any chance of passage.

Senator Mitch McConnell’s decision to link together all of President Trump’s demands could doom any chance of passage.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, on Tuesday blocked an effort to hold an immediate vote to increase stimulus checks to $2,000, saying instead that the Senate would “begin a process” to consider bigger payments, along with other demands issued by President Trump, leaving the fate of the measure unclear as more Republicans clamored to endorse it.

Mr. McConnell did not elaborate further on how — or when — the Senate would move to consider Mr. Trump’s demands, which the president made on Sunday after finally agreeing to sign a $900 billion stimulus package and government spending bill into law. Mr. Trump had held the package hostage for days, insisting that lawmakers triple the direct payments to $2,000 from $600, remove a legal shield for companies like YouTube and Facebook and investigate “very substantial voter fraud.”

The president relented only after Republican lawmakers persuaded him to sign the legislation, saying on Sunday that he had been promised Congress would take up his demands.

Mr. McConnell’s decision to block a vote on increasing the stimulus payments came as a growing number of Republican senators voiced support for the larger checks, and as pressure mounted on the Senate to vote on the measure.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, tried to force an immediate vote on increasing the size of the checks using a procedural tactic that allows senators to advance legislation unless another senator objects. Mr. McConnell blocked the measure.

“Senate Democrats strongly support $2,000 checks. Even President Trump supports $2,000 checks,” Mr. Schumer said. “There’s one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting $2,000 checks?”

A growing number of Republican senators have endorsed higher stimulus payments, including Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, both Georgia lawmakers facing tight runoff elections next week, who announced on Tuesday that they supported larger stimulus checks.

They joined a handful of others, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who have backed increasing the checks to $2,000. But the majority of Senate Republicans have so far remained opposed to the plan.

Mr. McConnell’s decision to link all of Mr. Trump’s demands together could doom any chance of passage. While Democrats all support larger checks, they are unlikely to endorse a hasty overhaul of the legal shield currently in place for social media companies, especially measures put forward by Republican senators aimed at confronting what they believe is anti-conservative bias.

Democrats are also likely to resist anything that could be seen as trying to undermine the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, as Mr. Trump has suggested. Mr. McConnell, who has privately urged his members not to object to the election results when Congress meets on Jan. 6 to ratify them, portrayed the president’s request as “exploring further ways to protect the sanctity of American ballots.” But Mr. Trump has been laser-focused on getting Congress to investigate “the very substantial voter fraud which took place,” an assertion he has repeated contrary to considerable evidence.

The House voted on Monday evening to increase the size of the checks to $2,000, daring Senate Republicans to either approve the heftier sum or defy Mr. Trump. The president kept up his campaign for the measure on Tuesday, demanding in a tweet “$2000 for our great people, not $600!”

The House vote, which just reached the two-thirds majority needed to pass, came a day after Mr. Trump finally signed off on a $900 billion pandemic relief package he initially denounced as a “disgrace” and refused to sign. The legislation, which passed by a vote of 275 to 134, was supported by 44 Republican members.

In signing the relief bill on Sunday night, Mr. Trump claimed in a statement that the Senate would “start the process for a vote” on legislation that would increase direct payments and pledged that “much more money is coming.”

Republican lawmakers in the House were visibly frustrated with Mr. Trump’s demand. Some of the president’s closest allies, including Representatives Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 Republican, and Jim Jordan of Ohio, voted against the measure, and Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, complained on the House floor that the proposal had been “hastily dropped on us at the last minute” and wouldn’t assist those who needed it most.

“I worry that this whopping $463 billion won’t do what’s needed, stimulate the economy or help workers get back to work,” Mr. Brady said.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. speaking in Wilmington, Del., on Monday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to fault the current pace of vaccine distribution under the Trump administration in remarks to be delivered in Delaware on Tuesday, and he will discuss his own plan to get Americans vaccinated as fast as possible, according to a transition official.

The president-elect is scheduled to speak about the coronavirus pandemic in the afternoon after receiving a briefing from his Covid-19 advisory team. His appearance comes with just over three weeks until he will take office amid a crisis that has already killed more than 335,000 people in the United States.

Also on Tuesday, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine. She received her shot on live television, just as Mr. Biden did last week. Ms. Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, was also vaccinated on Tuesday.

Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris are preparing to take office at a time of widespread personal suffering and economic disruption as a result of the virus. But the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna has provided a sign of hope for taming the spread of the virus, albeit not before many more grim weeks.

President Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic was at the center of Mr. Biden’s argument to voters about why they should deny him a second term, and soon, it would be up to Mr. Biden to begin steering the country through the continuing health crisis.

The president-elect has already offered a preview of what to expect, stressing the importance of wearing masks, promising to follow scientific expertise and calling for additional economic relief beyond the $900 billion stimulus package that Mr. Trump signed into law on Sunday.

Mr. Biden has vowed to get at least 100 million vaccine shots into the arms of Americans in his first 100 days in office, and he has said that getting children back in the classrooms should be a priority for the nation.

Speaking last week in Delaware, Mr. Biden nonetheless offered a sober warning about what lies ahead.

“One thing I promise you about my leadership during this crisis: I’m going to tell it to you straight,” he said. “I’m going to tell you the truth. And here’s the simple truth: Our darkest days in the battle against Covid are ahead of us, not behind us.”

The military bill would take steps to slow or block President Trump’s planned drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan.
Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, said the Senate would vote Wednesday on a military policy bill that President Trump has vetoed, moving a step closer to the first congressional override of Mr. Trump’s presidency.

The House voted on Monday to override Mr. Trump’s veto, mustering bipartisan support to enact the legislation over the president’s objections and handing him a rare legislative rebuke in the final days of his presidency.

“Today, the Senate will set up a final vote for tomorrow for this chamber to follow suit,” Mr. McConnell said on Tuesday.

The 322-to-87 vote is the first time a chamber of Congress has agreed to override one of Mr. Trump’s vetoes, underscoring the sweeping popularity of the military legislation, which authorizes a pay raise for the nation’s troops. It also amounted to a remarkable reprimand over the president’s decision to flout one of his party’s key orthodoxies — projecting military strength — from Republicans who have been reluctant to challenge Mr. Trump during his four years in office.

The admonition drew an angry Twitter reaction Tuesday morning from Mr. Trump, who derided “weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’” and called the override vote “a disgraceful act of cowardice.”

The margin by which the legislation originally passed exceeded the two-thirds majority needed in both houses to force enactment of the bill over Mr. Trump’s objections.

“The president has exercised his constitutional prerogative. Now, Madam Speaker, it’s up to us,” Representative Mac Thornberry of Texas, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said in remarks before the vote. “Our troops, the country, indeed, the world is watching to see what we will do — whether we can tune out other differences and still come together to support the men and women of the military and American national security.”

Congress has succeeded in passing the military bill each year for 60 years, with lawmakers relishing the opportunity to assert their support for national security and bring home wins to their constituents.

But Mr. Trump, making good on a monthslong series of threats, vetoed the bipartisan legislation on Wednesday, citing a shifting list of reasons including his objection to a provision directing the military to strip the names of Confederate leaders from bases. He also demanded that the bill include the repeal of a legal shield for social media companies that he has tangled with, a significant legislative change that Republicans and Democrats alike have said is irrelevant to a bill that dictates military policy.

Jon Ossoff, right, and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Democratic Senate candidates, campaigned together in Stonecrest, Ga., on Monday.
Credit…Nicole Craine for The New York Times

The $900 billion pandemic relief package that President Trump belatedly signed Sunday night gained steam this week as an issue in the Georgia Senate runoffs, with the two Republican incumbents seeking to claim credit for helping to bring aid to the state.

“Help is on the way,” Senator Kelly Loeffler tweeted Monday morning, applauding the stimulus package with its billions of dollars for vaccine distribution, schools and other beneficiaries.

She and her fellow incumbent, David Perdue, had supported the measure’s $600 payment to millions of Americans. They released a joint statement Sunday night thanking the president for finally approving the stimulus funds, avoiding the fact that Mr. Trump plunged the fate of the bill into turmoil last week by calling it “a disgrace” and demanding that direct payments be increased to $2,000.

But on Tuesday, caught in a delicate position with Mr. Trump’s demand and facing direct pressure from the two Democratic candidates, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, Ms. Loeffler and Mr. Perdue both announced that they supported larger checks.

“I’m delighted to support the president in this $2,000,” Mr. Perdue said on Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom” on Tuesday morning.

Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock had honed in on the direct payments in recent days, criticizing the Republican-led Senate for dragging its feet for months on the bill. They called the $600 payments too small and seized on the president’s call for larger payments to bolster their position.

“David Perdue does not care about us, and $600 is a joke,” Mr. Ossoff told several hundred people at an outdoor get-out-the-vote rally with Mr. Warnock in DeKalb County, one of the suburban Atlanta counties that has become increasingly diverse over the past decade.

Mr. Ossoff faces Mr. Perdue in the runoff, while Mr. Warnock is challenging Ms. Loeffler.

On Sunday the president tweeted that he would make a final campaign appearance on behalf of the two senators in Dalton, Ga., a carpet manufacturing hub in the north, on the eve of the election. The two races have drawn national attention and a record influx of money because of their potentially pivotal roles in determining the balance of power in the Senate.

Both Mr. Ossoff and Mr. Warnock — as well as Democrats on Capitol Hill — viewed the stimulus checks as a winning issue and had seized on the president’s opposition to the stimulus package in an effort to improve their chances in Georgia. On Monday, hours before the House of Representatives voted to advance the $2,000 stimulus checks demanded by Mr. Trump, Mr. Ossoff tweeted, “@Perduesenate, when will you commit to $2,000 relief checks for Georgians?

People picked up free groceries at a food pantry in Queens, N.Y., on Monday.
Credit…James Estrin/The New York Times

The $900 billion stimulus bill casts a wide net, with measures aimed at addressing the needs of millions of Americans, including those who have lost their jobs, as well as small businesses, nursing homes, colleges, universities and K-12 schools.

The full text of the bill ran almost 5,600 pages. Here’s a look at what’s included.

Individual payments: $600 to individual adults with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 a year based on 2019 earnings. Plus an additional $600 per child for eligible families with dependent children. (On Monday, the House voted to increase the payment to $2,000 for individual adults, a measure that now awaits a Senate vote.)

Unemployment benefits: Up to $300 per week for 11 weeks.

Education resources: $82 billion for education, including about $54 billion for K-12 schools and $23 billion for colleges and universities.

Funding for broadband infrastructure: $7 billion to expand access to high-speed internet connections; $300 million for building out infrastructure in underserved rural areas; $1 billion in grants for tribal broadband programs.

Targeted aid for small businesses: $285 billion for additional loans to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. Plus $12 billion for minority-owned businesses.

Funding for vaccines and nursing homes: Nearly $70 billion for a range of public health measures, including $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines and $8 billion for vaccine distribution, and an additional $20 billion to help states continue their test-and-trace programs.

Help for child care: $10 billion for the child care industry, with those funds intended to help providers struggling with reduced enrollment or closures stay open and continue paying their staffs.

Support for climate measures: New legislation to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, the powerful greenhouse gases common in air-conditioners and refrigerators. Plus $35 billion to fund wind, solar and other clean energy projects.

A ban on surprise medical bills: Make it illegal for hospitals to charge patients for services like emergency treatment by out-of-network doctors or transport in air ambulances, which patients often have no say about.

Rental protections: $25 billion in rental assistance. Extend a moratorium on evictions for another month, through Jan. 31 to protect tenants struggling with rent.

Food security: Increases to monthly food stamp benefits — known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — by 15 percent for six months, beginning on Jan. 1. Plus $13 billion for increased nutrition assistance, $400 million of which will support food banks and food pantries.

A vast majority of the people to whom President Trump granted pardons or commutations had either a personal or political connection to the White House.
Credit…Erin Scott for The New York Times

Nichole M. Forde, a federal inmate serving 27 years in prison for trafficking crack cocaine from Chicago to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, saw the list of politicians and presidential pals who were granted clemency last week and lamented: What about people like me?

Ms. Forde, 40, incarcerated for a decade now, has no connection to President Trump. No reality TV star has championed her life story, with its attempts to overcome sexual abuse, drug addiction, mental illness, teenage motherhood and homelessness.

Unlike many of those pardoned by Mr. Trump in his final weeks in office, she says she did bad things and deserved to be punished. But she also says she has been helped during her time behind bars by counseling and occupational training classes.

Her clemency petition has languished at the Justice Department for four years. 

“I feel sad that not everyone has a fair and equal shot at a clemency,” Ms. Forde wrote in an interview conducted through the Bureau of Prisons email system. “I have just as much chance at hitting a Powerball number than getting a clemency.”

Mr. Trump used the power of his office last week to grant clemency to dozens of people, among them his daughter’s father-in-law, his former campaign manager and a longtime friend. A vast majority of the people he granted pardons or commutations to had either a personal or political connection to the White House, and it appears that only seven were recommended by the government’s pardon attorney, according to a Harvard University professor who is tracking the process.

Over 14,000 people with federal convictions are awaiting word on their applications for clemency.

Many who have applied have little chance of clemency under any circumstances. But those with sentences they contend are excessive and people who have shown remorse and turned their lives around in prison are hoping for mercy.

Two counties had sought to remove more than 4,000 voters combined from the rolls.
Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

A federal judge has blocked two Georgia counties from purging thousands of voters from the rolls before two runoff elections on Jan. 5 that will determine control of the Senate.

Leslie Abrams Gardner, a U.S. District Court judge in the Middle District of Georgia who is also the sister of the voting rights activist Stacey Abrams, ordered elections officials in Ben Hill and Muscogee counties to halt their efforts to remove voters based on change-of-address data that might have been faulty and could disenfranchise legitimate voters.

“It does not appear that the boards received written confirmation from the targeted voters that they had changed their addresses,” the judge wrote in an 11-page decision released late Monday.

In her ruling, Judge Gardner also cited a provision in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 that requires localities to verify a change of address with individual voters before taking action, and another section that prevents officials from conducting such a purge within 90 days of an election.

The runoff pits two Republican senators, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, against two Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock.

“In a blow to GOP voter suppression, Federal court ENJOINS Georgia counties from removing 4000 voters from registration lists and making them vote provisional ballots in upcoming run-off elections,” Marc Elias, the Democratic voting rights lawyer who brought the case, wrote on Twitter.

Earlier on Monday, the board in Muscogee had filed a motion asking Judge Gardner, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2014, to recuse herself from the case.

The request cited Judge Gardner’s relationship with Ms. Abrams, “a Georgia politician and voting rights activist who was the Democratic candidate in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election and has since engaged in various highly publicized efforts to increase voter registration and turnout for the 2020 general election in Georgia.”

Judge Gardner rejected the motion and issued her ruling a few hours later.

The bulk of the registrations that the counties sought to rescind, more than 4,000 of them, were in Muscogee, a county on the Alabama border that Joseph R. Biden Jr. won handily in November, Politico reported. Roughly 150 more were from Ben Hill, a rural county in the southern part of the state that backed President Trump by a wide margin.

Turnout has been high so far in the runoff, with more than two million voters casting ballots.




‘That Was Easy’: Harris Receives Covid-19 Vaccine

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received the Moderna Covid-19 vaccination on Tuesday at United Medical Center in southeast Washington, and urged the public to get vaccinated as well.

“Let’s do it.” “All righty. Ready?” “Yeah, I’m ready. That was easy. [laughing] Thank you. I have now been vaccinated — as Joe likes to say, there’s a big difference between the vaccine and vaccinations. I want to encourage everyone to get the vaccine. It is relatively painless. It happens really quickly. It is safe. Literally, this is about saving lives. It’s literally about saving lives. I trust the scientists, and it is the scientists who created and approved this vaccine. So I urge everyone, when it is your turn, get vaccinated. It’s about saving your life, the life of your family members and the life of your community.”

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Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received the Moderna Covid-19 vaccination on Tuesday at United Medical Center in southeast Washington, and urged the public to get vaccinated as well.CreditCredit…Al Drago for The New York Times

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Tuesday and urged the public to get vaccinated as well, declaring, “Literally this is about saving lives.”

Ms. Harris received the Moderna vaccine at United Medical Center, a public hospital in Southeast Washington, where she rolled up her sleeve and received the shot in her left arm.

“That was easy,” she said when it was over. “Thank you. I barely felt it.”

Ms. Harris appeared on live television to receive her shot, just as President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. did last week when he received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a hospital in Delaware. Ms. Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, was also vaccinated on Tuesday.

After getting the vaccine, Ms. Harris urged Americans to get vaccinated as well, saying: “It is relatively painless. It happens really quickly. It is safe.”

“I trust the scientists, and it is the scientists who created and approved this vaccine,” she added. “So I urge everyone, when it is your turn, get vaccinated. It’s about saving your life, the life of your family members and the life of your community.”

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