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Senate remains at a standstill over increased COVID relief checks

The struggle to provide additional COVID relief continues in the U.S. Senate. The passage of $2,000 relief checks is stalled despite President Trump's repeated demands for larger direct payments. Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for POLITICO, joins Amna Nawaz to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    The struggle to provide additional COVID relief continues in the U.S. Senate. The passage of $2,000 relief checks is stalled, despite President Trump's repeated demands for larger direct payments.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a vote on the checks Tuesday, but then proposed a bill combining the measure with Mr. Trump's other requests, repealing protections for tech companies and creating a commission on election fraud.

    Here to break down the latest of where things stand, Anna Palmer joins us now. She's senior Washington correspondent for Politico.

    Anna, welcome back to the "NewsHour." And thanks for being here.

    Bring us up to speed now. What is the latest on this debate, and how likely is anyone to see those higher $2,000 checks?

  • Anna Palmer:

    Amna, basically, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the nail in the coffin for the larger checks when he combined it with the other provisions that Trump was after, including an election fraud commission, and also removing some protections for social media companies like Twitter and Facebook.

    There really is no pathway forward at this point. You have some Senate Democrats vowing to filibuster a separate bill. This bill is going to fund the military. Senator Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey have both said that they made filibusters through the new year, because they're very upset, and they have been trying to force some momentum for a bill.

    But, at this point, McConnell seems very stuck at his position that he is not going to put forward a vote on just the check, the $2,000 bill, alone.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, even if this combined bill, with these three items packaged together, even if that manages to pass, then what?

  • Anna Palmer:

    Yes, it really — I think that is a very far-fetched scenario in general, just because there's a lot of Democrats that I don't think would vote for it.

    But even if we go that scenario, down that route, and it did pass in the Senate, it basically is a nonstarter, because the House hasn't passed that bill, and the House is out of session through the end of the year.

    There's no plans to come back for this. So, it's basically more of a message bill, probably somewhat to appease the president as he looked towards that January 6 vote that Congress will take regarding electing the next president of the United States.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    So, Anna, it's been interesting to see.

    In this debate, there were a growing number of Senate Republicans joining the president's call and Democrats' call for higher payments you saw, including both of those Georgia senators, right, who are up in their run-off elections in another week or so.

    But most Republicans stood in opposition to the president. What do you make of that division in the party right now?

  • Anna Palmer:

    Yes, it's been interesting to watch, because you have seen some senators, like Senator Marco Rubio, from Florida, Josh Hawley as well from Missouri, coming out in support of the president, in support of those $2,000 checks.

    But the vast majority of Republicans have said that they don't feel like they need to do a bigger package at this point. They want to have those $600 direct payments first. And the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, did say that, if there was going to be a larger package, he wants them to be very targeted, and is just opposed to the overall price tag.

    I think part of what you're seeing is the end of the Trump presidency, where Republicans really allowed them to write as big checks as he wanted and didn't think about debt and deficit. And we're coming back to some of the more typical ways that the Republican Party has viewed spending in the past.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And in the minute or so we have left, look ahead to us in these final days of the 116th, Congress. What should we expect. What might we see?

  • Anna Palmer:

    Yes, the two things I'm really watching closely is the speaker vote for Nancy Pelosi. That's going to be Sunday. What are her numbers looking like? She has projected confidence, but the numbers are a little murky because of members having to travel back. They have to be in person to vote.

    And there are some members that also have COVID. And then there's that all-important January 6 vote for who's going to be the next president. It is going to be Joe Biden, no mistaking that. But Senator Hawley and others have said that they are going to cause — enforce a roll call vote on that and put members on the record about whether they support Trump or not.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent from Politico with the latest on this chaotic year-end sprint in Congress.

    Anna, always good to talk to you. Thanks.

  • Anna Palmer:


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