Trump’s higher relief cheques stall in Senate as Republicans block vote

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President Donald Trump’s push for larger 2,000 dollar (£1,476) Covid-19 relief cheques stalled on Tuesday in the Senate as Republicans blocked a swift vote proposed by Democrats and split within their own ranks over whether to boost spending or defy the White House.

The roadblock mounted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not be sustainable as pressure mounts.

Mr Trump wants the Republican-led chamber to follow the House and increase the cheques from 600 dollars (£443) for millions of Americans.

A growing number of Republicans, including two senators in run-off elections on January 5 in Georgia, have said they will support the larger amount. But most GOP senators oppose more spending, even if they are also wary of opposing Mr Trump.

Outgoing president Donald Trump is pushing for a sizeable increase in Covid aid cheques for Americans (Patrick Semansky/AP)

“There’s one question left today: Do Senate Republicans join with the rest of America in supporting 2,000 dollar cheques?” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said as he made a motion to vote.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin flagged that some of the 600 dollar payments could have been sent by direct deposit to Americans’ bank accounts as early as Tuesday night. Mr Mnuchin tweeted that paper cheques would begin to go out Wednesday.

The showdown over the 2,000 dollar cheques has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new legislators are set to be sworn into office for the new year. It is preventing action on another priority — overturning Mr Trump’s veto on a sweeping defence bill that has been approved every year for 60 years.

Saying little, Mr McConnell signalled an alternative approach to Mr Trump’s cheques that may not divide his party so badly, but may result in no action at all.

The GOP leader filed new legislation late on Tuesday linking the president’s demand for bigger cheques with two other Trump priorities — repealing protections for tech companies like Facebook or Twitter that the president complained are unfair to conservatives, and the establishment of a bipartisan commission to review the 2020 presidential election he lost to President-elect Joe Biden.

“The Senate will begin a process,” the GOP leader said. He said little more, only that he would bring the president’s demand for the 2,000 cheques and other remaining issues “into focus”.

The president’s last-minute push for bigger cheques leaves Republicans deeply split between those who align with Mr Trump’s populist instincts and those who adhere to what had been more traditional conservative views against government spending.

Congress had settled on smaller 600 dollar payments in a compromise over the major, year-end relief bill Mr Trump reluctantly signed into law.

Liberal senators led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont who support the relief aid are blocking action on the defence bill until a vote can be taken on Mr Trump’s demand for 2,000 dollars for most Americans.

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