- With just two days to go before the government is set to shutdown, Congressional leaders have finally said they are nearing an agreement on a new stimulus package.
- While the final text has not been released, officials told reporters Wednesday morning that there would be another stimulus check worth between $600 to $700.
- The move comes after a large push from both Democrats and Republicans, as well as President Trump.
- In exchange, the leaders have agreed to drop the two most controversial provisions in the bill: the business liability protections the GOP had pushed for and the funding to state and local governments Democrats wanted.
After months of stalled negotiations, top leaders in Congress said Wednesday that they are finally nearing an agreement on a coronavirus relief package that would include another round of direct payments to Americans.
The announcement represents a significant shift from an earlier bipartisan proposal that did not include the stimulus checks in the interest of appeasing Republicans who had pushed for a much smaller package, despite the desire from Democrats.
The newest decision comes after members of both parties have put renewed pressure on leadership to include the payments in the package.
On Tuesday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wa.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in a statement that many of the group’s members were “united” in their position that “any package must include direct survival checks and enhanced unemployment assistance, the two most effective ways to get money directly to people.”
The implication that more than a dozen Democrats would not vote for the proposal was reinforced by several of those members, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who shared the statement on Twitter.
“I will not vote for a COVID package that doesn’t include survival payments and unemployment relief for the American people,” she wrote. “It’s a red line. It’s also common sense. Sick + tired of Mitch McConnell & the GOP playing games with peoples’ lives for corporate handouts. It ends here.”
Senators Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) threatened last week to hold up the must-pass bill to fund the government unless the Senate approved another round of checks. The two senators also teamed up to propose an amendment that would give all Americans who make up to $75,000 a year a check worth $1,200 each and another $500 per child.
President Donald Trump has also pushed for another round of direct payments. In a separate plan floated by the White House last week, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin proposed the inclusion of $600 checks for adults and children.
That proposal was immediately struck down by Democrats because it slashed unemployment benefits that were an essential part of the bipartisan proposal from $180 billion to just $40 billion.
People close to the matter said that Trump’s proposed cuts to unemployment would also get rid of the additional $300 a week in unemployment benefits in the bipartisan deal, despite the fact that both Republicans and Democrats had already largely agreed to it.
While leadership has not yet rolled out a finalized text of the bill, officials have said that the final number will be closer to what Trump and his team proposed.
While speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the second-highest ranking Senate Republican, said that the lawmakers were considering checks between $600 and $700 per person. Thune also said that the extra $300 a week in federal joblessness aid was expected to be in the bill.
As far as what else is in the legislation, reportedly, it is still largely very similar to the same bipartisan proposal that, among other things, would allocate hundreds of billions of dollars to small businesses, as well as tens of billions earmarked for education, transportation, and other essential needs.
However, officials have said that the new plan will not include a Republican push to provide liability protections that prevent businesses from facing coronavirus-related lawsuits. It also won’t include funding for state and local governments that Democrats had wanted.
Those two measures had remained the biggest final sticking points for the two parties, which eventually agreed to drop both in the interest of moving a bill forward. With the final draft set to be rolled out any moment, sans any last-minute snags, the House could vote on the legislation as early as tomorrow, with the Senate expected to take it up Friday.
However, any issues that rank and file might have could spell serious trouble. If the $1.4 trillion bill to fund the government is not passed by midnight on Friday, the government will shut down. Unanimous consent is required to even schedule a vote on that bill, meaning that all 100 senators have to approve, and if even just one objects, there could be at least a temporary shutdown over the weekend, and lawmakers will be forced to come back next week.
But the top negotiators seem to be prepared for this possibility. While speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday morning, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that the leaders had “made major headway toward hammering out a targeted pandemic relief package that would be able to pass both chambers with bipartisan majorities.”
“We agreed we will not leave town until we’ve made law,” he added.
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Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan
- President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
- Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
- The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.
Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan
President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.
Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.
Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.
Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.
Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.
As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.
Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.
The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.
Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.
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Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters
- More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
- The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
- The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.”
- Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.
Demands for Investigation
Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.
In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack.
In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.
They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.
The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.
“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.”
The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”
Members Under Fire
Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.
In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection.
Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.
“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”
While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.
“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”
Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”
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House Impeaches Trump By Largest Bipartisan Margin in History
- The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
- Ten Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of impeachment, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
- Ahead of the vote, sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he was pleased Democrats were moving forward with a vote because it will make it easier to “purge” Trump from the party.
- McConnel later said he has not yet decided whether he will vote to convict Trump. Still, he has refused to convene the Senate before Jan. 19, meaning that as of now, there is little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before his term ends.
House Debates Impeachment
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 to 197 to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
All Democrats voted in favor of the single article. They were also joined by 10 Republicans, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
The decision was debated on the floor after Vice President Pence rejected Democrats’ calls to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office.
Most notable among the Republican members who voted to impeach was Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three House Republican who announced her decision Tuesday night.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.
Questionable Path in Senate
No Republican Senators have publicly said they support removing Trump from office.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he “has told associates that he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party.”
Sources separately told Axios that “there’s a better than 50-50 chance” that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.
McConnell responded to the reports earlier on Wednesday but did not outright dispute many of the claims.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.
As for whether or not other members of the GOP would follow suit, a top Republican close to McConnell also told Axios that “Senate institutional loyalists are fomenting a counterrevolution” to Trump.
Additionally, McConnell’s advisers have said that he has “privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict.” Notably, it would most likely require 17 Republicans to join Democrats in order for Trump to be found guilty.
In regards to a timeline, the Senate is in recess and not set to reconvene until Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. McConnell has rejected calls to ask that members return before then, meaning that as of right now there is very little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before he leaves office.