- 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.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Politico) (CNN)
Campaign Season Gets Rolling This Month With Primaries in 13 States
Several of the contests taking place this month will serve as important tests for Trump-backed candidates and how much power the former president still has over the GOP.
May Primaries Start With Key Race in Ohio
The 2022 midterm season is officially heating up this month with 13 states heading to the polls.
Voters in Indiana and Ohio will kick off the busy month on Tuesday with several highly anticipated races, including one closely watched contest for the seat being vacated by long-time Senator Rob Portman (R-Oh.)
The fight for Portman’s seat has been a heated one: candidates have spent tens of millions of dollars, held numerous debates and forums, and at one point, two of them even got into a physical confrontation.
The main reason there are so many eyes on this race is because it will prove to be a key test for former President Donald Trump and the influence he has over the party. While Portman has generally been moderate and, at times, more readily critical of Trump than many others in his party, the Republican primary campaign has basically been a fight to see who is the most in line with Trump.
According to FiveThirtyEight, all but one of the seven Republican senate candidates embraced the former president’s election fraud lies as they fought for his coveted endorsement in a state he won by eight points in both 2016 and 2020.
Trump, for his part, ultimately ended up endorsing Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance in a move that surprised many, because Vance had previously been vocally opposed to the former leader and his competitors had spent months running ads noting that fact.
However, the fight for Trump’s backing appears to have been worth it. Last week, a Fox News poll found that support for Vance has surged by double-digits since Trump’s endorsement, making him the front-runner.
Still, as FiveThirtyEight reports, “other factions of the party haven’t given up the fight either — which means the primary will be a direct test of how much clout Trump has when other Republican elites dare to defy him.”
Meanwhile, there are also concerns regarding the ongoing legal battle over Ohio’s congressional map and the confusion that has caused for the state’s election calendar. For weeks, it was widely believed the state’s primaries would be pushed back after the Ohio Supreme Court ordered GOP lawmakers to redraw their map.
The map had been gerrymandered to give Republicans 12 out of the 15 congressional seats in the state even though they had only won around 55% of the popular vote. Ohio voters also previously passed a constitutional amendment in 2018 that effectively banned partisan gerrymandering.
The election, however, is still going forward anyway, even as early voting was down a whopping 40% from the last election, and the legislative races will not be on the ballot Tuesday, meaning there will have to be a second primary, which will likely drive down turnout even more.
Other Major Races This Month
There are also other notable contests scheduled for later this month. On May 17, there will be two additional races for seats vacated by Republican senators in North Carolina and Pennsylvania that will serve as important indicators of the former president’s sway over the party.
Meanwhile, in Georgia, the main Trump test focuses on two statewide races for the positions currently held by Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R). The two infamously angered Trump after they refused to help him overturn the election, and as a result, many are watching to see if the former president’s full-fledged pressure campaign against them will work.
In Georgia and other battlegrounds voting this month, Democrats are also hoping they can make inroads — particularly in Pennsylvania. But recent polls have not painted a good picture for the party. Last week, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found that 47% of voters said they were more likely to vote for the Republican in their district, while just 44% said they would back Democrats.
The poll marked the first time in eight years that a Marist survey found the GOP with an advantage for congressional ballot tests.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (FiveThirtyEight) (PennLive)
New York’s Highest Court Strikes Down Democrat-Gerrymandered Map
The move represents a major blow to Democrats, who stood to gain as many as three seats in Congress if their map had been accepted.
Appeals Court Ruling
The New York State Court of Appeals struck down a congressional map drawn by the state’s Democrats Wednesday, dealing the party a major blow.
In the decision, the state’s highest court agreed with Republicans who had argued that the map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered to benefit Democrats. The justices called the map “substantively unconstitutional as drawn with impermissible partisan purpose.”
The court also condemned the Democrats for ignoring a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2014 that aimed to limit political influence in redistricting, which included the creation of an independent entity to draw maps that the legislature would then vote on. However, the commission created to prevent partisan gerrymandering was unable to decide on a map because of its own partisan stalemate. As a result, Democrats in the legislature took it upon themselves to draw a final map.
But the version that the legislature passed and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) signed into law re-drew lines so that Democrats could have gained as many as three new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Such gains would be highly significant in the upcoming 2022 midterm elections, where Republicans are expected to make substantial gains and may very well take back the House. Unsurprisingly, Republicans sued, and a lower court struck down the map.
In their order, the Appeals Court justices took away the legislature’s ability to make the map and instead delegated that power to a court-appointed “neutral expert.”
While the judges did say there was enough time to finish the map before the primary elections in June, they also added that the Congressional contests would likely need to be moved to August. Races for governor and other statewide officials, however, would stay the same.
The Appeals Court ruling is unique in that it targets Democrats, but it also comes as part of the broader trend of state courts cracking down on gerrymandering — though most other instances have stemmed from GOP-drawn maps.
In just the first four months of 2022, state courts in Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, and Maryland have all struck down redistricting plans crafted by lawmakers.
Unlike the New York ruling, some of those other courts have implied that they will still allow those maps to be used in the 2022 elections. Such a decision would very likely disadvantage Democrats even more.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
McCarthy Warned Far-Right Lawmakers Could Incite Violence After Jan. 6 in New Audio of Leaked Call
The conversations represent a marked difference from the public efforts of McCarthy and other Republican leaders to downplay their members‘ actions.
Four days after the Jan. 6 insurrection, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Ca.) expressed concern about far-right Republicans inciting violence and openly voiced support for censoring them on Twitter, according to audio published by The New York Times on Tuesday.
The recordings, which come from a call among party leaders and aides on Jan. 10, are by far the clearest evidence top Republicans acknowledged that their members played a role in stoking violence before the insurrection and threatened to do so after.
They also emphasize the vast difference between what top Republicans, especially McCarthy, said behind closed doors, and how they downplayed and ignored the actions of their members in public.
One of the most notable elements of these recordings is that McCarthy and the others explicitly identified several individuals by name. They focused mainly on Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.) and Mo Brooks (R-Al.) as the primary offenders.
In the audio, McCarthy can be heard flagging Gaetz right off the bat.
“Tension is too high. The country is too crazy,” he added. “I do not want to look back and think we caused something or we missed something and someone got hurt. I don’t want to play politics with any of that.”
Specifically, McCarthy and the others talked about how Gaetz had gone on TV to attack multiple Republicans for being unsupportive of former President Donald Trump after Jan. 6. They particularly expressed concern over his targeting of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.), who was a member of the leadership team and had already been facing threats.
Others on the call also noted that Brooks had spoken at the rally before the insurrection, where he made incendiary remarks that many have viewed as direct calls to violence. McCarthy said the public comments from his members “have to stop,” adding he would call Gaetz and have others do the same to tell him that this “is serious shit” and “to cut this out.”
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), the second-ranking House Republican, asserted at one point that Gaetz’s actions were “potentially illegal.”
“Well, he’s putting people in jeopardy, and he doesn’t need to be doing this,” McCarthy responded. “We saw what people would do in the Capitol, you know, and these people came prepared with rope, with everything else.”
Republicans on the call also mentioned incendiary remarks from other members, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Tx.), Barry Moore (R-Al.), and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.). Cheney pointed to Boebert as a security risk, noting she had tweeted out incredibly sensitive information about the movements of top leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) during the attack on the Capitol.
“Our members have got to start paying attention to what they say, too, and you can’t put up with that shit,” McCarthy added later. “Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?”
McCarthy in Hot Water
The newly published recordings also come just days after The Times reported that McCarthy had told members on a call after the insurrection that he would urge Trump to resign.
McCarthy initially called the reporting “totally false and wrong,” but shortly after his denial, The Times received permission from their source to publish audio where he can be heard saying precisely that.
McCarthy, for his part, has tried to spin the situation, claiming that his remarks were still true because he never actually followed through on the plan to call Trump.
Still, the situation prompted widespread backlash from the far-right faction of the Republican party.
Multiple people expressed hesitancy about their support for McCarthy as Speaker of the House if Republicans take control of the chamber in the midterm elections. Some said they could not trust him.
Speaking on his show Tuesday, Foxs News host Tucker Carlson called McCarthy “a puppet of the Democratic Party.”
Gaetz also responded with ire, tweeting out a statement in which he referred to the call as “sniveling” and said of McCarthy and Scalise: “This is the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
Other members mentioned in the call, however, appeared to brush it off. In a statement to Axios, Moore claimed that the story was engineered by “RINOS” (Republicans in Name Only), and that “Republicans will be more united than ever after taking back the House this November.”
It currently remains unclear whether these revelations with pose any long-term threat to McCarthy, but if Trump is any indication of the far-right party line, the House leader may be in the clear.
After The Times published the audio of McCarthy saying Trump should resign, the former president told The Wall Street Journal that the relationship between the two men was untroubled.
“I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” he added. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”