McConnell's efforts to block $2,000 stimulus checks hurt the party in Georgia, and may have cost them the Senate

McConnell's efforts to block $2,000 stimulus checks hurt the party in Georgia, and may have cost them the Senate

January 6, 2021
  • Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are projected to win the Senate seats for Georgia, handing overall government control to the Democratic Party.
  • One of the pivotal issues in the Georgia campaigns was the prospect of $2,000 COVID-19 stimulus checks, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked.
  • Reports in December suggested that fears for Georgia prompted him to back $600 checks instead of blocking them entirely. 
  • But a fierce push by President Trump for $2,000 checks put the issue back on the table — and McConnell led the Senate GOP in killing the issue.
  • Even though both GOP candidates backed $2,000 checks, the party was divided. This allowed Democrats to campaign effectively as the party of $2,000 checks, and carry the day.
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The Republican Party has lost control of the Senate after failing to hold either of its seats in Georgia's runoff elections — and the efforts of GOP leaders to block $2,000 stimulus checks likely had a part to play.

As of early Wednesday, Insider and Decision Desk HQ projected wins for Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, flipping control of the Senate.

Turning Georgia blue is the fruit of a years-long effort from Democratic campaigners like Stacey Abrams. The full dynamics of the race after the 2020 presidential election‚ which led to Tuesday's runoffs in Georgia — are yet to be analysed. 

But the issue of how much to pay ordinary Americans in stimulus checks loomed large in the runoffs — and the results appear to vindicate fears inside the GOP that opposition to larger payouts would cost them dear.

According to a December report in The New York Times, McConnell was told that the party's resistance to sending out any checks at all was leading to them "getting hammered" on the campaign trail, and made his concerns known to the rest of his party.

As Insider reported, not long after this McConnell switched from being against any checks to hammering out a compromise with Democrats to pass a bill giving out $600 checks as part of a broader $900 billion relief package.

The matter may have ended there. But McConnell was soon blindsided by President Donald Trump, who startlingly re-entered the discussion, trashed the deal and demanded that the checks be increased to $2,000.

Democrats grabbed the opportunity, and made four attempts to pass a separate bill for the larger checks. But a McConnell-led Senate blocked them. 

Trump caved on his threat to veto the stimulus altogether to secure the higher checks, and signed the bill. But he has continued to advocate for $2,000 checks, and his sudden demand threw the Georgia GOP candidates into disarray.

Purdue and Loeffler — both Trump loyalists — had planned to foreground the passing of the bill in the last days of their campaigns. But suddenly they were forced to echo Trump's criticisms and support $2,000 checks. 

A FiveThirtyEight analysis of polls showed that the Democratic candidates in Georgia — previously neck-and-neck with their GOP counterparts — began to edge into the lead on December 30, as GOP was being pulled apart over the checks issue.

It gave President-elect Biden the perfect opportunity when he spoke to Georgia voters on Monday. He said plainly that $2,000 checks would be sent to Americans "immediately" if Warnock and Ossoff were voted into the Senate.

Even though the two Republicans both backed the larger checks, the party was divided. Only the Democrats could campaign unambiguously as the party of higher stimulus payments.

Biden argued that if Loeffler and Purdue won, maintaining the GOP hold on the upper chamber, "those checks will never get there." 

Now it appears that McConnell — easily the most intransigent negotiator in the entire process — has fallen victim to his own resistance. 

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