In the waning days of 2020, as a government shutdown loomed, Congress finally passed a spending bill that would send millions of Americans $600 stimulus checks as part of a Covid relief package.
Then something strange happened: Donald Trump, who had barely paid attention to the legislation as it wound its torturous way through the House and Senate over the past few months, suddenly announced that $600 was not enough and demanded the amount be raised to $2,000.
House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, quickly sprung into action, bringing the measure to the House floor and tweeting, “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” In the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also signaled his support of the enhanced payments, saying on the Senate floor, “The Senate can start off this new year by adding to that sense of hope by sending $2,000 checks to struggling American families.”
And then: Nothing.
The move to get more money to those Americans economically devastated by the pandemic was skillfully derailed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who combined it with other legislation he knew had no chance to pass.
That moment probably illustrates better than anything else the stakes in this Tuesday’s Senate runoff races in Georgia. If the two Democratic challengers, Jon Ossoff and the Reverend Raphael Warnock, defeat the two Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, Democrats will gain effective control of the U.S. Senate, giving President-elect Joe Biden majority party rule over both houses of Congress.
Mitch McConnell, who thwarted much of the legislation that Barack Obama tried to pass in the final term of his presidency, and then masterminded Donald Trump’s remodeling of the nation’s judiciary, most crucially the Supreme Court, would be relegated to the largely powerless post of minority leader, with Schumer likely taking over as majority leader.
On Monday, in a sign of how high these electoral stakes are, both Biden and Trump will be making appearances in Georgia. Biden, like Vice President-elect Kamala Harris this past weekend, will be campaigning for the election of Ossoff and Warnock, and thus the hoped-for flip of the Senate.
What Trump will be doing in the Peach State is anyone’s guess. Over the weekend, he made an extraordinary call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, trying, once again, to overturn the results of that state’s presidential election by repeating his baseless charges of voter fraud and making the demonstrably false claim that he won the state over Joe Biden.