By QUINN SCANLAN, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Both of Georgia’s Republican senators have come out in support of President Donald Trump’s demand that Congress increase the value of the stimulus payments to Americans — breaking with the party’s traditional fiscal conservative stance just one week out from the Peach State’s dual runoff elections that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate.
While the senators are standing staunchly behind Trump, which some believe is the only way to win, others warn that their support for larger checks to Americans flies in the face of their conservative bona fides and could hurt their chances on Election Day next week.
“I’ve stood by the president 100% of the time. I’m proud to do that… We need to get relief to Americans now and I will support that,” Sen. Kelly Loeffler said during an interview Tuesday on Fox News.
“I’m delighted to support the president in this $2,000 — it’s really a $1,400 increment over what we’ve already done… I think this is absolutely appropriate, so I fully support what the president is doing right now,” Sen. David Perdue said in a later interview on Fox News, adding that he was “delighted” Trump signed the new COVID-19 relief bill into law, saying he spoke to him about the bill “many times over the weekend (and) over the holiday.”
Both chambers of Congress passed a $900 billion coronavirus relief package after months of negotiations last week, but Trump delayed signing it, demanding an increase in the maximum value of direct payments going to qualifying Americans from $600 to $2,000. He did this despite having been personally absent from negotiations while his treasury secretary and chief of staff hammered out the details with the legislature on the White House’s behalf.
Following Trump’s decision to finally sign the package — which he originally called a “disgrace” — on Sunday night, the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted on Monday to pass another bill that would increase the value of direct payments up to $2,000.
Only 44 of the 196 Republican members in Congress’ lower chamber voted with Democrats to increase the direct payments.
On Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried to bring the bill forward for a unanimous consent vote, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked it.
The bill has forced many Republicans into a bind: either support the president to avoid his wrath and get more money to struggling Americans, or stand by their fiscal conservative values and reject the additional aid that would also increase the national debt. According to Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation, the $2,000 checks would cost an estimated $464 billion.
Loeffler and Perdue chose the former, and while it may save them from earning a public rebuke from Trump, it also could cost them votes.
“The risk that they would take if they were to vote against the president in between now and Jan. 4, is he might go after them when he comes to Dalton (to hold a rally),” University of Georgia Professor Charles Bullock, an expert in Southern politics, told ABC News on Tuesday. “We know the president does not hesitate to go after members of his own party if he feels they have betrayed him, and it looks like his antenna for identifying betrayers is particularly active right now.”
In fact, on Tuesday Trump tweeted: “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP.”
But while Republicans have supported bills in the past that added to the deficit — the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act being the most prominent recent example — one longtime GOP strategist in Georgia who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about the runoff races said the senators’ support for the president’s “populist” position could negatively impact them at the ballot box.
“This is a majority conservative Republican state, and they believe in low taxes, and they don’t believe in federal handouts. And so you have two U.S. senators who are saying, ‘I believe in federal handouts.’ You know, it’s contradictory of where the majority of conservative Republican voters stand,” the strategist said. “So these two senators have put themselves in a box where they have to support Donald Trump and his initiative to give everybody $2,000. That’s not conservative Republican politics.”
The two Democrats competing in the Senate runoffs, Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, blasted the incumbents over their newfound support for direct payments.
“For the past year, David Perdue has opposed all direct relief for working Georgians even while he cashed out personally on the pandemic by trading medical stocks. He hasn’t had a change of heart — he’s exclusively focused on his own political survival. Georgians deserve a Senator who will always look out for them, not just when it’s politically convenient,” Ossoff said in a statement that called Perdue’s support a “180 degree reversal.”
“Kelly Loeffler made clear her priorities when she sold $3 million of her own stock while downplaying the pandemic, called unemployment relief ‘counterproductive,’ and then waited nearly nine months to take any action on additional relief while Georgians lost their jobs. Georgians learned long ago they can’t trust Kelly Loeffler to look out for anyone but herself,” Warnock said in a statement.
Both senators, directly and through spokespeople, have previously denied wrongdoing regarding their stock trades during the pandemic.
Ossoff and Warnock have been calling on their Republican challengers to say whether they supported $2,000 direct payments, while blaming them and Senate Republicans more broadly for the $600 in the current bill.
“If @Kloeffler supports Trump 100% of the time, why won’t she support $2,000 relief checks?” Warnock tweeted Wednesday.
Ossoff tweeted a short clip of Perdue saying in a previous interview that he didn’t support direct payments.
Speaking to PBS NewsHour in July, Perdue said he would be more in favor of cutting payroll taxes as a form of relief, which Trump was advocating for at the time, than direct payments.
“I support that better than giving just a direct payment, like we did in the first round of CARES. I really oppose that, because we didn’t see the impact back in ’11 and ’12, when that was done,” he said.
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