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Bernie Sanders vows to hold up defense bill unless Senate votes on $2,000 stimulus checks

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he would delay a vote to override the defense authorization bill veto unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) scheduled a vote on $2,000 stimulus checks. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
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Hours after the House voted Monday to boost stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) vowed to push the GOP-controlled Senate to vote on the move as well.

His leverage?

A threat to force senators to cancel their holiday travels by throwing a wrench into Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s plans for a quick vote this week on an override of President Trump’s defense bill veto.

“Let me be clear: If Sen. McConnell doesn’t agree to an up or down vote to provide the working people of our country a $2,000 direct payment, Congress will not be going home for New Year’s Eve,” Sanders said in a statement.

McConnell (R-Ky.) has not signaled how he intends to handle the House’s stimulus boost, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis reported. McConnell’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Sanders’s threat.

At least one other Democrat, Sen. Edward J. Markey (Mass.), said he would join Sanders in blocking the veto override vote until there’s also a vote scheduled on the increased stimulus payout.

While the Democrats can’t indefinitely delay the veto override vote, they could inconvenience Republicans and further heighten tensions in the GOP over the stimulus payments. Trump on Sunday signed a $900 billion stimulus deal but called the $600 checks “measly” and urged his party to up the amount.

Trump appeared to back Sanders’s move early Tuesday when he retweeted a post about it.

“Give the people $2000, not $600. They have suffered enough!” Trump tweeted.

The House of Representatives on Dec. 28 voted on a bipartisan basis to boost stimulus checks set to go out to American households from $600 to $2,000. (Video: The Washington Post)

Democrats have largely rallied around the idea, with the vast majority in the House voting for the increase on Monday. They were joined by 44 Republican House members, but it’s unclear how much support the plan has among GOP senators, who have fought to keep the stimulus deal under $1 trillion.

Sanders’s delay tactics revolve around another vote on Monday out of the House, which passed an override of Trump’s veto of the $741 billion defense authorization bill.

McConnell is expected on Tuesday to ask the Senate for unanimous consent to vote the following day on the override. But Sanders said he would object to that vote unless McConnell also schedules one on the $2,000 stimulus checks.

Under Senate rules, McConnell could still force a vote on the veto override by invoking “cloture,” which requires 60 votes. But that would take extra time, as the liberal magazine American Prospect noted, because McConnell won’t have enough senators in D.C. on Tuesday for such a move.

Dragging out the Senate’s final week of 2020 could also force Georgia GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler to stay in D.C. during the crucial final days of campaigning for a Jan. 5 runoff election that will determine which party controls the Senate, Politico reported.

Sanders said he views the larger stimulus checks as key for Americans battered by a worsening pandemic.

“The House has passed a $2,000 direct payment for working people. It is time for the Senate to act,” he said.