We are seeing the many layers of Republican hypocrisy. The GOP was unwilling to buck the most scandalous aspects of his presidency as long as he delivered on the core conservative agenda of tax cuts and right-wing judges.
But when the normally fake-populist president became, momentarily, a semi-real one and endorsed upping Americans’ pandemic relief checks from $600 to $2,000, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) got the vapors.
Wanting more, Trump threatened to veto the $900 billion relief and stimulus bill, which McConnell was never crazy about because he wanted less.
But Trump’s threat turned out to be one of those attention-grabbing but ultimately empty gestures that have been his stock in trade. In effect he said, “Never mind,” and signed the bill on Sunday. Yes, it will be nice to have a president who measures success by results, not by ratings or retweets.
Still, by making an issue of the $2,000 checks, Trump called his own party’s bluff.
To maintain their Senate majority, Republicans need to hold the two seats at stake in next Tuesday’s Georgia runoff. Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were no friends of a big economic relief package, and Perdue said he opposed stimulus checks on at least three different occasions.
Conversions are a wonderful thing to behold, especially when they are motivated by pure political panic. On the stimulus issue, Perdue and Loeffler were being hammered by their Democratic opponents, Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock. Ossoff saw no need for subtlety. “You send me and Reverend Warnock to the Senate,” he declared, “and we will put money in your pocket.”
Ossoff was persuasive. Now, both Republicans support the bigger checks.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) swiftly moved a bill for $2,000 checks through the House (in a win for acronyms, it’s called the Cash Act, as in “Caring for Americans with Supplemental Help”) and picked up 44 Republican votes in the process.
Thus McConnell’s bind: He doesn’t want to approve the checks. But he doesn’t want Perdue and Loeffler to lose. And, to that end, he doesn’t want a big fight with Trump before next Tuesday.
McConnell’s solution: Write a bill that makes it look as though you’re giving $2,000 a chance while killing the idea by making it impossible for Democrats to vote for it. McConnell thus proposed rolling the checks in with two other Trumpian ideas.
He’d repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which provides immunity for website publishers from liability for third-party material, while also setting up a commission to investigate allegations of voter fraud.
The commission is particularly odious because its purpose would be to further Republican falsehoods about voter fraud and thus create new excuses for the voter-suppression crowd in Republican-controlled states to make it harder to vote.
There’s a case that some of the money spent on checks could be more carefully targeted to the unemployed and the poor. But that option is not on the table. Because the compromise stimulus bill was kept far smaller than it should have been by McConnell and his conservative allies (including Perdue and Loeffler), the $2,000 checks seem the most politically efficient way to get cash to Americans who need the help while also providing an additional boost the economy needs.
But late Wednesday afternoon, McConnell pronounced that there was “no realistic path” for the $2,000 checks “to quickly pass the Senate.”
What can we learn from this episode? For starters: If Georgia’s voters want serious legislating next year about the crisis we face, they need to elect Ossoff and Warnock. Biden’s decision to make another campaign visit on their behalf shows that, however much he hopes he can work with Republicans, he knows he’ll be far better off with a Senate not in the hands of the Grim Reaper, as McConnell has proudly called himself.
That’s because Republicans were only willing to embrace Trump’s “populism” as long as it was fake — or of a right-wing sort that elevated the politics of race and immigration. The moment Trump started talking about real money for non-elites, the GOP leadership threw its hands up in horror. McConnell’s maneuvers this week are the last gasp of his party’s hypocrisy, rooted in a burning desire for working-class votes unmatched by a will to do anything to earn them.