The Department of Defense won’t get shut down after all. A few minutes ago, the Senate completed the first veto override of Donald Trump’s presidency, which seemed like an all-but-certain outcome a few days ago. In the end, it wasn’t even close, as the Senate voted 80-12 on cloture and then 81-13 on the override.
The biggest issue in the override was whether Democrats would allow it to happen at all. A fight over direct stimulus/relief payments had threatened to derail the NDAA veto override into the next session of Congress, after Bernie Sanders pledged to filibuster the override vote until Mitch McConnell allowed an up-or-down vote on HR 9051. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tried again to advance the House’s bill to expand relief payments to $2000 per individual on a unanimous-consent basis, but John Thune objected:
Many conservatives oppose increasing just-approved $600 checks to $2,000, saying it would add an estimated $462 billion to the national debt and potentially cause inflation.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-SD) said Friday it would be “a shotgun approach where a rifle makes a lot more sense.”
But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) noted some Republican senators support the new checks.
“For once, we have progressive Democrats, conservative Republicans, the president himself and not to mention of course the majority — the vast majority of the American people singing from the same songbook in support of these checks,” he said.
Schumer said Friday would be the “last chance” to approve the larger stimulus checks.
That’s not entirely true. The House could pass a new version of HR 9051 next week on the same emergency basis when the new session begins, and one can bet the farm that Nancy Pelosi will try to do so. That might take a bit longer, as it’s not clear that she could get a two-thirds majority for the process with the reduction of House Democrats that will come in the new session. But the five-page bill likely could get expedited in the House on a more normal course and end up in the Senate again before Donald Trump leaves office, and by that time McConnell might not control the floor in the Senate, depending on what happens in Georgia on Tuesday.
Speaking of which, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue offered up this eleventh-hour pander, but it’s nothing more than the poison-pill package McConnell already proposed. Via an e-mail statement from the Loeffler campaign:
U.S. Senators David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) introduced a major legislative package with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). The Leader’s bill includes key priorities to increase the coronavirus relief stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000, fully repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 to hold Big Tech accountable and enhance ballot integrity to secure our elections.
This bill specifically includes a bill sponsored by Perdue and Loeffler, the Securing America’s Future Elections and Votes (SAFE Votes) Act, to create a bipartisan commission to review the 2020 election and report to Congress with recommendations to strengthen election integrity going forward.
“We have put together a robust legislative package that will benefit every Georgian and deliver $2,000 to those in need,” the Senators said. “This legislation also includes the SAFE VOTES Act – the Perdue-Loeffler bill to secure elections, and a full repeal of Section 230 to hold Big Tech accountable. We strongly support this legislation aimed at helping families, safeguarding elections and stopping Big Tech’s censorship.”
It’s a nice PR move, but it doesn’t change anything at all. Schumer and his caucus don’t want to deal with Section 230 and election security issues in linkage to COVID-19 relief. Even if they did, it would require the House to reconvene before Monday morning to pass the new bill, and it’s not clear that there is time to arrange that. It’s a stunt, and nothing more.
Don’t expect this to be the last of the stimulus debate, although if Pelosi and Schumer end up in full control of Congress, they might wait for Joe Biden’s inauguration for a relief-expanding bill. Both Biden and Trump have supported the idea, but Pelosi and Schumer would prefer Biden to get that credit, and an additional three weeks won’t be that burdensome. Either way, this won’t be the last we hear of $2000 relief/stimulus payments, and might not be the last round of payments at that level either with the new administration.
As for the override, it’s a mainly unforced error by Trump. The NDAA is one of the few processes that Congress still takes seriously on a bipartisan basis. It has passed without a veto for 59 straight years, and in this case the main objection (Section 230) didn’t have anything to do with the military appropriation itself at all. It’s a poor way to exit the office, having gained nothing from the standoff except a rebuke via a rare veto override. It’s hard to imagine what Trump thought he would win in the first place, but whatever it was, the W never appeared.
Update: The roll-call vote results have been posted. Six Senators didn’t vote at all: Cory Gardner, Lindsey Graham (!), Ben Sasse, Loeffler and Perdue, and Democrat Doug Jones. The thirteen who voted to uphold Trump’s veto were fairly evenly split by party:
Seven Republicans, and six members of the Democrat caucus, including Sanders.