TODAY'S PAPER
26° Good Morning
26° Good Morning
Long IslandPolitics

McConnell plants kiss of death on $2,000 COVID relief checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Dec. 15.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Dec. 15. Credit: Pool via AP / Nicholas Kamm

Mitch makes a tight fist

A morning tweet from President Donald Trump, sprinkled amid the now-familiar election-fraud nonsense, said, "$2000 ASAP!" Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made even clearer Wednesday his intention of making sure that doesn't happen.

"The Senate is not going to be bullied into rushing out more borrowed money into the hands of Democrats’ rich friends who don’t need the help," McConnell said of a bill to boost coronavirus relief payments to $2,000 — a cause that has produced an odd coupling of Trump and Capitol Hill Democrats against Senate Republican leaders, who have already crossed the president by accepting Joe Biden as president-elect. McConnell contended the scale of benefits wouldn't zero out until it reaches an income level of $300,000 for a family of four.

McConnell said a House-passed bill authorizing $2,000 direct-payment checks had "no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate." He is offering instead a bill that would bundle the stimulus boost with "poison pills" Democrats won't swallow: curbs on technology companies, as well as an effort to study the 2020 election.

And if that means all three proposals will fail, McConnell is undisturbed. "We just approved almost a trillion dollars in aid a few days ago," McConnell said, referring to the coronavirus relief package Trump signed Sunday night that provided for $600 stimulus checks to individuals. "If specific, struggling households still need more help," the Kentucky Republican said, the Senate will consider "smart targeted aid. Not another fire hose of borrowed money."

McConnell assumed a faux pose of defending Trump's priorities. "The Senate is not going to split apart the three issues Trump linked together just because Democrats are afraid to address two of them," he said. He also suggested he had kept his word to start a "process" to address Trump’s demands, as part of an agreement that led to the president signing the previous relief bill. It didn't include a commitment that votes will actually be taken.

The standoff — with only four days left on the legislative calendar before the House and Senate must adjourn — is likely to kill any prospect for a last-minute deal around additional stimulus aid. A key unfinished piece of Senate business is the planned override of Trump's veto of a Defense Department funding bill.

Most GOP senators seemed to accept that inaction is inevitable even as a growing number of Republicans, including two senators facing runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, agree with Trump’s demand, some wary of bucking him.

Jan. 6 is going to be a very long day

Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, announced Wednesday he will join a group of House Republicans in raising objections next week when Congress meets to affirm Biden’s election victory, forcing votes that are likely to delay the final certification of Biden’s win but not threaten the outcome.

Without giving specifics or evidence, Hawley said he would object to the certification because "some states, including notably Pennsylvania," did not follow their own election laws. Dozens of lawsuits challenging Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania and other swing states failed as judges from both parties found they lacked credible evidence of fraud.

When Congress convenes to certify the Electoral College results on Jan. 6, any lawmaker can object to a state’s votes on any grounds. But the objection is not taken up unless it is in writing and signed by both a member of the House and a member of the Senate. In that case, the joint session suspends, and the House and Senate go into separate sessions to consider it.

The Democratic-controlled House is certain to reject the gambit, and more than enough Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate say they won't play along with any attempt to overturn the election. The Senate’s No. 2 Republican, South Dakota's John Thune, said earlier this month that if his chamber were forced to vote on a challenge, "it would go down like a shot dog" and it didn’t make sense to put senators through a vote when "you know what the ultimate outcome is gonna be."

So what's the point? Hawley is a potential 2024 presidential contender, so if nothing else, taking up the fight will elevate his profile with Trump's base if they have to look for a new hero. But forcing Republicans who won't go along with subverting the election to cast a vote against Trump will invite the enmity of his fans, one reason McConnell had urged against a certification challenge. Asked if he expected his move to make him less popular with his Republican colleagues, Hawley responded: "More than I already am?"

Pence scrubs trip

Vice President Mike Pence won’t be traveling to the Middle East and Europe, as had been tentatively planned following the Jan. 6 election certification session, where he is to preside, Bloomberg News reported.

People familiar with the matter cited the global spike in coronavirus cases as the reason for calling off Pence's trip.

Biden to gun it in reverse

The Biden administration plans to move within hours after taking office on Jan. 20 to roll back what it considers harmful Trump administration policies that have not yet taken effect, transition team spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.

Psaki gave as one example an expected Department of Labor rule that would make it easier for companies to call their workers independent contractors, avoiding minimum wage and overtime protections. "If it takes effect, that rule will make it easier to misclassify employees as independent contractors, costing workers more than $3.7 billion annually," she said.

Psaki also told a briefing for reporters that more Cabinet-level nominations could be expected from the Biden camp in the next week, but not before the new year.

On Wednesday, Biden nominated Kathleen Hicks to be his deputy defense secretary, making her the first woman to hold the position if she is confirmed by the Senate.

Biden also is signaling that he’s ready to move quickly with nominating judges once he’s sworn into office, HuffPost reported. A letter to Democratic senators from incoming White House counsel Dana Remus seeks the names of public defenders and civil rights attorneys in their states who they think would be a good fit for a federal judgeship.

Trump's shower revolution not trickling down

The federal bureaucracy yielded to Trump's crusade against regulations that he complained made showers too weak, dishwashers too slow and toilet-flushing tedious.

Is a revolution in household waterworks at hand? Not so far. "It was a regulatory solution in search of a problem — a problem that doesn’t really exist," Kerry Stackpole, executive director of Plumbing Manufacturers International, a leading trade group, told The Washington Post.

There was no clamor from consumers for products with stronger water pressure, he said. Manufacturers of showerheads and dishwashers mostly opposed the proposed changes, saying there was no need. Product-testing firms cast doubt on the purported benefits of the proposals.

The rules were a rare area where conservationists and manufacturers shared broad agreement on the goal of saving water and energy. "The marketplace was not asking for this," Stackpole said. The new maximum output permitted for showerheads would empty a residential hot-water heater pretty fast, said Stackpole, "and you’ll feel like you’re drowning."

More coronavirus news

The U.S. reported 3,903 COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, a new record for daily fatalities, according to The COVID Tracking Project. See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden and Trump will appear at dueling campaign rallies in Georgia on Monday, on the eve of a pair of crucial runoff elections for two Senate seats.
  • The Census Bureau is going to miss its year-end deadline for handing in numbers used to divvy up congressional seats for each state for the next 10 years. The delay could thwart Trump's plan to exclude people in the country illegally from the reapportionment count, skewing it in Republicans' favor. A census official confirmed the status to The Associated Press. If the numbers don't show up before Biden takes office, he can undo the Trump plan.
  • State Department officials have drawn up a proposal to designate Cuba as a state sponsor of terrorism, a final-hour Trump foreign policy move that would complicate Biden's plans to relax American pressure on Havana, The New York Times reported. Cuba was removed from the list in 2015, when President Barack Obama resumed diplomatic relations. The only countries now on the list are Iran, North Korea and Syria.
  • Joe and Jill Biden will appear Thursday night on "Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve" for an interview with host Ryan Seacrest. The producers of ABC's show said the Bidens will bring "a special message of hope, unity and best wishes for the year ahead."
  • Trump is heading back to Washington from Mar-a-Lago before his resort's annual New Year's Eve party, even though guests had already gathered at the south Florida club and were told Trump would be in attendance, CNN reported.
  • This is the final 1600 of 2020. After a brief hiatus to ring in the new year, we'll be back on newsday.com on Sunday night and in subscribers' inboxes before dawn on Monday morning. Not signed up? It's easy — just go to newsday.com/the1600.

Latest Long Island News