In the wake of news that lame-duck President Donald Trump on Thursday was dissuaded by White House aides from publicly demanding stimulus checks as large as $2,000 in the next relief package, progressives called on Democratic leaders to use the leverage offered by Trump's behind-the-scenes push to demand more than the $600 payments currently on the table.
The Washington Post's Jeff Stein reported late Thursday that the outgoing president "was in the middle of formally drafting his demand for the larger payments when White House officials told him that doing so could imperil delicate negotiations over the economic relief package."
"Trump is privately demanding $2,000 stimulus checks. McConnell is quietly fretting over Georgia. Democrats control the leverage, they should demand larger stimulus in the package being negotiated."
—Sawyer Hackett, senior adviser to Julián Castro
Trump was preparing to demand one-time direct payments of "at least" $1,200 per person and as large as $2,000, according to Stein. "Trump ultimately did not call for the larger stimulus payments," Stein noted. "His only public comments on the matter came in the morning when he wrote that 'stimulus talks [are] looking very good.'"
Direct payments of $1,200 per person would be double the size of the checks congressional negotiators are currently considering in a relief package that could be finalized and passed within days. Progressive lawmakers, and one Republican senator, have been vocally urging congressional leaders to include larger direct payments as tens of millions of people across the U.S. struggle to afford basic necessities.
Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introduced an amendment last week calling for payments of $1,200 per working-class adult and $500 per child; members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus are publicly demanding checks of "at least" $2,000.
BREAKING: White House aides intervened Thursday to prevent President Trump from demanding Congress approve checks of $2K/person, sources say
Trump told allies he wants "at least" $1,200 & as much as $2K
Aides told Trump his demands could blow up talkshttps://t.co/EjcMXoS7in
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) December 18, 2020
While a substantial change in the size of direct payments is unlikely at this stage of the relief negotiations, Democrats are facing pressure to use Trump's apparent desire for larger payments and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) expressed need for a deal to fight for the inclusion of bigger checks.
"Trump is privately demanding $2,000 stimulus checks. McConnell is quietly fretting over Georgia," Sawyer Hackett, senior adviser to Julián Castro, tweeted Thursday, referring to the Kentucky Republican's warning Wednesday that Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) "getting hammered" over the GOP's opposition to direct payments.
"Democrats control the leverage, they should demand larger stimulus in the package being negotiated," Hackett said.
Others lamented Democratic leaders' failure to push for larger checks earlier in the process and argued they have let McConnell walk all over them in the latest round of relief talks.
"Democrats are supposed to be party of the people and yet it's Trump who is asking for bigger stimulus checks," tweeted Murshed Zaheed of Megaphone Strategies. "Unacceptable that neither Biden nor Pelosi/Schumer are pushing publicly for bigger stimulus checks ($2,500) when they have leverage over McConnell."
Progressive organizer Kai Newkirk added:
Pro-tip for Democrats:
— Kai Newkirk (@kai_newkirk) December 18, 2020
Adam Jentleson, public affairs director at Democracy Forward and former aide to retired Sen. Harry Reid, said Thursday that "with Mnuchin endorsing a $1.8 trillion proposal in October that included $1,200 checks, $400 UI, and $300 billion in state/local, and with Trump still actively trying to increase direct checks, there is simply no way to argue that Dem leaders secured the best deal possible."
"McConnell ate their lunch," Jentleson argued, warning against the assumption that Congress will be able to pass another relief package under a Biden presidency. "Republicans will repeat the obstructionist playbook they ran under Obama."
"Thanks to Bernie Sanders' stand and progressive advocacy, we will get checks for the American people. But let's have the honesty and decency not to spin this package as a kind of victory or negotiation success. People have the right to expect more."
—Rep. Ro Khanna
While the details of the relief agreement are not yet final, The Hill reported Thursday that McConnell is "getting much of what he wants in an emerging coronavirus relief package, after months of digging in his heels against a demand by Democratic leaders to pass a multi-trillion-dollar package that would shore up the ailing finances of state and local governments."
"The GOP leader isn't getting liability protection for businesses and other organizations but McConnell himself last week proposed dropping that controversial item along with another large tranche of funding for state and local government," The Hill noted. "McConnell is getting a deal a lot closer to what Democrats dismissed as the 'emaciated' plan he pushed in recent months than the $2.2 trillion HEROES Act that Pelosi and Schumer said should have been the 'starting point' of the talks."
Congressional leaders have voiced confidence that they are close to finalizing a coronavirus relief deal and sweeping spending legislation to keep the government funded through next September. Lawmakers are likely to work into the weekend to complete both measures.
Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), one of few lawmakers who urged the Democratic leadership to run with the White House's pre-election offer of a $1.8 trillion relief package, tweeted Thursday that "thanks to Bernie Sanders' stand and progressive advocacy, we will get checks for the American people" in the upcoming agreement.
"But let's have the honesty and decency not to spin this package as a kind of victory or negotiation success," Khanna added. "People have the right to expect more."