All eyes are on Georgia GOP Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler after President Trump slammed Congress over the latest coronavirus relief bill, a stunning move that comes two weeks before the state’s Senate runoffs.
Trump on Tuesday night released a video railing against the COVID-19 relief package passed by the House and Senate, calling on lawmakers to increase the amount of stimulus checks sent to Americans from $600 to $2000. While Trump did not directly threaten to veto the package on Tuesday, if he does not sign it by Monday at midnight, the government will shut down and several key unemployment benefits will expire.
Now, pressure is on Loeffler and Perdue to back Trump after the two candidates touted their support for the relief aid and accused Democrats of obstructing a deal.
Their Democratic opponents were quick to endorse Trump’s call for more aid. Perdue’s rival, Jon Ossoff, on Tuesday night labeled the $600 stimulus checks a “joke.”
“I urged the United States Congress to pass additional direct stimulus payments of $2,000 to every American right now,” Ossoff said.
Meanwhile, Loeffler’s opponent, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, used the opportunity to take aim at the Republican candidate.
“Billionaire Kelly Loeffler thinks $600 will cover your rent, groceries, and hospital bills,” he tweeted on Tuesday night.
The next day, Warnock went even further. “Donald Trump is right, Congress should swiftly increase direct payments to $2,000,” he said in a statement. “Once and for all Senator Loeffler should do what’s best for Georgia instead of focusing on what she can do for herself.”
Loeffler on Wednesday said she would consider supporting Trump’s move to increase the stimulus checks.
“I certainly support redirecting any wasteful spending to be very targeted at families and businesses who have been impacted by this virus through no fault of their own,” Loeffler told reporters.
“I’ll certainly look at supporting it if it repurposes wasteful spending toward that, yes,” she added, when asked whether she would support direct payments of $2,000.
Perdue has not yet responded publicly to Trump’s calls for more stimulus aid. His office did not respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
The latest development came shortly after the Republican senators postponed their campaign events on Monday with the president’s daughter Ivanka to rush back to Washington to vote in favor of the $2.3 trillion package, which includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and $1.4 trillion to fund the government until October.
Ossoff and Warnock had already hit their GOP rivals over the issue of direct payments during stimulus negotiations. CNN reported last week that a source overheard Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) noting the attacks on Loeffler and Perdue.
“Kelly and David are getting hammered,” McConnell reportedly said on a call with GOP senators.
Polls show a tight race unfolding in the Peach State, giving the candidates no room for error. The Real Clear Politics polling average shows Perdue leading Ossoff by one point, while Loeffler leads by 0.8 of a percentage point.
Trump’s move puts Loeffler and Perdue in a difficult spot. The senators have run on their close ties to Trump, suggesting it would be in their best political interest to side with him. But calls for larger direct payments have met with opposition from members of their own party in the past.
Republican strategists say that the president’s influence within the GOP will make it difficult for anyone in the party to go against him.
“They can’t cross the president on this,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye, referring to Loeffler and Perdue. “That’s where they’ll fall, where Republicans always fall because they’re scared not to.”
“If agreeing with Donald Trump means different things at noon and 6 p.m., well that’s just reality,” he added.
Chuck Clay, a former state GOP chairman and current attorney at Hall Booth Smith, said Trump’s move gives Loeffler and Perdue room to support a re-worked relief bill and larger stimulus checks.
“As a political move, it is excellent timing,” said Chuck Clay, a former state GOP chairman and current attorney at Hall Booth Smith. “Trump has Trumped everybody.”
“It would be a very popular move for working families,” he continued. “That’s real money. That’s the kind of influx into the economy, were they able to get this done, that would really be seen.”