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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all but shut the door Wednesday on President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks, declaring Congress has provided enough pandemic aid as he blocked another attempt by Democrats to force a vote.

The GOP leader made clear he is unwilling to budge, despite political pressure from Trump and even some fellow Republican senators demanding action. Trump wants the recent $600 in aid increased threefold. But McConnell dismissed the idea of bigger “survival checks” approved by the House, saying the money would go to plenty of American households that just don’t need it.

McConnell’s refusal to act means the additional relief Trump wanted is all but dead.

“We just approved almost a trillion dollars in aid a few days ago,” McConnell said, referring to the year-end package Trump signed into law.

McConnell added, “if specific, struggling households still need more help,” the Senate will consider “smart targeted aid. Not another firehose of borrowed money.”

The showdown between the outgoing president and his own Republican Party over the $2,000 checks has thrown Congress into a chaotic year-end session just days before new lawmakers are set to be sworn into office.

It’s one last standoff, together with the override of Trump’s veto of a sweeping defense bill, that will punctuate the president’s final days and deepen the GOP’s divide between its new wing of Trump-styled populists and what had been mainstay conservative views against government spending.

Trump has been berating the GOP leaders, and tweeted, “$2000 ASAP!”

President-elect Joe Biden also supports the payments and wants to build on what he calls a “downpayment” on relief.

“In this moment of historic crisis and untold economic pain for countless American families, the President-elect supports $2,000 direct payments as passed by the House,” said Biden transition spokesman Andrew Bates.

The roadblock set by Senate Republicans appears insurmountable. Most GOP senators seemed to accept the inaction even as a growing number of Republicans, including two senators in runoff elections on Jan. 5 in Georgia, agree with Trump’s demand, some wary of bucking him.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the $600 checks would begin to go out Wednesday. Congress had settled on smaller payments in a compromise over the big, year-end COVID relief and government funding bill that Trump reluctantly signed into law. Before signing, though, Trump demanded more.

For a second day in a row, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer tried to force a vote on the bill approved by the House meeting Trump’s demand for the $2,000 checks.

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“What we’re seeing right now is Leader McConnell trying to kill the checks — the $2,000 checks desperately needed by so many American families,” Schumer said.

Liberal senators, led by Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who support the relief boost are blocking action on a defense bill until a vote can be taken on Trump’s demand for $2,000 for most Americans.

Sanders thundered on the floor that McConnell should call his own constituents in the GOP leader’s home state of Kentucky “and find out how they feel about the need for immediate help in terms of a $2,000 check.”

Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Marco Rubio of Florida, among the party’s potential 2024 presidential hopefuls, also pushed in the president’s direction. Hawley is also leading Trump’s challenge Jan. 6 to the Electoral College result tally in Congress.

Other Republicans panned the bigger checks, arguing during a lively Senate debate that the nearly $400 billion price tag was too high, the relief is not targeted to those in need and Washington has already dispatched ample sums on COVID aid.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., tweeted that “blindly borrowing” billions “so we can send $2,000 checks to millions of people who haven’t lost any income is terrible policy.”

Considered a longshot, Trump’s demand gained momentum at the start of the week when dozens of House Republicans calculated it was better to link with most Democrats than defy the outgoing president. They helped pass a bill raising the payments with a robust two-thirds vote of approval.

As Trump’s push fizzles out, his attempt to amend the year-end package — $900 billion in COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September — will linger as potentially one last confrontation before the new Congress is sworn in Sunday.

The COVID-19 portion of the bill revives a weekly pandemic jobless benefit boost — this time $300, through March 14 — as well as the popular Paycheck Protection Program of grants to businesses to keep workers on payrolls. It extends eviction protections, adding a new rental assistance fund.

Americans earning up to $75,000 will qualify for the direct $600 payments, which are phased out at higher income levels, and there’s an additional $600 payment per dependent child.

(AP)

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Donald Trump

Trump unleashes scathing statement blasting Sen. Mitch McConnell

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Former President Donald Trump issued a scathing statement on Tuesday in which he excoriated Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Mitch is a dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican Senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again,” Trump said in the statement.

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Trump acquitted in impeachment trial; 7 GOP Senators vote with Democrats to convict

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The Senate on Saturday voted to acquit former President Donald Trump on a charge of incitement of insurrection largely along party lines, bringing an end to the fourth impeachment trial in U.S. history and the second for Trump.

Only seven Republicans voted to convict Trump for allegedly inciting the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, when a mob of pro-Trump supporters tried to disrupt the electoral vote count formalizing Joe Biden’s election win before a joint session of Congress. The final vote was 57 to 43, far short of the 67 votes needed to secure a conviction.

Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina, Susan Collins of Maine, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mitt Romney of Utah, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania all voted guilty.

The vote means the Senate cannot bar Trump from holding future federal offices.

Moments after the vote concluded, the former president issued a statement praising his legal team and thanking the senators and other members of Congress “who stood proudly for the Constitution we all revere and for the sacred legal principles at the heart of our country.”

With control of the Senate split 50-50, the House managers always had an uphill battle when it came to convincing enough Republicans to cross party lines and convict a former president who is still very popular with a large part of the GOP base.

In his closing argument, House manager Joe Neguse, D-Colo., argued, “The stakes could not be higher. Because the cold, hard truth is that what happened on January 6 can happen again. I fear, like many of you do, that the violence we saw on that terrible day may be just the beginning.”

Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin, D-Md., urged the senators to think of the future.

“Senators, this trial, in the final analysis, is not about Donald Trump. The country and the world know who Donald Trump is. This trial is about who we are, who we are,” Raskin said.

Trump lawyer Michael van der Veen, meanwhile, insisted his client did nothing wrong and maintained he was the victim of vengeful Democrats and a biased news media. He called the impeachment proceedings a “charade from beginning to end.”

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The managers’ task became more difficult Saturday when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced in an email to his colleagues that he would vote to acquit since Trump was already out of office.

“While a close call, I am persuaded that impeachments are a tool primarily of removal and we therefore lack jurisdiction,” the influential Kentucky Republican wrote in the email, which was obtained by NBC News.

McConnell, who’d rebuffed Democratic efforts to start the trial while Trump was still in office, had condemned Trump’s conduct after the riot and said he’d keep an open mind about voting to convict — something he’d ruled out entirely during Trump’s first impeachment trial last year.

McConnell suggested in the email that Trump could still face other penalties.

“The Constitution makes perfectly clear that Presidential criminal misconduct while in office can be prosecuted after the President has left office, which in my view alleviates the otherwise troubling ‘January exception’ argument raised by the House,” he wrote.

Opening arguments began on Wednesday, with House managers blaming the riot on Trump’s months-long campaign to cast doubt on the 2020 election, and his repeated assertions that the only way he would lose was if the election was “stolen.” They focused on his fiery speech on the morning of the Jan. 6 riot, where he urged his supporters to “fight like hell” — and his refusal to take action after they did.

Trump declined a request from managers to testify at the trial, and refused to even submit a statement for it, facts Raskin urged senators to keep in mind on Saturday.

“I ask any of you, if you were charged with inciting violent insurrection against our country, and you’re falsely accused, would you come and testify? I know I would,” Raskin said.

The trial was the fourth of an impeached president. No president has ever been convicted.

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New details about Trump-McCarthy shouting match show Trump refused to call off the rioters

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Washington (CNN)In an expletive-laced phone call with House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy while the Capitol was under attack, then-President Donald Trump said the rioters cared more about the election results than McCarthy did.”Well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are,” Trump said, according to lawmakers who were briefed on the call afterward by McCarthy.McCarthy insisted that the rioters were Trump’s supporters and begged Trump to call them off.Trump’s comment set off what Republican lawmakers familiar with the call described as a shouting match between the two men. A furious McCarthy told the President the rioters were breaking into his office through the windows, and asked Trump, “Who the f–k do you think you are talking to?” according to a Republican lawmaker familiar with the call.

The newly revealed details of the call, described to CNN by multiple Republicans briefed on it, provide critical insight into the President’s state of mind as rioters were overrunning the Capitol. The existence of the call and some of its details have been previously reported and discussed publicly by McCarthy.The Republican members of Congress said the exchange showed Trump had no intention of calling off the rioters even as lawmakers were pleading with him to intervene. Several said it amounted to a dereliction of his presidential duty.

“He is not a blameless observer, he was rooting for them,” a Republican member of Congress said. “On January 13, Kevin McCarthy said on the floor of the House that the President bears responsibility and he does.”Speaking to the President from inside the besieged Capitol, McCarthy pressed Trump to call off his supporters and engaged in a heated disagreement about who comprised the crowd. Trump’s comment about the would-be insurrectionists caring more about the election results than McCarthy did was first mentioned by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a Republican from Washington state, in a town hall earlier this week, and was confirmed to CNN by Herrera Beutler and other Republicans briefed on the conversation.”You have to look at what he did during the insurrection to confirm where his mind was at,” Herrera Beutler, one of 10 House Republicans who voted last month to impeach Trump, told CNN. “That line right there demonstrates to me that either he didn’t care, which is impeachable, because you cannot allow an attack on your soil, or he wanted it to happen and was OK with it, which makes me so angry.””We should never stand for that, for any reason, under any party flag,” she added, voicing her extreme frustration: “I’m trying really hard not to say the F-word.””I think it speaks to the former President’s mindset,” said Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, an Ohio Republican who also voted to impeach Trump last month. “He was not sorry to see his unyieldingly loyal vice president or the Congress under attack by the mob he inspired. In fact, it seems he was happy about it or at the least enjoyed the scenes that were horrifying to most Americans across the country.”As senators prepare to determine Trump’s fate, multiple Republicans thought the details of the call were important to the proceedings because they believe it paints a damning portrait of Trump’s lack of action during the attack. At least one of the sources who spoke to CNN took detailed notes of McCarthy’s recounting of the call.Trump and McCarthy did not respond to requests for comment.It took Trump several hours after the attack began to eventually encourage his supporters to “go home in peace” — a tweet that came at the urging of his top aides.At Trump’s impeachment trial Friday, his lawyers argued that Trump did in fact try to calm the rioters with a series of tweets while the attack unfolded. But his lawyers cherry-picked his tweets, focusing on his request for supporters to “remain peaceful” without mentioning that he also attacked then-Vice President Mike Pence and waited hours to explicitly urge rioters to leave the Capitol.A source close to Pence said Trump’s legal team was not telling the truth when attorney Michael van der Veen said at the trial that “at no point” did the then-President know his vice president was in danger.Asked whether van der Veen was lying, the source said, “Yes.” Former Pence aides are still fuming over Trump’s actions on January 6, insisting he never checked on the vice president as Pence was being rushed from danger by his US Secret Service detail.It’s unclear to what extent these new details were known by the House Democratic impeachment managers or whether the team considered calling McCarthy as a witness. The managers have preserved the option to call witnesses in the ongoing impeachment trial, although that option remains unlikely as the trial winds down.The House Republican leader had been forthcoming with his conference about details of his conversations with Trump on and after January 6.Trump himself has not taken any responsibility in public.

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