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Littwin: A thought experiment — what if Trump had called for $2,000 stimulus checks before the election?

It’s now left to Mitch McConnell and Senate GOP to determine whether the House-passed $2,000 check proposal gets a Senate vote. Anyone heard from Cory Gardner on this?

For those of you looking to celebrate the arrival of the New Year this weekend, I’m afraid you’re a little premature. 

Forget the old calendar on the wall for now. Because a new year won’t actually arrive until Jan. 20 when Joe Biden is sworn in, and Donald Trump, probably already safely ensconced at Mar-a-Lago, is thereby booted out.

I’m saving my horns and streamers and champagne for noon on the 20th. They’ll still drop the ball in Times Square, but, believe me, there’s a lot more ball dropping yet to be done.

And so we go to this latest, in which Trump shows he is not only a terrible president, but also a terrible politician. Let’s examine, because we must, Trump’s demand to replace what he calls the “measly” $600 individual stimulus checks in a bill that has been passed and that he has already signed. He now wants the $600 checks to be replaced by $2,000 checks in the closing days of the 2020 session.

Mike Littwin

This may be a swell idea. Democrats certainly love it. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were on board within minutes of Trump’s announcement that he wanted the $2,000 They were also on board with overriding Trump’s veto of the defense spending bill. The House has already voted to do both.

Pelosi and Schumer must have watched with some glee as Trump turned on his chief enabler Mitch McConnell, although not by name, calling out “weak and tired Republican ‘leadership’” while calling the override vote in the House “a disgraceful act of cowardice.”

One of Trump’s problems with the defense bill is that it insists on renaming those military bases named after Confederate leaders  — you know, those involved in the disgraceful act of sedition in order to preserve the enslavement of millions of people. It’s something apparently he believes that his base cares about. But he’s making this big play — again checking the calendar on the wall — after the election.

Just as he’s blowing everything up to get his $2,000 checks, yes, also after the election.

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We know that Trump enjoys blowing stuff up, even when it puts his closest allies in some jeopardy. (See: Pence, Mike, whom Trump wants to somehow stop the Senate from counting the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, a count that would finally put the stake through Trump’s presidency and our long national nightmare. Problem is, Pence doesn’t have the power to do it, any more than Trump does. As we’ve been saying all long, Trump wants to be an authoritarian, but just doesn’t know how to pull it off.)

If Trump had called for $2,000 stimulus checks, say, a month before the election, he might have, shudder, actually won. He certainly would have come closer, and might have had a better shot at stealing the election than he has after a blowout result for Biden. But Trump couldn’t bring himself to admit that the economy — the greatest in world history — desperately needed a boost or that hundreds of thousands of Americans were dying, and many millions were being crushed, as the pandemic surged.

Before the stimulus bill was passed in conjunction with the spending bill that would keep the government open, Trump never said anything about the $2,000. Instead, he had Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell running around the country in a reality show you could have called “Who’s Got the Most Cray-Cray?” And then there’s the disgraced, yet pardoned, Gen. Michael Flynn calling for the military to basically enable a coup.

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Since the election, Trump has been too busy either golfing or weeping in a corner with only his Twitter machine to provide comfort to put in any work on a second stimulus bill. Instead, he had Steve Mnuchin on the case, whom he has turned against, much in the way he turned against Bill Barr.

If there’s anything you can be sure of — and there aren’t many — it’s that Trump biographers will be mining this material for decades, if not centuries.

So, where does this leave us? In Georgia, where control of the Senate rests in two runoff elections next week, Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have announced their support for the $2,000 checks. It’s simple math, I guess. If voters were given the choice of receiving a $600 government check or a $2,000 government check, which would they choose?

At least three other Republican senators have announced their support. Democrats would need 12 Republicans to get to the required 60 votes. (No word yet from Cory Gardner, who is, yes, still a senator. I’m assuming that he is studying the matter. Man, am I going to miss all that studying.)

Is the $2,000 a good idea? There’s some argument among economists about the best way to distribute the money, but it’s clear to nearly all of them that a large stimulus is needed. More than 20 million Americans are receiving unemployment checks, and roughly 800,000 are filing each week. Dr. Tony Fauci and others are warning that the pandemic will grow worse until enough people are vaccinated. And, of course, the vaccinations are moving more slowly than promised. 

The bill to move to $2,000 checks passed the House overwhelmingly, by more than a two-thirds vote. Still, Colorado Republicans Ken Buck, Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn voted against the bill, meaning they voted against Trump, a major upset. And the four Colorado House Democrats all voted with Trump, and, of course, with Pelosi. Another major upset. Has this ever happened during the Trump years?

This is all prologue, though. The bill was always going to pass the House. The question is whether McConnell will allow the bill to go forward in the Senate. In remarks from the Senate floor, McConnell blocked an immediate vote, but indicated there might be one later.

But there are complications, of course. It’s the U.S. Senate. Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey have both said they will block a vote to override Trump’s veto of the defense bill until there’s a vote on the stimulus checks. They can’t block the vote forever, but, given the Senate’s arcane rules, they could block it long enough to keep the Senate in session during New Year’s.

Meanwhile, to get Trump on board, Lindsey Graham and others promised a look at some Trump priorities. One is getting rid of the previously obscure Section 230 of a 1996 law that provides protection for big tech companies like Facebook and Google and Twitter, with whom Trump is at war. And the other would be an investigation of, you guessed it, vote rigging.

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I doubt seriously McConnell will agree to an up-or-down vote on the House bill. He may add a few Trumpian niceties that would foul matters up in the Senate and send a revised bill back to the House that it may be unwilling to pass. 

As Graham told the Washington Post, “What drove [Trump’s] thinking was, I’m not going to give in until I get a vote on the checks in the Senate, and I’m not going to sign this bill until we finally address Section 230,” he said. “I don’t know how Mitch is going to do it.”

I don’t know how Mitch will do it either, but don’t count on it ending up with $2,000 in your pocket. You’ll know when 2021 has officially begun, because at that point, it will be Joe Biden’s problem to solve. 


Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.


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