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Sanders, Markey to block defense bill override vote until Senate gets a say on $2,000 relief payments

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, left, and Massachusetts Senator, Ed Markey, right.Joseph Prezioso and Samuel Corum/Getty (CUSTOM_CREDIT)

The House overwhelmingly passed two proposals Monday — the first, to increase pandemic relief checks from $600 to $2,000, and the second, to override President Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill.

The override of the defense bill by the House marked a rare legislative rebuke against Trump — laying the groundwork for the first veto override of his presidency. The Senate is expected to vote on the override this week, and like the House, needs to approve it by a two-thirds majority.

Meanwhile, the Democrat-led passage of the bill favoring additional assistance for most Americans is a move Trump called for at the last minute, which thereby caused unemployment benefits to lapse when he failed to sign the stimulus bill by the Saturday deadline.


The bill heads to the GOP-controlled Senate, where its passage is uncertain. Democrats plan on pushing the measure for a vote on Tuesday, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has declined to publicly state how the Senate will handle the legislation.

Two progressive New England senators said Monday evening, however, that they have a plan to counter any hesitancy on McConnell’s part to push the vote forward: blocking a vote on the defense bill.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders said Sunday that he and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey — along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — had been “fighting for months to get Congress to pass a $2,000 direct payment for the working class.”

“At a time when so many people are facing economic desperation, the $600 direct payment is a step forward – but it’s not enough,” Sanders, an Independent, wrote on Twitter Monday. “We need to increase that direct payment to $2,000. Biden wants it, Trump wants it, Pelosi wants it, Schumer wants it. Now, Congress must vote to do it.”


After the House passed the measure, Sanders pledged that he would object to a vote on the defense bill veto override — legislation that previously received widespread bipartisan support before Trump rejected it — until “we get a vote on legislation to provide a $2,000 direct payment to the working class.”

“This week on the Senate floor Mitch McConnell wants to vote to override Trump’s veto of the $740 billion defense funding bill and then head home for the New Year,” Sanders wrote on Twitter.

In an interview with Politico on Monday night, Sanders said he would filibuster an override of the bill until the Senate holds a vote on increasing the COVID-19 cash relief payments.

“McConnell and the Senate want to expedite the override vote and I understand that,” Sanders told the outlet. “But I’m not going to allow that to happen unless there is a vote, no matter how long that takes, on the $2,000 direct payment.”

Markey said he would be joining in on blocking the defense bill with Sanders “until we get a vote on $2,000 in direct cash relief.”

“That relief passed in the House today with 44 Republicans voting for it,” Markey, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter Monday evening. “Senate Republicans must do the same and get the American people the help they need.”

If Sanders sticks to his pledge, he could keep the chamber in session during the holiday week, according to Senate rules.

“The American people are desperate, and the Senate has got to do its job before leaving town,” Sanders told Politico. “It would be unconscionable, especially after the House did the right thing, for the Senate to simply leave Washington without voting on this.”


The move would likely interfere with the campaign schedules of Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler of Georgia, who face Jan. 5 runoffs that will determine control of the Senate. They are up against Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, who both support an increase in the cash relief payments.

“We can pass $2,000 relief checks for the people, but we have to win this Senate election,” Ossoff said on Twitter Sunday.

Politico reported that the Senate races were a factor in Sanders’ decision.

Early Tuesday morning, President Trump commented on the Vermont senator’s plans to stall a vote on the defense bill veto override — voicing agreement with Sanders’ motive to increase the direct payment amount.

“Give the people $2,000, not $600,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “They have suffered enough!”

Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shannonlarson98.