Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) have found themselves in a legislative bind, torn between their Senate caucus and President Trump with just a week to go until the elections that will determine their political futures.
The two Georgia Republicans came out on Tuesday in favor of a measure that would increase the size of stimulus checks to millions of Americans from $600 to $2,000, backing up Trump’s call for heftier direct payments while defying most congressional Republicans, who have resisted the larger checks for months.
Loeffler and Perdue’s support for the more robust stimulus payments amounted to the latest effort by the two senators to hitch their fortunes to Trump, who remains the most influential Republican in the country and commands the support of an ultra-loyal base of voters whom Loeffler and Perdue will need to turn out in the Jan. 5 runoff elections.
Those runoffs will determine the balance of power in the Senate when President-elect Joe Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
Republicans currently hold a 50-48 majority in the Senate, meaning that if Democrats are able to pick off both Loeffler and Perdue next week, they will effectively control the upper chamber, given Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’s ability to cast tie-breaking votes.
Both runoffs are expected to be close.
Perdue leads his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff by a scant 0.4 percentage points, according to FiveThirtyEight’s polling average of the race, while Democrat Raphael Warnock leads Loeffler by 0.5 percentage points.
In separate appearances on Fox News on Tuesday, Loeffler and Perdue made clear their desire to side with the outgoing president over many of their GOP colleagues in the Senate, whom they’ll need to work with should they keep their seats.
“I’ve stood by the president 100 percent of the time,” Loeffler said on “Fox & Friends” when asked whether she would back the call for larger stimulus payments. “I’m proud to do that. And I’ve said, absolutely, we need to get relief to Americans now, and I will support that.”
“I’m delighted to support the president in this $2,000 — it's really a $1,400 increment over what we've done,” Perdue said on Fox News. “And I think with the vaccine coming, I think this is absolutely appropriate. So I fully support what the president is doing right now.”
Both Loeffler and Perdue have faced criticism from Warnock and Ossoff over Republicans’ months-long refusal to pass more hearty stimulus payments.
One Republican strategist familiar with the Georgia campaigns said that by embracing the $2,000 stimulus checks, Loeffler and Perdue had effectively shut down their Democratic rivals’ closing arguments.
“The argument that [Ossoff and Warnock] have been trying to make isn’t going to have any weight behind it,” the strategist said. “Perdue and Loeffler passed the relief bill and Trump signed it, and now they’re backing the $2,000.”
Indeed, Trump grudgingly signed a massive $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding measure into law on Sunday after complaining for days that the $600 per person stimulus payments it offered were insufficient. Days earlier, Perdue reportedly urged him in a phone call to approve the bill, fearing that a rejection from the White House could jeopardize Republicans’ chances in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs.
But there are still looming hurdles that could complicate things for the two Georgia senators in the coming days, namely a Senate vote to override Trump’s veto of an annual defense bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The House voted overwhelmingly on Monday evening to override the president’s veto, putting pressure on the Senate to do the same. But it’s unclear how willing Senate Republicans — especially Loeffler and Perdue — will be to buck Trump’s position on the bill, which initially passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Neither Georgia senator has said whether they will vote to override Trump’s veto, although both previously voted to approve the defense bill. If either breaks with Trump on that legislation, however, they risk running afoul of a president known for publicly attacking anyone whom he sees as a critic or opponent.
For now, the fate of the larger relief checks in the Senate is uncertain. The House has already passed a measure increasing the size of the stimulus payments and a handful of Republicans, including Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.), have also expressed support, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked a Democratic effort on Tuesday to hold a stand-alone vote on that same bill.
Likewise, the effort to override Trump’s veto of the NDAA has also been put on hold after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) blocked McConnell from scheduling a quick vote on the matter in response to the majority leader’s objection to a vote on the stimulus checks.
And even with their support for the $2,000 stimulus checks, Loeffler's and Perdue’s opponents showed no signs of ceasing their attacks. On Tuesday, Ossoff, the Democrat challenging Perdue, accused the senator of flip-flopping on the stimulus payments out of concern for “his own political survival.”
“He hasn’t had a change of heart — he’s exclusively focused on his own political survival,” Ossoff said in a statement. “Georgians deserve a Senator who will always look out for them, not just when it’s politically convenient.”
Loeffler’s opponent, Warnock, levied a similar allegation, casting her support for the $2,000 stimulus checks as politically motivated.