Trump's demolition of the COVID-19 stimulus package could cost the GOP control of the Senate

  • The Senate runoff races in Georgia — which will decide what party controls the chamber — have been thrown into disarray by President Donald Trump's intervention on the COVID-19 stimulus package.
  • GOP candidates Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have long played up their pro-Trump affiliations, and had planned to tout the passage of a stimulus bill front and center of their campaigns, according to local reports.
  • But since Trump trashed the package and called for larger stimulus checks on Tuesday, the candidates face an awkward choice between supporting the president and maintaining their stance on negotiations. 
  • Loeffler has said she would back the $2,000 checks if lawmakers cut spending elsewhere. Perdue has ducked a debate and refused to answer press questions.
  • The issues are closely intertwined. Last week, Mitch McConnell dropped his long-held resistance to any check after learning the issue was harming the Georgia race. 
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President Donald Trump's unexpected opposition to the COVID-19 stimulus package is sending shockwaves through Georgia's Senate runoff races, which will decide which party controls the upper congressional chamber. 

The Republican candidates need to hold onto both the state's Senate seats in the January 5 runoff election in order to maintain the party's hold in the chamber. Both races have been on a knife edge for weeks, according to a FiveThirtyEight polling analysis. 

But since Trump's surprise criticism on the stimulus Tuesday, GOP Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue have been forced to revisit campaign strategies that depend heavily on the president's support. Both of them had planned to put the passage of a stimulus package front and center of their campaigns, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC).

On Monday, Perdue championed the stimulus deal, which was passed that day by both chambers, in a tweet claiming that Democratic Party figures had held up the negotiations. (Democrats had put the blame on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a top Republican.)

"Georgia — help is on the way!" Loeffler also tweeted on Tuesday, before the president's address. "We just secured an additional $900 billion in targeted relief, more PPP funding, and extended unemployment benefits by 11 weeks." 

But then, in a Tuesday video, Trump abruptly trashed many aspects of the stimulus package, saying it should have included $2,000 stimulus checks instead of the $600 laid out in the passed plan.

He also criticized the legislation for including billions of dollars in foreign aid, apparently conflating the relief plan with the omnibus spending bill Congress also passed on Monday.

Republicans had long resisted any check at all, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell changed direction to push for $600 checks last week after learning that the issue could potentially cost the Georgia race. 

Read more: Trump's surprise demand for $2,000 stimulus checks blew up Mitch McConnell's master plan and leaves him in a no-win situation

An awkward choice

Both candidates' campaigns have hinged on firing up Trump's base, according to reports in the AJC and the Associated Press.

Loeffler has previously cast herself as "more conservative than Attila the Hun," and boasted of her "100% Trump" voting record, the AP reported.

When Trump attended a rally to support Perdue in December, the candidate could hardly be heard over the crowd's chants of "Fight for Trump!" according to the AP. 

In a show of loyalty to Trump's bogus challenge to the 2020 presidential election result, both candidates called for Georgia's GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to resign over alleged "mismanagement" of election processes, The New York Times reported.

Democrats seizing the opportunity

But after Trump's latest move on the stimulus plan, Perdue has refused to answer multiple questions from reporters, and ducked a challenge for a debate with his Democratic opponent Jon Ossoff, local media reported.

Loeffler has since said that she would support $2,000 checks if the cost could be offset by cutting other aspects of the bill, the AJC reported. 

Their Democratic opponents — Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock — have made heavy weather of the new situation. 

"If @Kloeffler supports Trump 100% of the time, why won't she support $2,000 relief checks?" tweeted Warnock on Wednesday. 

"President Trump is as ever, erratic and all over the place. But on this point tonight, he's right. $600 is a joke," Ossoff told CNN, pointing out that Perdue had even opposed the first round of $1,200 checks in April.

Perdue previously said he "personally opposed" sending direct payments, but ultimately voted for that stimulus round, according to Newsweek.

Ossoff also tweeted a meme of two pickup trucks, comparing the size of the two proposed checks. 

The Democratic candidates' campaigns have not been seamless, however, and the race is still extremely close. 

On Tuesday, Fox News aired police footage of Warnock's ex-wife Ouleye Ndoye accusing him of having run over her foot during a dispute in March. 

According to FiveThirtyEight's aggregation of polling, both Democratic candidates dropped behind on Wednesday, albeit by half a percentage point or less. 

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