Georgia Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock – two Democrats elected in Jan. 5 runoffs in what was once considered a Republican stronghold – held a press conference hours after the Senate narrowly approved a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package in a 50-49 vote that fell along party lines.
Both senators made it clear that the package would likely have never come to pass without their upset victories.
"This is the most significant economic relief package for working- and middle-class families in American history," Ossoff told reporters after the vote. "We will crush COVID-19, recover economically, safely re-open our schools, and get our daily lives back – and we’ll do it thanks to Georgia voters.”
"There is no question that the people of Georgia deserve a great deal of credit for what happened here today," he said. "We simply would not be here had they not stood up in such a profound way in this historic election."
– Sarah Elbeshbishi
'One more giant step forward’: President Biden praises passage of COVID plan
President Joe Biden praised the Senate's passage of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan on Saturday, calling it "one more giant step forward" on promises he made on the campaign trail to send aid to millions of Americans suffering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Today I can say we've taken one more giant step forward in delivering on the promise help is on the way," he said of his package that includes $1,400 relief checks, an extension of federal unemployment benefits, and billions of dollars for vaccine development and distribution.
"The bottom line is this: this plan puts us on a path to beating this virus," he said.
Biden made an indirect reference to his predecessor President Donald Trump, saying passing the relief plan would show how he was "going to get the government out of the business of battling on Twitter and back in the business of delivering for the American people."
He congratulated Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for shepherding the bill through the Senate. The chamber worked for more than 27 straight hours as it made its final deliberations on the package.
"I’ve never seen anyone work as skillfully, as ably, as patiently with determination to deliver such a consequential piece of legislation," Biden said.
The president had been in touch with several Democratic senators throughout the process.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a longtime Biden confidante, told reporters Saturday morning he had spoken to Biden, who had told him he was "really glad" the bill passed. The president had been in touch with Schumer with "some frequency" through the whole process, Coons said.
– Nicholas Wu and Joey Garrison
Senate approves $1.9 trillion COVID relief package along party lines
WASHINGTON – The Democratic-controlled Senate on Saturday overcame more than 24 draining hours of debate and staunch Republican opposition to pass President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package providing millions of Americans with $1,400 stimulus checks, billions of dollars for vaccine distribution, and funds to help reopen schools and colleges.
The final vote was 50-49 with all Republicans voting against the measure and all members of the Senate Democratic caucus supporting it. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, was not present for the vote.
"This bill that we are completing now is the most significant piece of legislation to benefit working people in the modern history of this country," Sen Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said before the Senate passed the bill. "The people are hurting and today, we respond."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., countered that "the Senate has never spent $2 trillion in a more haphazard way or through a less rigorous process."
The bill now heads to the House where a vote could take place in a matter of days.
The bill has been Biden's chief legislative priority as he begins his presidency. He's stressed the aid is sorely needed for Americans battling the economic impacts of the pandemic and has pushed for Congress to pass the bill quickly.
Democrats did not get everything they wanted. The bill does not include a $15 federal hourly minimum wage that progressives had sought. And weekly unemployment benefits were pared back from $400 to $300. But it includes $350 billion for states and localities, provides economic assistance to renters and expands the child tax credit.
Republicans have decried the measure as bloated legislation that disproportionately benefits blue states and large cities with assistance that has nothing to do with the pandemic.
Republicans introduced a flurry of amendments to the bill, including ones redirecting Amtrak funding to the Coast Guard, barring non-profit organizations from receiving Paycheck Protection Program funds to help small employers and requiring the president to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. All of them failed narrowly along partisan lines.
– Ledyard King
Fatigue sets in as Senate passes 24 hours of debate
WASHINGTON – Despite more than 24 hours of debate that began at roughly 9 a.m. Friday and dragged on as the sun rose Saturday, senators remained engaged – but groggy - in the debate over the relief bill.
Some senators appeared to nod off at their desks, stirring in time to cast their votes on amendments. Others moved around, as if to stay awake. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., began chatting about "Baconators," a Wendy’s breakfast sandwich, as he spoke with Virginia Democrat Mark Warner about food options.
At one point, New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker emerged from the nearby cloakroom to vote on an amendment. When Montana Democrat Jon Tester raised his hand to get the attention of the clerks, Booker tried to bat it down. After both of their votes had been recorded, they pretended to punch each other's arms, and Booker returned to his cloakroom retreat.
A muted cheer arose in a chamber where the average age is 61 and several are 80 or older after Kansas GOP Sen. Jerry Moran proposed that amendments going forward be decided on voice vote, a much faster process than the roll-call process that requires the Senate clerk to read the name of each senator and ow they voted.
That idea didn’t take root. The next vote, an amendment proposed by Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., to strike certain types of Medicare hospital payments, failed – on a roll-call vote.
– Ledyard King
Senate pulls an all-nighter in debate on COVID relief bill
The Senate continues to wrangle over the fate of a massive new COVID-19 stimulus package that includes direct $1,400 payments after a lengthy debate that began Friday and stretched into early Saturday.
Bleary-eyed senators are approaching their 20th straight hour of negotiating passage of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in the evenly divided Senate. Republicans are continuing to propose amendments to the bill in an effort to delay passage though none of them are winning enough votes to pass.
The Senate narrowly amended the bill to include a $300 weekly federal unemployment benefit through August after West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin objected to a provision in the House-passed measure which included a benefit of $400 per week.
An effort to reinsert a provision raising the federal hourly minimum wage to $15 failed Friday when eight Democratic caucus members joined all Senate Republicans in voting against Vermont independent Bernie Sanders' proposal. The provision was included in the bill the House passed but was stripped by the Senate parliamentarian who ruled it was not germane to the relief bill and could not be included.
Democrats cannot afford a single defection in the face of united Republican opposition to the bill but they also have to walk a delicate tightrope. If Democrats cut back too much in the Senate to secure the vote of moderates in their party, they risk losing the progressive House votes that would be needed to send the final bill to Biden for his signature.
– Ledyard King and William Cummings
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID stimulus updates: Biden praises Senate passage of relief plan