NBC News- Georgia Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue on Tuesday said they support increasing the direct Covid-19 relief payments to $2,000, caving to pressure from Democrats and President Donald Trump as they fight to hold onto their seats in the competitive January runoff races.
"I have stood by the president one hundred percent of the time. I am proud to do that. And I've said: absolutely, we need to get relief to Americans now and I will support that," Loeffler said in an interview with Fox News when asked where she stands on increasing the direct payments.
Also appearing in a Fox News interview later Tuesday, Perdue said he was "delighted to support the president in this $2,000 — it’s really a $1,400 increment over what we’ve already done, and I think with a vaccine coming, I think this is absolutely appropriate. So I fully support what the president is doing right now."
The Democratic-controlled House narrowly passed a bill Monday evening to increase direct coronavirus relief payments, but Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., blocked an attempt from Senate Democrats to approve the measure. Support from Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue could put pressure on McConnell to take it up again later in the week.
Loeffler had previously declined to take a firm position when pressed by reporters and Perdue had been quiet on the issue, though he had been critical of the direct payments earlier this year during the first round of Covid relief.
After weathering weeks of attacks from Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock over Congress' inability to pass more coronavirus aid, Trump's decision to sign the $2.3 trillion government funding and coronavirus relief package on Monday should have come as a relief to Loeffler and Perdue.
Instead, the two incumbents faced fresh rounds of criticism from their opponents as they weighed whether to join Democrats and Trump in providing more money, or stick with party leadership in opposition to increasing the checks.
"I have not heard a peep from Perdue," Ossoff, who is competing against Perdue, said in an interview Monday night with MSNBC's Joy Reid.
"I am calling on Sen. Perdue to reverse his opposition to $2,000 relief checks. Look, President-elect Biden, President Trump and Democrats all support this policy to get money into the pockets of hardworking Americans who are in dire straights right now and Sen. Perdue needs to come out tonight and commit to voting on the floor of the Senate for $2,000 relief checks."
Warnock, who is running against Loeffler, tweeted on Monday that "Georgians could have gotten $2,000 relief checks" but Loeffler "refused to fight for more."
Ossoff criticized Perdue's support for the checks as "politically convenient," adding in a statement that Perdue "hasn’t had a change of heart — he’s exclusively focused on his own political survival."
It’s unclear whether there are 60 votes in the Senate for the $2,000 checks, which would require at least 12 Republicans to vote in favor of the measure.
Along with Perdue and Loeffler, Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have indicated they are open to voting in favor of increasing the checks.
While McConnell has been against direct checks in the past, he was persuaded to support the $600 payments in the Covid relief bill passed last week in part out of concern that failure to do so would hurt Republicans in the Georgia runoffs.
More than 2 million Georgians have already voted early ahead of the Jan. 5 runoff elections, according to the Georgia Secretary of State’s office.
President-elect Joe Biden narrowly won Georgia in the general election, becoming the first Democrat to carry the state in decades.