Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia said Tuesday that they support increasing direct Covid-19 relief payments to $2,000, caving in 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 100 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 when asked about direct payments in an interview with Fox News.
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 Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell R-Ky., blocked an attempt by Senate Democrats to approve the measure. Support from Loeffler and Perdue could put pressure on McConnell to take it up again later in the week.
Perdue and Loeffler are spending Tuesday campaigning in Georgia and weren't on Capitol Hill.
Loeffler had previously declined to take a firm position when pressed by reporters, and Perdue had been quiet on the issue, although he was critical of the direct payments during the first round of Covid-19 relief this year.
Trump signed the $2.3 trillion government funding and coronavirus relief package Monday after weeks of attacks from Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock over Congress' inability to pass more coronavirus aid.
The aid should have come as a relief to Loeffler and Perdue. Instead, they faced new criticism from their opponents as they weighed whether to join Democrats and Trump in providing more money or stick with party leaders in opposition.
"I have not heard a peep from Perdue," Ossoff, who is running against him, 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."
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."
Warnock, who is running against Loeffler, tweeted Monday that "Georgians could have gotten $2,000 relief checks" but that Loeffler "refused to fight for more."
Warnock also accused Loeffler of having taken too long to act, saying, "Georgians learned long ago they can't trust Kelly Loeffler to look out for anyone but herself."
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 for the measure.
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Along with Perdue and Loeffler, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have indicated that they are open to voting to increase the checks.
While McConnell has been against direct checks in the past, he was persuaded to support the $600 payments in the bill passed last week in part out of concern that failing to do so would hurt Republicans in the Georgia runoffs.
More than 2 million Georgians have voted early ahead of the Jan. 5 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.