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Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett Shares More Details About Her VISA Waiver Act

WASHINGTON U.S. Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett released the following statement of clarification regarding her Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Act’s (H.R. 5460) approval by the House Judiciary Committee:

“The Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Act was passed out of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, which is one step in the legislative process. The bill does not become law until passed by the House, passed by the Senate then signed by the President. The next step in this process will be for full House consideration. I am confident the measure will be considered by the full House in short order, and we are working to have a companion measure considered by the Senate.”

You can follow the progress of the Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Act by clicking here.

Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett released the following statement after her Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Act (H.R. 5460) was approved by the House Judiciary Committee in a bipartisan vote of 24-14:

“I and my team have worked steadfastly with the House Judiciary Committee over several years on the Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Act. I would like to thank my Republican colleague, Representative Thomas Massie from Kentucky, for his vote in favor of this bill.

“The Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Act would allow the Department of Homeland Security to consider approving non-immigrant visitor visa waivers for entry into the U.S. Virgin Islands for up to 45 days (primarily for residents of neighboring Caribbean countries). Such a non-immigrant visitor visa waiver program is already being utilized successfully in both Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands for nationals of other countries.

“This legislation would extend this same program to the U.S. Virgin Islands.  This limited visa waiver program would better enable the Virgin Islands to compete economically with other islands and nations in the Caribbean community. A nationwide U.S. Visa Waiver Program already allows nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa.  This bill would apply solely to the U.S. Virgin Islands, and because the Virgin Islands is outside the U.S. customs zone by law, it would not allow entry into any other part of the United States.

I thank my colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee for their hard work during the marathon markup session that took place over the past few days.”

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U.S. Virgin Islands Greenlights Caribbean Nationals’ Visits By Waiving Visa Requirement

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — The territory will no longer require a visa for visitors from neighboring Caribbean islands.

The House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee approved The Virgin Islands Visa Waiver Act, making it possible for visitors from the Caribbean to receive a non-immigrant visitor visa exemption to enter St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John for up to 45 days.

The amendment to the Act applies only to the U.S. Virgin Islands and does not allow entry into other parts of the United States.

U.S. Virgin Islands Greenlights Caribbean Nationals' Visits By Waiving Visa Requirement

The Act was first presented to the Committee for amendment in September 2021 by Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett.

A press release from the Congresswoman’s office did not state specifically which countries will benefit from the amendment to the Act. The scope of the amendment will, however, be limited to the Caribbean community and other countries permitted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The amendment is similar to the limited visa waiver program which allows citizens of some countries to visit overseas U.S. territories, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands by completing a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Form I-736 prior to arrival and presenting their country’s passport on arrival. The Visa Waiver Act is also expected to be an impetus for increased visitors and economic activity in the US island territory.

U.S. Virgin Islands Greenlights Caribbean Nationals' Visits By Waiving Visa Requirement

Plaskett, serves on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee.

“This legislation would extend this same program to the U.S. Virgin Islands,” she said. “This limited visa waiver program would better enable the Virgin Islands to compete economically with other islands and nations in the Caribbean community.”

The Ways and Means Committee gives recommendations to the House on all revenue-raising channels. The committee is the primary source of legislation on international trade agreements, customs, and taxation.

Readers of the Virgin Islands Free Press on social media generally had favorable comments about Plaskett’s initiative.

“Nice. But tickets will cost more,” N.C. Flippin Quailey said.

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WHAT’S THE HOLDUP? Plaskett, Payne Weigh In On U.S. Attorney Confirmation Delay

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Virgin Islands Senator-at-Large Steven Payne Jr. said Monday that he’d written a letter to U.S. Senator Tom Cotton “expressing outrage that partisan politics is standing in the way of the U.S. Senate confirming the first Black woman to be the U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

Payne referred to the historic nomination of Assistant U.S. Attorney Delia Smith by President Joe Biden.

Smith “is a highly qualified St. Johnian whose knowledge, talents, and experiences render her uniquely suited for this most prominent position,” Payne said in a released statement.

The V.I. senator added he is “appalled and disgusted that a U.S. Senator from Arkansas would exercise partisan politics regarding an issue in Portland, Oregon no less, throwing one of our own under the bus, for the purpose of getting back at the Biden Administration.”

According to a report by Fox News, Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, is concerned that Biden’s Justice Department may not pay to defend U.S. marshals who protected a federal courthouse in Portland during Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, and demanded a response.

V.I. Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett, who recommended Smith for the top job, said when contacted that she is looking forward to seeing Smith confirmed as the next U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands.

“While Senate Rules allow Senators to hold up nominations for issues not germane, not relevant, to a particular nominee (which is the case with Ms. Smith and several other nominees), I’m hopeful that Sen. Schumer will quickly resolve the present issues so that Mrs. Smith’s vote, along with others, will advance,” she said, referring to Democratic minority leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York.

Plaskett indicated there was movement afoot to continue to move Smith’s nomination forward.

“I’m excited that both the Democratic and Republican Senate staff have agreed to move forward with the process required for our nominee Delia Smith, to be confirmed as U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands. The activity that has taken place around Mrs. Smith’s nomination so far is a very positive sign,” Plaskett said.

On Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Senate Judiciary Committee met and was set to vote on Smith and several others nominated to positions across the United States by Biden.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, however, that the committee would be holding over four nominations, including Smith’s, at Cotton’s request.

By SUZANNE CARLSON/Virgin Islands Daily News

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Bryan Testifies About ‘Building Back Better’ Before U.S. House Committee

CHRISTIANSTED — Governor Albert Bryan testified remotely today before the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources and told federal lawmakers that Virgin Islanders are well-versed in resilience and building back; however, the territories lack the financial support from the federal government that would allow them to stay abreast of the constant challenges  they face.

“The funds that we got through the American Rescue Plan will go a long way toward helping our Territory recover, as well as for all of the territories,” Governor Bryan said. “But a major continuing problem is our financial inability to maintain our roadways, our power plants and all the infrastructure, to train our workforce and to constantly adapt to these ever-changing threats.

“Securing our infrastructure under the ‘Build Back Better’ plan will be crucial for the territories in order for us to be able to build back,” the Governor said. “We hope that the Biden Administration continues to support us and help us develop comprehensive plans that address resilience.”

Bryan Testifies About 'Building Back Better' Before U.S. House Committee
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi also testified today

Governor Bryan told the committee members that the biggest help and the biggest hinderance to the territories having the ability to be on par with the mainland states has been the federal government.

“Restrictions between FEMA and HUD have created impossible hurdles to rebuilding. They simply have to understand that we cannot wait 10 years to build back,” Governor Bryan said. “A quick fix to help us with our financial obligations would be for this body to back the full debt of the territories. This would give us the ability to borrow money at the 1 percent that is being issued today and would free up millions of dollars of capital that we now pay in interest.”

The Governor talked about the Territory’s efforts in the face of COVID-19 to return to the budding and rising economy in place when the pandemic hit.

He cited the Marine sector, such as the USVI’s ability to attract and maintain charter vessels and dredging the harbors in Charlotte Amalie and St. Croix, as a specific economic sector that could benefit greatly by the “Build Back Better” plan.

“We remain optimistic that the Administration and Congress will support our territorial leadership. Not just the Virgin Islands, but all of us,” Governor Bryan said. “The ‘Build Back Better’ plan represents an opportunity to liberate the Virgin Islands – and all of our territories – from fiscal distress and build a sustainable local economy that can withstand periodic natural and economic disaster.

“It is also an opportunity to invest in our people,” the Governor said. “As we recently celebrated our 100th anniversary of being an American territory, you can ensure that we are prepared for the next 100 years, strengthening our infrastructure and eliminating federal policies that undermine our ability to attract investment that will give us a fighting chance to make our second century as Americans better than the first.”

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Crack Down On The Horrific Blood Sport Of Cockfighting: OP-ED

The origin of cockfighting dates back thousands of years, but it was during Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to the Philippines in 1521 that modern cockfighting was first documented by his chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, in the kingdom of Taytay. It’s a gruesome and still-rampant blood sport, disturbingly present in Massachusetts.

Most states banned cockfighting in the 19th century, and in the 21st century, Congress has made cockfighting a felony and banned it everywhere in the U.S. It’s also a crime to train birds for fighting, ship them across state, territorial or national lines, to traffic in the fighting weapons cockfighters attach to the birds’ legs, or to attend a fight or bring children to one.

Most recently a provision that outlawed cockfighting in the U.S. territories was signed into law in the 2018 Farm Bill. We worked hard to secure the latest provision — banning animal fighting in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam — and that provision won support from the entire Massachusetts congressional delegation, except for one who missed the vote.

Crack Down On The Horrific Blood Sport Of Cockfighting: OP-ED

We followed up on the new law by conducting an investigation of live-animal shipping records to Guam. We found records for 9,000 birds shipped to Guam from the states, and it was plain that these transports were animals bound for Guam’s fighting pits. Our investigation revealed that Americans are deeply involved in the global trade of fighting animals. Little has been done by local or federal authorities to stop this disregard for the law.

Since then, we’ve conducted more eye-opening investigations, the most recent in North Carolina in January. And in recent weeks, 300 game cocks were seized in Las Vegas, Nevada; 70 more confiscated in Los Angeles, County, California; eight cockfighters arrested in Chickamauga, Georgia; and two scofflaws convicted on cockfighting charges in Northern Nevada last month.

And a Massachusetts man, Miguel Rodriguez from Holyoke, was convicted on cockfighting charges a few weeks ago stemming from a illegal cockfighting operation at a Florence farm in 2018, but unfortunately given merely a slap on the wrist when Judge Jacklyn Connly sentenced him to two years of probation.

Animal fighting is animal abuse — plain and simple. The illegal gambling adds to lawlessness. Bringing children to the fights, using, or distributing narcotics, and engaging in other illegal activities should make the whole enterprise a hot target for the U.S. Department of Justice, and for state and local law enforcement.

It’s not only inhumane and unconscionable but, it’s a health and human safety threat, given the role of cockfighting in spreading Newcastle disease, and Avian influenza — something everyone should be mindful of amid the current pandemic. It’s clear that COVID-19 most likely jumped the species barrier from animal to mankind in a live-wildlife market in Wuhan, China — and the conditions surrounding cockfighting aren’t that different with cockfighters often sucking the blood out of roosters’ lungs themselves in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation-like contact so the gamecocks can continue to fight to the death — blood and feathers flying all around.

But there is hope with the Animal Cruelty Enforcement (ACE) Act, H.R. 1016, recently introduced in the U.S. House. The bill would create an Animal Cruelty Crimes Unit at DOJ to better enforce federal anti-cockfighting and cruelty laws and has already been co-sponsored by representatives from Colorado, Ohio, Tennessee, Iowa, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. Its companion measure, introduced in 2020 by Sens. Mike Braun, R-Ind., John Kennedy, R-La., and Democrats Richard Blumenthal and Sheldon Whitehouse, two former attorneys general from neighboring Connecticut, and Rhode Island, will soon be reintroduced in the U.S. Senate.

Opposing animal cruelty is a nonpartisan issue, and we call the members of Congress from Massachusetts — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, and Reps. Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, Lori Trahan, Jake Auchincloss, Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton, Ayanna Pressley, Stephen Lynch, and William Keating — to cosponsor and back the ACE Act to help crackdown on this horrific blood-sport that continues to plague the commonwealth.

This isn’t Ancient Rome — it’s 2021. No civilized society should tolerate this form of staged cruelty.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C. who was named as one of The Hill’s Top Lobbyists for 2020 and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect animals. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @MartyIrby

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As Trump Prosecutor, V.I. Delegate Plaskett Gets Her Say In Impeachment Trial

WASHINGTON (AP) — Stacey Plaskett couldn’t cast a vote last month when the House impeached former President Donald Trump. But she can help prosecute him.

The non-voting delegate from the U.S. Virgin Islands is among the impeachment managers selected by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to argue the case that Trump incited a deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It’s an extraordinary moment that places Plaskett in the center of just the fourth impeachment trial of an American president.

But there will also be a familiar dynamic when Plaskett walks into the Senate chamber, one that she’s experienced from elementary school through her legal career: being one of the only Black women in the room. Now that Kamala Harris has left the Senate to become vice president, there are only two Black senators left, both male. The chamber remains overwhelmingly white despite growing diversity in the House.

Like most of the impeachment managers, Plaskett brings considerable legal experience to the case, including a stint in the Bronx District Attorney’s office and as a senior counsel at the Justice Department. She said being asked to join the team was an invigorating way to deal with the catastrophic events of January 6, when she and her staff barricaded themselves in her office as the rioters descended on the Capitol.

“My method of handling things like this is to work,” Plaskett said, adding that receiving the unexpected call from Pelosi “really gave me a charge and something to do.”

As an impeachment manager, it falls to Plaskett and the other Democrats to break through partisan divisions and persuade skeptical Republicans in the Senate — 45 of whom have already voted for an effort to dismiss the case — that they should take the unprecedented step of convicting Trump and barring him from office.

To do so, they’ll have to retell the harrowing events of Jan. 6, when hundreds of people, some bearing racist and anti-Semitic symbols on their clothing, terrorized the Capitol and forced lawmakers into hiding. They intend to link it all to Trump, the man they say is “singularly responsible” for the riot by telling his supporters to “fight like hell” against the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.

Trump’s rhetoric, Plaskett said, was “an attempt to destroy what I believe America is.”

As a woman of color, Plaskett says she’ll be speaking at the trial for individuals who were “particularly traumatized by what happened on January 6th. You know, as an African-American, as a woman seeing individuals storming our most sacred place of democracy, wearing anti-Semitic, racist, neo-Nazi, white supremacy logos on their bodies and wreaking the most vile and hateful things.”

The trial also gives Plaskett a chance to work alongside Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., the lead impeachment manager who was one of her law school professors at American University’s Washington College of Law. She called him an “incredible man” and said his ability to “be inclusive, and to tease out and to encourage people to share” has brought her back to those days.

In turn, Raskin said Plaskett was “truly dazzling” as a law school student.

“Other students used to take notes when she spoke and that was amazing to me,” Raskin says. “She struck me quickly in class as a potentially brilliant prosecutor and I encouraged her to take that path. I could not be prouder of her career, and adore her even though she has more seniority than me and teases me about that constantly.”

Plaskett was born in the Bronx to parents who moved to the United States from the Virgin Islands. At 13, she started at an exclusive Connecticut boarding school were she says she “continually had to raise my hand and try and speak to non-minority people about actions and events to let them see through a lens that what has happened is, in fact, racist or demonstrates their privilege.”

Pelosi’s impeachment team is diverse — including Colorado Rep. Joe Neguse, who is also Black — but Plaskett will be the first manager of a presidential impeachment from a U.S. territory.

Plaskett says people in the Virgin Islands — once home to a young Alexander Hamilton — may live in a small place, but don’t think of themselves as small people. “We’re big shots in everything we do,” she said.

“Virgin Islanders are always looking for space to be a part of this America and try to make it better, even without a vote,” she said.

“I’m going to make sure that their voice and the voice of people from territories representing four million Americans — Puerto Rico and other places — are actually heard.”

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Democratic-Led House, Drawing A Line, Kicks Greene Off Committees

WASHINGTON — A fiercely divided House tossed Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene off both her committees today, an unprecedented punishment that Democrats said she’d earned by spreading hateful and violent conspiracy theories.

Underscoring the political vise her inflammatory commentary has clamped her party into, nearly all Republicans voted against the Democratic move but none defended her lengthy history of outrageous social media posts.

Yet in a riveting moment, the freshman Republican from a deep-red corner of rural Georgia took to the House floor on her own behalf. She offered a mixture of backpedaling and finger-pointing as she wore a dark mask emblazoned with the words “FREE SPEECH.”

The chamber’s near party-line 230-199 vote was the latest instance of conspiracy theories becoming pitched political battlefields, an increasingly familiar occurrence during Donald Trump’s presidency. He faces Senate trial next week for his House impeachment for inciting insurrection after a mob he fueled with his false narrative of a stolen election attacked the Capitol.

Today’s fight also underscored the uproar and political complexities that Greene — a master of provoking Democrats, promoting herself and raising campaign money — has prompted since becoming a House candidate last year.

Eleven Republicans joined 219 Democrats in backing Greene’s ejection from her committees, while 199 GOP lawmakers voted “no.”

Addressing her colleagues, Greene tried to dissociate herself from her “words of the past.” Contradicting past social media posts, she said she believes the 9-11 attacks and mass school shootings were real and no longer believes QAnon conspiracy theories, which include lies about Democratic-run pedophile rings.

But she didn’t explicitly apologize for supportive online remarks she’s made on other subjects, as when she mulled about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi being assassinated or the possibility of Jewish-controlled space rays causing wildfires. And she portrayed herself as the victim of unscrupulous “big media companies.”

News organizations “can take teeny, tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us, and can portray us as someone that we’re not,” she said. She added that “we’re in a real big problem” if the House punished her but tolerated “members that condone riots that have hurt American people” — a clear reference to last summer’s social justice protests that in some instances became violent.

As No 2. Senate Republican John Thune warned Tuesday, McCarthy has chosen to make House Republicans “the party of conspiracy theories and QAnon” and Reprsentative Greene is in the driver’s seat.

“The party of Lincoln is becoming the party of violent conspiracy theories, and apparently the leaders of the Republican Party in the House today are not going to do a damned thing about it,” said Rep. James McGovern, D-Massachusetts.

Republicans tread carefully but found rallying points.

McCarthy said Greene’s past opinions “do not represent the views of my party.” But without naming the offenders, he said Pelosi hadn’t stripped committee memberships from Democrats who became embroiled in controversy. Among those he implicated was Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who made anti-Israel insults for which she later apologized.

“If that’s the new standard,” he said of Democrats’ move against Greene, “we have a long list.”

Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said Democrats were setting a precedent by punishing lawmakers for statements made before they were even candidates for Congress. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, warned, “You engage in wrong-speak, you’re in the Thunder Dome,” a term for an enclosed wrestling arena.

Committee assignments are crucial for lawmakers for shaping legislation affecting their districts, creating a national reputation and raising campaign contributions. Even social media stars like Greene could find it harder to define themselves without the spotlights that committees provide.

Not all Republicans were in forgiving moods, especially in the Senate. There, fringe GOP candidates have lost winnable races in recent years and leaders worry a continued linkage with Trump and conspiracists will inflict more damage.

That chamber’s minority leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., this week called Greene’s words a “cancer” on the GOP and country. On Thursday, No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Thune of South Dakota amplified that thinking.

Thune said House Republicans needed to issue a “really strong” rebuke of Greene’s conspiratorial formulations. Republicans must “get away from members dabbling in conspiracy theories,” Thune said. “I don’t think that’s a productive course of action or one that’s going to lead to much prosperity politically in the future.”

The fight came a day after Republicans resolved another battle and voted to keep Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., in their leadership. Pro-Trump conservatives tried removing her because she supported Trump’s impeachment.

The House resolution punishing Greene was barely over a page. It said House rules require lawmakers’ behavior to “reflect credibly” on the chamber and said Greene should be removed “in light of conduct she has exhibited.”

News organizations have unearthed countless social media videos and “likes” in which Greene embraced absurd theories like suspicions that Hillary Clinton was behind the 1999 death of John F. Kennedy Jr. Greene responded, “Stage is being set,” when someone posted a question about hanging Clinton and former President Barack Obama.

The Greene saga might not yet be over: Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), who has introduced a resolution to expel Greene from the House, said he still intended to force a vote on that question, but said he was in talks with Democratic leaders about the timing of the move. The House is expected to take a two-week recess after it completes its business this week.

Gomez said Thursday’s vote — and Greene’s speech — did little to soothe Democrats’ anger, which remains raw just four weeks after the deadly riot.

“If Donald Trump is Conspirator No. 1 in the insurrection, she’s Conspirator No. 2,” he said. “That’s why I’m pursuing this, is to send a message that this kind of discourse in our politics is not acceptable — inciting political violence, threatening people, is not acceptable and a person like that should not hold a position in the House of Representatives.”

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V.I. Delegate Stacey Plaskett Appointed To House Budget Committee By Democratic Caucus

WASHINGTON — Non-voting Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress Stacey Plaskett said Wednesday that she has been appointed to the House Budget Committee by the Democratic caucus.

The Budget Committee’s chief responsibility is to draft an annual concurrent resolution on the budget that provides the other congressional committees a framework for spending and revenue levels, the federal surplus or deficit, and public debt.

The budget resolution can contain reconciliation instructions directing authorizing committees to change laws in their jurisdiction to change revenues or mandatory spending levels as well as being able to provide mechanisms that aid in enforcing budget procedures in general or for particular purposes.

Plaskett stated, “I am honored to be chosen to serve on the House Budget Committee in the 117th Congress. I intend to work with my colleagues to craft a budget that strengthens our national security, rebuilds our nation’s safety net, reduces income inequality and puts our nation and the people of the Virgin Islands on the path toward a more just and sustainable future. “As we face a global pandemic, a budget with the right priorities is more important than ever to lift millions out of poverty and reinvest in the needs of our communities. Those priorities include creating millions of new jobs by rebuilding and modernizing our nation’s infrastructure, improving education and opportunities for every child, responding to the climate emergency, and building a sustainable green economy future.

The work of the committee is incredibly crucial during the beginning of the Biden Administration.

“I’m excited by the opportunities to work hard in these positions of leadership,” Plaskett said. “At the end of the day, for me, these appointments are about having a seat at the table to advocate for the people who sent me to Washington and who I fight for — the people of the Virgin Islands.”

Democratic Budget Committee members are primarily appointed for these exclusive committees because the Democratic caucus controls the leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Along with the House Budget Committee, it is responsible for drafting Congress’ annual budget plan and monitoring action on the budget for the federal government. In addition, the Budget Committees have jurisdiction over the Congressional Budget Office (cbo.gov)

It is considered the most powerful congressional committee — it is the one that all United States congressmen and congresswomen aspire to be on.

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House of Representatives Approves $2,000 Coronavirus Aid Checks Sought By Trump

PALM BEACH, Florida — The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives voted 275-134 to meet President Donald Trump’s demand for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks on Monday, sending the measure on to an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate.

But even as Democrats helped secure approval for what the Republican president sought on stimulus payments, they spearheaded a House vote just a short time later to override his veto of a separate $740 billion defense policy bill. The rebuke, in Trump’s final weeks in office, would be the first veto override of his presidency if seconded by the Senate this week.

Trump last week threatened to block a massive pandemic aid and spending package if Congress did not boost stimulus payments from $600 to $2,000 and cut other spending. He backed down from his demands on Sunday as a possible government shutdown loomed, brought on by the fight with lawmakers.

But Democratic lawmakers have long wanted $2,000 relief checks and used the rare point of agreement with Trump to advance the proposal – or at least to put Republicans on record against it – in the vote on Monday, less than a month before he leaves office.

House of Representatives Approves ,000 Coronavirus Aid Checks Sought By Trump

SPENDING AND CORONAVIRUS AID PACKAGE

The 275 votes for passage meant the stimulus proposal narrowly exceeded the two-thirds of votes cast needed. A total of 130 Republicans, two independents and two Democrats opposed the increased checks on Monday.

Trump, who lost November’s election to Democratic challenger Joe Biden but has refused to concede defeat, finally signed the $2.3 trillion package into law after holding it up with a veiled veto threat. But he continued demanding $2,000 checks.

The $2.3 trillion includes $1.4 trillion in spending to fund government agencies and $892 billion in COVID-19 relief.

It is not clear how the measure to increase aid checks will fare in the Senate, where individual Republican lawmakers have complained the higher amount would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the latest relief bill.

Increasing the checks would cost $464 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, which prepares cost estimates for legislation before Congress.

The Senate is due to convene on Tuesday, and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said he would then seek passage of the higher stimulus checks bill in the chamber, where Republicans have the majority. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Sunday made no mention of Senate plans for a vote, after welcoming Trump’s signing of the relief bill.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed nearly 330,000 people in the United States and led to widespread economic hardship, with millions of families relying on unemployment benefits and COVID-19 relief funds.

Global markets were buoyed after Trump approved the package.

Wall Street’s main indexes hit record highs on Monday as Trump’s signing of the aid bill bolstered bets on an economic recovery and drove gains in financial and energy stocks.

House of Representatives Approves ,000 Coronavirus Aid Checks Sought By Trump

PELOSI: ‘REPUBLICANS HAVE A CHOICE’

As the floor debate was under way, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “Republicans have a choice, vote for this legislation, or vote to deny the American people the bigger paychecks that they need.”

And Democratic U.S. Representative Dan Kildee said: “We would have included much larger payments in the legislation had he (Trump) spoken up sooner. But it’s never too late to do the right thing.”

Asked at the end of an event in Wilmington, Delaware, whether he supported expanding the coronavirus payments to $2,000, Biden replied: “Yes.”

Georgia Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who face crucial Senate runoffs next month that could determine who controls the chamber, welcomed Trump’s move, without saying whether the payments should be increased.

Republican Representative Kevin Brady said the bill does nothing to help people get back to work. “I worry that as we spend another half a trillion dollars so hastily, that we are not targeting this help to the Americans who are struggling the most and need that help,” he said.

The U.S. Treasury Department is anticipating sending the first wave of $600 stimulus checks to U.S. individuals and households as early as this week, as previously planned, a senior Treasury official said on Monday.

HOUSE OVERRIDES VETO

Also in the hands of the Senate, for a vote expected this week, will be whether to override Trump’s veto of the defense bill. In Monday’s 322-87 House vote, which met the two-thirds majority needed, only 66 Republicans sided with Trump’s rejection of the bipartisan bill, underscoring deep divisions in the Republican Party.

House of Representatives Approves ,000 Coronavirus Aid Checks Sought By Trump
President Trump golfing in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump, who is angry that some Republicans have acknowledged his loss to Biden, vetoed the defense bill last Wednesday. He said he was against it because he wanted it to overturn liability protections for social media companies unrelated to national security, and opposed a provision to rename military bases named after generals who fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters that Trump’s veto had been “stupid” and “small-minded.” “This was too irrational a move for the Republicans to rationalize,” the Democratic lawmaker said, predicting that the Senate would take similar action.

—REUTERS

Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan in Washington and Steve Holland in Palm Beach; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Simon Lewis; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and David Brunnstrom; Editing by Alistair Bell and Howard Goller

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles