McConnell is killing $2,000 stimulus checks by tying them to Section 230
Both efforts are probably doomed.
Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is tying the fate of $2,000 stimulus checks to the repeal of Section 230, an effort that will likely doom both pieces of legislation in the Senate.
McConnell on Tuesday teed up a bill to increase government stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000 and repeal Section 230, the law underpinning the modern internet.
"Here's the deal: The Senate is not going to split apart the three issues that President Trump linked together," McConnell said on Wednesday, referring to the $2,000 checks, Section 230 and an election fraud study.
Democrats have emphasized that those provisions would be a non-starter and amount to a "poison pill" that makes passing the $2,000 checks impossible.
Even top Republican senators sounded skeptical of the effort before it was officially announced by McConnell. GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who is typically a swing vote, told Protocol she believes Section 230 should be "reformed" but does not support repeal and does not believe it should be tied to the prospect of stimulus checks.
And Sen. John Cornyn, a high-ranking Republican with a close relationship with McConnell, said he doesn't believe Section 230 is "germane" to the COVID relief issues at hand.
Trump over the weekend demanded that the Senate pass legislation to increase payments to Americans to $2,000 while repealing Section 230. He said that was part of the deal he struck with congressional leaders in order for him to sign the $2.3 trillion COVID relief and government spending package.
McConnell acknowledged Trump's request on Tuesday, saying he requested to have the issues "linked." He promised that the Senate would "begin a process to bring these priorities into focus" this week.
Aides and lobbyists told Protocol that it's almost impossible that McConnell has secured enough votes in the Senate to pass legislation that would increase checks to $2,000 and repeal Section 230. It appears to be a political move that allows McConnell to appease some of the president's top priorities without passing difficult legislation, they said.
"The American people overwhelmingly support $2,000 relief checks," said Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, who helped write the original Section 230 statute. "Mitch McConnell knows that blocking $2,000 relief checks is politically toxic for Sens. Loeffler and Perdue, so he's going to tie the checks to a poison pill like rewriting our Internet laws. It's a classic McConnell move: Use process gimmicks to kill popular policies and try to deflect the blame."
Even some of the senators most intent on reforming the bedrock internet law said this legislative effort has little to do with tech companies and their legal protections.
"I'm hardly shy about criticizing Section 230, but making a lifeline for struggling families contingent on a half-baked, meat-ax evisceration of the law is cruel and stupid," said Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who introduced the EARN IT Act, which would narrow tech's legal protections. "Americans deserve relief without delay, and reforming Section 230 deserves its own debate — one that I've helped lead in Congress, and which I look forward to continuing with a more serious, thoughtful administration in January."
Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, who has also introduced legislation to tweak the controversial law, said this is not "a serious lawmaking effort."
"I have a bipartisan bill that simply updates the law in practical ways, but the reason no one is talking about it is BECAUSE it is a serious attempt at making a law," Schatz said.
The vote is set to be held later this week. McConnell could still choose to hold a vote on the House-passed bill to increase stimulus payments to $2,000.
Read the bill below.
Update: This article was updated at 12:45 p.m. Wednesday to include Mitch McConnell's comments.
Emily Birnbaum ( @birnbaum_e) is a tech policy reporter with Protocol. Her coverage focuses on the U.S. government's attempts to regulate one of the most powerful industries in the world, with a focus on antitrust, privacy and politics. Previously, she worked as a tech policy reporter with The Hill after spending several months as a breaking news reporter. She is a Bethesda, Maryland native and proud Kenyon College alumna.