Sen. Joe Manchin said Friday that he would "absolutely not" support sending Americans a $2,000 stimulus check, potentially dealing a fatal blow to a key part of President-elect Joe Biden's coronavirus relief plan.
Twin victories by Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the Georgia run-off elections this week clinched Democrats a 50-50 split in the Senate, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris able to cast a tie-breaking vote. The narrow majority will likely make moderate senators like Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, some of the most powerful members of the chamber.
“Absolutely not. No,” Manchin told The Washington Post on Friday, when asked whether he supports a fresh round of stimulus checks. “Getting people vaccinated, that’s job No. 1.”
“How is the money that we invest now going to help us best to get jobs back and get people employed?" he continued. "And I can’t tell you that sending another check out is gonna do that to a person that’s already got a check."
Biden initially wavered on whether he supported a $2,000 cash payment, but in the final days before the Georgia runoffs — which played a key role in whether he'd be able to accomplish his legislative agenda — the incoming president threw his full weight behind the proposal.
"If you send Jon and the Reverend to Washington, those $2,000 checks will go out the door," Biden said on the eve of the special elections. "And if you send Sens. Perdue and Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there. It's just that simple. The power is literally in your hands."
Ossoff and Warnock both vowed on the campaign trail to support the $2,000 checks if elected, and Democrats have indicated this week they want to make good on the promise.
“One of the first things that I want to do when our new senators are seated is deliver the $2,000 checks to the American families,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who will become majority leader, told reporters on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for Manchin told FOX Business the senator wants to prioritize distributing and administering the COVID-19 vaccine "as quickly and safely as possible."
"He has also said repeatedly that when the Biden administration comes in they can assess the needs of the American people and submit proposals to Congress about how best to address those needs," said Sam Runyon, Manchin's spokesperson. "When the time comes, Senator Manchin will evaluate those proposals. He has also made clear that the focus when delivering economic relief must be on those who are unemployed through no fault of their own.”
The federal government has already sent a majority of American households two direct cash payments: The first, worth up to $1,200 for individuals, went out in April, and the second, worth up to $600 for individuals, is still in the process of being delivered.
It's unclear if Democrats would send a third round of $2,000 payments or whether they would propose increasing the recent $600 check to $2,000. It's also not clear whether House and Senate Democrats would try to pass the payments as a standalone bill or as part of a broader COVID-19 relief package.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., indicated during a CNN interview on Thursday that he would push for a more comprehensive aid package that included a $2,000 payment, likely teeing up a battle with lawmakers like Manchin.
"The first order of business, by the way, is to pass an emergency COVID-19 bill which, among many other things, says to working-class Americans: We know you're in pain. And we're going to get you a $2,000 check for every working-class adult in this country. We are on your side," Sanders said.
FOX Business' Edward Lawrence contributed to this report