6 takeaways from the Senate's approval of Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden won preliminary approval Saturday of his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill after a bleary-eyed Senate voted 50-49 for the package along party lines, capping more than 27 hours of debate and giving Biden his first major legislative victory.

A final vote is required next week for the Democratic-controlled House to adopt the Senate version of the bill before Biden can sign it into law, but approval is expected.

"The bottom line is this," Biden said in a nine-minute speech from the White House's State Dining Room praising the Senate's vote. "This plan puts on a path to beating this virus."

Here are six takeaways from the marathon Senate vote and what it means for Biden and millions of Americans awaiting relief.

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1. Shut out by Republicans

Biden campaigned on bipartisanship following four divisive years under Donald Trump. Yet he was not able to win over a single Senate Republican – not even moderates like Susan Collins of Maine or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – to support legislation that will likely be less controversial than future battles on immigration, health care and infrastructure.

The Senate's approval was completely party-line, one week after the House's 219-212 vote in which no Republicans backed the bill (and two Democrats broke ranks to oppose it). The lack of bipartisan support shows that breaking through the gridlock isn't as easy as Biden predicted as a candidate.

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 06: President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed the bill 50-49 which will go back to the House for a final vote.
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 06: President Joe Biden speaks from the State Dining Room following the passage of the American Rescue Plan in the U.S. Senate at the White House on March 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. The Senate passed the bill 50-49 which will go back to the House for a final vote.

Ten Republican senators met with Biden in the White House last month to seek a compromise. But they put forward a significantly smaller $681 billion proposal that was a non-starter for the president. He quickly abandoned talks and moved full-speed ahead on approving his legislation in full.

It's a gamble for Biden. Yet Republicans also face risks politically by opposing a bill that is popular among Americans.

The White House has argued that the relief package, even without any GOP votes, is bipartisan because of its widespread support in the public. A Morning Consult poll this week found 76% of Americans support the bill including 60% of Republican voters.

"Look, the American people strongly support what we’re doing," Biden said, downplaying the lack of votes from Republican members of Congress. "That’s the key here."

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2. The Senate's all-nighter

With Republicans seeking to slow down the bill's passage with an onslaught of amendments, the Senate's debate extended more than 27 hours.

Some senators appeared to nod off at their desks, stirring in time to cast their votes on amendments. Others moved around, as if to stay awake. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., began chatting about "Baconators," a Wendy’s breakfast sandwich, as he spoke with Virginia Democrat Mark Warner about food options.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber just after voting against the Democrat's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, March 6, 2021.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., leaves the chamber just after voting against the Democrat's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday, March 6, 2021.

The loudest and most sustained ovation from all the senators came after Schumer praised Senate staff, cafeteria workers, custodial staff and Capitol Police, some of whom worked straight through as the session wound over parts of three days. That included the nearly 11 hours that Senate clerks were forced to read aloud the entire text of the 628-page bill as part of Wisconsin GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s efforts to delay passage of the measure.

It marked one of the longest overnight sessions in the last few years in the Senate. The longest session, however, was one that went for over 125 hours in 1960 as senators debated a civil rights measure.

3. Manchin's outsized role leads to White House concession

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., has emerged as the most important vote in the Senate.

Anyone who thought his outsized influence in the evenly divided Senate was overstated needed only to see how the chamber came to a screeching halt when the West Virginia moderate raised questions about the size of unemployment benefits.

Manchin already effectively derailed one of Biden's Cabinet nominees. And he showed his clout again during the debate of Bidens' COVID-19 relief bill. After he objected to the $400-per-week payments, it was lowered to $300 following an hours-long delay where the senator was at the center of negotiations.

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Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speak as they arrive to vote in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, speak as they arrive to vote in the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday.

Biden personally called Manchin to keep the senator on board, Politico and NBC reported.

Expect Manchin’s role as deal-maker to only expand after the COVID relief vote.

4. $15 minimum wage fails

A faction of Democratic senators joined all Senate Republicans to defeat a proposal pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders' proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour on Friday.

The Vermont independent tried to add the provision back in Biden's COVID-19 bill, but his effort failed in a 58-42 vote with eight members of the Senate Democratic caucus voting against it.

More: Group of Senate Democrats and Republicans vote to keep $15 minimum wage out of Biden's COVID stimulus bill

The eight senators included both from Biden's home state of Delaware – Chris Coons and Tom Carper – as well as Manchin, New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jon Tester of Montana, and Angus King, an independent from Maine who is a member of the Democratic caucus.

Biden has remained steadfast in his support of a minimum wage hike, but it's unclear how that plan can move forward without all Democrats on board. Even Sanders conceded before the vote that the COVID relief package was by far the best near-term shot to achieve the $15 threshold.

"(The president) will use his political will to get that done," White House press secretary Jen Psaki vowed on Friday, though not revealing a path to accomplish that aim.

5. Price tag remains intact, a win for Biden

To fend off naysayers about the bill's hefty price tag, Biden regularly argued the biggest risk was not going "too big," but rather making the bill too small to address the scope of the pandemic.

It was a lesson learned during former President Barack Obama's first term, when Biden was vice president. Biden has said he regrets that the Obama-Biden administration did not put forward a larger stimulus in response to the Great Recession.

In the end, the president got the dollar amount he wanted this time, a full $1.9 trillion, with little variation from the bill he introduced in January.

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., gives a thumbs up after leaving the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 6, 2021 in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., gives a thumbs up after leaving the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol on March 6, 2021 in Washington.

"The end result is essentially about the same," Biden told reporters. "I don't think any of the compromises have in any way fundamentally altered the essence of what I put in the bill in the first place."

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Components of the bill are:

► Provides most Americans earning up to $75,000 a $1,400 stimulus check.

► Extends a $300 weekly federal boost to unemployment benefits through August

► Sends $350 billion to state and local governments whose revenue has declined because of COVID-19's impact on the economy.

► Allocates $130 billion to help fully reopen schools and colleges.

► Allots $30 billion to help renters and landlords weather economic losses.

► Devotes $50 billion for small-business assistance.

► Dedicates $160 billion for vaccine development, distribution and related needs.

► Expands the child tax credit up to $3,600 per child.

6. Relief package doesn’t pass without Georgia

Elections have consequences, and the Senate’s razor-thin vote proved it.

Because no Republicans joined Democrats, passage of the bill would not have been possible were it not for Democrats’ sweep of two Senate runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5.

"There is no question that the people of Georgia deserve a great deal of credit for what happened here today," Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., told reporters. "We simply would not be here. Had they not stood up in such a profound way in this historic election."

Victories for Democratic Sens. Jon Ossoff and Warnock created a 50-50 tie in the Senate, effectively giving Democrats power because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability to break ties.

Staff reporter Nicholas Wu contributed to this report. Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @Joeygarrison.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 6 takeaways: Senate's approval of Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill

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