Republicans Slam Biden's Stimulus Checks to Prisoners After Supporting Them Under Trump

Republicans have attacked Democrats for passing President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that will allow prisoners to receive the $1,400 direct payments. But the critics supported checks to incarcerated people under former President Donald Trump.

On Saturday, Democrats blocked an amendment to the COVID-19 relief bill offered by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana that would have prevented the $1,400 checks from going to incarcerated people and undocumented immigrants.

The Senate then passed Biden's America Rescue Plan largely along party lines, with all 48 Democrats and two independents who caucus with them in the chamber supporting and 49 Republicans opposing the bill.

Cotton quickly criticized the decision, tweeting, "Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston Bomber, murdered three people and terrorized a city. He'll be getting a $1,400 stimulus check as part of the Democrats' 'COVID relief' bill." He also appeared on Fox News Monday morning to call sending checks to prisoners a "crazy" liberal plan.

Tom Cotton on Capitol Hill
Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas speaks during a Senate Banking Committee hearing about the quarterly CARES Act report on Capitol Hill December 1, 2020 in Washington, DC. Al Drago/Getty Images

Freshman Rep. Madison Cawthorn of North Carolina highlighted Cotton's statement on Twitter, adding, "So Democrats are now prioritizing the economic interests of other nations and terrorists before our own citizens. How progressive of them."

The bill was the first stimulus measure to pass since Cawthorn took his seat at the start of the 117th Congress on January 3. However, the other Republicans had all voted for stimulus checks that went to prisoners last year while Trump was president.

Last March, the Senate unanimously passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus package that included $1,200 direct payments for individuals in an effort to boost the economy as the pandemic took hold. Prisoners also received the checks as the CARES Act did not include language barring prisoners from receiving the payments.

The Internal Revenue Service attempted to retroactively prevent incarcerated people from receiving the checks, but the effort was shot down after a federal judge ruled in favor of prisoners in a class-action lawsuit.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act, the second relief bill passed in late December, provided $600 direct payments to individuals, which also went to prisoners. Cotton voted for both bills, but Cruz and Cassidy were among the six Republicans who voted against the second one.

In a statement to Newsweek, James Arnold, Cotton's press secretary, insisted that the senator has opposed sending checks to prisoners from the beginning.

"When CARES was passed, the IRS put out guidance saying prisoners weren't eligible. That was overruled in October by a federal court that said the law only required a social security number to be eligible, and so prisoners could get their checks—litigation has been pending," he said. "In the second bill, there wasn't an opportunity to offer amendments to address the issue."

"Whatever the unintended consequences of past legislation, Democrats had a clear cut chance this time to vote on this issue specifically."

After passing the Senate, the latest American Rescue Plan bill now moves back to the House for a final vote on the amendments. Democratic leaders have expressed hope that the measure will move through the House as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday. Biden on Saturday vowed that the $1,400 checks will be sent out to Americans this month.