Pressure mounting on Donald Trump ally Lindsay Graham over Georgia ballots phone call (Getty Images)

Sen Lindsey Graham has broken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s opposition to an increase of the $600 coronavirus relief direct payments to $2,000.

The senator, who after being a vocal detractor of Donald Trump has become one of his staunchest allies, has not unexpectedly sided with the president in the ongoing battle over coronavirus relief funding.

Mr Trump threatened to veto the $900bn coronavirus relief bill, which was packaged with the nation’s defense spending budget for the coming year. He opposed it because he wanted the direct payments to Americans raised to $2,000 per adult, and because he opposed various spending items in the bill, including foreign aid.

Without the budget in place, the government was at risk of shutting down, which would have been devastating for the millions of Americans who still rely on unemployment payments after losing their jobs due to the pandemic.

Mr Trump eventually signed the bill, stating that it was his “responsibility to protect the people of our country from the economic devastation and hardship” caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

At the same time, Democrats launched a failed attempt in the House to raise the direct payments to $2,000. In a bizarre vote, the Senate Republicans shot down the bill supported by Mr Trump and the Democrats.

Since then, Sen. Bernie Sanders threatened to keep the Senators in Washington through the holidays if they did not agree to raise the payments, but Senate Democrats lead by Sen. Chuck Schumer instead opted to cave to Mr McConnell’s demands that any vote on an increase to $2,000 for the American public include a vote on legal protections for companies from litigation stemming from the coronavirus and for an inquiry humouring the president’s election fraud conspiracy theories.

Mr McConnell also wanted to tie a full repeal of Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act to the vote on increased payments. Eliminating Section 230 would effectively eliminate litigation protections for websites where people might post something illegal. That would open up sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit – practically anywhere that allows people to post to the website – up to lawsuits. The repeal is supported by Mr Trump.

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By connecting the two issues, Mr McConnell essentially ensued the vote would be doomed in Congress.

Amid the chaos, Mr Graham said he thought that, should a vote be called, the Senate Republicans could be cajoled into agreeing to the $2,000 payments.

He appeared on Fox & Friends, telling the hosts that “if you had a stand-alone vote on the $2,000 check, it might pass” the Senate.

He acknowledged that the vast majority of Senate Republicans were opposed to giving Americans an extra $2,000 to help them deal with the hardships caused by the coronavirus.

“70 percent of Republicans don’t want to go to 2,000,” he said. “I’m with the president on this. We have seven Republicans who’ve already said they would vote for it. We need five more. I think if we had the vote, we would get there.”

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