COVID-19: President Trump denounces new relief bill, demands changes
President Trump denounced the new COVID-19 relief package he’s expected to sign and urged congressional leaders to make several changes to the bill.
Staff video, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – The fate of a $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package was thrown into doubt Wednesday as lawmakers on Capitol Hill scrambled to address President Donald Trump’s sudden argument that the measure does not provide enough in direct payments.
Congress overwhelmingly approved the bill Monday to offset the economic impact of COVID-19, but Trump called the bipartisan bill a “disgrace” in a video posted to social media late Tuesday, upending weeks of congressional negotiations. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has now called for a Christmas Eve vote to raise the amount of direct stimulus included in the measure to $2,000 from the $600 already approved.
Trump has demanded the higher amount, even as GOP lawmakers – including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his own Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin – rejected that figure during negotiations..
Pelosi, D-Calif., said the House would try to pass an amendment to the bill Thursday if it could receive unanimous support, or “unanimous consent” in congressional parlance. Such a move requires the agreement of GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy, but the California Republican hasn’t yet signaled his position.
“If the president truly wants to join us in $2,000 payments, he should call upon Leader McCarthy to agree to our Unanimous Consent request,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to fellow House Democrats on Wednesday.
The bill, which was attached to a $1.4 trillion spending measure to keep the government running through September, would provide up to $600 in direct stimulus checks to millions of Americans, extended unemployment benefits, and continue a program to help small businesses retain employees .
Trump stopped short of saying he would veto the bill but implied he might. Lawmakers have the numbers to override a veto but they would have to be called back from their holiday recess, complicating and delaying efforts to deal with the president’s complaint.
The president also took issue with funding provisions, like continued foreign aid and support for government-funded arts centers, which were negotiated and approved by Mnuchin, who was seen as speaking for the White House during talks. The foreign aid provisions were also similar to the ones the president proposed in his budget earlier this year.
The president left for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, Wednesday afternoon. With a government shutdown looming at the end of the day on Dec. 28, Trump is not scheduled to return to the White House until Jan. 1, though he could sign the bill into law from Florida.
Trump has played political chicken with Congress on previous spending bills, suggesting he would veto them before ultimately signing them into law.
Progressive Democratic Reps. Rashid Tlaib, D-Mich., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., already have drafted language for a proposal to raise the amount.
“Me and @AOC have the amendment ready,” Tlaib tweeted with a photo of the provision’s language. “Send the bill back, and we will put in the $2,000 we’ve been fighting for that your party has been blocking.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also voiced approval for raising the value of direct stimulus payments to Americans, noting “We spent months trying to secure $2,000 checks but Republicans blocked it. Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open and we’re glad to pass more aid Americans need.”
Trump’s late-stage denunciations have also likely complicated the situation for Georgia Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who both face challenges in a Georgia runoff on Jan. 5. Their Democratic opponents have both said that $600 direct payments were too small, while Loeffler and Perdue did not initially support payments in the package.
A White House holiday rush
Trump’s implied veto threat highlighted a flurry of pre-Christmas activity, including pardons for allies who broke the law, rewarding loyalists with appointments to government boards and more protests of the election that made Joe Biden the president-elect.
The pardons included three former Republican members of Congress – and Trump supporters – who had been convicted of corruption charges, two former advisers ensnared in the investigation of Russian election interference in 2016, and four military contractors involved in killings of civilians in Iraq.
Hours earlier he appointed more than 40 people to federal advisory boards and commissions, including Hope Hicks, one of his closest aides, to the board overseeing the prestigious Fulbright scholarship and Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was part of Trump’s legal team during his impeachment trial, to serve on the board of trustees for the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.
Trump also released a video Tuesday night listing his many protests about the election, claims that have been rejected by judges and court officials across the country.
The video surfaced as Trump urges Republican lawmakers to subvert the election when Congress meets Jan. 6 to certify the Electoral College vote. Some GOP members said they will seek to block Biden electors in certain states, but they do not have the votes in the House or Senate to change Biden’s victory.