President Donald Trump on Tuesday threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief program amid a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty, suddenly demanding changes Republicans opposed.
Trump attacked the bipartisan $900 billion package in a video he tweeted on Tuesday night and suggested he could not sign the law. He called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.
Opposing a series of provisions in the bill, including foreign aid, he told lawmakers to “get rid of unnecessary and unnecessary elements of this legislation and send me an appropriate bill.”
Trump did not expressly promise to veto the bill, and congressional legislation may have enough backing to replace it if he does. But if Trump were to overturn the sprawling legislation, the consequences would be severe, including no federal help for struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution. Additionally, as lawmakers tied the pandemic relief bill to a blanket funding measure, the government would shut down on December 29th.
The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-strapped public transportation systems, increased food stamp benefits and an estimated $ 4 billion to help other countries deliver COVID-19 vaccine to their populations.
Lawmakers have spent months at a standstill over pandemic relief funds, even as cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed across the country. Democrats had pushed for higher payments to Americans, but compromised with Republicans to allow a deal to unfold.
Following Trump’s interjection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but dared Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to respond to the president’s demand for much higher payments.
“Finally, the president accepted $ 2,000. Democrats are prepared to raise this issue this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it! Pelosi said in a tweet. One aide said she would present the proposal on Thursday for a vote.
Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on pandemic relief and only agreed to the big end-of-year package long enough to strike a final deal. And Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Leader of the Senate, said “Trump must sign the bill to help the people and keep the government open,” and Congress would step up for more help afterwards.
Trump’s call for changes to the law will test his influence with a Republican party over which he has exercised close control throughout his presidency. Several Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, began to cautiously break with Trump and acknowledge his defeat to President-elect Joe Biden, a step Trump refused to take. McConnell also warned Republicans against challenging the January 6th election, when Congress is due to officially confirm the results.
Shortly after blasting the relief bill, Trump challenged McConnell and Senator John Thune, the second Senate Republican who also said any effort to overturn Biden’s victory would be in vain. Trump has said he will support a main challenge for Thune when he is re-elected in 2022.
Trump’s threats to delay pandemic legislation could also complicate matters for Republicans in Georgia, where two second-round races to determine Senate control will take place in January. The senses David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have come forward as staunch supporters of Trump and will now question whether they will support his call for more money for Americans.
Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic opponent, simply tweeted Tuesday night: “$2,000 in checks now.”
The relief package was presented Monday afternoon and dispatched by the House and Senate within hours as lawmakers worked to close the books of the year. While many lawmakers have complained that they did not have so little time to read the bill, they voted overwhelmingly for it as local businesses and voters seek economic relief from the pandemic.
The Senate cleared the huge relief package with a 92-6 vote after the House approved it with another imbalanced vote, 359-53. Those vote totals would be enough to override a veto if Trump decides to take this step.
After months of partisanship and politics over easing the pandemic, the blockade was broken after Biden urged his party to agree to a compromise with the main Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.
The relief bill that Trump criticizes would establish a temporary additional allowance of $300 per week for the unemployed and a direct stimulus payment of $600 to most Americans, as well as a new round of grants for businesses, hard-hit restaurants and theatres and money for schools and health care providers and tenants threatened with eviction.
Earlier today, Biden praised lawmakers for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, “but it provides vital relief at a critical time.”
He also said more relief would be needed in the coming months. “We have our first clue and glimpse of bipartisanship,” Biden said. “In this election, the American people made it clear that they want us to cross the aisle and work together.”