Trump golfs in Florida as COVID relief hangs in the balance
After tossing a grenade that threatens to blow up a massive COVID relief and government funding bill and force a government shutdown in the midst of a pandemic, President Trump spent his Christmas Eve golfing in Florida.
Failure to agree on the bill could deny checks to millions of Americans on the brink.
Trump had no events on his public schedule on the first day of his winter vacation Thursday but traveled to his Palm Beach golf club, where he was spotted by CNN cameras on the links. Reporters were given no details of his schedule for the day, but were told that, “As the Holiday season approaches, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls.”
Trump’s departure came as Washington was still reeling over his surprise, 11th-hour demand that an end-of-year spending bill — which congressional leaders spent months negotiating — give most Americans $2,000 COVID relief checks — far more than the $600 members of his party had agreed to. House Democrats, who have long advocated for more direct payments during the pandemic-induced economic crisis, tried to swiftly approve $2,000 checks, but the idea was blocked by House Republicans during a rare Christmas Eve session, leaving the proposal in limbo.
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The bipartisan compromise bill had been considered a done deal and had won sweeping approval in the House and Senate this week after the White House assured GOP leaders that Trump supported it. If the president refuses to sign the deal, which is attached to a $1.4-trillion government funding bill, it will force a federal government shutdown, in addition to delaying aid checks and halting unemployment benefits and eviction protections in the midst of the most dire stretch of the pandemic.
It was the latest difficulty for congressional Republicans caused by a president who has been raging over his Nov. 3 loss to President-elect Joe Biden and trying to come up with new, increasingly outrageous schemes to try to overturn the results of an election. He has been egged on by allies including his lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who accompanied Trump to Florida aboard Air Force One.
Trump’s ire has been focused in part on Republicans in Congress who he believes have been insufficiently supportive of his quest to delegitimize Biden’s win by lobbing unfounded claims of mass voter fraud before Congress meets to tally the electoral college votes on Jan. 6.
In Florida, Trump continued to try to undermine the democratic process, complaining to members that he had been robbed of the election and voicing frustrations about the year-end spending bill.
“At a meeting in Florida today, everyone was asking why aren’t the Republicans up in arms & fighting over the fact that the Democrats stole the rigged presidential election?” Trump tweeted after he’d returned to his private Mar-a-Lago club. “Especially in the Senate, they said, where you helped 8 Senators win their races.”
“I will NEVER FORGET!” he wrote in another,
The statements underscored concerns that Trump is blowing up the relief bill negotiations to punish lawmakers for what he sees as their insufficient loyalty.
Trump has provided no credible evidence to support his election claims, which have also been refuted by a long list of officials, including former Atty. Gen. William Barr and fellow Republican governors, judges and local election administrators.
Meanwhile, the nation continues to reel as the coronavirus spreads, with record infections, hospitalizations and daily deaths — with more than 328,000 Americans having perished since the start of the pandemic. And millions are now facing the prospect of spending the holidays alone or struggling to make ends meet without adequate income, food or shelter thanks to the economic toll.
To mark the holiday, the president and First Lady Melania Trump tweeted out a prerecorded video message in which they wished Americans a Merry Christmas and thanked first responders and members of the military.
“As you know, this Christmas is different than years past,” said Melania Trump, who focused on the acts of “kindness and courage” the pandemic has inspired.
Trump hailed the vaccine doses now being delivered and thanked those responsible. “It is truly a Christmas miracle,” he said.
Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin have been trying to salvage the year-end legislation to try to prevent a government shutdown. Democrats will recall House lawmakers to Washington for a formal vote Monday on Trump’s $2,000 proposal, though it would probably die in the GOP-controlled Senate. They are also considering a Monday vote on a stopgap measure to avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.
In addition to the relief checks, the COVID bill that passed would establish a temporary $300-per-week supplemental jobless benefit and provide a new round of subsidies for restaurants, theaters and other hard-hit businesses, money for schools, and funding for healthcare providers and to help with COVID vaccine distribution.
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