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Relief and government funding in doubt as Trump delays signing of bill

Trump, standing in front of U.S. flags, speaks in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 4.
President Trump, shown speaking at the White House on Nov. 4, repeated his opposition to the stimulus bill on Saturday.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

President Trump on Saturday again blasted a massive economic stimulus bill overwhelmingly approved by Congress this week as the ramifications of a last-minute veto threat came into greater focus for the millions of Americans set to lose enhanced unemployment benefits or face eviction from their homes without new legislation.

The standoff between Trump and Congress grew deeper Saturday, with no clarity on how they might come to a resolution. Congressional Republicans and Democrats have expressed frustration since Trump sharply criticized the package Tuesday in a White House video and on Twitter, despite having played little role in the long and difficult negotiations before its passage the previous day by both Houses.

Trump repeated his opposition to the size of the checks on Saturday, suggesting he would not sign the legislation without increasing them.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump tweeted, referring to the stimulus checks that would go to millions of Americans. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

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Enhanced unemployment benefits approved earlier this year were to expire Saturday, threatening benefits for an estimated 12 million Americans, according to the Century Foundation. Even if Trump eventually signs the bill, people eligible for unemployment benefits are likely to lose at least one week’s worth because the bill was not signed quickly enough for computer systems to be updated in time for next week’s payments, according to Democratic lawmakers.

Without the $2.3-trillion spending bill, the federal government would run out of funding Monday evening, sparking the third shutdown of Trump’s four-year presidency.

A federal moratorium on housing evictions, which the legislation would have extended for another month, is set to expire Thursday, allowing thousands of efforts to remove renters to proceed. In 27 American cities alone, landlords have filed more than 162,000 evictions during the pandemic, according to Eviction Lab, a tracking program at Princeton University.

The bill also contains billions of dollars for other time-sensitive initiatives, such as vaccine distribution and COVID-19 testing.

Trump said he would veto the bill because the checks were too small, bringing him in line with Democrats, who have long demanded larger payments. The standoff pits Trump against congressional Republicans, who don’t want to add to the debt to pay for the larger checks.

The potential veto comes as Trump and many congressional Republicans have been at odds over the president’s unsubstantiated claims that the presidential election was stolen from him. Trump wants Republicans to object to the electoral college results in early January, an effort that Senate Republicans have refused to take up.

Eager to take advantage of Trump’s position on the relief package’s direct assistance to Americans, House Democratic leaders have scheduled a vote Monday on adding a $2,000 check to the bill, forcing Republicans into the uncomfortable position of siding with the president or sticking with their prior position against the larger payments.

“If the president is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said Thursday when she announced the vote.

“Democrats would love to [give] $2,000 to all of our families,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) told CNN on Saturday morning. “I don’t know what kind of game [Trump is] playing. I don’t know what the Republicans will do.”

If such a bill passes the Democratic-controlled House as expected, the Senate is likely to block it, according to Republican senators.

Some on Capitol Hill suspect — or hope — that Trump will drop the veto threat, as he has done in similar circumstances.

“The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill, and I still hope that’s what he decides,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters Thursday.

If the stalemate continues, Congress could try to override Trump’s veto. The bill passed with a large enough margin in both chambers to become law without Trump’s signature, so long as no one changes his or her vote.

But a veto override is fraught with uncertainty. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who golfed with Trump on Christmas Day, said he would not override Trump’s veto.

“After spending some time with President [Trump] today, I am convinced he is more determined than ever to increase stimulus payments to $2000 per person and challenge Section 230 big tech liability protection,” Graham tweeted, referring to the president’s simultaneous call to remove liability protections from social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook in the defense spending bill, which Trump has already vetoed.

Critics have noted the irony in Trump’s efforts: Social media companies would surely boot Trump from their platforms to reduce their liability over his frequently false, disparaging and potentially libelous missives.

Congress is already prepared in the coming week to override the defense spending bill veto, which would be the first veto override of Trump’s presidency. The House is due to vote Monday to overturn his veto. If the chamber passes the bill by the required margin, the Senate plans to come back to Washington on Tuesday to take a similar vote.

Trump was all but absent from the pandemic relief talks, to congressional Republicans’ frustration. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin was dispatched to negotiate with lawmakers on the White House’s behalf.

The president did not publicly weigh in until shortly after Congress approved the bill, issuing a video criticizing it as a pork-laden giveaway. Despite his last-minute objections, his administration had advanced many of the items he found objectionable, such as foreign aid programs.

“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests,” Trump said, “while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it.”

Lawmakers were blindsided by the veto threat, having been told by Mnuchin that the White House backed the deal.

“We’ve been assured that the president would sign the bill,” Blunt said, “and I have no reason to believe that Secretary Mnuchin didn’t believe that.”


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