Trump threatens to torpedo COVID-19 relief bill with new demands
The COVID-19 relief bill has a $600 payment to Americans, but Trump urged Congress to raise ‘the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple.’
President Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief package amid the spiraling pandemic and deep economic uncertainty, suddenly demanding changes that fellow Republicans have opposed.
Trump assailed the bipartisan $900-billion package in a video he tweeted Tuesday night and suggested he may not sign the legislation. He called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.
Railing against several provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, he told lawmakers to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”
Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for the legislation in Congress to override him if he does. But if Trump were to upend the sprawling legislation, the consequences would be severe, including no federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution. In addition, because lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down Tuesday.
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-starved transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about $4 billion to help other nations provide a COVID-19 vaccine for their people.
Lawmakers spent months in a stalemate over pandemic relief funds, even as COVID-19 cases soared across the country. Democrats had pushed for higher payments to Americans, but compromised with Republicans to allow a deal to proceed.
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Following Trump’s interjection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) all but dared Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president’s demand for far higher payments.
“At last, the President has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!,” Pelosi said in a tweet. An aide said she would put the proposal forward Thursday for a vote.
Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on pandemic relief and only agreed to the big year-end package as time dwindled for a final deal. Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, the Senate Democratic leader, had called on Trump “to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” and said Congress would step up with more aid afterward.
Trump’s call for changes to the legislation will test his sway with a Republican Party he has held tight control of throughout his presidency. Several Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have begun gingerly to break with Trump and acknowledge his election defeat to President-elect Joe Biden. McConnell has also warned Republicans against disputing the election Jan. 6, when Congress must formally affirm the results.
Shortly after castigating the relief bill, Trump challenged McConnell and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, who has also said any effort to overturn Biden’s victory would be futile. Trump said he would back a primary challenge to Thune when he is up for reelection in 2022.
The relief package was brought forward Monday afternoon and sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours as lawmakers worked to close the books on the year. While many lawmakers complained about being given so little time to read the bill, they overwhelmingly voted for it as local businesses and constituents seek economic relief from the pandemic.
The Senate cleared the package with a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by another lopsided vote, 359-53. Those vote totals would be enough to override a veto should Trump decide to take that step.
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After months of partisanship and politicking about a relief package, the logjam broke after Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.
The bill would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters, and money for schools, healthcare providers and renters facing eviction.
Earlier in the day, Biden applauded lawmakers for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, but said that “it does provide vital relief at a critical time.”
He also said more relief would be needed in the months ahead. “We have our first hint and glimpse of bipartisanship,” Biden said. “In this election, the American people made it clear they want us to reach across the aisle and work together.”
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