WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday night threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 aid package amid a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty, suddenly demanding changes that fellow Republicans oppose.
Trump attacked the $ 900 billion bipartisan package in a video he tweeted Tuesday night, suggesting he might 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.
He protested against a range of provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, telling lawmakers to “remove the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and send me an appropriate bill.”
Trump has not specifically vowed to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for legislation in Congress to override him if he does. But if Trump were to reverse the expansive legislation, the consequences would be dire, including no federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to aid in the distribution of vaccines. In addition, because lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government was set to close on Dec.
The aid package was part of a hard-won compromise law that includes $ 1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and includes other priorities at the end of the session, such as money for transit systems that are starving, increasing benefits for food stamps and about $ 4 billion to help other countries provide a COVID-19 vaccine for their people.
Lawmakers sat in deadlock for months over pandemic emergency relief funds, even as COVID-19 cases took flight across the country. Democrats had pushed for higher payments to Americans but compromised with Republicans to allow a deal to go through.
After Trump’s interjection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi almost dared to challenge Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president’s demand for much higher payments.
Finally, the president has agreed to $ 2,000. Democrats are willing to take this to the floor with unanimous approval this week. Let’s do it! Pelosi said in a tweet. An assistant said she would put the proposal to a vote on Thursday.
Republicans were reluctant to spend more on pandemic aid and only agreed to the grand year-end package when the time for a final deal diminished. And Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s Democratic leader, said “Trump should sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” and Congress would want more help afterward.
Trump’s call for a change in the law will test his power over a Republican party he has kept under close scrutiny throughout his presidency. Several Senate Republicans, including majority leader Mitch McConnell, have begun to gently break with Trump and acknowledge his defeat against President-elect Joe Biden, a move Trump has refused. McConnell has also warned Republicans against contesting the January 6 election, when Congress must formally confirm the results.
Shortly after denouncing the emergency, Trump challenged McConnell and Senator John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican who has also said any attempt to undo Biden’s victory would be futile. Trump said he would support a primary challenge for Thune if he is to be reelected in 2022.
Trump’s threats to stop the pandemic laws could also complicate matters for Republicans in Georgia, where two run-off races will be held in January to determine control of the Senate. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have called themselves ardent supporters of Trump and will now face the question of whether they will back his call for more money for Americans.
Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic opponent, simply tweeted Tuesday night, “Checks for $ 2,000 now.”
The aid package was brought forward Monday afternoon and circulated by the House and Senate within hours as lawmakers worked to close the books of the year. While many lawmakers complained that they were given so little time to read the bill, they voted it overwhelmingly as local businesses and voters seek economic relief from the pandemic.
The Senate approved the massive aid package by 92-6 votes after the House approved it with another skewed vote, 359-53. Those vote totals would be enough to override a veto if Trump decided to take that step.
After months of bias and politics over pandemic aid, 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 emergency that Trump is criticizing would bring a temporary supplemental unemployment benefit of $ 300 a week and a $ 600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of grants for hard-hit businesses, restaurants, and theaters, and money for schools and health care providers. and tenants who are evicted.
Earlier in the day, Biden applauded lawmakers for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, “but it does provide essential relief at a critical time.”
He also said more help would be needed in the coming months. “We have our first hint and glimpse of duality,” said Biden. “In this election, the American people have made it clear that they want us to cross the aisle and work together.”