With deadlines looming, Trump throws wrench into COVID-19 relief agreement

Christopher Wilson
·Senior Writer
·5 min read

President Trump undermined his own party’s coronavirus stimulus position with a Tuesday night video calling for $2,000 in direct payments, far more than Republicans had been asking for.

In a video posted to Twitter, Trump called the $600 direct payments agreed to over the weekend by congressional leadership “ridiculously low” and the 5,593-page bill a “disgrace.”

Trump has been almost entirely absent from the congressional negotiations, as he has focused on attempting to overturn the results of the Nov. 3 election.

While both chambers passed the bill with margins that would override a potential veto — which Trump did not specifically threaten but certainly implied in the four-minute address — a delay could result in the government shutting down due to lack of funding and millions of Americans losing their unemployment payments and homes due to looming deadlines.

Related: Six ways Washington’s gridlock on COVID-19 is hurting ordinary Americans

After Trump suggested the payments of $2,000 — a large increase from the $600 put forth by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin earlier this month — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly jumped at the opportunity to increase the $900 billion relief bill.

“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks,” the Democratic leader posted to Twitter after Trump’s message, sharing his video with her own followers. “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!”

Prior to the posting of the video, White House staff spent Tuesday stating that the president would be signing the bill, with Mnuchin issuing a statement praising its passage. Many of Trump’s other complaints about the bill were about government funding measures, particularly foreign aid, that had been attached to the COVID-19 relief in an omnibus spending bill. Trump’s video came after many members of Congress had already left town for the holiday.

White House lit against the night sky
The White House lit against the night sky on Tuesday. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Pelosi’s call to alter the bill by unanimous consent means that a single objection would keep the checks at $600, a probable scenario for legislation that had 53 “no” votes in the House in its current form. The vote could come on Christmas Eve and lead to a delay in the $600 checks, which Mnuchin said some Americans could see as early as next week if the bill were signed into law.

If Trump vetoes the bill or simply doesn’t sign it, the following deadlines loom: On Dec. 26, unemployment benefits for 12 million Americans end. On Dec. 28, funding for the government runs out. On Dec. 31, a federal eviction moratorium expires, meaning millions could be kicked out of their homes.

The $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which passed in March, prevented millions from falling into poverty, keeping Americans afloat during the economic downturn with a combination of $1,200 stimulus checks and enhanced federal unemployment payments. As the direct payments were spent and expanded unemployment insurance ended, nearly 8 million Americans fell into poverty, according to a new study. The Democratic House passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act in May, but the Republican-controlled Senate neither took it up nor passed a COVID-19 relief bill of its own.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership team pushed to keep the price tag of the legislation below $1 trillion to appease GOP members who had opposed a larger bill earlier this year. A group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had been advocating for larger payments, while Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he had personally lobbied Trump for larger payments. Democrats in the House had also been vocal about disappointment in the $600 payments, and hours after Trump’s message, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., posted that she and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., “already co-wrote the COVID amendment for $2,000 checks, so it’s ready to go.”

“Glad to see the President is willing to support our legislation,” she added. “We can pass $2k checks this week if the Senate GOP agrees to stand down.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer initially called on Trump to sign the original bill but then endorsed the increased payments, retweeting the Ocasio-Cortez amendment and stating, “I’m in. Whaddya say, Mitch? Let’s not get bogged down with ideological offsets and unrelated items and just DO THIS! The American people deserve it.”

According to reporting by CNN, McConnell wanted to include stimulus checks in the legislation to help Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face runoff elections in Georgia early next month. McConnell said the duo were being “hammered” on the issue, and both had already released ads touting the relief bill. After Trump’s statement and the Democratic follow-up, Republicans will now either have to increase the amount they wanted to spend in the bill or defy the president.

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump was privately critical of the $600 payments but aides had talked him out of taking the concerns public over worries that it would blow up the negotiations.

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