President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’ bloated COVID-19 relief package in the midst of a raging pandemic, demanding changes to the controversial bill that has been long overdue for Americans.
He’s going to veto the bill to give Americans back more of their own money… and calling on changes to the hundreds of millions earmarked for things like foreign country’s border security.
Trump shrugged off the huge, bipartisan $900 billion package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night and suggested he won’t 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.
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Railing against a range of controversial provisions in the bill, he told lawmakers to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2020
With Trump’s backing, there may not be enough support for the legislation in Congress to override him.
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. While the negotiations continued, lawmakers regularly snuck increasingly large pet projects into the 5,000-page bill — including, for example, millions for an American Women’s History Museum.
Following Trump’s interjection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but dared Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president’s demand for far higher payments.
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“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 called for the economy to be re-opened. Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the GOP only agreed to the big year-end package as time dwindled for a final deal.
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 McConnell, have begun to break with Trump and acknowledge Joe Biden as President-elect, a step Trump has refused to take.
McConnell has also warned Republicans against disputing the election on Jan. 6, when Congress must formally affirm the results of the Electoral College vote.
Shortly after castigating the relief bill, Trump challenged McConnell and Sen. John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican who has also said any effort to overturn a Biden result would be futile. Trump said he would back a primary challenge to Thune when he is up for reelection in 2022.
Trump’s threats to hold up the pandemic legislation could also complicate matters for Republicans in Georgia, where two runoff races to determine control of the Senate will be held in January. Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have been running as ardent supporters of Trump and will now face questions about whether they will back his call for more money for Americans.
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Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic opponent, tweeted simply on Tuesday night: “$2,000 checks now.”
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 huge relief package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by another lopsided vote, 359-53. Those votes totals would be enough to override a veto should Trump decide to take that step.
After months of partisanship and politicking about pandemic relief, the logjam broke after Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that was smaller than many Democrats would have liked.
Earlier in the day, Biden applauded lawmakers for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, “but it does provide vital relief at a critical time.”
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He also said more relief would be needed in the months ahead. “We have our first hint and a 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article