What's At Stake With Trump's Threat: COVID Relief And A Government Shutdown
President Trump's done it again.
The man who threatened to cause a ruckus in Washington — and has done so over his last four years in office — introduced a new round of disarray Tuesday night.
Trump's pre-Christmas chaos includes:
In addition to endangering relief to millions of Americans due to the coronavirus pandemic, Trump's bombshell also brings the country to the brink of yet another government shutdown.
Trump signed a one-week temporary spending measure Monday to keep the lights on as the bill made its way to his desk, but the government will shut down at midnight next Tuesday if more funding isn't provided.
The way out of Trump's criticism of the bill isn't clear with the clock running out on this Congress and most members now home for the holidays.
Trump's move also throws a wrinkle into the crucial Georgia Senate races that will determine control of the Senate during President-elect Biden's first term. Both incumbent Republicans, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, touted the bill, saying more help was finally on the way — and blamed Democrats for the delay.
Democrats played politics with Americans’ livelihoods for months. @KLoeffler and I never stopped fighting for you — and never will. More relief is finally on the way.— David Perdue (@Perduesenate) December 22, 2020
Now, back on the road to win Georgia and save America! #GASen #gapol pic.twitter.com/ShHX3syXt0
Georgia — help is on the way!— Kelly Loeffler (@KLoeffler) December 22, 2020
We just secured an additional $900 billion in targeted relief, more PPP funding, and extended unemployment benefits by 11 weeks. @ReverendWarnock has done NOTHING to help Georgians during this pandemic except peddle lies and play politics. pic.twitter.com/5HC6kO7JJL
COVID relief in jeopardy
On Tuesday, Trump called on Congress to increase the direct payments drastically, throwing a big wrench into whether and when people will get needed money because of the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple," Trump said in a video. "I'm also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package."
That came despite months of bitter, bipartisan negotiations to get a bill that finally could pass both chambers, which it did Monday. The package passed with veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.
Trump didn't say he'd veto the package, but didn't say he'd sign it either.
Trump's call for direct payments that are more than triple what's in the final version of the bill is ironic, considering it was Republicans who stood in the way of higher payments for months — and because Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was heavily involved in the negotiations.
Democrats leapt at the president's suggestion of more money for direct payments. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said they would bring legislation to the floor Thursday to pass it.
The problem, however, is two-fold — (1) With most members out of town, the legislation would have be approved by voice vote or unanimous consent, and (2) Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has to sign onto it. If one member objects, it would be shut down, and there would not be the ability to have the entire House vote on it with a roll call.
In a letter to her colleagues, Pelosi also revealed that in negotiations, Republicans had floated direct payments as low as $500.
"In the bipartisan negotiations, [Senate] Leader [Chuck] Schumer and I repeatedly asked Republicans what would be the highest number the President would accept for direct payments, and they responded with Sphinx-like silence," she wrote. "In the negotiations, they would never go above $600 and in some cases, proposed $500."
7 months after Democrats took bold action to provide COVID relief #ForThePeople, the GOP finally agreed to a down payment on plans to #CrushTheVirus & put money in people’s pockets.— Nancy Pelosi (@TeamPelosi) December 23, 2020
More help is needed. Will McCarthy, McConnell & Republicans reject $2000 for Americans in crisis? pic.twitter.com/eD20VRTzDz
Trump's criticism now puts Republicans on Capitol Hill in a tight spot — they agreed to the current bill. Senate Majority Leader has not responded to Trump's latest comments.
Larger spending package in peril, too
Given that this Congress's clock expires at noon Jan. 3 when a new Congress will be sworn, this was seen as the last likely chance to pass anything through this Congress.
So the $900 billion in COVID relief was paired with a larger $1.4 trillion spending package that is more than 5,500 pages.
It was the result of months of negotiations between various committees for bipartisan issues important to them, including funding for military pay raises, veterans, border-security, water projects, addressing surprise medical billing, creating museums for women's history and Latino history and providing foreign aid.
In his video statement, Trump objected to the foreign aid and cherry picked other items, claiming the package "has almost nothing to do with COVID." Ironically, though, many of the items, including foreign aid, were in his own administration's budget sent to Capitol Hill earlier in the year.
Defense money at risk
Trump is also expected Wednesday to veto the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act.
The bill provides pay raises to military service members, approves construction of childcare development centers on military bases, expands cyber command authority, provides more training on use of artificial intelligence, adds hundreds of millions for science and technology research, allows victims of sexual harassment and assault to file anonymous complaints, creates a domestic violence task force and has measures lightening some of the burden of the coronavirus pandemic for federal employees.
But Trump objects because of the social media company protections and stripping some facilities with names of Confederate officers. Even Republicans who negotiated the bill pushed back against Trump on the social media protections saying it's not related to defense.
The bill passed both the House and Senate with veto-proof majorities — two-thirds would be needed to overturn a presidential veto. So if Trump does veto the legislation Wednesday, both chambers would need to act when they come back next week to override it.
The House is expected to try and do so Monday and the Senate Tuesday. But there's some question if the override can be upheld, particularly in the House. It would mean Republican allies of the president would have to oppose him in what would be Trump's first of nine vetoes that would not be upheld, in what would be one of the final acts of this Congress during this presidency.
Sending Trump out with a loss might not be something Republicans want to do. Already, Republican House leader McCarthy, who voted in favor of the defense bill, said he would not support a veto override.
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