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Nation & World

Trump Criticizes Latest Coronavirus Relief Package, Calls It 'Disgrace'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Trump is throwing a big wrench into the massive COVID relief bill that Congress overwhelmingly passed last night. In a video this evening, he calls the bill a disgrace.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's taken forever. However, the bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace.

SHAPIRO: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is here with more.

Hi, Tam.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: OK. What did Trump say in this four-minute video?

KEITH: Yeah. I mean, the video comes up. You think maybe it's holiday greetings. He has festive decorations around him. No, that is absolutely not what he was doing. He is complaining that the COVID relief bill has nothing to do with COVID. However, he may be misunderstanding or misexplaining the bill. It's actually two really huge pieces of legislation combined together. It's the COVID relief legislation, and it's also funding for the entire federal government for the full fiscal year ahead. One thing to note - although he says it's a disgrace, he did not use the word veto.

SHAPIRO: So in this long litany of things that he's listing that the bill does that have nothing to do with COVID, some of the things are just funding the government. What does he say he wants changed?

KEITH: So there are three major things. One is he talked a bit about a provision that he has really taken an interest in throughout this period of negotiations on the COVID relief legislation. It's known informally as the three-martini lunch provision. The idea is that restaurants have been really suffering, and they - this provision would make it so that businesses can write off lunches and dinners and expensive outings to restaurants and that that would help restaurants. It last two years. President Trump says that provision should last even longer. And then here are the two other things.

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TRUMP: I'm asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple. I'm also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation.

KEITH: Yeah. And so the 600 to 2,000 - what he's talking about are direct payments to individuals. So these are - earlier in the year, there were $1,200 payments to individuals to help them sort of weather this really tough economic time. The negotiators agreed to $600. That - largely, that number is lower because Republicans wanted it lower. Democrats, including Bernie Sanders, wanted it higher up like around $2,000, but the negotiations landed at 600. Now President Trump is saying, throw that out the window. I want a lot more.

SHAPIRO: Tam, I can understand why the president would have said something like this a week or a month ago while it was being negotiated, but the House and Senate have passed this bill. Wasn't his administration involved in negotiating it?

KEITH: Yeah, and they haven't just passed it by a little bit. They passed it by a lot. And you're right. Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary - the Treasury secretary - was very much involved in these negotiations, in regular touch with congressional leaders. This was backed by Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate who President Trump has worked with extensively on legislation. McConnell has not brought things to the floor that he didn't think the president would sign.

SHAPIRO: So as you said, the president did not use the word veto in this video. Is it implied? Is he likely to veto it? What happens now?

KEITH: Well, I've reached out to the White House and have not gotten a precise answer on that yet. But, you know, as I said, it passed overwhelmingly. In fact, this legislation passed with veto-proof majorities in both the House and the Senate. It's not clear if President Trump says it has to change, if some Republicans would feel pressure and maybe wouldn't go along with a veto override. The president himself is now mean-tweeting at Republican leaders in the Senate, which is not exactly a great way to get them to go along with him. And in this video, he was talking about maybe this would be the problem for the next administration.

SHAPIRO: And...

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TRUMP: To send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package - and maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done.

KEITH: Just to be clear, it will not be him. He did not win. Joe Biden won.

SHAPIRO: Hardly the strangest moment in a very strange presidential transition period.

NPR's Tamara Keith, thank you very much for bringing us up to speed on this.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.