Royal Oak Tribune
Trump threatens COVID-19 relief bill
Stance morphs into a test of GOP loyalty to president
WASHINGTON» Threatening to tank Congress’ massive COVID relief and government funding package, President Donald Trump’s demand for bigger aid checks for Americans is forcing Republicans traditionally wary of such spending into an uncomfortable test of allegiance.
On Thursday, House Democrats who also favor $2,000 checks will all but dare Republicans to break with Trump, calling up his proposal for a Christmas Eve vote. The president’s last-minute objection could derail critical legislation amid a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty.
His attacks risk a federal government shutdown by early next week.
“Just when you think you have seen it all,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote Wednesday in a letter to colleagues.
“The entire country knows that it is urgent for the President to sign this bill, both to provide the coronavirus relief and to keep government open.”
Republicans led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have resisted $2,000 checks as too costly. They have not said if they will block the vote.
The president’s last-minute objections are setting up a defining showdown with his own Republican Party in his final days in office.
Rather than take the victory of the sweeping aid package, among the biggest in history, Trump is lashing out at GOP leaders over the presidential election — for acknowledging Joe Biden as president- elect and rebuffing his campaign to dispute the Electoral College results when they are tallied in Congress on Jan. 6.
The president’s push to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples splits the party with a politically painful loyalty test, including for GOP senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, fighting to retain their seats in the Jan. 5 special election in Georgia.
Republican lawmakers traditionally balk at big spending and many never fully embraced Trump’s populist approach. Their political DNA tells them to oppose a costlier relief package. But now they’re being asked to stand with the president.
GOP leaders were silent Wednesday, with neither McConnell nor Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, responding to requests for comment.
On a conference call, House Republican lawmakers complained that Trump threw them under the bus, according to one Republican on the private call and granted anonymity to discuss it. Most had voted for the package and they urged leaders to hit the cable news shows to explain its benefits, the person said.
Democrats were taking advantage of the Republican disarray to apply pressure for a priority. Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic opponent, tweeted simply on Tuesday night: “$2,000 checks now.”
As Congress left town for the holidays, the yearend package was part of a hard-fought compromise, a massive 5,000-plus page bill that includes the COVID aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and address other priorities.
The relief bill Trump is criticizing would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.
Even though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin represented the White House in negotiations, Trump assailed the bipartisan effort in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night, suggesting he may not sign the legislation.
Railing against a range of provisions in the broader government funding package, including foreign aid mainstays included each year, Trump called the bill a “disgrace.”
Trump did not specifically vow to use his veto power, and there may be enough support in Congress to override him if he does. But the consequences would be severe if Trump upends the legislation, including no federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution. To top it off, because lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down on Dec. 29.
The final text of the more than 5,000-page bill was still being prepared by Congress and was not expected to be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature before Thursday or Friday, an aide said.