The political jostling, with no clear path forward, shows how Trump’s surprise refusal to sign a $900 billion relief bill into law has created a political and economic crisis in Washington.
Failure to pass the package could spell disaster for tens of millions of Americans and risk the broader U.S. economy at a perilous moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment benefits for 14 million Americans expire on Saturday. An eviction moratorium protecting as many as 30 million Americans is set to expire by the end of the month. The federal government will begin to shut down Tuesday if lawmakers do not approve an extension in funding.
The legislation is expected to be flown on Thursday to the president in Florida. Trump is in Mar-a-Lago for the Christmas break.
With the Trump administration’s help and support, Congress passed the $900 billion emergency economic relief package Monday. But Tuesday, Trump said he did not support the bill and demanded changes that appear — at this stage — politically unfeasible. Now the entire relief package is in jeopardy.
Also on Thursday, House Democrats blocked a measure sought by Republicans to reevaluate U.S. spending on foreign aid, something Trump also pushed for earlier this week. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a member of Senate Republican leadership, told reporters Thursday that he opposes reopening negotiations over foreign aid, pitting Senate and House Republicans against each other.
“Today, on Christmas Eve morning, House Republicans cruelly deprived the American people of the $2,000 that the President agreed to support,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction.”
The $900 billion stimulus package approved by Congress included $600 direct payment checks, an amount that Trump’s top economic adviser, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, had proposed earlier this month. Trump on Tuesday said these checks were not big enough. He wanted them to be $2,000, a change that would increase the cost of the bill by around $370 billion.
Pelosi tried on Thursday to approve the $2,000 checks, but she needed unanimous consent and approval from GOP leaders to try such a tactic on short notice. They refused. And in an effort to counter Pelosi’s move, House Republicans attempted to pass a request to revisit the foreign aid portion of the government funding package, also through unanimous consent. This is also in line with demands that Trump surfaced for the first time Tuesday night, one day after the large spending package was approved by Congress. That measure failed as well.
It is unclear what lawmakers — or Trump — will do next after the failed procedural moves, and there are major consequences for both the economy and the government. Shortly after the House measures fizzled on Thursday, Trump went to Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.
Because the House and Senate have already passed the bill, Trump could ultimately decide to veto it if his demands aren’t met.
If Trump does veto the legislation, Congress would then have the opportunity to override the president’s veto with another vote. Yet it’s likely that the relief effort could fall apart entirely at that point, given congressional Republicans have already indicated they are reluctant to go against Trump, who remains widely popular with GOP voters.
Despite the looming deadlines, the president as of Wednesday evening was still weighing whether he should veto the relief package, according to multiple officials inside and outside the White House who spoke on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss internal thinking.
Trump was encouraged by what he perceived as the positive media reaction to his denunciation of the aid package, as well as support among Democrats for his call for $2,000 stimulus payments, an outside adviser in communication with senior White House officials said. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe candid interactions with the White House.
“Nobody knows exactly what Trump is going to do, and they’re all trying to figure it out,” the adviser said, describing the odds of a veto as “a little less than 50-50.”
The $900 billion aid package that Trump may veto would also devote $25 billion for food assistance amid an explosion of hunger in America; hundreds of billions for restaurants and other small businesses bracing for the surge in the pandemic; and billions for other critical needs such as transportation agencies, vaccine distribution and rental assistance.
But Washington was suddenly consumed with a new political battle over the stimulus payments. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) accused Democrats of “selective hearing” Wednesday night because their effort does not include Trump’s call to cut international aid spending that the president also denounced in his video address.
“They have conveniently ignored the concerns expressed by the president, and shared by our constituents, that we ought to reexamine how our tax dollars are spent overseas,” McCarthy said in a letter to House Republicans.
Trump’s own budget proposal included much of the foreign aid items that he himself railed against in his video address. The U.S. Global Leadership Coalition also pointed out in a statement that the aid funding had support from Republicans, including allies of Trump such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.).
“The truth is that not only were many of these funds pushed for by the White House — as recently as less than a week ago in the case of Sudan — but they were vetted and assembled by bipartisan leaders,” the coalition president, Liz Schrayer, said in a statement.
House Democrats plan to try to vote on legislation increasing the $600 per person check approved in the aid package to $2,000 on Monday. Blunt, the Senate Republican, told reporters that the Senate was unlikely to take up the $2,000 stimulus payments measure if passed by the House. Blunt also expressed strong opposition to renegotiating the foreign aid component of legislation passed through Congress.
“It took us a long time to get to where we are. I think reopening that bill would be a mistake,” Blunt said.