Relief Bill in Limbo as Trump Demands Bigger Stimulus Checks for Americans

By Ivan Pentchoukov

President Donald Trump forced the months-long pandemic relief saga into overtime on Dec. 22 with the surprise release of a video statement in which he derided the mammoth spending measure’s “wasteful” provisions for foreign governments and demanded more money for American taxpayers.

The president didn’t use the word “veto,” but all but implied he would block the bill unless Congress removed billions in spending allocated to foreign nations and domestic institutions unrelated to the battle against the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus. Trump called for $2,000 payments for individual taxpayers, up from the $600 approved as part of the $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill.

Top Democrats quickly took up Trump’s offer. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has urged House Republicans to pass a standalone measure for the $2,000 payments in a unanimous consent vote on Christmas Eve. She made no mention of the foreign spending that Trump criticized, including $10 million for gender programs in Pakistan. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged the president to convince Republicans to approve the measure.

The timing of the bill’s passage gives Trump the option of letting the bill fail without issuing an actual veto. The Constitution provides for a so-called pocket veto in the event that Congress adjourns during the 10 days following the passage of a bill. With Sundays excluded and Congress set to adjourn on Jan. 3, Trump has the option of letting the bill terminate without setting pen to paper.

While the pocket veto would be a first for Trump, the move isn’t uncommon historically. President Franklin Roosevelt used the pocket veto 263 times. President Dwight Eisenhower did so 108 times.

“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists, and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people who need it. It wasn’t their fault, it was China’s fault, not their fault,” the president said in the video, recorded in the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room.

“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple,” he said. “I am 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, and maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) remained quiet after Trump’s announcement.

In addition to cutting off funds to a range of pandemic-relief programs, a veto or a pocket veto by Trump would trigger a government shutdown because the $892 billion pandemic relief package is part of a $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that would fund the government through September 2021.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill by wide bipartisan margins, and could return to Washington to override a veto.

About 14.1 million people are receiving unemployment benefits through pandemic programs that are set to expire on Dec. 26, according to Labor Department data. The bill extends two programs that support self-employed workers and the long-term unemployed until mid-March. It also adds an extra $300 per week in aid to the 20.3 million people receiving unemployment benefits.

The president was unhappy with McConnell after the Senate majority leader acknowledged former Vice President Joe Biden as “president-elect” following the Electoral College vote. Trump hasn’t conceded the election and is pursuing legal challenges in several states. McConnell also pushed Senate Republicans to reject a plan by House Republicans to challenge electoral votes when they’re vetted by Congress on Jan. 6.

At least eight House members have committed to raise objections to slates of electors from states marred by allegations of voter fraud and election malfeasance. No senator has committed to the plan, although at least six have said they’re open to the idea.

The foreign aid items Trump criticized are a standard feature in annual spending bills, but nevertheless triggered Trump’s reaction as they were included with the $600 payments Congress took months to negotiate. He highlighted that the bill “contains $85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia, $134 million to Burma, $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment.”

In a sign that he’s serious about his veto threats, Trump followed through on a promise to veto a separate military funding bill on Dec. 23, calling it a “gift to China and Russia.”

He said about the military funding bill, “Unfortunately, the Act fails to include critical national security measures, includes provisions that fail to respect our veterans and our military’s history, and contradicts efforts by my Administration to put America first in our national security and foreign policy actions.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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