After five days of drama and uncertainty created by his demands for the massive year-end Covid relief and government funding bill, President Trump on Sunday unexpectedly signed into law the package he had dismissed days earlier as a “disgrace.”
The reversal by the president averted a government shutdown that would have started on Tuesday and it will extend a moratorium on evictions that was due to lapse at the end of the month. But the delay in enacting the legislation also allowed pandemic-related unemployment benefits for some 14 million Americans to temporarily expire.
Those programs — one providing aid to gig workers and others who don’t typically qualify for unemployment insurance and the other extending payments by up to 13 weeks — will restart now that Trump has signed the bill, but jobless workers in the programs likely won’t get a payment for the final week of the year and future benefits could also be delayed as state agencies update their computers. The $300 in weekly supplemental federal payments may now only last 10 weeks instead of 11 since the legislation sets a March 14 end date for the enhanced benefits.
“The President’s pointless delay in approving the relief legislation cost millions of Americans a week’s worth of pandemic-related unemployment assistance that they desperately need,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) said in a statement. “His stalling only intensified anxiety and hardship for workers and families who are collateral damage in his political games. Now, people will need to wait even longer for direct payments and other vital assistance to arrive.”
What Trump says he got: Trump had insisted last week — after the $900 Covid relief bill and $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package were passed by Congress with overwhelming support — that the $600 per person in direct payments provided by the legislation should be increased. He also railed against other spending in the nearly 5,600-page year-end package before departing Washington to spend the holidays in Florida, where he has been golfing repeatedly in recent days.
The president said in a statement released Sunday that he still wants increased stimulus payments of $2,000 per adult and $600 per child and would be demanding numerous “rescissions” or cuts to various spending measures in the legislation.
“I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed. I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill,” the statement said.
Trump added that Congress will review Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a law he objects to that protects big tech companies like Twitter from liability for content posted on their platforms. The president said that section of the law will “either be terminated or substantially reformed.” And, he said, Congress agreed to “focus strongly” on his claims of election fraud.
“The Senate will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud,” he said. “Much more money is coming. I will never give up my fight for the American people!”
What Trump really got: Trump’s demands reportedly caused lawmakers to panic, concerned about the potential effects of a government shutdown during a pandemic. Republicans, in particular, were in an uncomfortable position, faced with a choice of publicly bucking a president of their own party or accepting the larger payments that they had previously blocked.
Trump, angry at lawmakers in both parties, may have been happy to make them squirm — and to thrust himself into the legislative process again after largely being absent from negotiations on the year-end deal as he focused on his baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
In practical terms, though, the president got nothing from the last-minute confusion he created.
“Trump got taken to the cleaners,” Politico’s Playbook said. “What a bizarre, embarrassing episode for the president. He opposed a bill his administration negotiated. He had no discernible strategy and no hand to play — and it showed. He folded, and got nothing besides a few days of attention and chaos. People waiting for aid got a few days of frightening uncertainty.”
Lawmakers are likely to dismiss any rescission requests Trump sends or act on his other demands.
“I applaud President Trump’s decision to get hundreds of billions of dollars of crucial COVID-19 relief out the door and into the hands of American families as quickly as possible," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that made no mention of the concessions Trump said lawmakers had made.
What’s next: The Democratic-led House is set to vote Monday evening on a separate bill to increase the relief payments to $2,000 per adult. The House failed to approve the increased payments by unanimous consent on Thursday, but there’s a fair chance that the measure will pass today.
It’s unclear whether the larger payments can clear the Senate, where 60 votes will be needed for passage. “If the bill actually passes the House with a strong Republican vote, it will put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a tough position of having to decide whether to bring the provision to the floor in the Senate as a standalone bill,” CNN reports. “While the President has been urging Republicans to up the payments, many Republicans in McConnell’s ranks have made it clear they don’t think an increase is warranted, given how much it would increase the price tag of the stimulus bill.”
The increased payments would add roughly $370 billion to the $900 billion cost of the Covid relief package.
A veto override? The House also plans to vote to override Trump’s veto of the annual defense authorization bill. The Senate is set to vote on that Tuesday, potentially overriding a Trump veto for the first time.
The Treasury Department, meanwhile, is rushing to get stimulus payments out, but The Washington Post reports that it’s not clear yet whether the administration will be able to start sending the payments by the end of the week.