‘Complete clusterf---’: Trump leaves Washington in limbo
President Donald Trump has thrown Washington into chaos again, making unequal demands that have confused lawmakers and left Americans coping with a global pandemic unsure of when to get long-promised financial aid.
On Tuesday evening, Trump blinded all of Washington - including his own staff - and, at the eleventh hour, called for a change in coronavirus and funding laws from the government that his own administration had carefully crafted and supported. Overnight and well into Wednesday, senior Republicans, Hill aides and even White House officials tried to figure out what Trump really wanted just as lawmakers - and Trump - were preparing to leave town for the holidays.
There is no straight answer, however. Nobody on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue seems to know what Trump's plan is - or even if there is one. The Hill offices had received no guidance by Wednesday afternoon while the House Republicans were scheduling a call at 3:00 p.m. to strategize. The White House did not answer questions about the legislation.
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"Complete clusterf ---" summarized a top Republican Hill consultant.
The effects of inaction could be dramatic. If lawmakers and White House advisers fail to convince the president to sign a funding and Covid bailout package by Monday, the government will make the fourth closure of Trump's presidency. And millions of Americans had been told to expect another round of direct payments from the government anytime soon, while businesses across the country awaited more financial support.
But Trump leaves the city on Wednesday afternoon and makes his way to his Mar-a-Lago resort in South Florida, where he wants to spend the new year. And nobody seems to know what's going to happen next.
The sudden limbo reflects how Trump tackled his final days in office. Trump's main goal, those close to the President and the White House said, is to get attention and send a message to his base that if he plans to campaign for re-election in 2024, he will support Americans more than Congress. And in some ways the GOP's strong support for the bill has given Trump little reason to publicly support it. The measure is expected to become law at some point, whether it be through Trump's indulgence, Congress overriding a veto, or the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
"It sends a signal that he wants to help the people more," said former House spokesman Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, although he added that Trump's threat to Covid's humanitarian aid and government funding law was "unhelpful is "and hopes the president will sign the bill after making his point.
Trump could choose this route. Two people close to the president said the president is unlikely to actually veto the bill and cause the government to shut down for not wanting to delay funding the distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, which he calls one of his greatest achievements. It wouldn't be the first time Trump has threatened a veto right before signing: In 2018, Trump approved a $ 1.3 trillion spending bill, despite saying he was "dissatisfied" with it.
A former Trump adviser who remains close to the White House said no one should be surprised by the president's demands. Trump has been calling for more stimulus checks for Americans in statements and on Twitter for months.
“Why is everyone surprised? You did not meet his expectations, ”said the former adjutant. "At the end of the day, he fights for people. He's on the side of history and the American people. None of this is bad for him."
In the past few weeks, Trump has shown no concern about positioning himself best politically for his post-presidency, even if it means maintaining his own party-supported legislation and attacking one-time allies of Congress.
Earlier this month, Trump made a similar veto threat to the annual defense policy bill, which was also passed with broad Republican support. The House and Senate will return to Washington next week to overturn Trump's expected veto on this bill.
Trump continues to hit Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Whip John Thune for recognition that Biden will be the next president.
Last-minute demands by Covid, who was busy fighting the election results and having Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin negotiate the long-belated bailout bill, put Republicans in a particularly difficult position. In addition to the confusion it caused on Capitol Hill, the move has also hampered a Republican push to win two runoff elections in Georgia next month that will rule through a Senate majority.
The core of Trump's objections seems to be the $ 600 direct payments the bill should send to many Americans.
Trump had said publicly and privately that he wanted the direct payments to be higher, but did not say that he was unwilling to take the $ 600 checks. In fact, he announced he would sign the bill, which White House Deputy Press Secretary Brian Morgenstern repeated to reporters on Tuesday.
Hours later, Trump released a five-minute video he recorded in the diplomatic reception room of the White House residence and surprised many of his aides. He did not threaten to veto the bill, but expressed displeasure. Trump also complained about the amount of spending in the measure, which he previously approved and even requested.
"I'm asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $ 600 to $ 2,000," he said. "I also urge Congress to immediately remove the wasteful and unnecessary points in this legislation or send me an appropriate invoice."
But the GOP doesn't have a huge appetite for the $ 2,000 stimulus checks Trump is now calling for.
"It's a really stupid, one-headed, left-wing, socialist idea to give people free money, that's why I split up with the president when it comes to giving people free money," said Senator Rand Paul (R- Ky.) Trump wants to veto the bill for tax reasons, Fox News said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Democrats, who have been pushing for higher controls all along, could make the life of the GOP even more painful in the days ahead. House Democratic leaders plan to vote unanimously on Thursday to pass a standalone $ 2,000 aid check bill that will make Republicans keep the files and reject the president's wishes.
"Just when you thought you had seen it all, the president said last night that he might veto the two-chamber agreement negotiated between Republicans and Democrats," said spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi in a letter distributed to the Democrats. "If the president really wants to pay $ 2,000 with us, he should ask [House Minority Leader Kevin] McCarthy to agree to our request for unanimous approval."
So far, no House or Senate Republicans have said they would block the request, although it is likely. Last week, Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) Twice stopped efforts by Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) And Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) To provide $ 1,200 worth of stimulus checks.
However, Senator Lindsey Graham (RS.C.) said on Twitter that the combination of efforts to promote direct payments and the waiver of Section 230 liability for sites hosting third-party posts - a key point of contention in the Defense Act - are leading to this could Trump back down.
A last-minute veto could also affect Georgia’s January 5 runoff election. McConnell had promised Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue that the Chamber would not leave for Christmas without a deal, and both Senators have touted the stimulus package in their campaigns.
In an ad published Tuesday, a narrator accused Democrat Jon Ossoff of defying the inducement and said Perdue "provided the Georgians with real, meaningful help," citing direct controls and other issues. Loeffler published a series of ads with small business owners promoting their efforts to help covid.
Both Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock, who challenges Loeffler, say they agree with Trump's push for higher payments and use the moment to hammer down their opponents. Pressed down on Trump's call on Wednesday, Loeffler said at a campaign rally that she "would definitely try to support her if she recycles wasteful spending".
As Democrats from across the political spectrum rallied around Trump's call for more stimulus money, they also made it clear that he shouldn't veto the package, which also includes improved unemployment benefits, aid to small businesses, and funds to distribute the Covid-19 includes vaccine. In addition to the urgency, a number of critical pandemic-related aid programs expire on December 26.
Hill sources warned it would be too early to figure out what Congress could do if Trump refuses to sign the sprawling bill.
If Trump blows up the bill, Congress can try, among other things, to renegotiate the aid package, pass another short-term funding patch, or let Trump acknowledge a shutdown of the government and the release of the aid package under the Biden administration.
You could also remove a veto, as long as it wasn't a pocket veto, which would allow the president to hesitate merely signing a bill while Congress adjourned.
But these are worst-case scenarios that those responsible had worked feverishly to avoid. In fact, during a meeting with the "big four" congressional leaders about the relief bill, Pelosi repeatedly urged Mnuchin - who was patched in over the speakerphone - into Trump's position on stimulus checks.
After four replies, Pelosi said: "Come on Steven!"
James Arkin, Heather Caygle, Caitlin Emma, and Quint Forgey contributed to this report.
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