GOP blocks $2,000 checks as Trump leaves COVID aid in chaos
WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump's sudden request for $ 2,000 checks for most Americans was swiftly rejected by House Republicans as his arbitrary actions wreaked havoc on massive COVID relief and a state finance bill.
The House's rare Christmas Eve meeting lasted minutes, and millions of Americans waited for Trump to sign the bill. Unemployment benefits, evacuation protection, and other emergency aid, including smaller $ 600 checks, are at risk. Trump's rejection of the $ 900 billion package, which is tied to a $ 1.4 trillion bill, could result in a federal shutdown at midnight Monday.
"We are not going to close the government, nor are we going to forsake the American people," said Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., The majority leader.
With his fate still in the air, the bill arrived in Florida Thursday night, where the president spent the golf vacation and tweeting, said a person familiar with his move.
The visuals seem terrible to Republicans and the outgoing President as the nation suffers from the worst Christmas season many can remember. Families are isolated under COVID precautions and millions of American households are devastated without adequate income, food or shelter. The number of virus deaths of over 327,000 is increasing.
Trump ends his presidency the way he started it - sowing confusion and reversing promises as he contests elections and woos a federal shutdown over demands his own party in Congress will fail to deliver.
The Republican leaders of Congress were almost speechless when Trump scorched their work towards the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy helped negotiate the year-end deal, a valuable bipartisan compromise that won widespread support in the House and Senate this week after the White House reassured the GOP leaders had that Trump supported him.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin boasted that the $ 600 checks all sides agreed for Americans would be mailed in a week.
Instead, Washington is now raging into a crisis with COVID aid close to collapse as the president is at his Mar-a-Lago club. He has stood up to GOP leaders for refusing to join his efforts to overturn the election Joe Biden won when the electoral college votes were counted in Congress on Jan. 6.
"The best way out is for the president to sign the bill," said Republican Senator Roy Blunt from Missouri on Thursday. "And I still hope that he decides that."
House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi and Mnuchin are about to bail out the year-end legislation and are discussing options.
The Democrats will call House lawmakers back to Washington on Monday to vote on Trump's proposal. With a roll call, all members would support or reject the $ 2,000 check. They are also considering a vote on Monday on a stop gap measure to prevent at least a federal closure. It would keep the government going until Biden is inaugurated on January 20th. Legislators are also being asked to override Trump's veto on a must-pass defense law.
After chairing the brief house session, an angry MP Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rejected the possibility that COVID relief could collapse.
“It's Christmas Eve, but it's not a silent night. It's not all calm. Nothing is bright to too many, "she said on Capitol Hill.
In a town hall she held the night before, "people were crying, people were afraid of what would happen," she said. A father recently told her he had to tell his kids that there would be no Santa Claus this year.
The president's urge to increase direct payments for most Americans from $ 600 to $ 2,000 for individuals and $ 4,000 for couples fuels Democratic support, but divides the GOP with a politically difficult test of its loyalty to the president.
Republican lawmakers traditionally shy away from the high spending and never fully accept Trump's populist approach. Many have declined larger checks for $ 2,000 as too costly and poorly aligned.
On a conference call Wednesday, House Republican lawmakers complained that Trump had thrown them under the bus, according to a Republican on the private conference call, and granted anonymity to discuss. Most had voted for the package and they asked GOP leaders to attend the cable news broadcast to explain the benefits, the person said.
However, the president has found common ground with Democrats, especially liberal leaders, who are backing the $ 2,000 payments to best serve the struggling Americans. Democrats only chose the lower number to compromise with Republicans.
Even if the House is able to approve Trump's $ 2,000 checks on Monday, that move would likely die in the GOP-controlled Senate, which will be back in session Tuesday.
The President's unpredictable demands are causing more Trump-related headaches for Georgia Sens Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are fighting for their political lives - and for continued GOP control of the Senate - in two runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5 . They are being forced to choose whether to support or reject Trump, which may upset voters on all sides.
The clash on Thursday came as the Democratically controlled house convened for a routine pro forma meeting, scheduled ahead of Trump's sudden moves when lawmakers expected no business to be done.
Instead, the 12-minute house session turned into a brawl when Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, obtained unanimous approval from all House members to pass the bill with Trump's proposal. GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who was not present in the almost empty chamber, declined.
House Republicans tried, and then failed, to gain unanimous approval on their own proposal to reconsider routine foreign aid funding, which Trump cited as one of his main objections to the overall spending package.
The year-end package, against which Trump railed as a "shame", is the result of months of work. It would create temporary additional unemployment benefits of $ 300 per week as well as a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters, and money for schools. Money is included for health care providers and to support the distribution of COVID vaccines. Trump targeted foreign aid funds in the package that he had agreed to in the past and called for in his annual budget.
The final text of the 5,000-page bill required days to be drawn up, but Pelosi announced Thursday that it had been completed and sent to the White House for Trump to sign.
The end-of-year timing complicates the upcoming schedule. Even if Trump doesn't officially reject the package, he could allow it to expire with a "pocket veto" at the end of the congressional session.
The Senate approved the huge aid package by 92-6 on Monday, after the House approved it by 359-53. Those votes would be enough to override a veto if Trump chooses to take this step.
___ Associate press writer Jjll Colvin of West Palm Beach contributed to this report.
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