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Trump upends 'ridiculously low' stimulus aid

He wants bigger checks, but time is running out

President Donald Trump waves as he departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12, 2020, in Washington, D.
President Donald Trump waves as he departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Al Drago/Getty Images/TNS)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump told Congress on Tuesday night to amend the nearly $900 billion stimulus and spending bill passed just one day before, describing it as “a disgrace” and suggesting he would not immediately sign off on aid for millions of Americans.

In a video posted to Twitter, Trump called on Congress to increase the “ridiculously low” $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 and outlined a list of provisions in the legislation he described as “wasteful spending and much more.” He did not mention that the $600 check idea came from his treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin.

“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,” Trump said.

The video landed like a sonic boom in Washington. His own aides were stunned. Stock market futures slumped.

And the implications for what happens next could be severe. If he refuses to sign the bill, the government will shut down next Tuesday. The $900 billion in emergency aid will be frozen, and the race for the two Senate seats in Georgia could also be upended.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., however, quickly responded by saying congressional Democrats would enthusiastically return Thursday to the Capitol and seek to advance a bill that adds the $2,000 stimulus checks.

“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks,” she posted on Twitter. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”

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Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also wrote on Twitter that he supported the idea of larger checks.

“We spent months trying to secure $2000 checks but Republicans blocked it,” Schumer wrote. “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open and we’re glad to pass more aid Americans need. Maybe Trump can finally make himself useful and get Republicans not to block it again.”

Logistically, though, it could prove very difficult for Democrats and Trump to amend the bill in the next few days, or even the next few weeks.

If any Republican in the House opposes Pelosi’s effort, it would not pass. And such a change would also require Senate Republicans to pass the measure unanimously as well, something also unlikely to happen.

The 5,593-page bipartisan bill passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. Republicans had insisted on keeping the economic relief portion at less than $1 trillion and larger checks would have pushed the final tally higher.

Trump’s aides made positive comments about the bill lawmakers passed, but Trump had largely stayed out of negotiations. Last week, he complained to some aides that he thought the $600 stimulus checks were too low and wanted them raised to $1,200 or $2,000, but aides persuaded him not to intervene, saying it could scuttle the whole package.

Trump released the video Tuesday after a number of his aides, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, were already out of town.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to move rapidly through the United States in March, Congress passed a $2.2 trillion spending bill to try to limit the economic impact. Many of that law’s measures expired over the course of the year, and the recent spike in new coronavirus cases — and the end of the November election — sparked a bipartisan coalition to seek a new bill.

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The measure that passed Congress promised $900 billion in new assistance, including the $600 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment aid for 11 weeks, small-business assistance and a range of other measures

“I am pleased that Congress has passed on an overwhelming bipartisan basis additional critical economic relief for American workers, families and businesses,” Mnuchin tweeted seven hours before Trump’s video was posted.

Aides told reporters all day Tuesday that Trump would be signing the bill, but they later learned he recorded the video at least five hours before it was released, officials said.

The House and Senate passed the bill with such large margins that they could probably override a veto if Trump tried to block the measure. But that process could take weeks. And in the video, Trump didn’t explicitly say he would veto it. He also didn’t commit, however, to signing it.

Some of the president’s closest allies, including Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., defended the bill Tuesday night — raising questions about who had convinced Trump to turn against it.

“The #COVID19 package, while imperfect, will save jobs and lives,” Graham wrote on Twitter. “The sooner the bill becomes law — the better.”

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