coronavirus stimulus

Trump Threatens to Scuttle Second COVID Stimulus

Mitch McConnell’s new public enemy number one. Photo: Getty Images

After sitting out the negotiations over the second stimulus package, President Trump released a video on Tuesday night “asking Congress to amend” the $908 billion bill that has passed both chambers after weeks of negotiations — and issued a vague threat not to sign the bill if he doesn’t get his way. In the closing seconds of the four-minute recording, Trump concludes by upping the ante, directing lawmakers 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’s grievances with the stimulus package are twofold (and probably moot, considering that the bill has already been passed). Hours after a White House spokesperson told Fox Business Network that the president “indicated his intent to sign the bill because of the direct cash payments to some Americans and new support for small businesses,” Trump decried the bill’s $600 payments and its failure to properly support small businesses, “particularly restaurants.” (He also appeared to condemn a measure in the bill known as the “three-martini” tax deduction for corporate meal expenses, which he himself has lauded as an essential stimulus tool throughout the pandemic.) In a rare fulfillment of his early populist rhetoric, Trump urged lawmakers to boost the “ridiculously low” $600 check — an idea from his Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin — to $2,000 for every American earning less than $75,000 per year.

Republicans most likely won’t be thrilled by the video, as a tripling of the direct check will tip the total stimulus cost well over $1 trillion, a hard limit for GOP negotiators. But Democrats — who already have a stimulus amendment for $2,000 checks written by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib — jumped at the opportunity to hold Trump to his word for once:

Trump’s second line of complaint largely had to do with the size of the bill not directly related to coronavirus relief. It began with the falsehood that “Democrats cruelly blocked” a second stimulus up to this point. (Republicans procrastinated instead of negotiating over the Democrats’ $3 trillion offer in July, and Trump himself stopped the talks during the brokering in October.) From there, Trump parroted ideas circulating on conservative social media regarding the focus of the entire bill passed by Congress: a $2.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that funds the federal government until September, in addition to pandemic assistance. In his video, Trump detailed “wasteful and unnecessary spending,” including funding for U.S. fisheries and much of the U.S. foreign-aid budget.

Much of this griping can be ignored — unless the president actually just learned of the $1.3 billion in aid provided to Egypt, and wants to tank our end of the peace deal that came out of the Camp David Accords. But the ending of the four-minute video is worth parsing over. Trump demands that Congress send him “a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID-relief package.” The implicit message there is that Trump won’t sign the bill, although the White House took care not to use the word “veto.”

As congressional reporter Chad Pergram notes, it’s possible that Trump could “pocket veto” the stimulus if lawmakers do not get the bill in his hands by tomorrow. (If delivered on December 24, Trump could hold onto the bill and run out the clock until the session ends on January 3.) But it’s unlikely that a president who spent stimulus negotiations trying to overturn the election on bogus fraud charges would tank a bill that could destroy his party’s chances in the Georgia runoffs and create the second Christmas shutdown during his time in office. It’s even less likely that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would allow Trump to threaten his control of the Senate.

As for the president’s suggestion he may stay in office come January, it’s unlikely that he chose this medium to escalate his soft-coup attempt. Although he hasn’t abandoned the impossibility of overturning the election, the video — posted at night, full of big proclamations and little practical value — has many of the hallmarks of Trump using the power of the presidency for show. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, his aides “view the tweet more as the president voicing his displeasure with the bill than an actual veto threat. One aide said Mr. Trump’s announcement amounted to an effort to make Congress squirm.” Squirm they might; re-legislate they probably won’t. The bill has been passed, and most lawmakers have already left town for the holidays.

Trump Threatens to Scuttle Second COVID Stimulus Package