Erin Schaff - Pool/Getty President Donald Trump
President Donald Trump suggested Tuesday night he would veto the latest pandemic relief and government funding agreement reached in Congress, calling it a "disgrace" and urging Democrats and Republicans to remove numerous provisions in the bill and drastically increase the direct payments to Americans from the expected $600 to $2,000.
His reaction touched off a scramble among lawmakers and congressional observers, but it remains unclear how his disapproval may ultimately shape the outcome.
The president, 74, did not explicitly say he would veto the bill if it was not changed and, even if he did, the legislation passed with veto-proof majorities indicating Congress could simply override his objection.
Democrats in the House of Representatives, who had envisioned a much larger relief bill and more direct payments before compromising with Republicans, seconded Trump's call for $2,000 checks and said they would vote on increasing the amount this week. Such a move is likely a nonstarter in the Senate, however.
Meanwhile Trump is scheduled to fly to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida later Wednesday with First Lady Melania Trump, where they are expected to spend Christmas.
And there is a ticking clock: The government is temporarily funded until next Monday and the agreement reached this week was intended to avert another shutdown.
Mr. President, sign the bill to keep government open! Urge McConnell and McCarthy to agree with the Democratic unanimous consent request for $2,000 direct payments! This can be done by noon on Christmas Eve!
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 23, 2020
Passed late Monday, the bill had been expected to be signed into law later this week while Congress headed home for the holidays.
Trump's objections were a sudden wrench in what has been a months-long process of gridlock and negotiation between the House's Democratic majority, Senate Republicans and top White House officials.
Since May, the three groups have sharply differed on the scope of the next wave of aid amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has killed more than 300,000 people in the U.S. and disrupted large swaths of the economy.
House Democrats passed a $2.2 trillion relief bill while Senate Republicans, who balked at that number, had come to focus on a $500 billion alternative.
In recent weeks, however, all sides reached an agreement on a $900 billion package, including another round of checks to Americans, along with $1.4 trillion in government funding through September.
The 5,593-page deal was touted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi — the former described it as smartly "targeted," while the latter said it was merely the start of more aid to be passed under President-elect Joe Biden.
The legislation had its critics though, including over certain tax breaks and the amount of the next coronavirus checks: $600 per adult for those making less than $75,000, with a reduced amount for those making up to $87,000 and none above that. (There are some exceptions.) People would also receive $600 per child.
The White House had been involved in the latest legislation, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin boasted after it passed Monday night that people would begin receiving their coronavirus money — in many cases, via direct deposit to their bank account — within days.
But then the president spoke up.
In a recorded speech posted Tuesday night, he lambasted the bill as "much different than anticipated" and complained of its "length and complexity" and numerous non-coronavirus provisions.
President Trump took aim at a hodgepodge of measures in the bill, including both foreign aid and money for federal programs such as support for the arts and wildlife efforts and FBI construction.
He called this "wasteful spending" and swiped at "lobbyists and special interests" whom he said received more focus "while sending the bare minimum to the American people, who need it."
(Government funding bills perennially receive this criticism, with various appropriations singled out as unnecessary largesse. In this case the coronavirus relief was packaged with the larger funding agreement, amplifying the ire.)
Trump, echoing the populism that has sometimes animated him as president, said Tuesday night the $600 coronavirus checks were "ridiculously low" and should be increased to $2,000 per person while "unnecessary items" should be removed.
He also said he wanted to see more aid for restaurants, "whose owners have suffered so grievously."
Congress should make these changes, Trump said, "or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package."
Whether his threat holds sway is less clear. (The White House did not respond to a question about a possible veto; aides for McConnell and Pelosi likewise did not immediately return emails.)
Elsewhere in his remarks Tuesday night, Trump returned to familiar, conspiratorial complaints — insisting he did not lose the election to Biden, who will be sworn in on Jan. 20, and blaming the pandemic on China.