Trump Calls on Congress to Approve $2,000 Stimulus Checks, Hinting He Might Not Sign it

WASHINGTON (The Washington Post) -
(AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump Tuesday night asked Congress to amend the nearly $900 billion stimulus and spending bill passed by the Senate just one day before, describing the groundbreaking legislation 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 final legislation that he described as “wasteful spending and much more.” He did not mention that the $600 stimulus check idea came from his own 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 5,593-page bill was introduced Monday afternoon and then passed the House and Senate later in the evening. It passed Congress with broad bipartisan support, clearing the Senate by a 92-6 margin.

Trump’s aides had made positive comments about it but Trump had largely stayed out of negotiations. Last week, he had 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 had convinced him not to intervene, saying it could scuttle the whole package.

Some aides were stunned that Trump weighed in the way he did after his economic team had publicly praised the bill.

But administration officials had negotiated the bill with lawmakers in the final days without explicitly securing Trump’s approval, aides said. He had largely been distracted with overturning the results of the presidential election.

Trump had long wanted to do more than $600 in checks and kept asking aides why they couldn’t agree to a bigger number, an official said.

He released the video on Tuesday after a number of his aides, including Mark Meadows, were already out of town.

As the coronavirus pandemic began to move rapidly through the United States in March, Congress passed a massive $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 cases – and the end of the November election – sparked a bipartisan coalition to seek a new bill. The measure that passed Congress Monday night included $900 billion in new assistance, ranging from the $600 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment aid for 11 weeks, small business assistance, and a range of other measures.

Trump’s top economic advisers had not signaled that he was unhappy with the bill. In fact, they had suggested they were quite happy with the way the package came together.

“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.

But not all aides were supportive of the measure, though some kept their criticisms closely held.

Aides who dislike the bill particularly used the fact that some of its unrelated spending provisions included foreign aid as a way to turn Trump against the measure, knowing there are few things he hates more than American money going to other countries.

Virtually all of the complaints Trump made in the four-minute video – including foreign aid agreements, aid to the Kennedy Center, fish management language and more – are not part of the $900 billion Covid relief agreement but rather included in other, separately negotiated part of the legislation. This part of the bill is a $1.4 trillion omnibus appropriations bill and a bill authorizing $9.9 billion in water projects. These bills and many others were packaged together into one package.

Two congressional aides who had been involved in the negotiations said they were completely unaware of any problems the White House had with the bill. On Sunday, Ben Williamson, a spokesman for White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, said publicly ahead of the bill’s release that Trump supported the legislation and would sign it.

The House and Senate passed the bill with such large margins that they could likely 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 into law.