Trump Heads Back to Washington Early Amid Showdown with Congress

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (REUTERS/Hamodia) -
U.S. President Donald Trump waves from the presidential motorcade while departing the Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., December 30, 2020. (REUTERS/Tom Brenner)

U.S. President Donald Trump headed back to Washington from his Florida resort on Thursday, a day earlier than planned, as he continued his fight with Congress over a defense bill and stimulus checks as well as a long-shot bid to overturn his November election defeat.

Trump, who originally was scheduled to attend a New Year’s Eve party at his Mar-a-Lago resort, boarded Air Force One and took off for Washington just after 11:30 a.m. EST.

He did not speak to reporters on departure, and has not done so in weeks.

The White House has given no reason for the change in plan, but it coincides with Trump’s fight with Congress over his veto of a major defense bill and his demand for increased COVID-19 stimulus checks, as well as a spike in tensions with Iran.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber, dealt a likely death blow on Wednesday to Trump’s bid to boost coronavirus aid to Americans, declining to schedule a swift vote on a bill to raise relief checks to $2,000 from the $600 included in the relief package passed by Congress earlier this month.

Trump had ramped up pressure on fellow Republicans to back the bigger checks for struggling Americans in a series of tweets in recent days in which he attacked Republican leaders as “pathetic” and accused the party of having a “death wish” if it did not increase stimulus payments.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley on Wednesday pledged to challenge Biden’s victory when Congress convenes to officially tally the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, which could trigger a lengthy debate in the Republican-controlled Senate but has virtually no chance of overturning the results.

Some Republican senators had supported an increase in the stimulus payments, including David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face runoff elections in Georgia next week that will determine which party controls the Senate under Biden.

The tensions among Republicans have been exacerbated by a second showdown over an effort in Congress to override Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill.

The Senate voted 80-12 on Wednesday to begin debate on the issue, with another procedural vote due on Friday. If successful, the effort would lead to the first veto override of Trump’s presidency.

The Democratic-controlled U.S. House of Representatives voted to overturn Trump’s defense bill veto on Monday.

U.S.-Iran tensions, meanwhile, have again spiked.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday accused Washington of trying to fabricate a pretext for attacking his country and vowed Tehran would defend itself even though it does not seek war.

Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over the Middle East on Wednesday in what U.S. officials said was a message of deterrence to Iran ahead of the first anniversary of a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3, 2020.