Trump blasted for coronavirus relief bill 'switcheroo'

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Governors and lawmakers in both parties bemoaned President Trump‘s “switcheroo” on coronavirus relief and government funding and implored him Sunday to sign the massive bill to avert a federal shutdown and keep economic misery from billowing across the nation.

Mr. Trump, while vacationing in Florida for the holiday weekend, stopped short of a veto threat but reprised his demand for $2,000 checks instead of the “measly” $600 in the bill.

He tweeted late Sunday there was “good news” on the relief bill, with “information to follow,” raising the intrigue further.

The stakes couldn’t be higher for the millions of Americans losing unemployment benefits over the weekend. Other safety-net protections are also set to lapse in the coming days, and normal government funding expires Tuesday.

Flustered Republicans said Mr. Trump pulled the rug out from under his own negotiators with his Christmas-week demand, while governors in both parties said $2,000 checks can come in a supplemental push.

“Sign the bill, get it done. And then if the president wants to get more, let’s get that done, too,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The president needs to sign it.”

Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont said he fully endorses bigger checks but that delaying other relief is “unbelievably cruel.

“Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits. They’re going to be evicted from their apartments because the eviction moratorium is ending,” Mr. Sanders, an independent and leading progressive, told ABC’s “This Week.” “We are looking at a way to get the vaccine distributed to tens of millions of people. There’s money in that bill. This president is diddling around and he may actually veto it.

“Sign the bill, Mr. President, and then immediately — Monday, Tuesday — we can pass a $2,000 direct payment to the working families of this country,” Mr. Sanders said.

Congress sent the massive bill on Thursday to the president in Florida, where Mr. Trump has spent the past few days shuttling between his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach and his golf property a few miles inland.

Besides bigger checks, the president told Congress to eliminate billions of dollars of “pork” in the measure, though at times Mr. Trump conflated the government-spending portion of the legislation with COVID-19 relief.

Congressional Democrats say they’re on board with bigger checks, so Mr. Trump “should get back to Washington and get that piece done as well,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, told CNN.

Sen. Pat Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, said he would oppose bigger checks but like the others insisted that Mr. Trump sign the existing measure.

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Mr. Toomey said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire.”

The coronavirus pandemic prompted Congress to pass a sweeping relief measure in March that featured direct payments to Americans and stimulus dollars to keep businesses afloat.

But the virus kept circulating through the warmer months and surged by the fall, prompting another round of business closures and prompting a long-running debate on Capitol Hill about ways to stimulate the economy and throw a lifeline to Americans suddenly out of a job.

Democrats accused Senate Republicans of waffling after the House passed a major relief bill in May, though the GOP said it amounted to a liberal wish-list instead of targeted relief and that House leaders wanted to make Mr. Trump look bad ahead of the election.

Running out of time as jobs slumped, benefits neared expiration and U.S. deaths attributed to COVID-19 topped 300,000, congressional leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin reached a December deal.

The breakthrough came earlier in the month when a group of centrist Republicans and Democrats from the House and Senate said they’d worked out their own $900 billion deal, forcing those on their right and left to come back to the table and authorize $600 checks for adults making $75,000 or less and another round of business loans, rental assistance and an eviction moratorium.

But Mr. Trump shocked Washington on Tuesday by calling the bill a “disgrace” and ordering lawmakers to revise the just-passed bill, saying it contained too much foreign aid and not enough help for struggling Americans.

Members of both parties also said they were frustrated by the sequence of events, in which Mr. Mnuchin negotiated a bill on the White House’s behalf only to be undercut by the president.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, said nobody liked everything in the bill but that $600 was the final deal.

“It’s the nature of legislating, you’re not going to end up with anything perfect,” he told CNN. “But we passed it because this was the agreed-upon number. It’s what the president negotiated. And then for him to come out and say, now I’m going to veto it for the $2,000 checks, fine. If you want to make it $2,000 checks, negotiate that from the beginning.

“We’re at a point where people are left out in the dark,” he said. “But to play this old switcheroo game, which is just kind of like, I don’t get the point. I don’t understand what’s being done, why, unless it’s just to create chaos and show power and be upset because you lost the election.”

Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman, New York Democrat, said Mr. Trump is “posturing to bring himself back as the hero of the American people, asking for $2,000” after his defeat.

“He’s a privileged person who rose to power as a reality TV star and now he’s trying to drive this country into chaos,” Mr. Bowman told CNN.

Mr. Trump‘s public schedule did not include any events but included this message: “During the Holiday season, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls.”

The president did repeat his instructions to Congress via Twitter, writing the day after Christmas: “I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

With no action as of press time Sunday, Monday was shaping into a do-or-die day.

Government funding will lapse without action, and there will be further delays in states looking to issue unemployment benefits. The nation is also nearing the Dec. 31 expiration of an eviction moratorium.

The group of centrists who led the way to the deal implored Mr. Trump on Sunday to either sign the bill or veto it immediately, allowing those who agree with his position to adjust accordingly.

“Never before in your personal, professional, or political life have you been characterized as a man of inaction. Now is not the time to sit idly by — please do the right thing and sign or veto this bill immediately,” said the statement led by Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat, and leading Problem Solvers Caucus Reps. Josh Gottheimer, New Jersey Democrat, and Tom Reed, New York Republican.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered her chamber back on Monday to vote to override Mr. Trump‘s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act and take a recorded vote on a measure to approve $2,000 checks — a way to increase pressure on Senate Republicans who normally support Mr. Trump but have opposed that level of spending on stimulus.

“Hopefully by then the president will have already signed the bipartisan and bicameral legislation to keep the government open and to deliver coronavirus relief,” Mrs. Pelosi told members on Christmas Eve.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden said Mr. Trump is guilty of an “abdication of responsibility” for sitting on the bill.

The Democrat says Mr. Trump is putting the U.S. at risk of a government shutdown while forcing Americans to worry about expiring eviction protections and unemployment benefits. He also says businesses might not survive the winter without the extra help.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump‘s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Mr. Biden said in a Saturday statement. “This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now.”

⦁ Dave Boyer and Gabriella Muñoz contributed to this report.

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