WASHINGTON — Threatening to tank Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief and government funding package, President Donald Trump’s call for bigger aid checks for Americans is forcing Republicans traditionally wary of such spending into an uncomfortable test of allegiance.
On Thursday, House Democrats who also favor $2,000 checks will all but dare Republicans to break with Trump, calling up his proposal for a Christmas Eve vote. The president’s last-minute objection could derail the legislation amid a raging pandemic and economic uncertainty. His call for larger checks risks a partial government shutdown by early next week.
“Just when you think you have seen it all,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote Wednesday in a letter to colleagues. “The entire country knows that it is urgent for the President to sign this bill, both to provide the coronavirus relief and to keep government open.”
Republicans, led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have resisted $2,000 checks as too costly. They have not said if they will block the vote.
The president’s last-minute objection is setting up a defining showdown with his own Republican Party in his final days in office.
Rather than take the victory of the sweeping aid package, among the biggest in history, Trump is lashing out at GOP leaders over the presidential election — for acknowledging Joe Biden as president-elect and rebuffing his campaign to dispute the Electoral College results when they are tallied in Congress on Jan. 6.
The president’s push to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples splits the party with a politically painful loyalty test, including for GOP senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, fighting to retain their seats in the Jan. 5 special election in Georgia.
Republican lawmakers traditionally balk at big spending and many never fully embraced Trump’s populist approach. Their political DNA tells them to oppose a costlier relief package. But now they’re being asked to stand with the president.
GOP leaders were silent Wednesday, with neither McConnell nor Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, responding to requests for comment.
On a conference call, House Republican lawmakers complained that Trump threw them under the bus, according to one Republican on the private call and granted anonymity to discuss it. Most had voted for the package and they urged leaders to hit the cable news shows to explain its benefits, the person said.
Democrats took advantage of the Republican disarray to apply pressure. Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democrat opponent, tweeted simply Tuesday night: “$2,000 checks now.”
As Congress left town for the holidays, the year-end package was part of a hard-fought compromise, a massive 5,000-plus page bill that includes the COVID-19 aid and $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and address other priorities.
The bill Trump is criticizing would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.
Even though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin represented the White House in negotiations, Trump assailed the bipartisan effort in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night, suggesting he might not sign the legislation.
Railing against a range of provisions in the broader government funding package, including foreign aid, Trump called the bill a “disgrace.”
Trump did not specifically vow to use his veto power, and there might be enough support in Congress to override him if he does.
The final text of the more than 5,000-page bill is still being prepared by Congress and is not expected to be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature before today or Friday.
That complicates the schedule ahead. Under normal circumstances, a bill that has not been vetoed becomes law after 10 days. But it could face a “pocket veto” if Congress adjourns during that time, as it will be expected to do before the new Congress convenes Jan. 3.
A resolution could be forced Monday. That’s when a stopgap bill Congress approved to keep the government funded while the paperwork was being compiled expires at midnight, risking a partial shutdown.