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Trump slams relief bill, calls on Congress to increase stimulus money

by NIV ELIS AND TAL AXELROD | The Hill  |  Published on December 23, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday evening blasted Congress over the already-passed COVID-19 relief package and called on both chambers to send him a new bill increasing stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000.

The president expressed dismay with the $2.3 trillion package that Congress passed Monday, which includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and $1.4 trillion to fund the government until October, conflating the two bills and saying the spending goals were misguided.

“A few months ago, Congress started negotiations on a new package to get urgently needed help to the American people. It’s taken forever. However, the bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace,” Trump said in a video posted to Twitter.

“Despite all of this wasteful spending and much more, the $900 billion package provides hardworking taxpayers with only $600 each in relief payments, and not enough money is given to small businesses, and in particular restaurants, whose owners have suffered so grievously,” he added.

The bill includes special terms for restaurants and hotels to access larger loans from the Paycheck Protection Program, a move praised by the National Restaurant Association. It does not include the Restaurants Act, a bill the restaurant industry had pushed for earlier that would have set aside $120 billion in funds for restaurants or bars with fewer than 20 locations.

Trump cited a slew of provisions from the government funding bill as wasteful add-ons to the COVID-19 package, including $85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia and $40 million for the Kennedy Center in Washington. He also falsely claimed that the bill provided more stimulus funds for noncitizens than citizens.

The COVID-19 relief bill prevented undocumented immigrants from receiving stimulus checks but did allow mixed-status households to receive the checks. In such households, only the citizen adult and the children would receive funds.

Trump did not explicitly threaten to veto the package, which passed both chambers with overwhelming, veto-proof majorities. If he vetoes or opts not to sign the bill by Monday at midnight, the government will shut down and several key unemployment benefits will expire.

The federal government is currently funded through Dec. 28 as part of a stopgap bill.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who spent months pushing for a larger COVID-19 relief bill in the face of GOP opposition, quickly responded to the tweet, saying she was in full support of increasing the size of the stimulus checks.

“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” Pelosi tweeted.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated that the response was not merely rhetorical and that the House would offer a bill increasing stimulus checks to $2,000 using unanimous consent, daring Republicans to bring down the bill by objecting during a Christmas Eve pro forma session.

The issue could play a role in the hotly contested Georgia Senate runoffs scheduled for Jan. 6, which will determine control of the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) urged Trump to sign the bill at hand, suggesting that more aid could be added later.

“Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open and we’re glad to pass more aid Americans need,” he tweeted.

The Hill has reached out to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for comment.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a top Trump ally in Congress, urged the president on Tuesday night to quickly sign the COVID-19 relief bill, even if it is imperfect.

“The #COVID19 package, while imperfect, will save jobs and lives. The sooner the bill becomes law – the better,” he wrote on Twitter.

Trump, who was largely absent from negotiations over the COVID-19 bill in the aftermath of his election loss, reportedly planned to issue a similar statement calling for larger checks as talks neared their end last week, according to The Washington Post.

Congressional Republicans, who insisted that the relief bill remain under $1 trillion, reportedly talked him out of the idea, warning that it would blow up the talks as they neared their deadline.

Trump instead Tweeted out that “stimulus talks [are] looking very good.”

Trump’s request comes after Congress has already left town for the Christmas holiday. The Senate is due to return on Dec. 29, a day after government funding is set to expire, in order to override a possible veto on another bill with strong bipartisan backing: the National Defense Authorization Act.

The key defense legislation has passed and been signed into law every year for the last 59 years.

Trump released the video Tuesday night calling on Congress to send him a new bill as his administration announced that he had granted clemency to three former GOP congressmen along with two people charged as part of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Those granted a pardon included George Papadopoulos, who served as a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign in 2016 and pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators as part of Mueller’s Russia probe; former GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter (Calif.), who pleaded guilty last year to misusing campaign funds; former GOP Rep. Chris Collins (N.Y.), who pleaded guilty in 2019 to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and lying to the FBI; and former GOP Rep. Steve Stockman (Texas), who was convicted in 2018 of money laundering, conspiracy and other charges.

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