Donald Trump went rogue on Tuesday night.
In a video message posted to Twitter, the president (for another four weeks) asked Congress to amend the 5,593-page government funding bill and virus relief package, citing what he called “unnecessary components.”
“Throughout the summer, Democrats cruelly blocked COVID relief legislation in an effort to advance their extreme left-wing agenda,” Trump began, speaking from a lectern positioned in front of some Christmas decor.
That is, of course, not true. House Democrats passed a $3.4 trillion relief bill in May, and Mitch McConnell refused to consider it. Later, in September, McConnell attempted to move forward with a “targeted” bill worth somewhere between $500 billion and $700 billion, an effort Democrats generally derided as callous and disingenuous. In October, Nancy Pelosi and Steve Mnuchin came close to an agreement on a $1.8 trillion package, but for all the press those negotiations received, McConnell was never on board. The Senate was busy with Amy Coney Barrett, and even if they weren’t, McConnell made it clear the GOP wouldn’t countenance legislation with a price tag that high.
In any case, Trump on Tuesday evening claimed the new bill is “much different than anticipated.” He called it a “disgrace.”
Crucially, it wasn’t entirely clear from Trump’s four-minute, irritable complaint, that he understood the difference between the spending bill (which absolutely must pass) and the attached stimulus legislation.
“It’s called the COVID relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” Trump said, after complaining about the length of the text. He then cited foreign aid and what he insisted was other “wasteful” spending, again without making it clear that he was fully apprised of the extent to which there are effectively two pieces of legislation involved, only one of which is the COVID relief package.
Ultimately, Trump demanded a tripling (and then some) of stimulus checks to $2,000 per person and $4,000 per couple. “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists, and special interests, while sending the bare minimum to the American people, who need it,” he remarked. The Squad was ready:
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) December 23, 2020
Trump posted the video around the same time the White House issued a wave of pardons (for Rep. Duncan Hunter, former Rep. Chris Collins, George Papadopoulos, Alex van der Zwaan, Steve Stockman, Nicholas Slatten, Paul Slough, Evan Liberty, and Dustin Heard, among others).
One assumes $2,000 checks instead of $600 checks will be a non-starter among some GOP lawmakers, and you can be absolutely sure that everyone on Capitol Hill picked up on Trump’s apparent inability to differentiate between the stimulus package and the broader spending bill.
It would be welcome news to American families if direct payments were more than tripled, but that seemed far from a sure bet.
Additionally, it wasn’t immediately clear what Trump was trying to accomplish on Tuesday night. Maybe it was some kind of three-dimensional chess move aimed at the Georgia runoffs. If it were feasible to suggest the outgoing president was attempting to do the right thing even though he’ll be departing the White House in a matter of weeks, I’d do so. But you’ll forgive me for saying that seems unrealistic.
In fact, Trump indicated he still hasn’t accepted the results of the election. “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,” he said. “Thank you very much.”