Washington headed towards another week (at least) of political wrangling after Donald Trump vetoed the defense policy bill and made a series of demands of lawmakers around the broader government spending package and latest coronavirus relief legislation.
In a legislative maneuver Thursday, House Democrats tried — and failed — to authorize the $2,000 payments championed by Trump. Republicans blocked it. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy attempted to force the chamber to dive into the 5,593-page spending bill in order to “reexamine how tax dollars are spent overseas.”
In his Tuesday evening broadside, Trump lambasted foreign aid, although it wasn’t clear the president fully understood the distinction between the stimulus legislation and the spending bill to which it was attached. “Republicans will offer a unanimous consent request to revisit the State and Foreign Operations title of the Omnibus so that we can fully address the concerns at hand,” McCarthy said, in a letter to House Republicans. “It will be up to Speaker Pelosi to decide if she wants to act on behalf of the American people, while so many of our neighbors at home are struggling to make ends meet.”
That could scarcely be more disingenuous. For one thing, hardly anyone “visited” that part of the legislation in the first place, just like nobody read the majority of the bill, because it was simply too long for humans to process. The fact that Congress was short on time was entirely due to their own own mishandling of negotiations, which lasted five months, a time period during which COVID-19 killed more than 160,000 Americans, while the economic carnage from the pandemic left millions of families struggling with food insecurity. Democrats blocked McCarthy’s unanimous consent move on foreign aid.
Democrats in the House will float new legislation after Christmas in a bid to secure the $2,000 payments Trump wants (or says he wants). It seems likely Republicans will continue to use Trump’s remarks about foreign aid as an excuse to stonewall.
All of that is to say nothing of the Senate, where there weren’t, as of Christmas Eve, enough GOP votes to increase the direct payments.
“Trump did not specifically vow to use his veto power, and there may be enough support in Congress to override him if he does, but the consequences would be severe if Trump upends the legislation,” the AP wrote Thursday. “It would mean no federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution.”
Of course, it would also mean a government shutdown. Or at least theoretically. The virus relief package was Scotch-taped onto the funding bill, so, if there’s no deal by next week, the government would hypothetically shut down. It would be the second holiday shutdown in three years under Trump.
“The final text of the more than 5,000-page bill was still being prepared by Congress and was not expected to be sent to the White House for Trump’s signature before Thursday or Friday,” the AP added, underscoring the likelihood that Trump’s complaints about foreign aid were motivated at least in part by sensationalist articles and segments on right-wing and nationalist media, who in some cases decried US financial assistance for other countries.
“That complicates the schedule ahead,” the AP went on to remark, noting that “if Trump vetoes the package, or allows it to expire with a ‘pocket veto’ at the end of the year, Americans will go without massive amounts of COVID aid.”
Republicans are also staring down the decidedly dodgy prospect of defying Trump’s Wednesday veto of the defense bill. Although an override seems likely, Trump will surely attack high profile GOPers who break with his demand that Congress attach an unrelated measure repealing Section 230, a gambit aimed at stripping social media companies of key protections, potentially allowing Trump to sue them once he leaves office. (That latter bit alluding to Trump’s intentions is speculation on my part, but I think it’s warranted.)
In addition to a vote on authorizing the $2,000 payments, the House will likely vote Monday to override Trump’s defense bill veto. The Senate will do so (or attempt to do so) on Tuesday.
The defense bill must pass. It’s inconceivable (to the extent anything is these days) that Congress would allow Trump to get away with effectively defunding the military in order to punish social media platforms for flagging his voluminous election claims as “disputed.”
All of this is a mess for David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler ahead of the Georgia runoffs. As discussed here on Wednesday, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are now in a position to press their Republican opponents on why they oppose their own President’s proposal on stimulus checks. Loeffler, under pressure to say something, obfuscated at a Wednesday event.”[I’m for] redirecting any wasteful spending to be very targeted at families and businesses who have been impacted by this virus,” she ventured. Loeffler, you’re reminded, is hugely wealthy.
Meanwhile, Trump continued to pardon current and former associates, including Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Jared Kushner’s father, Charles.
According to estimates by Harvard Law’s Jack Goldsmith, 60 out of 65 pardons and commutations granted by Trump before Wednesday went to people who either furthered his political agenda or had a personal relationship with him. The New York Times noted that while “similar figures do not exist for previous presidents, legal experts say that those presidents granted a far lower percentage to those who could help them personally and politically.”
Republican Ben Sasse called Trump’s pardons “rotten to the core” and described Wednesday’s list as “another tranche of felons.”