After an agonizing, made-for-TV delay, Donald Trump decided to sign the bipartisan COVID-19 relief bill after all, putting an end to a stalemate that, had it persisted, would have stalled crucial aid to the economy and worsened the already tenuous plight of America’s legions of jobless.
Because the legislation was attached to the broader funding bill, inaction also threatened to force a government shutdown.
A statement from the White House made a series of claims suggesting Trump secured concessions:
President Trump has signed H.R. 133, an Act making consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2021, providing coronavirus emergency response and relief, and for other purposes. The President is sending a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed. Sending back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill. The President is signing this bill to restore unemployment benefits, stop evictions, provide rental assistance, add money for PPP, return our airline workers back to work, add substantially more money for vaccine distribution, and much more. On Monday the House will vote to increase payments to individuals from $600 to $2,000. Therefore, a family of four would receive $5,200. Additionally, Congress has promised that Section 230, which so unfairly benefits Big Tech at the expense of the American people, will be reviewed and either be terminated or substantially reformed. Likewise, the House and Senate have agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election. The Senate will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.
That the White House is making unfounded allegations of election fraud in an official statement announcing the signing of virus relief legislation and the government funding bill is beyond the pale, but then again, what isn’t these days? Needless to say, Trump has not likely secured anything like a concrete commitment from congressional leaders to “focus very strongly” on conspiracy theories tied to the election. At best, he has the support of the same House GOPers who backed him on the issue previously. Mitch McConnell isn’t going to allow the Senate to become a forum for Trump’s fraud allegations. He made that clear this month when he formally recognized Joe Biden as the next president. The election is over. It isn’t going to be overturned.
Trump teased an anxious nation on Sunday evening prior to the signing. “Good news on COVID Relief Bill,” he said, in a tweet. “Information to follow!” Around the same time, the Washington Post reported that Trump was poised to uncap his famous Sharpie, if only to avert a shutdown.
Earlier, reports suggested the stage was set (literally) for the legislation to be signed on Christmas Eve, after it was flown to Florida. “In anticipation of the signing, the smaller of Mar-a-Lago’s two ballrooms was prepped for a 7PM ceremony, complete with a desk and chair for Trump to sit, and his customary pens at the ready,” one source told CNN, whose coverage noted that “as the hour approached, aides were informed” that Trump had “changed his mind.”
Even as Democrats pressed Trump to sign the existing legislation, Nancy Pelosi attempted to secure an increase in the size of stimulus checks, Trump’s primary demand delivered in the Twitter video which upended months of tedious negotiations on Capitol Hill. House Republicans blocked Pelosi’s first attempt, and Democrats will make another push on Monday. As far as anyone knew, there were still not enough GOP votes in the Senate to green light the larger checks.
Trump’s insistence on larger direct payments put David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in a tough position ahead of the crucial Georgia runoffs. Their Democratic opponents jumped at the opportunity to champion the bigger checks and challenged the GOP to do the same or else explain why they felt compelled to rebuke their own president. Trump said Sunday he plans to campaign in Georgia on January 4.
Over the weekend, media coverage of Trump’s refusal to sign the stimulus bill was relentless. Some GOP lawmakers cautioned that the consequences of inaction would be dramatic. Pat Toomey, for example, warned of “chaos and misery.”
There were plenty of allusions to “Nero fiddling,” including in these pages. It wasn’t the first time Trump was the subject of that rather unflattering comparison.
Summing up, the Post wrote that “the consequences of inaction [were] immense: Unemployment benefits, eviction protections, small business aid and stimulus checks would all be frozen – and a government shutdown would begin.”
The situation remained fluid on Sunday evening. There was still no indication of what will happen with Trump’s defense bill veto, which Congress will probably override this week. Although the Sunday evening statement from the White House makes reference to the 230 repeal Trump has demanded, Congress was already looking at 230 reform, so that’s nothing new.
Whatever the case, this Christmas soap opera represented yet another unnecessary failure of government. The bill itself was a failure on many fronts, so Trump’s theatrics were just cruel showmanship layered atop gross legislative ineptitude.
That’s not to say Americans couldn’t use the larger stimulus checks, but if Trump really cared about that, he would have instructed Steve Mnuchin to make it a red line in the negotiations. By all accounts, Mnuchin mentioned no such thing.
While “better late than never” certainly applies to this situation, let us not forget that more than 160,000 Americans died of COVID-19 since benefits from the previous virus relief package began to lapse. Over the same period, millions experienced food insecurity.
Rome is still burning. And while Trump’s readily apparent dereliction of duty during the pandemic added another dubious chapter to the tale of America’s brush with autocratic rule, he hasn’t been the only one fiddling.