Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo the U.S. Congress’ massive Covid 19 aid package amid a raging pandemic and economic uncertainty, calling for changes that his Republican colleagues have rejected.
In a video he tweeted Tuesday evening, Trump criticized the bipartisan $900 billion package and hinted that he might not sign the bill.
Why Jan. 6 is a key date for the U.S. election – a look at next steps He called on members of the U.S. Congress to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 (£447) to $2,000 (£1,493) for individuals and $4,000 (£2,986) for couples.
He railed against a number of provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, and urged lawmakers to “remove the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and send me an appropriate bill.”
Trump did not specifically promise to veto the bill, and there could be enough support for the legislation in the U.S. Congress to override him if he does so.
However, if the president were to overturn the sweeping bill, there would be serious consequences, such as no federal aid for distressed Americans and small businesses and no additional funding for vaccine distribution.
In addition, because Congress has tied the pandemic relief law to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down on Dec. 29.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Trump in a tweet to “sign the bill to keep the government open!” Ms. Pelosi wrote in a letter to her colleagues, “The entire country knows it is urgent for the President to sign this bill.” The aid package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion (1 trillion pounds) to fund U.S. government agencies through September and includes other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-strapped transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about $4 billion (2.9 billion pounds) to help other nations provide a Covid 19 vaccine for their populations.
Lawmakers spent months in a stalemate over pandemic aid money, even as Covid 19 cases soared across the country.
Democrats had pushed for higher payments to Americans, but compromised with Republicans to reach a deal.
After Trump’s heckling, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi virtually called on Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president’s demand for far higher payments.
She said in a tweet, “Finally the President has agreed to a $2,000 payment. Democrats are ready to bring this to the floor this week with unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” An aide said she would bring the proposal up for a vote Thursday.
Republicans were reluctant to spend more on pandemic aid, agreeing to the big year-end package only as time dwindled for a final deal.
And Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the U.S. Senate, said that “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” with Congress able to provide more aid later.
The Senate passed the huge aid package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by a 359-53 vote.
Those vote totals would be enough to override a veto should Mr. Trump decide to take that step.
After months of wrangling over pandemic aid, the deadlock broke after U.S. President-elect Joe Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with leading Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.
Biden applauded members of Congress for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, “but it provides vital relief at a critical time.”
He also said more relief will be needed in the coming months. “We have an initial indication and a glimpse of bipartisanship,” Biden added.
“In this election, Americans have made it clear that they want us to think outside the box and work together.”