U.S. President Donald Trump threw a major wrench in congressional efforts to authorize a new bipartisan COVID-19 relief package, threatening Tuesday evening not to sign the approved bill into law unless it authorized stimulus checks of $2,000, rather than $600 per taxpayer.
“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000—or $4,000 for a couple,” Trump said in a video released on his Twitter account. “I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package.”
The decry came as a huge surprise, since all indications had been Trump would sign the bill, which was the result of a mad scramble to get something passed after months of on-again, off-again negotiation and deadlock. In an appearance on CNBC Monday, Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s treasury secretary, said Americans could see payments arriving by the beginning of next week.
Although the relief package and an accompanying yearly spending bill were passed by both chambers of Congress with veto-proof majorities, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic lawmakers—who had long pushed for bigger payments—immediately expressed support for $2,000 checks. On Wednesday morning, Pelosi urged Trump to sign the bill in order to keep the government open and to use a unanimous consent request to get $2,000 payments passed by Thursday. Such a procedure, however, requires all House members to be on board.
The $900 billion rescue bill would extend several crucial measures expiring in just days. Without extensions, millions would be cut off from unemployment benefits and vulnerable to eviction at the end of the month. Meanwhile, the economic recovery is showing new signs of weakness amid a surge in new COVID-19 cases.
In the video, Trump called the 5,593-page bill a “disgrace” that was “much different than anticipated”—stuffed with unnecessary provisions and not enough relief for ordinary families.
“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 said. (Many of the items Trump criticized were not from the COVID-19 relief bill, but from the attached yearly spending bill.)
He also said if he was not presented with a better bill, the next presidential administration, which he falsely claimed could be his, might have to deliver COVID-19 relief. However, Trump might still sign the bill, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing two aides who noted he didn’t explicitly say he would veto.