WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion COVID-19 relief package Sunday, despite a remarkable video message he posted to social media days earlier in which he called the bipartisan legislation a “disgrace.”
“I am 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,” Trump said in a statement announcing he had signed the bill.
After weeks of negotiation and bipartisan votes of approval in the House and Senate, Trump on Tuesday unexpectedly slammed the COVID stimulus legislation but stopped short of saying he would veto it. The message upended Washington, drew bipartisan condemnation and threatened to end a chaotic year with a government shutdown.
But after a growing number of Republicans pushed back on Trump’s reticence – and Democrats quickly embraced Trump’s idea of larger direct payments and used it as a cudgel against GOP lawmakers – Trump relented. The president, who has been spending the holidays at his Florida resort, hinted he had won concessions from lawmakers but it was not clear if that was actually the case.
The bill, which was attached to a $1.4 trillion spending measure to keep the government running through September. Without the bill, government funding had been set to run out at midnight on Monday.Trump said he would request that Congress rescind some of the funding it approved, but the prospects for those requests were slim given that President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated in less than a month.
Republicans on Capitol Hill, caught between a vote to approve the stimulus they thought would be popular and a president who appeared bent on undermining the measure after it was approved, appeared to breathe a sigh of relief.
“I am glad the American people will receive this much-needed assistance as our nation continues battling this pandemic,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement that was released minutes after the White House announced Trump’s signature.
The relief package provides up to $600 in direct stimulus checks to millions of Americans and extends unemployment benefits, as well as a program intended to help small businesses retain their employees during the coronavirus pandemic.
The dispute between Trump and lawmakers came as the coronavirus pandemic continues its winter march across the United States, dramatically increasing infections and deaths. A growing number of Republicans argued that Trump should sign the bill.
“You don’t get everything you want, even if you’re president of the United States,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., told “Fox News Sunday.” Toomey said that if Trump didn’t sign the measure, he would be remembered “for chaos and misery and erratic behavior.”
In explaining his decision to not immediately sign the measure, Trump said he wanted it to include $2,000 direct payments to individuals rather than the $600 initially agreed to by the administration and approved by Congress. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., embraced the idea of larger payments but Republicans were more circumspect.
Pelosi said Sunday that Trump should “immediately call on congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our stand-alone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000.” Democrats intend to bring that bill to a vote on the House floor Monday.
Trump had initially aired a long list of grievances about the legislation, many of which had to do with the government funding provisions and not the stimulus itself. The president, for instance, criticized routine provisions such as foreign aid and funding for museums that are part of the broader government funding bill.
On Sunday evening, Trump signaled a different tone on the bill that was just as abrupt as his initial decision to criticize it.
“Good news on Covid Relief Bill,” he posted on Twitter. “Information to follow!”
If Trump had vetoed the bill, Congress could override with two-thirds majority votes. The measure sailed through the House 359-53 and in the Senate by 92-6.
The latest round of stimulus – the fifth passed by Congress since the pandemic began nearly a year ago – was the result of intense negotiations in recent days as lawmakers and their staff worked on a compromise that drew criticism from the far right for being too costly and from the far left who said it didn’t go far enough to help Americans.