Trump’s Busy Tuesday Night: Pardoning Political Allies and Blowing Up COVID Aid Deal

President Donald Trump speaks about the election after presenting the Medal of Freedom to former college football coach Lou Holtz in the Oval Office of the White House on December 3, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

By Elle Meyers

December 23, 2020

The president didn’t participate in negotiations over COVID aid deal, but now he wants stimulus checks of $2,000, not $600. Republicans almost certainly won’t agree with that.

President Donald Trump demanded changes to the latest round of COVID-19 relief aid on Tuesday night, potentially derailing the massive agreement after largely sitting out the negotiations for the past eight months. 

Trump called the $900 billion bill a “disgrace” and insisted individuals get $2,000 stimulus checks instead of the $600 checks currently in the bill. That would increase the cost of the bill over the arbitrary $900 billion limit set by Senate Republicans.

In a video posted online Tuesday night, Trump focused on lawmakers’ decision to pass the relief aid as part of a much broader spending package that would also fund the federal government and the military for the coming months. Included in that part of the plan are typical provisions for things like foreign aid and support for domestic institutions like museums. 

“It’s called the COVID relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” Trump said in the video posted online. “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people.”

According to CNN, many of the line items Trump complained about closely matched what his own budget had asked for earlier this year. 

Trump’s statements opposing the stimulus deal came just after he issued pardons for 15 people, including a pair of congressional Republicans who were strong and early supporters, a 2016 campaign official ensnared in the Russia probe and former government contractors convicted in a 2007 massacre in Baghdad.

Democratic leaders have been pushing for larger individual stimulus checks for Americans since May, as the country continues to struggle through the pandemic. But the check size was winnowed down during negotiations with Senate Republicans to reach a deal. 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi welcomed Trump’s intervention. 

“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” Pelosi wrote on Twitter.

Pelosi said the House would consider a stand-alone bill to increase the stimulus checks to $2,000 on Christmas Eve. The bill would be considered by “unanimous consent,” meaning just one member of the House could object and stop the bill from passing. 

So far, Republican leadership in the House and Senate have not commented on Trump’s demands.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate approved the bill with $600 checks for Americans with a veto-proof majority. But Trump’s move late Tuesday undermines the position of Republican lawmakers argued against allocating more money to citizens for months. 

Between Trump’s long list of pardons and demands to alter the hard fought stimulus bill, next steps for lawmakers seem, at least temporarily, unclear. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said that if Trump vetoes the existing stimulus bill it would be a “ludicrous way to run government but a fitting end to his presidency.” 

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