President Donald Trump listens during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. The most improbable of presidents, Donald Trump reshaped the office and shattered its centuries-old norms and traditions while dominating the national discourse like no one before. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

Trump threatens to torpedo COVID relief with new demands

Trump assailed the bipartisan $900 billion package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night.

By KEVIN FREKING, ANDREW TAYLOR and LISA MASCARO

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump late Tuesday threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive pandemic relief package in the midst of a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty, suddenly demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed.

Trump assailed the bipartisan $900 billion package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night and suggested he may not sign it. He said the bill would deliver too much money to foreign countries, but not enough to Americans.

[Conress passes relief bill, it heads to Trump]

The bill provides for a $600 payment to most Americans, but Trump said he is asking Congress to amend the bill and “increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple. I am also asking Congress to get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”

The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about $4 billion to help other nations provide a COVID-19 vaccine for their people.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly responded to Trump’s tweet with one of her own, all but daring Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president’s demand for far higher payments. “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000,” she tweeted. “Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”

But Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on pandemic relief and only agreed to the big year-end package as time dwindled for a final deal. And Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” and Congress would step up for more aid after.

Nevertheless, Pelosi was expected to put Trump’s proposal forward Thursday for a vote.

The Senate cleared the huge package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by another lopsided vote, 359-53. Those votes totals would be enough to override a veto should Trump decide to take that step.

The relief package was brought forward Monday afternoon and sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours as lawmakers worked to close the books on the year. While many lawmakers complained about being given so little time to read the bill, they overwhelmingly voted for it as local businesses and constituents seek economic relief from the pandemic

After months of partisanship and politicking about pandemic relief, the logjam broke after President-elect Joe Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.

The relief bill Trump is criticizing would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

Earlier in the day, Biden applauded lawmakers for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, “but it does provide vital relief at a critical time.”

He also said more relief would be needed in the months ahead. “We have our first hint and glimpse of bipartisanship,” Biden said. “In this election, the American people made it clear they want us to reach across the aisle and work together.”

Trump again held no public events at the White House. He has refused to accept the reality of his loss and claimed incorrectly in his tweet Tuesday that if Congress didn’t send him a suitable bill, then the next administration would have to deliver a pandemic relief package “and maybe that administration will be me and we will get it done.”

After tweeting his threat, he criticized fellow Republicans in the Senate who are not supportive of an effort to block Congress from affirming Biden’s victory in the November election. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. said such as effort would “go down like a shot dog.”

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