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In reversal, Trump signs spending bill, unlocking Covid aid and averting shutdown

The bill averts a government shutdown and restores unemployment benefits that had expired after the president delayed signing it.
Image: U.S. President Donald Trump departs his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach
President Donald Trump departs his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., on Sunday.Tom Brenner / Reuters

President Donald Trump backtracked Sunday and signed a $2.3 trillion package that combines Covid-19 relief with government funding.

His last-minute decision, coming after he caused days of legislative chaos by lacerating a bill his own aides had negotiated, will restore enhanced unemployment assistance that expired Sunday and avert a shutdown that would have begun Tuesday.

The bill, the result of protracted negotiations between party leaders and the Trump administration — which Trump largely sat out — includes a $900 billion Covid-19 stimulus package to extend the unemployment benefits: $114 to $357 weekly payments to unemployed gig workers and self-employed people whose businesses have stalled. The funds have been a lifeline for 7.3 million Americans out of work because of the coronavirus.

The package also extends the federal moratorium on evictions, which was set to expire Thursday. Without the extension, millions of people faced immediate housing crises.

The legislation also funds the federal government through September. Congress passed the bill with strong bipartisan support late Monday, but Trump upended the consensus by suddenly raising an objection to the size of a new round of direct payments, which came as news to his aides who had negotiated them with Congress.

He demanded that lawmakers raise the amount to $2,000 and criticized other elements, which he called "pork," in the mammoth spending package, including routine annual foreign aid payments. Trump reiterated his criticism Saturday, tweeting, "I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill."

The Covid-19 aid package includes additional assistance for small businesses and $600 in direct payments to Americans who earned less than $75,000 in the previous tax year.

The amount represented a compromise between Democrats, who wanted larger checks, and Republicans, many of whom opposed additional direct payments.

In a statement Sunday announcing that he had signed the relief bill while claiming that both chambers of Congress would begin the process of meeting some of his demands, Trump said he had "told Congress that I want far less wasteful spending and more money going to the American people in the form of $2,000 checks per adult and $600 per child."

He continued: "As President I am demanding many rescissions under the Impoundment Control Act of 1974."

"I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed. I will send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill," Trump said.

The act allows for a president to request that Congress rescind appropriated funds, but Congress can ignore such requests, and such cuts are highly unlikely. The 116th Congress ends Jan. 3, and President-elect Joe Biden will not go along with Trump's demands.

Trump's statement also claimed without evidence that "the House and Senate have agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election."

The House is controlled by Democrats, who would never agree to such a demand. Trump's claim of "very substantial voter fraud" is baseless. His campaign has failed to provide any evidence of fraud in the dozens of lawsuits it has filed to overturn the results. Former Attorney General William Barr confirmed this month that the Justice Department had uncovered no widespread fraud in the election, and states have certified the results confirming Biden the winner.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who proposed the $600 checks and negotiated the stimulus package with congressional leadership, said days ago in an interview with CNBC that Americans could see the checks quickly.

Trump said in his statement Sunday evening that the House would vote Monday to increase the amount to $2,000 for individuals and that the Senate would likewise "start the process."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that Trump's signature was "welcome news," and she called on Trump to encourage Republicans to "end their obstruction" and support House Democrats' standalone effort to boost direct payments.

In his own statement, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made no mention of any of the promises Trump ascribed to the chamber, including any possible vote on increasing the payment amount.

Instead, McConnell thanked Trump and praised him for his "leadership" in preventing the government shutdown that would have been triggered by his continued refusal to sign the bill.

"His leadership has prevented a government shutdown at a time when our nation could not have afforded one," McConnell said.

Trump has been spending the holiday at Mar-a-Lago, his private resort in Palm Beach, Florida, and he visited Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach on Sunday morning, according to the traveling media pool report.

He hinted at his reversal in a tweet Sunday evening before returning to his golf club.

If the president had chosen to veto the legislation, it would have set up his second showdown with Republicans in Congress who have been reluctant to cross him.

Last week, Trump vetoed the annual military spending bill, which passed the House and the Senate with veto-proof majorities. Congress has until Jan. 2 to override the veto, which would be the first during the Trump administration.