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Biden calls on Trump to sign Covid bill as government shutdown nears

The president-elect also criticized Trump for letting a handful of Covid-19 relief protections expire with his refusal to sign the bill.
Image: Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., on Dec 22, 2020.Carolyn Kaster / AP

President-elect Joe Biden called on President Donald Trump to sign the $2.3 trillion government funding and coronavirus relief package on Saturday, criticizing the outgoing president for holding up the aid at the last minute and letting critical services such as enhanced unemployment benefits expire.

"It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority," Biden said in a statement. "This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences."

By midnight, there was no word of a Trump signature, and pandemic unemployment assistance, which impacted 7.3 million workers, was scheduled to expire. That means the end of $114 to $357 weekly payments to unemployed gig workers and self-employed people whose businesses have stalled.

Trump threw the massive Covid-19 relief and government funding bill into question on Tuesday when he threatened to veto the bill after it passed both chambers of Congress with strong majorities. In a video posted to Twitter, Trump complained that the bill contained too many provisions unrelated to the pandemic and argued that the direct payments to Americans were too low.

On Thursday, the bill was sent from Washington to Florida, where Trump is spending the holidays at his Palm Beach resort. It remains unclear whether Trump will sign it.

The government is funded through Monday. Failure to sign the bill before then could lead to a shutdown and would delay the much-needed coronavirus relief.

"I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in 'pork,'" Trump tweeted Saturday.

Trump's comments on Tuesday sent Washington spiraling into chaos after lawmakers spent months hashing out a deal on the largest piece of legislation in 2020 and left many frustrated that Trump waited so long to voice his concerns after largely sitting out of the negotiation process.

Trump had been expected to sign the bill once it hit his desk.

Following Trump’s comments about raising the amount of the direct payments per individual to $2,000, House Democrats on Thursday rushed to schedule a vote to increase the payments as the president demanded. But Republicans killed the bill, throwing into further doubt the future of any imminent financial relief for millions of struggling Americans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said House Democrats would vote Monday on a standalone bill that would provide direct payments to Americans of $2,000 a person.

The House is also expected to consider on Monday a stopgap measure to avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

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Biden had been encouraging Congress to pass the coronavirus relief before the end of the year but assured Americans on Saturday that more relief would come after he is inaugurated.

"This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now," Biden said. "But it is also a first step and down payment on more action that we’ll need to take early in the new year to revive the economy and contain the pandemic — including meeting the dire need for funding to distribute and administer the vaccine and to increase our testing capacity."