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Trump threw a wrench into Covid relief. What could happen next?

The president could ultimately sign the bill, veto or pocket veto it.
Image: President Trump Departs The White House En Route To Army v Navy Football Game
President Donald Trump departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on Dec. 12, 2020.Al Drago / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday threw a wrench into the massive year-end spending and coronavirus relief bill, leaving the country on edge as the threat of a government shutdown and expiring Covid-19 protections loom over the holiday season.

Trump said in a video posted to his Twitter account that the bill passed on Monday contained too many provisions unrelated to the pandemic and complained that the direct payments to Americans were too low.

But if Trump doesn't sign the bill, it will likely delay Americans getting any checks, shut the government down and allow some other coronavirus relief programs to expire.

Trump's comments 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 the negotiation process.

No one is quite sure how things will play out.

Trump has been known to create a public spectacle only to later back down. But it is unclear what is motivating the president in the final few days of his term. And after weeks of threatening to veto the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, on Wednesday he delivered on that threat.

There are a few different scenarios for what could come next.

Trump could sign the bill after all

The easiest way for things to end is if the president ultimately decides to sign the bill once it reaches his desk later this week.

Trump will be under pressure to make a move quickly, as the government is currently only funded through Monday night and a handful of coronavirus relief programs, such as enhanced unemployment, are set to expire right after Christmas Day.

Trump could veto the bill

A presidential veto would set up for a showdown between the White House and Congress. It is unlikely Trump would win.

It takes two-thirds of the members voting in the House and the Senate to override a presidential veto and both chambers voted to pass the bipartisan bill with strong majorities.

While many Republicans have spent the past four years avoiding conflict with the president, there is little appetite for a government shutdown during a raging pandemic.

If Congress were unable to override Trump's veto, they would be left to pass an intermediate funding bill to keep the government running. Coronavirus relief would probably be put on hold until President-elect Joe Biden took the White House.

Although some viewed Trump's Tuesday night comments as a bluff, the president followed through with his threat to veto the annual defense spending bill on Wednesday, raising concerns that he would do the same with the Covid-19 bill.

If lawmakers return to Washington to override Trump's defense bill veto, they could quickly pivot to overriding the Covid-19 bill veto if needed.

Trump could pocket veto the bill

The president might chose to just not sign the bill, effectively killing it in a process known as a pocket veto.

Usually if a president fails to sign a bill within ten days of its passage then it automatically becomes law. But if Congress adjourns before the president has signed the bill and the president decides not to sign it, then the bill does not become law. Its been more than 20 years since the pocket veto was utilized.

Congress has already returned home for the holidays, so this is an option for Trump. The pocket veto is absolute, meaning Congress does not have the opportunity to override it like they do for a regular veto.

In this scenario, Congress would again be forced to pass an intermediate government funding bill and coronavirus relief would likely be sidelined.

What about increasing the stimulus checks to $2,000?

In the video Trump posted to Twitter on Tuesday night, his main complaint was that the $600 stimulus checks included in the bill were too small, arguing that qualifying individuals should receive $2,000 and couples should get $4,000.

Democrats immediately got behind Trump, although amending the legislation this late in the game is not possible.

Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she would bring up a new bill on Thursday to increase the direct payments.

Pelosi's efforts are likely to fall flat among Republicans who were already resistant to the $600 checks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has been noticeably silent on the issue.