On Christmas Eve, House Democrats urged President Donald Trump to sign a long-overdue COVID-19 relief bill after House Republicans blocked Trump’s longshot, end-of-session demand of increasing direct payments to American families from $600 to $2,000.
Watch House Democrats’ news conference in the video player above.
The made-for-TV clash came as the Democratic-controlled chamber convened for a pro forma session scheduled in anticipation of a smooth Washington landing for the massive, year-end legislative package, which folds together a $1.4 trillion governmentwide spending with the hard-fought COVID-19 package and dozens of unrelated but bipartisan bills.
Instead, Thursday’s unusual 12-minute House session instead morphed into unconvincing theater in response to Trump’s veto musings about the package, which was negotiated by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Trump’s behalf.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, sought the unanimous approval of all House members to pass the bill, but GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, who was not present in the nearly-empty chamber, denied his approval and the effort fizzled.
If Trump were to follow through on his implied veto threat, delivered via video clip on Tuesday, the government would likely experience a brief, partial shutdown of the government starting on Dec. 29. It would also delay delivery of the $600 direct payments that the bill does contain.
“Surely, the President of the United States, whether he’s in Mar-a-Lago or any place else, ought to empathize with the pain and suffering and apprehension and deep angst that the American people are feeling this Christmas Eve, and sign this bill,” Hoyer said.
The relief bill Trump is criticizing would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, 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.
Even though Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin represented the White House in negotiations, Trump assailed the bipartisan effort in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night, suggesting he may not sign the legislation.
Hoyer described it as an “anomaly” since Mnuchin and Trump stuck to their word when they passed three other coronavirus relief bills earlier this year.
A resolution could be forced Monday. That’s when a stopgap funding bill Congress approved to keep the government funded while the paperwork was being compiled expires, risking a federal shutdown.
Hoyer said the House is already set to return Monday, and the Senate Tuesday, for a vote to override Trump’s veto of the must-pass defense bill. Democrats announced they will force a roll call vote to pass Trump’s proposal for $2,000 checks, as well as a temporary government funding measure to avert a shutdown.
“Just days ago, both the House and the Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that we sent to the President of the United States, who has demurred so far, he has not said he’s going to veto the bill,” Hoyer said. “I hope he doesn’t veto the bill. I hope he signs this bill. And then as President-elect Biden has said, we will have more work to do.”
The push for bigger payments to Americans drew a rare common cause between Trump and some of the most liberal members of Congress. Pelosi and Democrats said they fought for the higher stipends during protracted negotiations only to settle on the lower number when Republicans refused.
The Senate cleared the huge relief package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by 359-53. Those votes totals would be enough to override a veto should Trump decide to take that step.