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With his demands unmet, Trump threatens to reject long-awaited COVID relief bill

As the nation nears 325,000 total deaths, millions of Americans are feeling the economic impact of the pandemic. The Department of Labor on Wednesday reported 803,000 new jobless claims last week, and up to 14 million people could soon lose unemployment benefits unless President Trump signs the COVID relief bill passed by Congress. POLITICO's Anna Palmer joins Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The United States marked another gruesome milestone today, as deaths from COVID-19 topped 325,000.

    At the same time, many more Americans are feeling the economic impact. The Labor Department reported 803,000 new jobless claims last week, and as many as 14 million people could lose unemployment benefits at the end of the year, unless President Trump signs the COVID relief bill passed by Congress on Monday.

    While the White House originally signaled that he would support it, the president posted a video late yesterday hinting he would not sign unless Congress increased individual checks from $600 to $2,000 and cut out what he called wasteful spending.

    For the latest, I'm joined by Anna Palmer, senior Washington correspondent for Politico.

    Anna, welcome back to the "NewsHour." Thank you so much for being here.

    So, we have this threatened veto. We also have the actual veto of the defense authorization bill.

    But let's start with COVID relief, because that's what so many Americans are counting on. Where does this stand right now?

  • Anna Palmer:

    It is really unclear what the president's endgame is.

    He is now saying that he is going to veto it unless there is $2,000 in direct payments. But this really isn't about the substance of the bill. The president for months has not been an active participant in these negotiations. Both Republicans and Democrats thought they had a deal. They had, the White House agreeing to it for the past several days.

    Both sides have been kind of gloating about the fact that they were able to get this done. And, right now, it's going right down to the wire. Government funding runs out December 28. But some of these unemployment benefits end on Saturday. And so far, the president isn't on the same page as Republicans. And nobody really knows what the next steps are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it appears he's not on the same page as his own — officials in his own administration.

    The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, was in these negotiations and went along with the $600. Is that correct?

  • Anna Palmer:

    Well, he was very much a part of these negotiations.

    And even the White House spokesman, just minutes before the president went and put out that video, was on air defending, saying this was a win for the White House. It was really going to be seen by a lot of Republicans and the White House as a way for the president to save face, leave office, with not only the vaccine coming out, but also relief to the millions of Americans who badly need it at this time.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Anna, if — we know that the House is going to come back into pro forma session tomorrow. And we understand the plan is, Speaker Pelosi was saying that they will put this $2,000 on the floor. It's expected that Republicans will object, or what?

  • Anna Palmer:

    Yes, Senate — Senate minority leader — House Minority Leader, rather, Kevin McCarthy was on a phone call with Republican lawmakers this afternoon and signaled that Republicans would not be in favor of this unanimous consent motion, that they expected to have members object to it.

    So, that basically is a nonstarter. Even if it got anywhere in that House, it really is a nonstarter in the Senate. There would definitely be objection there. So, this is really the question of, what does the president do next? Basically, Republicans in Congress are calling the president's bluff. He's vetoed one bill this week. Will he veto another?

    And will they override it? That's the big question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And it puts him on the side of the Democrats, irony of ironies.

    And then just quickly, Anna, about the defense authorization bill. The president has vetoed that. Where does that stand?

  • Anna Palmer:

    A bill that has passed for the last 59 years straight.

    This was not unexpected. Both Republicans and Democrats knew that the president would — had toyed with vetoing it. They will — with all expectation that they will override this veto and that it will become law.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And his objections have to do with several things. Some of it is legal liability for big tech companies, we know. But there were several reasons, apparently.

  • Anna Palmer:

    Yes, he doesn't like where some of the spending is. He's been critical of that.

    But this has been — again, I think sometimes of where the president is vs. where the reality of how bills become law in Congress. He's pretty divorced from that process. This has been something that has been negotiated in both chambers by Republicans, by Democrats. They have come to an agreement on it. Certainly, the White House has been briefed on it.

    So, it's not any big surprise. He just has decided that this is something that he was going to not be able to support. And they're going to — at the end of the day, this, I think, will be the first time that Congress has overridden a veto of President Trump during his term.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Anna, coming back to the COVID relief bill, this was again emphasizing something you said a moment ago.

    Republicans had heralded this. The two Republicans running in those Senate run-offs in Georgia were heralding this, saying it's a great thing. And then the president turns around and says, it's not enough.

  • Anna Palmer:

    A lot of people are looking at this as if this is a loyalty pledge to the president. He's very frustrated that most Republicans in Washington, in the Senate, in the House have moved on from the election and his claims that have been totally proven to be false that he didn't lose this election.

    And so, because of the Electoral College vote on January 6, a lot of people believe that he's maybe holding this up because — just as a way to kind of burn down the house. It is not good for Republicans. It is certainly not good for the two Senate Republicans in Georgia, who not only are running on this as the fact that it's going to help folks who really needed the aid in their state, but that this was how they are kind of members who make Washington work.

    That's part of their argument: Send us back because we are going to be there to get things for Georgia done.

    And this is going to be a real hard argument for them to try to make if the president does block this relief and potentially force a shutdown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Remarkable drama, as we know, as so many people are waiting to find out whether this relief is coming or not.

    Anna Palmer, senior correspondent, national — senior political correspondent for Politico here in Washington.

    Anna, thank you.

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