President Trump threatened on Tuesday to derail months of bipartisan work in Congress to deliver $900 billion in pandemic relief, demanding checks to Americans that are more than three times larger than those in the bill, which he called a “disgrace.”
The president, who has been preoccupied with the baseless claim that the election was stolen from him, seized on congressional leaders’ decision to pass the relief bill by combining it with a broader spending plan to fund government operations and the military. That plan includes routine provisions like foreign aid and support for Washington institutions like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian.
But Mr. Trump portrayed such spending items as “wasteful and unnecessary” additions.
“It’s called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid,” Mr. Trump said in a video posted online. “Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people.”
“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000,” he added.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who had been pressing for similarly sized checks, welcomed Mr. Trump’s intervention, though it was not clear whether she was really open to changing the bill or simply trolling her Republican adversaries.
“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. At last, the President has agreed to $2,000 — Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!” she wrote on Twitter.
In recent weeks, congressional leaders and a bipartisan group of moderates have worked around the clock to deliver a relief package aimed at saving businesses from closure, funding distribution of coronavirus vaccines and providing President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. with a stable economy when he takes office in January.
The $900 billion relief package revived supplemental unemployment benefits for millions of Americans at $300 a week for 11 weeks and provided for a round of $600 direct payments to adults and children. Republican and Democratic leaders hailed the bill as a badly needed stopgap measure until a new Congress can convene next year to consider providing more stimulus.
The bill passed with an overwhelming, veto-proof margin.
“Help is on the way,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader.
But Mr. Trump, who sat out the negotiations, demanded on Tuesday that the government distribute much larger direct payments, despite opposition to such spending from Senate Republicans.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, enlisted the president in the Democrats’ push to get larger coronavirus relief checks to Americans next year.
“Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” he wrote on Twitter, “and we’re glad to pass more aid Americans need. Maybe Trump can finally make himself useful and get Republicans not to block it again.”
The president’s move surprised even senior administration officials and represented an embarrassment for his top economic lieutenant, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who helped negotiate the agreement.
“We are fully committed to ensuring that hardworking Americans get this vital support as quickly as possible and to further strengthening our economic recovery,” Mr. Mnuchin said in a statement on Tuesday in which he thanked Mr. Trump for his leadership.
He had said hundreds of dollars in direct payments authorized by the bill could begin reaching individual Americans as early as next week.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Mnuchin also cited his role in the negotiations earlier Tuesday, noting that he had participated in 190 calls about the legislation between Dec. 14 and Dec. 20 that included the president, Treasury staff members and congressional leaders. During the talks, Mr. Mnuchin pushed for bigger direct payments on behalf of the president in exchange for cutting supplemental unemployment benefits.
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