WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday evening threatened to derail months of bipartisan work in Congress to deliver $900 billion in coronavirus relief to a country battered by the pandemic, demanding checks to Americans that are more than three times as much as 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 spending plan includes routine provisions like foreign aid and support for Washington institutions like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian.
But Trump portrayed such spending items as “wasteful and unnecessary” additions to the coronavirus legislation.
“It’s called the COVID relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with COVID,” 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.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, who had been pressing for similarly sized checks, welcomed Trump’s intervention.
“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.
House Democrats planned to bring up the $2,000 payments for a vote by unanimous consent Thursday, said an aide who was familiar with the proposal.
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 Joe Biden 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.