WASHINGTON – White House aides intervened Thursday to prevent President Donald Trump from issuing a statement calling for substantially larger stimulus payments for millions of Americans, according to two people granted anonymity to share details of the private exchange.
On a phone call Thursday afternoon, Trump told allies that he believes stimulus payments in next relief package should be “at least” $1,200 per person and possibly as big as $2,000 per person, the officials said. Congressional leadership is currently preparing a stimulus package that would provide checks of $600 per person.
Trump was in the middle of formally drafting his demand for the larger payments when White House officials told him that doing so could imperil delicate negotiations over the economic relief package, the officials said. Congressional Republicans have insisted that the relief bill remain less than $1 trillion, and it’s currently designed to cost around $900 billion. Larger stimulus checks could push the package’s total over $1 trillion.
Trump ultimately did not call for the larger stimulus payments. His only public comments on the matter came in the morning when he wrote that “stimulus talks [are] looking very good.”
“The aides were really frantic, saying: ‘We can’t do this; it will blow up negotiations,'” said one person who heard the exchange and was granted anonymity to describe private conversations.
A White House spokesman did not comment on the exchange but issued a statement saying the administration was working on approving another round of stimulus payments through negotiations with Congress. “The President has heard from Americans all over the country who are hurting through no fault of their own, and he’s made clear he wants the next round of relief to include stimulus checks at a significant number,” said Ben Williamson, the White House spokesman. “We’re working with Congress to settle on an agreement that can pass as soon as possible.”
The White House divisions underscore the internal Republican tensions over the next relief package and likely the president’s last major economic piece of legislation. In March, Trump signed into law the $2 trillion Cares Act, which sent $1,200 stimulus checks to more than 100 million Americans. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin put Trump’s name on the checks, a move many Democrats thought was overtly political.
Trump earlier this month publicly called for large stimulus payments, but he faced opposition from senior Republican lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., earlier this month released a plan that would have sent no additional stimulus checks. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the president’s chief emissary to Capitol Hill, released a proposal last week calling for stimulus payments of $600 per person. Trump then appeared to rebuff his own treasury secretary on Thursday when he called for a much larger payment.
“Right now, I want to see checks – for more money than they’re talking about – going to people,” Trump told Fox News on Sunday. “I’m pushing it very hard, and to be honest with you, if the Democrats really wanted to do the deal, they’d do the deal.”
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Trump had privately indicated a willingness to send another round of stimulus checks of as much as $2,000, according to one person in direct communication with the president.
The fight over the stimulus checks has gained a new urgency on Capitol Hill as lawmakers race to complete a relief package ahead of several economic looming deadlines and a downturn in the economy.
The stimulus checks were left out of the bipartisan covid relief proposal pushed by a group of moderate lawmakers. A $600 check per person was added by congressional leaders back into negotiations following a push spearheaded by Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
Trump over the summer pushed Congress to approve a stimulus package larger than $2 trillion despite substantial Republican opposition to spending an additional $1 trillion.
In September, the president expressed support for a $1.5 trillion plan by the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus that included another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. He later told reporters: “I like the larger amount, I’ve said that … Some of the Republicans disagree, but I think I can convince them to go along with that because I like the larger number. I want to see people get money.”