Trump plays chicken with stimulus, shutdown. Here are the facts.

Will Trump sign the Covid Relief Bill?

I woke up this morning to news that the lowest common denominator—the extensively negotiated relief legislation just approved by Congress was in jeopardy of being “not signed” by President Trump.  It’s as if Trump has morphed himself into a Walter Mitty character with daydreams of a cynical “Mr. Smith goes to the White House.”

Will someone please let me in on what the president’s game plan is? It’s difficult for me to march to a tune that I cannot hear.  Is the goal to hold Congress hostage to a looming government shutdown?  Is it to scold Congress?  Is it a shot broadside across GOP legislators that believe that Joe Biden will be sworn in as president in January?

President Trump voiced his objection by video last night registering displeasure about the $600 direct payment provision of the relief bill being not enough money to aid those struggling in our Covid economy.  He also complained that various other non relief measures had no business in the relief bill, or they were just legislative pork items.  In effect he was arguing against many of the measures his administration had been negotiating to include in the final bill for several weeks.  Indeed our elected officials have had months to ponder the contents of this bill and only after Congressional approval did the president suggest he may not sign the legislation.

“The White House was fully aware of what was in the bill and what was agreed upon, though White House officials acknowledged late Tuesday that Trump himself had not received a detailed briefing on the package before its passage.

Most of the items the President listed off as problematic in his Tuesday night video weren't from the Covid relief piece of the package. They were from the omnibus. Most, if not all, of those items were similar to items in past spending packages the President has signed.

Most notably, two people involved with the matter say, the President is fired up about the foreign aid in the package. Again, that has been part of each spending package he's previously signed -- but Trump was riled up in part by commentators on conservative media who complained about the aid, according to people familiar.”

My first and second thoughts were that President Trump is grandstanding, but to what end I am not certain.  Does delaying the relief bill somehow help Republicans in the Senate elections in Georgia?  Playing politics with the relief legislation is not limited to just President Trump.  Democrat Congressional leadership responded to the president’s call to increase direct payments to $2,000 by saying they are ready to revise the bill.  This promise is one that they are unlikely to be able to deliver on.

“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks," Pelosi tweeted Tuesday night. "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!"

This will almost certainly be blocked -- it only takes one member to block a unanimous consent request and there are plenty of Republicans opposed to the direct payments at that size. But it will present an immediate split between Republicans and Trump at a time the party is in the midst of simmering war and just days before the crucial Georgia Senate runoff races.”

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Here are the facts.

  • Government shutdown will occur midnight Monday, December 28, unless the current Congress approved relief package bill is signed by President Trump.

  • Trump can request Congress entertain changes to the relief bill but cannot force a revisiting of the measure.  Many senators and representatives have already left Washington for the Christmas holiday.  The president can sign the legislation, outright veto it, or do nothing. Taking no action on the bill would result in a pocket veto of the package when the 116’th Congress closes on January 3, 2021.  The president has 10 business days to consider any Congress passed legislation.  The 5,000 plus page bill has not yet formally arrived on the president’s desk, so he can easily pocket veto the bill by taking no action.

  • The Senate must give unanimous consent of all members to revisit the bill and that is not likely to occur unless and until the president formally vetoes the legislation.

  • A veto this week would allow Congress to reconvene and modify the bill or override the president’s veto and make the current relief bill law.

The real deadline is midnight next Monday regarding the continuing resolution to fund the government.  If President Trump is only using his signature to generate attention, then he will sign the legislation before that time.  Congress may be forced to be proactive and return to address the looming shutdown next Monday.

Stay tuned over the next few days on this one.

Photo by Tabrez Syed on Unsplash