“Just when you think you have seen it all,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after Trump suggested he would veto the latest COVID-19 relief bill

By Sean Neumann
December 23, 2020 06:21 PM
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Donald Melania trump
From left: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday before boarding Marine One in Washington, D.C., on their way to Florida.
| Credit: Chris Kleponis/Getty Images

With a wave to the cameras and reporters outside the White House, President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump set out Wednesday afternoon for for a Christmas vacation at their Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida.

It was, as on so many other occasions in the Trump administration, a split-screen moment.

Earlier that same day, the president vetoed the annual military funding bill over complaints that it did not repeal a law protecting technology companies and would remove Confederate names from military bases. (Congress is likely to override his objections and pass the bill anyway.)

And as the president and the first lady walked to Marine One to head to the airport, a reporter shouted out a question about whether he would also veto the recently passed pandemic relief bill, as he had suggested the night before.

Trump did not respond.

The New York Times reports that he told the House minority leader that he has not made up his mind, though the clock is ticking: The relief bill was tied to a larger government funding deal to avert a shutdown before Monday.

Trump, 74, and the first lady, 50, are expected to spend Christmas through the new year at Mar-a-Lago, as they have the past three years. (Presidents typically holiday away from the White House.)

Less than 24 hours before departing Washington, D.C., the president surprisingly spoke out in opposition to the latest stimulus legislation amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

In a speech Tuesday night, he called the $900 billion bill, which was joined with a $1.4 trillion funding agreement — and approved by both the Republican-led Senate and the Democratic-led House of Representatives late Monday — a "disgrace."

He demanded Congress send $2,000 to Americans rather than the expected $600 lawmakers ultimately agreed upon for pandemic aid, after months of gridlock and stalled negotiations between Congress and the White House.

Donald and Melania Trump
From left: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday before boarding Marine One in Washington, D.C., on their way to Florida.
| Credit: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty
Donald Melania trump
From left: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday before boarding Marine One in Washington, D.C., on their way to Florida.
| Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

This week’s deal was intended to avert such a shutdown amid the pandemic, before lawmakers headed home for the holidays. Top White House officials had been involved in the particulars, but the president was unswayed.

Echoing the populism that has sometimes animated him as president, he said Tuesday night the $600 coronavirus checks were "ridiculously low" and should be increased to $2,000 per person while "unnecessary items" should be removed.

He took aim at a hodgepodge of measures in the bill, including both foreign aid and money for federal programs such as support for the arts and wildlife efforts and FBI construction.

He called this "wasteful spending" and swiped at "lobbyists and special interests" whom he said received more focus "while sending the bare minimum to the American people, who need it."

He also said he wanted to see more aid for restaurants, "whose owners have suffered so grievously."

Congress should make these changes, Trump said, "or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package."

Donald and Melania Trump
From left: First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump walk on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday before boarding Marine One in Washington, D.C., on their way to Florida.
| Credit: Chris Kleponis/Polaris/Bloomberg via Getty

The president's demands put him at odds with members of his own party but, in a twist, found a receptive audience with leading Democrats who had advocated for a larger relief bill the whole time.

On Wednesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi urged House Republicans to join her caucus in passing legislation to increase the direct payments to $2,000.

In a letter to fellow Democrats, she described the situation with a mixture of surprise, exasperation and urgency.

“Just when you think you have seen it all,” she said.

She continued: “The entire country knows that it is urgent for the president to sign this bill, both to provide the coronavirus relief and to keep government open. Let us pray!”