What Are President Trump's Objections To The COVID-19 Relief Package?
DON GONYEA, HOST:
As we just heard, two unemployment programs have expired because President Trump has not signed the COVID relief package that was overwhelmingly passed by both the Senate and the House. Let's talk now about the legislation that's in limbo with NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hi there.
GONYEA: So bring us up to speed. What are the president's objections to this package?
GRISALES: He wants this package that was sent to him that currently includes direct payments of up to $600 per person for people with qualifying income to be increased to $2,000 per person. And he's complained as well about foreign aid spending that is part of an attached federal funding plan. This all blindsided lawmakers. The White House had encouraged them to sign onto the bill when it was before them for a vote on Monday. And before that, Trump's treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, helped negotiate this plan, and the White House told leaders he was expected to sign off.
However, Trump made his displeasure known on Tuesday, the day after Congress passed this massive legislation, which includes both government funding and $900 billion in coronavirus relief measures. Also, we should note that much of the spending in the federal funding bill was in his own administration's requested budgets to Congress. So now we're not clear if he'll sign it, veto it or let it die since this current Congress will end in just a matter of days.
GONYEA: And how have lawmakers responded to the president?
GRISALES: He's really put Republicans in a bind, especially on the direct payments. Democrats want these $2,000 in direct payments, but mostly, Republicans are opposed. That aside, there is a bipartisan consensus that he should sign this legislation as millions of Americans are facing new, dire circumstances because of this holdup in his reversal on supporting this bill. Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders is a big proponent of these larger payments, and he addressed this on ABC today. Let's take a listen.
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BERNIE SANDERS: What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel. Many millions of people are losing their extended unemployment benefits.
GRISALES: Republican Senator Pat Toomey also expressed concerns today as well. Here he is on Fox.
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PAT TOOMEY: We've got a bill right now that his administration helped negotiate. I think we ought to get that done.
GRISALES: So you hear there notably both senators say Trump should sign this bill that is right in front of him, and then he can pitch this plan for larger direct payments later - something, again, that Sanders supports. However, Republicans such as Toomey don't.
GONYEA: And this COVID relief package is not the only thing scrambled here by the president at year's end. There's government funding - right? - and a huge annual defense bill.
GRISALES: Exactly. Yes, current government funding will run out tomorrow night. The bill on the president's desk would extend this government funding through the fall. So if he doesn't sign this by Monday, another stopgap bill will be needed, or we could face this shutdown threat. And Trump has vetoed as well - he has threatened and then vetoed the massive annual defense bill. So lawmakers have said they plan to vote to override that in the coming days, which would be a first for the Trump presidency.
GONYEA: And what do we know about what's next for lawmakers in those days?
GRISALES: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she plans to hold a roll-call vote on these $2,000 in direct payments. They may also have to take up this government funding stopgap measure - so not a lot of clarity with all of this surrounding us right now and pandemic relief also in limbo.
GONYEA: All right.
Claudia, thank you very much.
GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.