Lawmakers Press Trump on Relief Bill as Jobless Aid Expires

President Donald Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Dec. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump appeared no closer to signing an end-of-year Covid relief and spending bill Sunday as unemployment aid expired, the government barrels toward a mid-pandemic shutdown and lawmakers implored him to break the impasse he created after Congress approved the deal.

Trump blindsided members of both parties with a demand for larger COVID relief checks, imperiling not only a massive package of economic and public-health assistance but the basic functions of government itself. 

The package passed with wide margins in the House and Senate and with the understanding of members of both parties that Trump supported it. Now, the federal government will run out of money at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday if Trump refuses to sign the bill in time as he spends the holidays in Florida.

In the face of economic hardship and spreading disease, lawmakers urged Trump on Sunday to sign the legislation immediately, then have Congress follow up with more. Aside from unemployment benefits and relief payments to families, money for vaccine distribution, businesses, cash-starved public transit systems and more is on the line. Protections against evictions also hang in the balance.

“What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said Sunday. “So many people are hurting. … It is really insane and this president has got to finally … do the right thing for the American people and stop worrying about his ego.”

Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, with more measured words, agreed Trump should sign the bill, then make the case for more. “We’ve got a bill right now that his administration helped negotiate,” he said. “I think we ought to get that done.”

The same point was echoed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who’s criticized Trump’s pandemic response and his efforts to undo the election results. “I just gave up guessing what he might do next,” he said. 

Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said too much is at stake for Trump to “play this old switcheroo game.”

“I don’t get the point,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s being done, why, unless it’s just to create chaos and show power and be upset because you lost the election.”

Trump was spending Sunday golfing at his West Palm Beach course. 

He has given no indication he plans to sign the bill as he spends the last days of his presidency in a rage. Indeed, his dissatisfaction with the legislation seems only to have grown in recent days as he has criticized it both privately to club members and publicly on Twitter.

As the impasse dragged on, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health warned that the country is at a “critical point” in COVID-19 infections, with the Christmas and New Year’s holidays posing the threat of a “surge upon a surge” as people congregate with families and others, against the advice of public-health officials.

“As we get into the next few weeks, it might actually get worse,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Days ago, Democrats said they would call House lawmakers back to Washington for a vote Monday on Trump’s proposal to send out $2,000 relief checks, instead of the $600 approved by Congress. The idea is likely to die in the Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats were also considering a vote Monday on a stop-gap measure aimed at keeping the government running until Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.

Washington has been reeling since Trump turned on the deal, without warning, after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders that Trump would support it.

Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide $600 COVID relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be $2,000. House Republicans swiftly rejected that idea during a rare Christmas Eve session. But Trump has not been swayed despite the pandemic gripping the nation.

The impact of the sidelined aid is already being felt. Lauren Bauer of the Brookings Institution has calculated that at least 11 million people were losing aid from the programs immediately without additional relief; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.

How and when people would be affected by the lapse depended on the state they lived in, the program they were relying on and when they applied for benefits.

In some states, people on regular unemployment insurance would continue to receive payments under a program that extends benefits when the jobless rate surpassed a certain threshold, said Andrew Stettner, an unemployment insurance expert and senior fellow at the Century Foundation think tank.

 About 9.5 million people, however, had been relying on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program that expired altogether Saturday. That program made unemployment insurance available to freelancers, gig workers and others who were normally not eligible. After receiving their last checks, those recipients would not be able to file for more aid, Stettner said. 

The relief was attached to a $1.4 trillion government funding bill to keep the federal government operating through September, which would mean that failing to sign it by Tuesday would trigger a federal shutdown.

“Now to be put in a lurch, after the president’s own person negotiated something that the president doesn’t want, it’s just — it’s surprising,” Kinzinger said. “But we will have to find a way out.”

Kinzinger and Fauci spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Hogan and Sanders on ABC’s “This Week.”

By JILL COLVIN  Associated Press

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