When I wrote yesterday morning about the mountain of hot garbage that wound up in the relief/spending bill passed on Monday night, I was already resigned to the fate of the nation and simply assumed that it was going to be signed into law. Last night, however, the President posted a video on Twitter suggesting – while not explicitly threatening a veto – that he was quite unhappy with the pork festival heading for his desk and demanding changes. The two biggest demands he’s making are to significantly increase the amount of direct aid going to taxpayers while reducing the overall cost by eliminating extraneous items like foreign aid. Let’s start with the video.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 23, 2020
The Associated Press provides a look at Trump’s demands, along with a projection of what will happen if he refuses to sign it or even vetoes it.
Trump assailed the bipartisan $900 billion package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night and suggested he may not sign the legislation. He called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.
Railing against a range of provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, he told lawmakers to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”
Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for the legislation in Congress to override him if he does. But if Trump were to upend the sprawling legislation, the consequences would be severe, including no federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution.
The major downsides to a veto of the bill (assuming you see them as “downsides”) would be that the government would effectively shut down on December 29th, nobody would get any relief checks, and funding would not be put in place to expedite more vaccine shipments. So a veto would essentially throw the entire country into chaos, and Trump wouldn’t actually do that, right? If that’s your instant take on the situation, I would suggest you haven’t been paying much attention over the past four years.
Donald Trump has thrived on chaos and disruption, taking every opportunity to stir up the waters of the swamp. I would argue that it’s one of the primary attributes that keep his base so firmly loyal to him. Trump is a businessman by nature, but when it comes to politics, he’s not terribly interested in business as usual.
Even a veto, however, doesn’t mean that President Trump is about to get his way. As we discussed yesterday, both chambers of Congress are on standby to return to work right after Christmas. The original purpose of the plan was to prepare to override the President’s threatened veto of the NDAA (the military and intelligence spending bill). But if they’re working during their vacation anyway and are in a bipartisan mood to overturn the President’s decisions, overriding a veto of this massive, pork-laden spending bill probably wouldn’t present much of a challenge either. Seeing Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell suddenly hanging out with a glass of eggnog and singing Kumbaya in front of the fireplace together may be one of the weirdest elements of 2020 that we’ve encountered to date, but here we are.
I’m not expecting to see the Senate GOP cave on the President’s first and biggest demand – an increase in the direct COVID relief payments from $600 to $2,000. That was one of the biggest sticking points in the stalled negotiations for months. The Democrats were willing to stick with the former level of $1,200 without upping it to the level that Trump is asking for. (Although Nancy Pelosi was quick to jump on Trump’s side for a moment and endorse the idea of $2,000 checks.) That would be an awfully large chunk of crow for them to swallow at this point.
I don’t know if Trump would actually go through with a veto, however. He tends to say what he means and if he was considering vetoing the bill, it seems like he would have said it last night. He also knows that he could be staring at two overrides in his final weeks in office if he does it. That’s not a good look in the final days of an administration, but McConnell is clearly playing his own agenda at this point and probably isn’t terribly worried about drawing Trump’s wrath for the final few weeks.