Democrats have jumped with glee at Donald Trump’s demand for more money for Covid stimulus checks, a position that has pitted a lame-duck Republican president against his own party’s Senate majority before a crucial slate of deadlines.
It’s a political gift of the highest magnitude for Democrats, with every corner of the party supporting Mr Trump’s proposal for $2,000 checks instead of the new $900bn Covid bill’s $600 stipulation. From advisers to President-elect Joe Biden, to leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, to progressive icons Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Democratic party would be almost universally on board.
“Let’s do it,” several lawmakers on the left tweeted on Tuesday in response to that portion of Mr Trump’s video.
“Republicans repeatedly refused to say what amount the President wanted for direct checks. 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!” Ms Pelosi wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
And she’s not kidding.
The House meets in a pro forma session on Christmas Eve, where Democrats will offer a standalone $2,000 stimulus check bill seeking fast-track passage through a process known as a “unanimous consent” request.
That process will force at least one Republican to return to Washington to shoot down the fast-track measure — denying Democrats, defying Mr Trump’s position, and preventing more money from hitting the bank accounts of the American people.
“[Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib] and I already co-wrote the COVID amendment for $2,000 checks, so it’s ready to go. Glad to see the President is willing to support our legislation,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Tuesday.
“We can pass $2k checks this week if the Senate GOP agrees to stand down,” the New York congresswoman added.
The political world turned upside down on Tuesday when the president posted a roughly 10-minute video to his Twitter account that included a threat to veto the massive $900bn Covid relief package because its $600-per-person stimulus check programme was “ridiculously low.”
Whether Mr Trump meant it or not, his remark was a direct slap in the face to congressional Republicans — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, principally — who had spent weeks negotiating that amount down from its initial $1,200 figure from March.
Mr Trump then said each stimulus check should be worth at least $2,000 for individuals.
Several political commentators have speculated that Mr Trump’s veto threat is his version of exacting revenge on Mr McConnell for not backing his attempts to overturn the 2020 election and stay in the White House.
In one 30-second clip of a 10-minute video, Mr Trump has completely upended months of posturing from Mr McConnell and Senate Republicans, who have been pushing the false message that it was solely Democratic obstruction preventing more Covid relief from going out to Americans over these last five months since July.
Democrats and Republicans both held out on their respective positions for more Covid relief for nearly nine months before striking the $900bn agreement last week.
Mr Trump’s veto threat has real-world consequences, too.
Both Democrats and Republicans, questioning the seriousness of the president’s posture, became somewhat frantic on Tuesday about the legislative catastrophe it could cause.
“Does the president realize that unemployment benefits expire the day after Christmas?” Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner tweeted on Tuesday.
Millions of jobless Americans will stop receiving a Covid-era federal supplement to their state unemployment checks on 26 December unless Mr Trump signs the bill, which re-ups the programme for $300 per week. While Republicans negotiated that number down from $600 per week, it’s still over $1,200 more per month in an unemployed American’s pocket.
Having finished all legislative business for the year on Monday, virtually every federal lawmaker has left Washington and fanned out all over the country to their respective hometowns for the holiday season.
The Senate is not scheduled to return until 29 December, when it is slated to vote to override a potential presidential veto of this year’s $740bn military budget bill.
If Mr Trump does not sign the Covid bill and the $1.4trn government spending bill to which it is attached, the government will shut down next week, leaving thousands of government workers without paychecks heading into the new year, and shuttering key departmental operations in the middle of a global pandemic.
Billions more in economic aid from this week’s Covid deal would be put on ice until Congress can return to override Mr Trump’s veto, leaving in limbo restaurants and other businesses relying on government loan programmes to stay afloat.
No one thinks this week’s bill is perfect, lawmakers and leaders from both sides of the aisle have said in recent days, with Democrats pointing out that it does not include any emergency relief for state and local governments and Republicans noting the absence of a shield protecting businesses, health care providers and school systems from liability lawsuits related to Covid exposure.
“Leaders in both the House and Senate, both parties, deserve credit for making the hard compromises to get this done,” Mr Biden said in a holiday message on Tuesday.
“Like all compromises it is far from perfect, but it does provide vital relief at a critical moment,” he said.