WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – President Donald Trump’s denunciation of the US$900 billion (S$1.19 trillion) coronavirus relief deal drove a wedge through the Republican Party on Wednesday (Dec 23), drawing harsh criticism from House Republicans and threatening the delivery of unemployment cheques, a reprieve on evictions and direct payments to struggling Americans.
His four-minute video on Tuesday night demanding significant changes to the Bill and larger direct stimulus cheques also threw a wrench into his party’s push to hold the Senate with victories in two run-off races in Georgia next month.
The Republican candidates he pledged to support went from campaigning on their triumphant votes for the relief Bill to facing questions on Mr Trump’s view that the measure was a “disgrace”.
Their Democratic rivals appeared to turn a liability into a political advantage 13 days before the election on Jan 5, agreeing with the President’s demand for US$2,000 direct payment cheques and calling for Republicans to accede to his wish.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats prepared to move forward on Thursday with new legislation that would provide the US$2,000 cheques, daring Republicans to break with the President and block passage of the Bill in the House.
But the effect on struggling Americans was perhaps the most profound: With no deal signed by the President, some unemployment programmes are set to run out this week, and several other critical provisions are to end this month.
The uncertainty that Mr Trump injected into the process came at a perilous moment for the economy.
“Does the President realise that unemployment benefits expire the day after Christmas?” an exasperated Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat, wrote on Twitter.
It is not clear whether Mr Trump, who is furious at congressional Republicans who have acknowledged his election defeat, would actually veto the package.
But given how late it is, even refusing to sign it could ensure that the Bill dies in Congress on Jan 3.
Frustration with Mr Trump boiled over on Wednesday during a private conference call of House Republicans.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, told members that he had spoken to the President and that he had not yet committed to a veto of the Bill.
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