PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – President Donald Trump spent Christmas Day golfing at his West Palm Beach club while millions of Americans faced the risk of losing jobless benefits on Saturday and the threat of a partial government shutdown next week if he refuses to sign a $2.3 trillion coronavirus aid and spending package.
Trump stunned members of both parties when he unexpectedly announced this week his dislike of the spending bill, which had taken members of Congress months to negotiate. The bill provides $892 billion in coronavirus relief, and $1.4 trillion in regular government appropriations.
A source familiar with the situation said many White House officials were caught by surprise. While Trump’s strategy going forward on the bill is unclear, he could still sign the package given he has not made an explicit veto threat.
Trump, who had not objected to the terms prior to the votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate, complained that the package was too full of money for special interests and foreign aid, and said the $600 in direct payments to most Americans was too small, demanding that the amount be increased to $2,000.
On Christmas Day, Trump spent most of the day golfing, with close ally and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, according to a source familiar with his activities. In a tweet, he said he has had many telephone calls and meetings at his golf club and urged lawmakers to give people more money.
“Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600? It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!” he said, referring to the coronavirus, which originated last year in China.
The bill is now at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort, where he is spending the holidays, awaiting his decision. Without Trump’s signature on the coronavirus aid bill, about 14 million people will lose unemployment benefits on Saturday, and a partial government shutdown will begin on Tuesday.
On Christmas Eve, Trump tweeted a series of grievances, repeating baseless claims about the election result, including one aimed at Senate Republicans, whom he accuses of abandoning him because many now publicly recognize Biden as the winner.
On Christmas Day, Trump followed his tweet about aid payments to Americans with a flurry of posts, lashing out at the media in two with cries of “Fake News” as he said that he was going to hold a video conference with members of the military.
Separately, the White House said Trump was briefed on a Nashville vehicle explosion Saturday morning that injured three people in what police described as an “intentional act.”
Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, whose victory Trump still refuses to acknowledge nearly two months after the Nov. 3 election, spent the day at his Delaware home and had no public events, according to his staff. Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
CONGRESS TO RETURN
Americans face an unprecedented holiday season amid a pandemic that has killed more than 320,000 people in the United States, with a daily death toll now repeatedly well over 3,000 people, the highest since the pandemic began.
Trump this week issued dozens of pardons, including to former aides and four private security guards convicted of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians.
Meanwhile, Congress, which normally is adjourned the last week of December, will be preparing to return to work.
On Monday, following the Christmas weekend, the House is scheduled to vote on overriding Trump’s veto of a $740 billion bill authorizing the country’s defense programs. If the House vote succeeds, the Senate could hold its vote as early as Tuesday..
Trump could also choose to take advantage of a situation known as a “pocket veto,” rather than outright vetoing the coronavirus aid package.
Because the current Congress expires on Jan. 3, Trump could let the normal 10-day period that a president has to sign or veto a bill simply run out. Bills die if they are not enacted during the Congress in which they are introduced.
If he does issue a veto, the House and Senate could try to override it next week. Congress might also have to pass a stopgap spending bill on Monday, before money that funds government operations expires at midnight.
Also on Monday, the Democratic-controlled House plans to vote on legislation providing one-time, $2,000 checks to individuals to help them during the coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by Steve Holland in Palm Beach, Florida, and Tim Reid in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Richard Cowan in Washington and Simon Lewis in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Mary Milliken, Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)