For the first time in history, checks issued by the United States Department of the Treasury will have the president’s name on them. More specifically, the paper checks going out to taxpayers under the terms of the CARES Act passed last month to address the economic damage of COVID-19 will have “Donald J. Trump” written in the memo line.
Three administration sources told the Washington Post that the president asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin if he could formally sign the checks. That didn’t fly — the president is not an authorized signer for legal disbursements from the agency — but Trump did get the next best thing.
Like many of the moves Trump has made in his relatively short career as a politician, getting his name on a check paying federal money back to millions of Americans is a canny political move that violates nonpartisan traditions and causes handwringing among both his political opponents and the people who’ve spent their lives protecting those norms.
“Taxes are supposed to be nonpolitical, and it’s that simple,” former National Taxpayer Advocate Nina Olson said. “It’s absolutely unprecedented.”
The Treasury Department definitely shouldn’t be in the business of distributing propaganda for elected officials, but it’s hard to see this development as anything else. Some combination of Trump’s lifelong narcissism and political desperation — he’s worried a depressed economy threatens his reelection prospects — motivated this move, which is causing some unnecessary headaches at the IRS.
The change has been in the works for weeks, but the IT team at the IRS responsible for implementing it just learned of the move yesterday. Two officials at the IRS told the Post that the last-minute nature of the announcement, which necessitates changing and testing computer programming, will probably lead to a delay in the first batch of checks, which are scheduled to be printed on Thursday.
A spokesperson for the Treasury Department denied that claim.
Trump’s role in the distribution of these checks was simply signing legislation negotiated by congressional leaders and Treasury Department staff. He was an early opponent of these exact payments and is a member of the party that limited them to the relatively non-generous terms they’re being offered under.
For him to try to steal the credit now is shameless. Tax money is money that belongs to the people. Don’t get it twisted, Donald Trump did not send you this money. That’s not how it works.
This story is developing.