Update 12/28: Last night, despite his public statements to the contrary, President Trump signed the legislation passed overwhelmingly in both houses of Congress into law, unchanged. Facing down a government shutdown and lacking support from GOP lawmakers, the president was unwilling to hold out for increased payments. Original story below.
Three days before Christmas, President Trump broke his uncharacteristic silence on the COVID-19 relief legislation that just passed both houses of Congress and detailed a second stimulus payment of $600 for certain Americans. In a video tweeted at 7:15, the outgoing president said “I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple.”
Trump is referring to the compromise legislation that passed both houses of Congress on Monday. It passed with veto-proof majorities, meaning that Trump doesn’t have the formal power to prevent the legislation from becoming law. However, he does still have enough political power to cause a lot of headaches for Republicans who will be in office after January 20.
Will Trump’s December surprise be enough to convince GOP legislators to raise the stimulus amount? The truth is that nobody really knows. His announcement was sudden, and the GOP—particularly Republican senators under the leadership of Mitch McConnell—haven’t reacted publicly yet.
If the GOP goes along with Trump, it will likely be because they are worried about the January 6 runoff elections in Georgia. If Democrats win both Georgia seats following Joe Biden’s surprise victory in the state last month, the GOP will lose the majority, ceding unified control of the legislative and executive branches to the Democrats. Coming out against additional, sorely needed money for voters isn’t a great way to motivate them to vote for you, and the conventional wisdom might be that it’s worth giving in on the size of the stimulus in order to maintain control of the Senate for the next two years.
If the GOP goes against Trump, it will be because contradicting everything the party has stood for since at least Reagan is just too much for legislators safely ensconced in power to bear. Giving lower- and middle-class people money is anathema to the GOP because it contradicts their dogmas of trickle-down economics and “personal responsibility.” Trump doesn’t really seem to care about those things, but he’s on his way out and the amount of power he will have in the future of the party is an open question. And even if they lose the Senate in this Congress, the GOP is primed for big victories in two years, as the party out of the White House almost always is during midterms.
What are the Democrats doing about the proposal? The House and Senate Democrats, the more progressive wing of which has long called for far more frequent and generous stimulus payments (one bill called for $10,000 a month per family until the end of the pandemic) are calling the GOP and Trump’s bluff. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the House Democrats to give unanimous consent in order to send a standalone bill that would give Americans $2,000 a month for the duration of the pandemic and, if the House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy agrees to the terms, the standalone bill that gives what Trump is asking for will arrive at the doorsteps of the Senate at 10 a.m. tomorrow. If Trump is serious, then the bill should go through without a problem, barring Senate revolt. If he is not — and if he is simply sabotaging an attempt to give people aid — then the ball will have been completely in his (and the Senate’s) court when he reneges on his commitment to the American people.
If this all feels like so much inside baseball, that’s because it is. What is clear is that the prospects of a $2,000 stimulus check instead of a $600 one are brighter than they were before Trump’s tweet. Whether that makes them merely a slightly more likely improbability or something that might actually happen remains to be seen.