President Trump kicked over the tables in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night (Dec. 22), suddenly demanding more than $600 for the stimulus checks provided by the $900 billion relief bill that had been painstakingly negotiated and passed last week by overwhelming majorities in both the House and Senate.
"It's called the Covid relief bill, but it has almost nothing to do with Covid," Trump said in a video posted to his Twitter account, apparently not realizing that the relief bill had been folded into a much larger 2021 budget bill, and not mentioning that the $600 check figure had come from his own White House.
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"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000," Trump said. "I am also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a Covid relief package. And maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done."
pic.twitter.com/v9Rdjz6DNuDecember 23, 2020
Not wasting a moment in the resulting chaos, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) sprang into action, tweeting to Trump that they were on his side and implying that they too had always wanted $2,000 stimulus checks. (They haven't.)
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! https://t.co/Th4sztrpLVDecember 23, 2020
Pelosi, particularly, is playing her ace card. She's scheduled a voice vote tomorrow (Dec. 24) in the House to amend the current 2021 spending bill, which the stimulus bill has been folded into, so that stimulus checks are increased to $2,000.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), darling of the left and terror of the right, tweeted that she and fellow Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) already had the amendment written.
Let’s do it. @RashidaTlaib 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.We can pass $2k checks this week if the Senate GOP agrees to stand down. https://t.co/GprwrUPali pic.twitter.com/nFFs1ExqCKDecember 23, 2020
So what happens next?
This could go several different ways, not all of them good.
First, there's little chance that the $2,000 check amendment that Pelosi has scheduled will pass. The vote for it has to be unanimous in both chambers, and there are quite a few Republicans who will be happy to say "Nay."
Even if it does pass the House, it would have wait until next week for a vote in the Senate, whose members have already gone home for Christmas.
If it does pass both chambers, great. Everyone will be happy and the stimulus checks will start going out in the first week of 2021.
If so, had better be done quickly. At the stroke of midnight Tuesday, the current budget expires and the federal government shuts down all non-essential services unless Trump signs the bill. (Trump has also left town for his Florida resort home, and he plans to stay there until after New Year's Day.)
But a defeat for the amendment would be fine for Pelosi and Schumer's purposes. They can say that the Republicans are blocking bigger stimulus checks from going to the American people and acting counter to Trump's wishes.
That will only help the chances of two Democratic Senate candidates in Georgia runoff elections in early January, and if both those Democrats win, then the Democrats win the Senate too.
Sign, veto or just leave it alone
If the $2,000 amendment doesn't pass, it's back in Trump's court, leaving him three options.
Trump could just sign the bill anyway in the next few days. He could be bluffing, and he will declare victory even if he doesn't get what he wants. If so, stimulus checks will start flowing just after New Year's Day.
Trump could also veto the bill outright between now and Sunday. If so, the Senate and House will both have to meet Monday for a veto-override vote. Trump today vetoed the 2021 defense bill, which also passed Congress with veto-proof majorities, so Congress could quickly pass two veto overrides. Again, stimulus checks will arrive in January.
Last, Trump could use the pocket veto, a move only possible near the end of a congressional session. This session ends at noon Eastern time on Sunday, Jan. 3.
As Fox News' Chad Pergram (opens in new tab) explained on Twitter, normally a bill passed by Congress becomes law if the president refuses to sign it for 10 days, Sundays excluded. But the bill, which when combined with the spending bill comes to more than 5,500 pages, has not yet been formally delivered to the president.
If it's not delivered to him by the end of the day today, then Trump can just ignore the combined stimulus and spending bill and it will die of neglect.
The government will shut down until the next Congress is able to take it up again after noon on Jan. 3, but its members will have to start all over again from scratch, because you can't carry a bill over from one session to the next.
It's not clear how soon, or if ever, second stimulus checks would be going out to Americans in that scenario.