Trump veto threat raises the prospect of year-end government shutdown

by Reuters
Wednesday, 23 December 2020 16:00 GMT

(Adds Pelosi statement, reaction)

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - The United States on Wednesday faced the prospect of a year-end government shutdown during a raging pandemic after outgoing President Donald Trump threatened not to sign a $2.3 trillion package that includes government funding and coronavirus aid.

The package, which includes $892 billion for responding to the COVID-19 virus was the result of months of negotiations between congressional Republicans and Democrats.

It also funds government operations through September 2021, meaning that if Trump blocks it then large parts of the U.S. government will start to shut down next week from lack of funding.

Trump, in a video posted to social media on Tuesday evening, surprised some of his closest officials by demanding that the bill be revised to include $2,000 payments to each American, more than triple the $600 per person included in the bill.

A source familiar with the situation said aides thought they had talked Trump out of the $2,000 demand last week, only to learn he had not given up when he posted the video. That surprised even his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who took part in the talks and backed the $600 figure.

Current federal funding is due to expire on Monday if Trump does not sign the bill into law. He is scheduled to leave for Florida on Wednesday afternoon for the Christmas holiday.

A funding lapse would furlough millions of federal workers and shut down wide swaths of the U.S. government at a time when it is rushing to distribute two coronavirus vaccines and contend with a massive hack that officials say was perpetrated by Russia. The coronavirus has killed more than 323,000 Americans, and left millions jobless due to lockdowns.

Trump's administration helped to craft the bill, and the White House said on Sunday that he would sign it. Members of Congress had been publicly discussing the $600 payments for nearly a week before passing the bill.

In the video Trump demanded the bill be stripped of foreign aid, which is included in every annual federal spending bill.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House could vote to raise those payments on Thursday if House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy agreed to do so.

"The entire country knows that it is urgent for the President to sign this bill, both to provide the coronavirus relief and to keep government open. Let us pray!" she wrote in a letter to other House Democrats.

McCarthy's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


He also objected to other elements of the 5,500-page bill, such as fish breeding and funding for the Smithsonian museums.

Trump did not say whether he would actually veto the legislation. He will leave office on Jan. 20 when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and the Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill by wide, bipartisan margins, and could return to Washington to override his veto if necessary.

As he heads for the door after losing the November election, Trump has also threatened to veto a $740 billion defense-policy bill, which has passed every year since 1961.

Trump dislikes that bill because it would strip the names of generals who served the pro-slavery Confederacy from military bases and because it does not repeal liability protections - unrelated to defense - for social media companies, such as Twitter and Facebook, that Trump considers unfriendly to conservatives.

The House of Representatives plans to return on Dec. 28 if Trump vetoes the defense-policy bill. That is the same day government funding is due to expire.

Both the defense bill and the coronavirus bill passed with veto-proof majorities, but a veto would put Trump's fellow Republicans in an awkward position.

Many of them opposed the $2,000 payments that Trump is now demanding, and they would have to either defy their party's leader or change their position on those payments.

Democrats, by contrast, support the higher payments.

"I'm 100% on board with $2,000 survival checks for struggling families. House and Senate Dems are united on this," Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Congress is due to adjourn at the end of the year, which means the bill will be automatically vetoed after 10 days even if Trump takes no action, in what is known as a "pocket veto."

Trump sparked a record 35-day government shutdown two years ago when he rejected a federal spending bill over what he said was insufficient funding for building a U.S.-Mexico border wall. (Reporting by Andy Sullivan, additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Steve Holland; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)

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