Trump’s final weeks create chaos for Congress
President Trump’s final weeks in office are creating chaos for Congress, which will return next week for a possible government shutdown as it holds an unusual holiday session to vote to override the president’s veto of an annual defense bill.
Trump’s surprise opposition to a COVID-19 relief and omnibus spending package means the government could shut down on Tuesday, days before runoff elections in Georgia that will determine the Senate majority.
Trump’s flurry of moves have divided the Republican Party, as has his series of controversial pardons that Democrats are criticizing as a gross misuse of authority.
It is in that environment that lawmakers will seek a way forward next week — unless Trump pulls a new surprise and either signs or vetoes the massive $2.3 trillion spending package in the coming days. The president is spending the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. He spent Thursday at his golf course.
“The best way out of this is for the president to sign the bill,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) told reporters on Thursday.
One former White House official gave it a 50 percent chance that Trump follows through on his veto threat or lets the bill languish for 10 days to pocket veto the relief and funding package.
House Republicans on Thursday rejected an effort by House Democrats to pass a bill to provide $2,000 stimulus checks, something Trump had publicly called for two days earlier, instead of the $600 checks included in the original bill. Senate GOP leaders indicated the upper chamber would not pass $2,000 direct payments, either.
While some Republicans are backing Trump, there has also been evident frustration.
Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), referring to House Republicans, said on a Wednesday conference call that he felt “Trump threw us under the bus” given he was absent from negotiations only to undercut the relief bill after it had passed.
Trump abruptly upending the relief deal is just his latest break with Republicans in Congress.
The president on Wednesday followed through on his threat to veto the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act after complaining it did not repeal an unrelated policy that offers protections for social media companies. Both chambers of Congress passed the bill with enough votes to override a veto.
Trump also made waves on Tuesday and Wednesday by announcing two batches of pardons for controversial allies, including Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Charles Kushner and former Reps. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) and Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.). Collins and Hunter were two of Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress, and both pleaded guilty to various corruption charges.
“This is rotten to the core,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), one of the more outspoken Trump critics in the Senate GOP conference, said in response to the pardons of Manafort and Stone.
All the while, Trump has continued to make allegations that the election was “stolen” or “rigged” by repeating many of the same statements that have been dismissed in court. There has been no evidence presented of widespread fraud that cost Trump the election to President-elect Joe Biden.
The president met with a handful of loyal GOP House members on Monday to discuss the prospect of objecting to the Electoral College results in January, a move that Senate leaders have warned will fail.
When Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said such an effort would go down “like a shot dog,” Trump responded by encouraging a primary challenge to Thune when he’s up for reelection in 2022.
Asked if Trump’s behavior might prompt congressional Republicans to tell him he has to stop, Blunt told reporters on Thursday Trump’s veto of the defense bill and threat to do the same to the relief bill were overshadowing any talk of the president’s accomplishments the last four years.
“I think that would be to the president’s advantage if we were talking about his accomplishments rather than questioning decisions late in the administration,” Blunt said. “But again, Congress has very little control over what the president can say and he has the ability to say what he wants to do.”
Those close to the White House expect Trump to issue additional pardons in the next few weeks. He has openly pushed for a special counsel to investigate his unproven claims of election fraud, and it’s unlikely Trump will cooperate with the Biden transition.
The president has had hardly anything on his public schedule in the last two weeks, and he hasn’t spoken to the press since early December. Instead, he has been communicating almost exclusively through Twitter and prerecorded videos posted to social media.
In an unusual step, the White House included a message on Trump’s schedule for Thursday insisting he was hard at work, despite having just landed in Florida.
“As the Holiday season approaches, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People,” the message read. “His schedule includes many meetings and calls.”
At 10:18 a.m. on Thursday, Trump arrived at his golf club in West Palm Beach. Cameras captured him on the course a short time later.
Jordain Carney and Juliegrace Brufke contributed.