WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Sunday, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought coronavirus aid and avert a federal government shutdown.
The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems and an increase in food stamp benefits.
Trump announced the signing in a statement Sunday night that spoke of his frustrations with the COVID-19 relief for including only $600 checks to most Americans instead of the $2,000 that his fellow Republicans rejected. He also complained about what he considered unnecessary spending by the government at large. But Trump’s eleventh-hour objections created turmoil because lawmakers had thought he was supportive of the bill, which had been negotiated for months with White House input.
While the president insisted he would send Congress “a redlined version” with items to be removed under the rescission process, those are merely suggestions to Congress. The bill, as signed, would not necessarily be changed.
Lawmakers now have breathing room to continue debating whether the relief checks should be as large as the president has demanded. The Democratic-led House supports the larger checks and is set to vote on the issue Monday, but it’s expected to be ignored by the Republican-held Senate where spending faces opposition.
“The compromise bill is not perfect, but it will do an enormous amount of good for struggling Kentuckians and Americans across the country who need help now,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
Democrats are promising more aid to come once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.
In the face of growing economic hardship, spreading disease and a looming shutdown, lawmakers on Sunday had urged Trump to sign the legislation immediately, then have Congress follow up with additional aid. Aside from unemployment benefits and relief payments to families, money for vaccine distribution, businesses, cash-starved public transit systems and more is on the line. Protections against evictions also hung in the balance.
“What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “So many people are hurting.”
Washington had been reeling since Trump turned on the deal. Fingers pointed at administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as lawmakers tried to understand whether they were misled about Trump’s position.
Trump’s announcement came just hours after Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and the rest of a bipartisan group of lawmakers that helped negotiate the framework for the eventual deal urged Trump to either quickly sign or veto the package.
“Never before in your personal, professional, or political life have you been characterized as a man of inaction,” they said in a statement. “Now is not the time to sit idly by — please do the right thing and sign or veto this bill immediately.”
Story by Jill Colvin, Lisa Mascaro and Andrew Taylor. Associated Press writer Alexandra Olson in New York and Bangor Daily News writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.