US President Donald Trump has rejected a nearly $900bn emergency spending legislation to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic that took months to negotiate, telling Congress to amend the bill and increase the amount of relief to Americans, among other demands.
In a video message posted on social media on Tuesday night, Trump also claimed the bill contained “wasteful spending”, which he said had nothing to do with the pandemic.
“The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated,” Trump said.
“It really is a disgrace.”
While he did not explicitly say he would not sign the bill, which passed overwhelmingly on Monday in both houses of Congress, Trump made it clear he would not accept the legislation in its current form.
“I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000, or $4,000 for a couple,” he said, referring to relief cheques meant to go out to most Americans.
“I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and just send me a suitable bill.”
Further delay expected
Trump’s latest demand could further delay the delivery of much-needed economic relief to millions of Americans, who have been severely affected by the economic downturn triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Washington DC, said the move was “a huge wrench in the process” and would require immediate action in Congress and would derail hopes that Americans would start receiving relief by early next week.
The bill has already been held back as Republican and Democratic members of Congress fought over details of the package accusing each other of politicising the process.
On Tuesday night, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that Democrats were ready to support up to $2,000 in financial assistance.
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/Th4sztrpLV
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 23, 2020
Chris Edelson, an assistant professor at the Department of Government at the American University, noted that the White House had previously assured Congress that the president would sign the bill.
“Donald Trump is acting out,” he told Al Jazeera. “He’s acting like a spoiled child. One thing to watch though – the president is so mercurial – will he stick with this? He said it tonight, but will he say it tomorrow? I don’t know.”
Any additional delay in approving the deal would have dire consequences for millions of Americans including those who have lost their jobs or are living in rented accommodation and in need of financial assistance from the government to avoid eviction.
The enormous package is part of a $2.3 trillion, almost 5,600-page bill that includes a so-called omnibus bill to fund government activities for the coming year.
As well as the support payments and rental assistance, it also includes government grants for small businesses.
Trump focussed on items such as millions of dollars in assistance to Cambodia and Myanmar, as well as more than $1bn to Egypt and its military.
“Congress found plenty of money for foreign countries, lobbyists and special interests while sending the bare minimum to the American people, who need it,” Trump said, adding that China is to blame for the pandemic and its economic consequences.
But the American University’s Edelson said he was sceptical that the welfare of Americans was the motivation for Trump’s intervention, noting the president’s refusal to accept his loss to Joe Biden in November’s election.
“He thinks of himself and in terms of humiliation,” Edelson said. “He still holds onto this fantasy that he can remain in office.”