Trump’s departure came as Washington was still reeling over his surprise, eleventh-hour demand that an end-of-year spending bill that congressional leaders spent months negotiating give most Americans $US2000 ($2630) COVID-19 relief cheques – far more than the $US600 members of his own party had agreed to. The idea was swiftly rejected by House Republicans during a rare Christmas Eve session, leaving the proposal in limbo.
The bipartisan compromise had been considered a done deal and had won sweeping approval in the House and Senate this week after the White House assured Republican leaders that Trump supported it.
If Trump refuses to sign the deal, which is attached to a $US1.4 trillion government funding bill, it will force a federal government shutdown, in addition to delaying aid cheques and halting unemployment benefits and eviction protections in the midst of the most dire stretch of the pandemic.
It was a final raised middle finger to Republicans from a President who has been raging over his November 3 loss to President-elect Joe Biden and trying to come up with new, increasingly outrageous schemes to try to overturn the results of a Democratic election. He has been egged on by allies like his lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who accompanied the president to Florida aboard Air Force One.
Trump’s ire has been focused, in part, on Republicans in Congress whom he believes have been insufficiently supportive of his quest to delegitimise Biden’s win by lobbing unfounded claims of mass voter fraud before Congress meets to tally the Electoral College votes on January 6.
In Florida, Trump continued to rail against the results, complaining to members that he had been robbed of the election and voicing frustrations about the year-end spending bill.
“At a meeting in Florida today, everyone was asking why aren’t the Republicans up in arms & fighting over the fact that the Democrats stole the rigged presidential election?” Trump tweeted after he’d returned to his private Mar-a-Lago club. “Especially in the Senate, they said, where you helped 8 Senators win their races.”
“I will NEVER FORGET!” he wrote in another.
The statements underscored concerns that Trump is blowing up negotiations to punish lawmakers for what he sees as their insufficient loyalty.
Trump has provided no credible evidence to support his election claims, which have also been refuted by a long list of officials, from former Attorney-General William Barr to Republican governors, judges and local election administrators.
Meanwhile, the nation continues to reel as the coronavirus spreads, with record infections and hospitalisations and more than 327,000 now dead. And millions are now facing the prospect of spending the holidays alone or struggling to make ends meet without adequate income, food or shelter thanks to the pandemic’s economic toll.
To mark the holiday, the President and first lady Melania Trump tweeted out a pre-recorded video message in which they wished Americans a Merry Christmas and thanked first responders and members of the military.
“As you know, this Christmas is different than years past,” said Mrs Trump, who focused on the acts of “kindness and courage” the pandemic had inspired.
Trump hailed the vaccine doses now being delivered and thanked those responsible. “It is truly a Christmas miracle,” he said.
Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to salvage the year-end legislation to try to prevent a shutdown.
Democrats will recall House lawmakers to Washington for a vote on Monday on Trump’s $US2000 proposal, though it would likely die in the Republican-controlled Senate. They are also considering a Monday vote on a stop-gap measure to at least avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Biden is inaugurated on January 20.
In addition to the relief cheques, the COVID-19 bill that passed would establish a temporary $US300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, provide a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theatres and money for schools, and provide money for health care providers and to help with COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
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