Trump averts government shutdown by signing Covid relief bill

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Donald Trump signed a bill to release $900bn in coronavirus stimulus spending on Sunday night after previously blocking a deal he had described as a “disgrace”.

Mr Trump’s decision to approve the $2.3tn bill will fund the US government through the end of next September and avoid a shutdown that was set to start after midnight on Monday.

However, in an accompanying statement, Mr Trump reiterated his demand that Congress increase the direct payment cheques sent to Americans from $600 to $2,000 per individual.

Mr Trump claimed the Republican-controlled Senate would “start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000”, repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and start “an investigation into voter fraud”, as would the Democrat-controlled House. Section 230 grants social media companies immunity over libellous content, and has long been a target for the president. Mr Trump maintains, without evidence, that he lost November’s presidential election because of vote fraud.

Mr Trump said that he would return the signed legislation to Congress with a “formal rescission request” for certain “wasteful” line items to be removed despite the fact it has now been put into law.

Mr Trump’s decision to sign the bill came after millions of Americans lost unemployment benefits over the weekend, following the president’s refusal to sign the bipartisan package that was approved just before Christmas.

Earlier this month, the Brookings Institution think-tank estimated that about 10m Americans would lose unemployment benefits once two federal unemployment programmes expired on the night of December 26.

Democrats criticised Mr Trump for dawdling over signing the stimulus.

“The president’s pointless delay in approving this relief legislation cost millions of Americans a week’s worth of pandemic-related unemployment assistance that they desperately need,” Richard Neal, Democratic chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement.

“His stalling only intensified anxiety and hardship for workers and families who are collateral damage in his political games. Now, people will need to wait even longer for direct payments and other vital assistance to arrive.”

President-elect Joe Biden rebuked Mr Trump earlier in the weekend, urging him to sign what he described as urgently needed legislation.

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Mr Biden said in a statement.

“This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences.”

Mr Biden said he considered the bill “a first step and down payment” for the country’s economic recovery. His administration would need to take more action “early in the new year to revive the economy and contain the pandemic — including meeting the dire need for funding to distribute and administer the vaccine and to increase our testing capacity”.

The nearly 5,600-page stimulus bill Congress passed last week will allow Americans to claim jobless assistance for 50 weeks and provides a supplemental $300 a week in benefits to workers who had lost their jobs. It also provides billions of dollars in funds for struggling industries such as airlines and to help tenants who have fallen behind on rent payments.

Congress is set to return to Washington early this week. The Democratic-controlled House is set to vote to increase the stimulus cheques from $600 to $2,000 on Monday, as Democrats have sought and Mr Trump is now requesting. Despite the president’s most recent statement, it is unclear how the Republican-controlled Senate will respond to Mr Trump’s demands.

Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the signing of the bill was “welcome news”.

“Now, the President must immediately call on congressional Republicans to end their obstruction and to join him and Democrats in support of our standalone legislation to increase direct payment checks to $2,000,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader and the upper chamber’s top Republican, issued a statement applauding Mr Trump for signing the bill, but did not address the issue of increasing stimulus cheques.

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