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Trump Criticism Jeopardizes Latest Pandemic Relief Package


President Trump has ignited a firestorm, threatening the viability of a $900 billion coronavirus relief package. His objection - the direct payments of $600 included in the package. He says they're too low.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated. It really is a disgrace.

KELLY: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats are cheering Trump's demands to up the payments to $2,000 each. In fact, they are moving quickly to try to get that additional aid approved on the House floor, where it is sure to meet Republican opposition. To tell us more, we're joined by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Hey, Claudia.


KELLY: Congress just reached this deal after months and months of bitter fighting. How big a spanner does this throw into the works?

GRISALES: It means millions of people who are now in danger of losing rental assistance and unemployment help is now possibly a reality. And there's people waiting checks now that have no idea if they will get them. And Congress approved this package so close to the end of their current session, which ends on January 3, that they'll need to scramble if he does veto. So the key is, does Trump indeed veto this bill? And if so, does he do it quickly? - because if so, Congress could have a shot to override it. The president left today for his own planned holiday vacation as millions await for the fate of this bill, but he declined to answer any questions.

KELLY: Now, as we mentioned, Democrats are aligning with the president on this in that rarest of rare (laughter) constellations of developments...


KELLY: ...But Republicans not so. What are they saying?

GRISALES: They're not saying much publicly. They - this video pretty much has left Capitol Hill shell-shocked in some ways. We should note this came after repeated assurances from the White House that the president would sign off. His Treasury secretary was involved in talks while Trump was checked out of the process.

So we've seen some comments, such as South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who said they would support the payments. But for the most part, we don't expect much of an appetite among the GOP to approve these bigger payments. Also, GOP leaders on the Hill all voted for this deal, so now they're sorting out what to do. Many of them fought against these larger checks the president is now demanding.

Democrats, for their part, say they're thrilled. Speaker Pelosi is encouraging Trump to sign the bill, but she's also going to put the plan for $2,000 in direct payments on the House floor tomorrow morning for a quick voice vote. But we're expecting the GOP leader in that case to offer a counter that won't work for Democrats. Pelosi told her colleagues in a letter today that during their bipartisan talks, she and Senate top Democrat Chuck Schumer repeatedly asked Trump's highest number for these payments, and they responded with silence. And finally, the Republicans said they wouldn't go above $600 and, in some cases, even proposed lower at $500.

KELLY: Meanwhile, Claudia, from the department of never a dull moment, Trump also vetoed the annual defense bill today. What is next on that one?

GRISALES: Yes. So Congress was expecting this. They'll meet next week to override this veto. This could also be a chance for them to address government funding, which will run out next week if Trump does veto this bill or doesn't move on the coronavirus bill because it includes government funding. And we should be - we should note that Trump has been less clear about whether he will veto this larger bill. So we'll see if he will do so in the coming days.

KELLY: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Thank you, Claudia. Happy holidays.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.
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