Two years ago this week, President Donald Trump began a spiteful disruption that would end weeks later with his undeclared surrender. In December 2018, Trump forced a partial shutdown of federal agencies that lasted more than a month — the result of his no-win standoff with Congress over funding for his border wall project.
Sabotaging funding agreements became Trump's go-to method of posturing and creating tensions. That's why his signing drama over the weekend of a long-awaited COVID-19 relief bill approved by the House and Senate was surprising but not unexpected. He attacked the measure's provisions, but he failed as usual to work on negotiating any improvements.
This most likely marked the outgoing president's final legislative cave-in.
Often it seemed as if Trump played to lose on Capitol Hill. He moved to hold up U.S. military aid to Ukraine that was authorized by both major parties, then relented. He threatened California with a cutoff of firefighting aid, which didn't happen. He hinted he'd withhold coronavirus help for blue states such as New York whose governors didn't "treat us well." He nattered about stopping law-enforcement aid to "sanctuary cities."
Nothing tangible resulted.
Failure became the bottom line in his coronavirus relief drama and speculation that ended this week. Trump signed into law a $1.4 trillion government-funding omnibus bill and $900 billion coronavirus aid package, the latter providing for $600 in direct payments to individuals, rather than the $2,000 for which the Democrats first, and Trump later, stated support. Only an abrupt change of heart and philosophy from Senate Republicans could make up the difference.
The president's last-minute objections to the $600 stimulus checks as "measly" proved disingenuous. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who purportedly negotiated for the administration, described the bipartisan deal as "fabulous" just a day before Trump called it a "disgrace."
The White House as usual offered no sensible explanation for the split messaging. If the Senate doesn't cave, Trump's only gain from the episode will be misdirection. On cue, his fans have begun reciting alibis for the legislative delay, projecting blame onto Democrats, the GOP "establishment" and administration staffers.
Even Trump's veto of another popular bill, the National Defense Authorization Act, represents a waste of time and attention. The House voted to override the veto Monday night, and the Senate is prepared to do so this week.
The $740 billion defense policy bill funds various military projects and authorizes a 3% pay raise for U.S. troops. Trump rejected the bill because he wanted it to repeal certain protections for social media companies and took issue with the legislation's language allowing the Pentagon to rename military facilities honoring leaders of the Confederacy.
Trump's stalled action on the relief bill, meanwhile, means Americans relying on the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs probably won't get a payment for the final week of the year. Other checks will be delayed, to be paid retroactively. Given his track record, lame-duck Trump will express no regrets for Americans' household bills missed due to his futile intervention.