A week ago today, the path ahead appeared clear. Democratic and Republican congressional leaders had just reached an agreement on a $900 billion economic relief package, which they'd attached to a spending package that would fund the government through the end of the fiscal year. It was an imperfect solution, which would nevertheless help millions of Americans who need a lifeline, all while preventing a shutdown.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who was directly involved in the negotiations, published a tweet around this time seven days ago thanking both parties' congressional leaders, as well as Donald Trump and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, for the breakthrough success. It served as a reminder that the outgoing Republican president had endorsed the package.
That was before Trump "stunned" White House officials and condemned the plan as a "disgrace." The outgoing president proceeded to spend the holiday weekend trashing the package his own team said he supported.
Last night, the Republican reversed course again, signing the bill he was both for and against.
President Donald Trump backtracked Sunday and signed a $2.3 trillion package that combines Covid-19 relief with government funding. His last-minute decision, coming after he caused days of legislative chaos by lacerating a bill his own aides had negotiated, will restore enhanced unemployment assistance that expired Sunday and avert a shutdown that would have begun Tuesday.
By any fair measure, Trump's signature put out the fire he created for no reason and with no plan for success. The outgoing president backed himself into a corner, made demands that could not be met, and ultimately caved when his tantrum left him emptyhanded.
More importantly, however, the outgoing president handled the matter just poorly enough to punish struggling families who were counting on him to be less ridiculous. As the New York Times explained over the weekend, by waiting to sign the bill, Trump needlessly created "a delay in benefits for millions of Americans who had relied on the income."
With state unemployment agencies waiting for federal guidance on how to put the new legislation in place, it is unclear how quickly those programs could resume and whether the benefits would be retroactive to accommodate the delay. Because unemployment benefits are processed weekly and the legislation was not signed before the beginning of the week, it is likely that workers in most states will lose a week of benefits under the expanded program, as well as a week with the $300 supplemental benefit.
If Trump, who spent the holiday weekend golfing, had signed the bill on Friday instead of Sunday, millions of struggling Americans would not have missed a benefit check. Now, thanks to the outgoing president's breathtaking ineptitude, many of those who cried out for a lifeline will be punished, simply because Trump felt the need to throw a tantrum.
There was no point to any of this. Trump engaged in some meaningless theatrics that made him look weak and erratic, and in the process, he singlehandedly did real harm to families that didn't deserve even more suffering. Nothing substantively changed between Friday night and Sunday night, but Captain Chaos, who took an interest in the bill's contents after it was too late, waited anyway, indifferent to the consequences.
In an official statement issued last night, the White House said Trump was signing the package, but was also sending back "a redlined version" of the legislation to Congress, alerting lawmakers to a list of spending provisions in the bill that he wants them to remove.
In case this isn't already obvious, let's review some of the pesky details. First, there's simply no way Congress will care at all about this list, especially given this week's abbreviated schedule. Second, many of the spending provisions Trump has complained about most are spending provisions the White House asked Congress to include in the package.
Third, the reference to "a redlined version" makes it sound as if the president believes he has a line-item-veto power, which he does not. (Is it possible White House officials conned Trump into signing the bill by falsely telling him the line-item-veto power exists?)
And finally, if the Republican president had genuine concerns about any parts of this package, he could've taken an interest in the bill before it was negotiated and passed.
All things considered, this pointless ordeal has been a case study in what happens when someone who doesn't know what he's doing is elected to the nation's most powerful office.
Postscript: After the bill was signed into law, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) praised the president for his "leadership" on the matter. Perhaps he was referring to some other president?