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Trump threatens to reject massive COVID-19 relief package

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FILE: US President Donald Trump, January 27, 2020
FILE: US President Donald Trump, January 27, 2020   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Evan Vucci
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Donald Trump threatened to reject a massive COVID-19 relief package, a move that could shut down the US government.

The $900 million (€738.9 million) bill was overwhelmingly passed in Congress on Monday after months of negotiations.

But Trump suggested on Tuesday night that he might not sign the legislation, calling on lawmakers to increase direct checks for Americans from $600 (€492) to $2,000 (€1,641) for individuals and $4,000 (€3,283) for couples.

The US president, who has just a month left in office, complained that the bill had too many foreign aid provisions, telling Congress to "get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”

Trump called the bill a "disgrace" saying that no one has read it due to its "length and complexity". He complained that there was money going to the Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts, for instance, even though it's "not even open for business".

Trump did not specifically say he would veto the bill, and there may be enough support in Congress to override his veto in the event that he did.

But the relief package is linked to $1.4 trillion (€1.15 trillion) in funding for US government agencies through September, so if it does not pass, the government would shut down on December 29.

It also includes money for transit, an increase in food stamp benefits and billions to help other nations provide a COVID-19 vaccine to people.

Democrats had pushed for more money to go to Americans but compromised with Republicans after months in a stalemate over the relief money.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would bring forward a proposal to give more money to Americans.

"At last, the President has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!," Pelosi said in a tweet.

Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on pandemic relief and only agreed to the big year-end package as time ran out for a final deal.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said that “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” and Congress would step up for more aid after.

The relief package on Monday passed through the House and Senate within hours despite many lawmakers' complaints that they did not have time to read the more than 5,000 page piece of legislation.

Biden had applauded lawmakers for their work saying that though the package was far from perfect, “it does provide vital relief at a critical time.”

He also said more relief would be needed in the months ahead. “We have our first hint and glimpse of bipartisanship,” Biden said. “In this election, the American people made it clear they want us to reach across the aisle and work together.”