Jill Colvin, Lisa Mascaro and Andrew Taylor
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package Sunday, ending days of drama over his refusal to accept the bipartisan deal that will deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown.
The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems and an increase in food stamp benefits.
Trump announced the signing in a statement Sunday night that spoke of his frustrations with the COVID-19 relief for including only $600 checks to most Americans instead of the $2,000 that his fellow Republicans rejected. He also complained about what he considered unnecessary spending by the government at large. But Trump’s eleventh-hour objections created turmoil because lawmakers had thought he was supportive of the bill, which had been negotiated for months with White House input.
“I will sign the Omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Trump said in the statement.
Last week, two members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs praised the portions of the bill that addressed several tribal funding priorities. Among other highlights for tribes were:
- $3 billion for tribes’ 2021 COVID-19 response
- A one-year extension to spend funds allocated in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March and distributed to tribes in May
- $1 billion for Indian Health Service vaccines, testing, tracing and COVID mitigation
- $1 billion for broadband
- More than $20 billion for programs ranging from housing, funeral benefits, and funding for tribal colleges and universities, to substance abuse and mental health programs.
In an earlier statement, Democratic Sen. Tom Udall, vice chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, highlighted other programs he had championed such as support for Native languages and culture, and provisions to address the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls crisis.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said the consolidated appropriations bill had come after five or six weeks of intensive work by a team of Republicans and Democrats from both the House of Representatives and Senate, and was attached to an overall spending bill that had been a year in the making.
While Trump insisted he would send Congress a "redlined version” with items to be removed under the rescission process, those are merely suggestions to Congress. The bill, as signed, would not necessarily be changed.
Lawmakers now have breathing room to continue debating whether the relief checks should be as large as the president has demanded. The Democratic-led House supports the larger checks and is set to vote on the issue Monday, but it's expected to be ignored by the Republican-held Senate where spending faces opposition.
Republicans and Democrats swiftly welcomed Trump's decision to sign the bill into law.
“The compromise bill is not perfect, but it will do an enormous amount of good for struggling Kentuckians and Americans across the country who need help now,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I thank the President for signing this relief into law."
Democrats are promising more aid to come once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, but Republicans are signaling a wait-and-see approach.
In the face of growing economic hardship, spreading disease and a looming shutdown, lawmakers on Sunday had urged Trump to sign the legislation immediately, then have Congress follow up with additional aid. Aside from unemployment benefits and relief payments to families, money for vaccine distribution, businesses, cash-starved public transit systems and more is on the line. Protections against evictions also hung in the balance.
“What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. “So many people are hurting. ... It is really insane and this president has got to finally ... do the right thing for the American people and stop worrying about his ego.”
Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said he understood that Trump “wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks, but the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire.”
Toomey added: “So I think the best thing to do, as I said, sign this and then make the case for subsequent legislation.”
The same point was echoed by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican who’s criticized Trump’s pandemic response and his efforts to undo the election results. “I just gave up guessing what he might do next,” he said.
Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said too much is at stake for Trump to “play this old switcheroo game.”
“I don’t get the point,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s being done, why, unless it’s just to create chaos and show power and be upset because you lost the election.”
Washington had been reeling since Trump turned on the deal. Fingers pointed at administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, as lawmakers tried to understand whether they were misled about Trump’s position.
“Now to be put in a lurch, after the president’s own person negotiated something that the president doesn’t want, it’s just — it’s surprising,” Kinzinger said.
Kinzinger spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union,” and Hogan and Sanders on ABC’s “This Week.”
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Indian Country Today staff contributed to this report.