PALM BEACH — After tossing a grenade that threatens to blow up a massive COVID relief and government funding bill and force a government shutdown in the midst of a pandemic, President Donald Trump spent his Christmas Eve golfing in Florida.
Failure to agree on the bill could deny checks to millions of Americans on the brink.
Trump had no events on his public schedule on the first day of his winter vacation Thursday, but traveled to his Palm Beach golf club, where he was spotted by CNN cameras on the links. Reporters were given no details of his schedule for the day, but told that, "As the Holiday season approaches, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls."
Trump's departure came as Washington was still reeling over his surprise, eleventh-hour demand that an end-of-year spending bill that congressional leaders spent months negotiating give most Americans $2,000 COVID relief checks — far more than the $600 members of his own party had agreed to. The idea was swiftly rejected by House Republicans during a rare Christmas Eve session, leaving the proposal in limbo.
The bipartisan compromise had been considered a done deal and had won sweeping approval in the House and Senate this week after the White House assured GOP leaders that Trump supported it. If Trump refuses to sign the deal, which is attached to a $1.4 trillion government funding bill, it will force a federal government shutdown, in addition to delaying aid checks and halting unemployment benefits and eviction protections in the midst of the most dire stretch of the pandemic.
It was a final raised middle finger to Republicans from a president who has been raging over his Nov. 3 loss to President-elect Joe Biden and trying to come up with new, increasingly outrageous schemes to try to overturn the results of a Democratic election. He has been egged on by allies like his lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who accompanied the president to Florida aboard Air Force One.
Trump's ire has been focused, in part, on Republicans in Congress whom he believes have been insufficiently supportive of his quest to delegitimize Biden's win by lobbing unfounded claims of mass voter fraud before Congress meets to tally the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6.
In Florida, Trump continued to rail against the results, complaining to members that he had been robbed of the election and voicing frustrations about the year-end spending bill.
"At a meeting in Florida today, everyone was asking why aren't the Republicans up in arms & fighting over the fact that the Democrats stole the rigged presidential election?" Trump tweeted after he'd returned to his private Mar-a-Lago club. "Especially in the Senate, they said, where you helped 8 Senators win their races."
"I will NEVER FORGET!" he wrote in another,
The statements underscored concerns that Trump is blowing up negotiations to punish lawmakers for what he sees as their insufficient support loyalty.
Trump has provided no credible evidence to support his election claims, which have also been refuted by a long list of officials, from former Attorney General William Barr to Republican governors, judges and local election administrators.
Meanwhile, the nation continues to reel as the coronavirus spreads, with record infections and hospitalizations and more than 327,000 now dead. And millions are now facing the prospect of spending the holidays alone or struggling to make ends meet without adequate income, food or shelter thanks to the pandemic's economic toll.
To mark the holiday, the president and first lady Melania Trump tweeted out a pre-recorded video message in which they wished Americans a Merry Christmas and thanked first responders and members of the military.
"As you know, this Christmas is different than years past," said Mrs. Trump, who focused on the acts of "kindness and courage" the pandemic had inspired .
Trump hailed the vaccine doses now being delivered and thanked those responsible. "It is a truly a Christmas miracle," he said.
Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to salvage the year-end legislation to try to prevent a shutdown. Democrats will recall House lawmakers to Washington for a vote Monday on Trump's $2,000 proposal, though it would likely die in the GOP-controlled Senate. They are also considering a Monday vote on a stop-gap measure to at least avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Biden is inaugurated Jan. 20.
In addition to the relief checks, the COVID bill that passed would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit, provide a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, and provide money for health care providers and to help with COVID vaccine distribution.