Government shutdown looms as Donald Trump continues to refuse to sign new stimulus bill

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Ben Riley-Smith
·4 min read
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Donald Trump is due to leave office on January 20 - BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images
Donald Trump is due to leave office on January 20 - BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

One of Donald Trump’s most prominent allies in the US Senate has thrown his support behind the US president’s demand for $2,000 stimulus cheques as a new government shutdown looms amid the funding stand-off.

Lindsey Graham, who played golf with Mr Trump on Christmas Day, took to Twitter to endorse the president’s call for an increase from the $600 cheques agreed in a major new funding bill passed by Congress.

Mr Trump has refused to sign into the law the piece of legislation, which seeks to help those worst affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic fallout, insisting the direct payments to Americans should be raised.

The president’s initial decision not to sign the bill, which was flown down to the Florida golf resort Mar-a-Lago where he is spending Christmas, creates a number of knock-on problems that are yet to be resolved.

For one, millions of Americans who have been receiving higher than normal unemployment benefits from the initial rounds of Covid stimulus laws will see their payments disrupted and potentially ended as they time out.

For another, a new government shutdown - which occurs when the US Congress fails to approve spending for the federal government before the current funding runs out - looms on Tuesday.

The new stimulus bill is wrapped up with measures to extend government funding. Failure to sign the bill into law by the end of Monday will trigger a new shutdown. 

Mr Trump’s demand to raise the personal payments due to be made to each American from $600 to $2,000 blindsided both Republican and Democratic negotiators.

Talks had been on-going for months and finally, just days before Christmas, both parties reached a deal on the measures and passed a bill in the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate.

Mr Trump tweeted on Saturday: “I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill. Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork’.”

Joe Biden, the US president-elect, called on Mr Trump to sign the stimulus bill into law "now", saying: "This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences." 

The biggest block to that proposal being adopted is Republicans in the Senate who are already wary of the impact major new spending will have on the nation’s ballooning deficit.

Mr Graham, the South Carolina senator who stood against Mr Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries but has since become a confidante, went public with his support for the move late on Christmas Day after golfing with Mr Trump.

Mr Graham tweeted: "After spending some time with President Trump today, I am convinced he is more determined than ever to increase stimulus payments to $2000 per person and challenge Section 230 big tech liability protection.

“Both are reasonable demands, and I hope Congress is listening. The biggest winner would be the American people.” The Section 230 comment refers to another stand-off between Mr Trump and Congress.

The president has vetoed a new defence spending bill because congressmen have not removed the Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

That is dubbed “the most important law protecting internet speech”, limiting the responsibility tech giants have for what appears on their sites by specifying that they should not be considered publishers.

Mr Trump, who before the election was repeatedly censored by Twitter, has grown frustrated at the protection. However there is little appetite on Capitol Hill for a speedy repeal.

Exactly what is driving Mr Trump’s stand-offs with Congress in the final weeks of his presidency is unclear, though potential theories have been floated in the media.

One is that he is trying to use his political power before leaving office to secure changes that he believes beneficial - such as more pandemic support and reining in big tech.

Another is that pursuing potentially popular policies, even if they are doomed to fail given the current positions of congressmen, boosts his standing with voters as he turns to what comes next.

A third is that Mr Trump, publicly infuriated with the failure of leading Republicans on Capitol Hill to back his unfounded claims of mass election fraud, is deliberately slowing the cogs of Congress.

Critics have claimed that since his November election defeat to Mr Biden Mr Trump has spent much time nursing his wounds rather than addressing problems such as the Covid-19 crisis, which has seen daily cases soaring over recent weeks.

On Christmas Day, Mr Trump shared a tweet from right-wing news outlet Brietbart which complained “elitist snobs in the fashion press” had refused to put Melania Trump, the First Lady, on magazine covers over the last four years.

Mr Trump added the comment: “The greatest of all time. Fake News!” Reports noted that Michelle Obama, Barack Obama’s wife and the former first lady, had appeared on multiple fashion magazine covers when she was in the White House.