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Trump threatens to not sign COVID-19 bill, wants bigger stimulus checks

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to not sign an $892 billion coronavirus relief bill that includes desperately needed money for individual Americans, saying it should be amended to increase the amount in the stimulus checks.

U.S. government operations are being funded on a temporary basis through Dec. 28, waiting for the $1.4 trillion in federal spending for fiscal 2021 that is also part of the bill.

Failure to either pass another stopgap bill or override a possible Trump veto of the legislation could result in a partial government shutdown. The threat by the outgoing Republican president, who has less than a month left in office, throws into turmoil a bipartisan effort in Congress to provide help for people whose lives have been upended by the pandemic.

“The bill they are now planning to send back to my desk is much different than anticipated,” Trump said in a video posted on Twitter. “It really is a disgrace.”

The U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate both passed the legislation overwhelmingly on Monday night.

Trump said he wants Congress to increase the amount in the stimulus checks to $2,000 for individuals or $4,000 for couples, instead of the “ridiculously low” $600 for individuals that is in the bill.

Trump also complained about money provided for foreign countries, the Smithsonian Institution and fish breeding, among other spending that is in the part of the legislation to fund the U.S. government.

“I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation, and to send me a suitable bill, or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package. And maybe that administration will be me,” said Trump, who has continued to push baseless claims that he won re-election in November.

Trump, who will leave office on Jan. 20 when President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in, did not use the word “veto” in his statement.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump departs on travel to West Point, New York from the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 12, 2020. REUTERS/Cheriss May/File Photo

The 92-6 vote in the Senate and the 359-53 vote in the House both are well over the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, though some Republicans might balk at overriding a veto if Trump used that power.

A bill can be amended if congressional leadership wants to do so. If they don’t, Trump’s choices are to sign the bill into law, veto it, or do nothing and let it become law.

If the bill is amended, doing so by Dec. 28 could be very difficult. It took months for the parties to agree to the thousands of elements in not only the coronavirus aid part, but the $1.4 trillion agreement to fund much of the U.S. government.

Even if leadership wants to amend the bill, it still would have to be voted upon by the full House and Senate. Also, many Republicans might balk at the $2,000 direct payments because that would boost the cost of the bill to well over $1 trillion.

Two years ago, a record-long, 35-day government shutdown was sparked when Congress sent Trump a government spending bill it thought he would support, only to see him reject it over what he said was insufficient funding for building his vaunted U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Trump also said a two-year tax break for corporate meal expenses was “not enough” to help struggling restaurants.

The White House did not signal any objections to the legislation before it passed and gave every expectation that Trump would sign it. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was involved in the negotiations over the bill.

White House officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s intentions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a tweet that Republicans would not say during negotiations what amount Trump wanted the stimulus checks to be. She said Democrats are ready to bring his proposal for $2,000 checks to the House floor for a vote this week. She did not address Trump’s other concerns.

Trump’s complaints came just as the 5,500-page bill was being processed for sending to the White House for signing by the president, who is scheduled to leave on Wednesday afternoon to spend the rest of the year at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump’s video was taped in private at the White House, without reporters present, continuing a recent boycott of appearing at public events where he might be exposed to questions about his failed attempt to challenge the results of the Nov. 3 election.

Reporting by Eric Beech and Steve HollandEditing by Sonya Hepinstall and Leslie Adler

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