President Donald Trump on Saturday announced he would move forward with multiple executive actions designed to provide relief to millions of financially struggling Americans after talks between his aides and Democratic leaders on a new pandemic relief package broke down this week.
Trump laid out four actions that he said would cut taxes for workers through the end of the year, extend unemployment benefits but at a reduced rate, renew a moratorium on evictions during the pandemic, and defer student loan payments and interest until the end of the year.
The development comes after a 90-minute meeting on Friday afternoon between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer led to no significant progress on a relief deal.
“We have repeatedly stated our willingness to immediately sign legislation providing extended unemployment benefits, protecting Americans from eviction and providing additional relief payments to families. Democrats have refused these offers, they want to negotiate, what they really want is bailout money for states run by Democrat governors and mayors, they’ve been on really bad for decades,” Trump told supporters in a politically charged address at his Bedminster, N.J., resort.
It’s unclear where Trump will get the money to pay for the actions, but they’re likely to face legal challenges from Democrats.
The president’s decision to do an end run around Congress underscores the deep tensions between Democratic leaders and the White House as the United States has failed to tame the coronavirus pandemic, leading to a surge in cases and economic devastation just months before the presidential election.
Trump has consistently attempted to shift blame to others, while proclaiming that the United States has superior testing abilities and pressuring schools and businesses to reopen.
The collapse in the latest stimulus talks came after both sides refused to make any breakthrough compromises and as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has largely stayed on the sidelines.
White House and Democratic leaders remained trillions of dollars apart on any deal, with Democrats pushing for the $3 trillion HEROES Act and the White House aiming to stay at $1 trillion. Senate Republicans also were divided on their own opening offer, with hard-line conservatives opposing additional federal spending.
Pelosi and Schumer said Friday that they were willing to cut down their ask by $1 trillion if the White House increased their offer by $1 trillion, a move administration officials rejected.
The new orders, some of which were passed by House Democrats in May as a part of their massive coronavirus relief package, would provide a payroll tax holiday to Americans earning less than $100,000 per year. Trump said during his address that he would direct the Treasury Department to allow employers to defer payments of “certain” payroll taxes starting Aug. 1 until the end of the year.
Trump also expressed a willingness to make the tax cuts, which he has frequently supported during negotiations, permanent if he wins re-election in November.
“If I win, I may extend and terminate, extend it beyond the year end terminate the tax,” Trump said. “So, we’ll see what happens.”
The president said his directive to extend a moratorium on evictions would include financial assistance from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for struggling renters and homeowners.
“We don’t want people being evicted, and the bill I’m signing will solve that problem largely, hopefully completely,” Trump said.
Trump also announced a $400-per-week supplemental payment for those who have lost their jobs, a decrease from the extra $600 unemployed Americans were receiving weekly before the benefit expired at the end of July.
States would be on the hook for covering 25 percent of the extra payments if they decided to extend them, Trump said. But those who opted in could use federal coronavirus relief funds to help offset the costs.
Trump’s directive on student loans would allow borrowers to defer payments and interest until the end of the year, a date Trump appeared willing to consider extending as well.
“It’s not their fault the colleges have closed down and not their fault they are unable to get what they bargained for,” Trump contended.
The president’s politically-infused speech at his New Jersey golf club was akin to a campaign-style diatribe against his political opponents. Trump’s attacks on Pelosi, Schumer and likely Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden were greeted by cheers and applause from supporters who were allowed to attend the announcement.
“Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have chosen to hold this vital assistance hostage on behalf of very extreme partisan demands and the radical left Democrats and we just can’t do that,” Trump said. “This is a bill supported by Biden, and Biden is totally controlled now by the Bernie Sanders left wing of the party.”
Trump also railed against Democrats over their demands for a vote-by-mail provision in the now-stalled relief bill talks.
“The bill requires all states to do universal mail-in balloting, which nobody is prepared for,” Trump said. “Regardless of whether or not [states] have the infrastructure, they want to steal an election.”
The White House’s new executive actions will likely face legal challenges. Democrats promised last week to take Trump to court if he sidestepped Congress’ constitutional authority to spend federal funds.
When asked Saturday whether he expected Democrats to challenge the White House over the orders, the president said any lawsuit would go “very rapidly” through the legal system.
“Maybe we won’t get sued. If we get sued, it’s somebody who doesn’t want people to get money,” Trump said. “And that’s not going to be a popular thing.”
The president has circumvented Congress’ spending power before when he declared a national emergency in February 2019 and ordered the Pentagon to transfer congressionally appropriated military funds to pay for a wall along portions of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last month that Trump could legally spend the disputed funds.