President Donald Trump appeared no closer to signing an end-of-year Covid-19 relief and spending bill on Sunday as millions of people lost unemployment aid, the government careered towards a mid-pandemic shutdown and politicians implored him to act.
Mr Trump blindsided members of both parties and upended months of negotiations when he demanded last week that the package — already passed the House and Senate by large margins and believed to have Mr Trump’s support — be revised to include larger relief cheques and scaled-back spending.
If he continues his opposition, the federal government will run out of money at 12:01am on Tuesday while he spends the holidays golfing in Florida.
In the face of growing economic hardship and spreading disease, politicians on Sunday urged Mr 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 hang in the balance.
“What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” said independent senator Bernie Sanders. “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 senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said he understood that Mr Trump “wants to be remembered for advocating for big cheques, but the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behaviour if he allows this to expire”.
Mr 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 governor Larry Hogan, a Republican who has criticised Mr 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 representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said too much was at stake for Mr 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.”
Mr Trump, who spent much of Sunday at his West Palm Beach golf course, has given no indication that he plans to sign the bill as he spends the last days of his presidency in a rage.
Indeed, his dissatisfaction with the legislation seems only to have grown in recent days as he has criticised it privately to club members and publicly on Twitter.
Days ago, Democrats said they would call House representatives back to Washington for a Monday vote on Mr Trump’s proposal to send out 2,000 dollar (£1,476) relief cheques, instead of the 600 dollars (£443) approved by Congress.
But the idea is likely to die in the Republican-controlled Senate, as it did among Republicans in the House during a rare Christmas Eve session. Democrats were also considering a vote on Monday on a stop-gap measure aimed at keeping the government running until President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated on January 20.
Washington has been reeling since Mr Trump turned on the deal, without warning, after it had won sweeping approval in both houses of Congress and after the White House had assured Republican leaders Mr Trump would support it.
Instead, he assailed the bill’s plan to provide 600 dollar Covid-19 relief checks to most Americans — insisting it should be 2,000 dollars — and took issue with spending included in an attached $1.4 trillion dollar (£1.03 trillion) government funding bill to keep the federal government operating through September.
And already, his opposition has had consequences, as two federal programmes providing unemployment aid expired on Saturday.
Lauren Bauer of the Brookings Institution had calculated that at least 11 million people would lose aid immediately as a result of Mr Trump’s failure to sign the legislation; millions more would exhaust other unemployment benefits within weeks.