A day before unemployment benefits for millions of Americans were set to expire, President Donald Trump had a different insult in mind: his former-model wife has yet to appear on the cover of a fashion magazine as first lady.
“Fake news!” he complained on Twitter from Palm Beach, concerned for Melania’s social station on Christmas as Americans hunkered at home, enduring a holiday diminished by pandemic, darkened by the prospect of an imminent government shutdown and shaken by an eerie explosion in Nashville that authorities said was intentional.
A day later, as those jobless benefits for gig workers and self-employed Americans were lapsing, Trump was issuing a string of angry messages about his own perceived injustices: the election he falsely claims was stolen from him and the growing roster of people he’s upset won’t help him reverse it.
That Trump has little penchant for reflecting the struggles and concerns of most Americans is hardly new. But his electoral loss has only seemed to harden the callousness that separates his own experience from the country’s, even as he insists the country deserves more.
The fashion cover gripe came as the President was returning from his golf club in Florida to his oceanfront estate, where somewhere was waiting the massive coronavirus relief package that had been specially flown from Washington for his consideration. An official familiar with the matter said the bill was at Mar-a-Lago by Friday morning.
Trump offered no indication Saturday he was planning to sign it, meaning the unemployment program that expires Saturday – which provides benefits to as many as 12 million Americans – has little hope of proceeding without interruption.
“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,’ ” Trump wrote from Mar-a-Lago on Saturday.
Four days earlier, Trump appeared in a video few of his aides seemed to know he was taping to decry the bill, insisting it did not pay Americans enough and was loaded with unnecessary spending. Since then, no one – least of all Republican members of Congress – has been able to gain further clarity about how Trump wants to proceed.
“Made many calls and had meetings at Trump International in Palm Beach, Florida,” Trump wrote Friday on Twitter. “Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600? It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!”
He did not say whether he would sign the bill, which in addition to renewing certain unemployment programs would extend a moratorium on evictions, revive federal loans for small businesses and provide direct $600 payments to Americans under a certain income level.
The $600 check is surely a pittance for people struggling with back rent and unpaid bills. But it was nevertheless the amount they were promised could arrive next week when officials, including Trump’s own Treasury secretary, were lauding the bill they negotiated.
Now the fate of those checks remains uncertain – as does the functioning of the entire federal government, which only has funding to remain open through Monday.
Trump, however, had another date in mind – and the functioning of other government resources – on Saturday as he woke up on Boxing Day in a fury over the election results. His anger extended to all three branches of government: he lashed out at the Supreme Court, which has refused to hear his case; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has acknowledged President-elect Joe Biden’s win; and his own law enforcement agencies, who have provided little backing to his lies.
“The ‘Justice’ Department and the FBI have done nothing about the 2020 Presidential Election Voter Fraud, the biggest SCAM in our nation’s history, despite overwhelming evidence. They should be ashamed. History will remember. Never give up. See everyone in D.C. on January 6th,” he wrote.
January 6 is when Congress will meet to officially ratify the Election College that Biden won; Trump hopes an insurgent effort by Conservative House members and perhaps his vice president will overturn the inevitable. The effort is all but certain to fail, but it has captured Trump’s interest nonetheless.
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger responded to the tweets from Trump on Saturday morning, calling them a “temper tantrum and crazy conspiracies” and said the President is “trying to burn the place down on the way out because you can’t handle losing.”
Throwing relief into question
On Saturday, Biden urged Trump to sign the relief bill, saying further delay has “devastating consequences.”
“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said. “This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences. Today, about 10 million Americans will lose unemployment insurance benefits. In just a few days, government funding will expire, putting vital services and paychecks for military personnel at risk. In less than a week, a moratorium on evictions expires, putting millions at risk of being forced from their homes over the holidays.”
Asked at his club this week about his stance – which seemed to have nothing to do with the position his administration’s negotiators took in the crafting of the package – Trump has told associates he believes the measure is loaded with “pork,” according to people familiar with the conversations.
Reminded that he proposed virtually the same spending figures included in the bill – which would keep the government funded past Monday – in his own budget this year, Trump has scoffed, one person familiar with the matter said, insisting his proposal was the work of the “deep state.”
Four years after entering office, Trump is demonstrating little aptitude for the process of governing. After paying virtually no attention to the talks surrounding the Covid relief package, focused instead of his futile efforts to overthrow the election results, Trump now appears oblivious to how his demands can be manifested into reality.
Trump White House
Instead, Trump is demonstrating renewed willingness to directly oppose his party’s leadership, furious they have acknowledged Biden’s victory. Much as he began his political career engaged in bitter feuds with Republican officials, Trump is leaving on sour terms with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom he now finds little use.
In what he called “meetings” at his Florida golf course – but which people familiar with the matter said are more accurately described as informal conversations with hangers-on and friends – Trump has been encouraged to further distance himself from the Republican leaders who have stuck by him no matter what the past four years.
At his golf course on Christmas Day, Trump played a round with Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of his top associates in the Senate, who, before Trump’s video, was supportive of the relief package.
“Relief is on the way as soon as the bill becomes law,” the South Carolina Republican wrote on Tuesday.
When Trump released his video, Graham reverted to supporting the higher checks and said late Friday that Trump remained stalwart in his demand.
“After spending some time with President @realDonaldTrump 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,” he tweeted. “Both are reasonable demands, and I hope Congress is listening. The biggest winner would be the American people.”
But as lawmakers left Washington this week, there did not appear to be sufficient support for the $2,000 payments, leaving no clear path forward.
Trump hasn’t appeared particularly eager to explain himself.
Hitting the links – again
On past Christmases, the President has emerged from his Palm Beach vacation to help his wife track Santa Claus through NORAD, an outing that in 2018 led to memorable questioning of a 7-year-old whether she still believed in the big guy.
“‘Cause at 7, it’s marginal, right?” Trump asked, a flash of humor that, this year, he has found little of as he waged a futile effort to overturn an election he lost.
He’s also made public his annual address to American service members stationed overseas during holidays past, and usually attends evening mass on Christmas Eve at Bethesda by the Sea, the stone church near Mar-a-Lago where he was married in 2005 (an event that incidentally landed Melania Trump on the cover of Vogue).
This year Trump spent the entire festive stretch sequestered at his club or on the golf course, never inviting the press – and by extension the public – to see what exactly he was doing.
He wrote on Twitter the “fake news” was “not invited” to his troops speech on Friday. And he said nothing about the blast in Nashville, which injured three people and seemed to grow more mysterious after authorities revealed the RV was broadcasting a message before it exploded that a “potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes.”
Trump has long been sensitive to headlines that say he’s on vacation, aware that for much of the previous administration he complained on Twitter about the expense and optics of a commander-in-chief recreating.
As President himself, he’s found it harder to adhere to the same standards he set for President Barack Obama. On Christmas, Trump paid his 309th visit to one of his golf courses since he’s been in office.
Every day he has been in Palm Beach, the White House has added a highly strange note on his daily schedule alerting readers: “During the Holiday season, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls.”
But each day he’s made the same 10-minute drive from Mar-a-Lago, across the Intracoastal Waterway, to his golf course, where CNN’s cameras have captured him on the green in his red cap and white golf shirt.
This story has been updated with additional developments on Saturday.