WASHINGTON — President Trump’s criticism of the $900 billion coronavirus relief deal drove a wedge through the Republican Party on Wednesday, drawing harsh rebukes from House Republicans and threatening the delivery of unemployment checks, a reprieve on evictions and direct payments to struggling Americans.
His four-minute video on Tuesday night demanding significant changes to the bill and larger direct stimulus checks also threw a wrench into his party’s push to hold the Senate with victories in two runoff races in Georgia next month. The Republican candidates he pledged to support went from campaigning on their triumphant votes for the relief bill to facing questions on Mr. Trump’s view that the measure was a “disgrace.”
Their Democratic rivals appeared to turn a liability into a political advantage 13 days before the election on Jan. 5, agreeing with Mr. Trump’s demand for $2,000 direct payment checks and calling for Republicans to accede to his wish. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and top Democrats prepared to move forward on Thursday with new legislation that would provide the $2,000 checks, daring Republicans to break with the president and block passage of the bill in the House.
But the effect on struggling Americans was perhaps the most profound: With no deal signed by the president, some unemployment programs are set to run out this week, and several other critical provisions are set to end this month. The uncertainty that Mr. Trump injected into the process came at a perilous moment for the economy, as consumer spending and personal incomes resumed their slides.
“Does the president realize that unemployment benefits expire the day after Christmas?” Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia and one of the key negotiators of the package, wrote on Twitter.
It was not clear whether Mr. Trump would actually veto the package, but given how late it is in the 116th Congress, even refusing to sign it could ensure that the bill dies with the Congress on Jan. 3 and must be taken up again next year.
Frustration with Mr. Trump boiled over on Wednesday during a private conference call of House Republicans, many of whom had joined in his baseless lawsuit to try to overturn the results of election.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, told members he had spoken to the president and that he had not yet committed to a veto of the bill.
But Mr. McCarthy conceded, “This bill has been tainted,” according to a person on the call.
On the call, some lawmakers complained about pork projects in the measure, while others chimed in to challenge the characterization of the projects as pork and one longtime House Republican vented generally about voter perceptions of the package after Mr. Trump’s scathing critique.
“I don’t know if we recover from this,” said Representative Virginia Foxx, Republican of North Carolina, according to three officials on the call. “We will have a hell of a time getting this out of people’s head.”
Representative Don Bacon, Republican of Nebraska, said Mr. Trump had thrown House Republicans under the bus, according to a person on the call. In a statement afterward, Mr. Bacon said: “I stand by what I said,” adding that the bill “is a good compromise and the president should take it.”
Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia have been left scrambling to justify support of the pandemic relief bill that President Trump subsequently called a “disgrace.” The two senators, both Trump loyalists, were whipsawed by the president’s baseless claims of voter fraud in their state, and are facing closely watched runoff races.
Such are the perils, as both well know, of tethering themselves to a mercurial president who has shown himself to be indifferent to the political considerations of anyone else, even two senators who must win their runoffs on Jan. 5 if Republicans are to maintain control of the Senate.
Mr. Perdue, who has skipped debates with his Democratic opponent, Jon Ossoff, has kept a relatively low profile during the campaign and did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
He did, however, cut an advertisement explaining the benefits of the relief package on Tuesday, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It is not clear when, or if, the ad will air.
Ms. Loeffler, who is locked in a tight race against Raphael Warnock, a Democrat, offered a vague response on Wednesday to reporters who had asked her if she backed Mr. Trump’s demand that the stimulus checks be increased to $2,000 from the $600 that Congress approved.
“I’ll certainly look at supporting it if it repurposes wasteful spending for that, yes,” Ms. Loeffler said at a campaign event in Cobb County on Wednesday, The Journal-Constitution reported.
She went on to suggest that she could back such a move if it were offset by cuts to other parts of the package — a nonstarter for congressional Democrats.
“I certainly support redirecting any wasteful spending to be very targeted at families and businesses who have been impacted by this virus through no fault of their own,” she added.
Their dilemma is merely the most vivid illustration of the political headlock Mr. Trump has placed on Republican senators in swing states, who are more likely to be held accountable for failing to help their struggling constituents than House members in safely Republican districts.
Ms. Loeffler, a onetime Mitt Romney supporter who was initially cool to Mr. Trump, has fully embraced him during her campaign, going so far as to join Mr. Perdue in calling for Georgia’s Republican secretary of state to resign during a November recount that confirmed Mr. Trump’s defeat.
Democrats, who as a party are often torn by messaging conflicts, have few such problems this time. Their leader, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., has offered tepid but consistent support for the bill, calling it a “down payment” on a new aid package he will push for once in office.
That has given Mr. Warnock and Mr. Ossoff political breathing space, allowing then to both back and bash the bill.
“Look, I would have voted for the bill because people need help right now, but the bottom line is that $600 is a joke,” Mr. Ossoff told MSNBC on Wednesday. “It’s a joke. People have been waiting eight months for the United States Senate to act.”
President Trump on Wednesday made good on his promise to veto the annual military policy bill, setting up what could be the first veto override of his presidency after both chambers of Congress overwhelmingly approved the legislation.
In refusing to sign the legislation, Mr. Trump cited a series of provisions, including one that would allow the military to strip the names of Confederate leaders from military bases. He also has demanded that the bill include a provision that would repeal a legal shield for social media companies that he has tangled with, a significant legislative change that Republicans and Democrats alike have said is irrelevant to a bill that dictates military policy and has become law for each of the last 60 years.
“My administration has taken strong actions to help keep our nation safe and support our service members,” Mr. Trump wrote in the veto notification. “I will not approve this bill, which would put the interests of the Washington, D.C., establishment over those of the American people.”
The House is expected to return on Monday to vote on an override. Should it pass, the Senate is expected to return on Tuesday to begin considering the override.
The veto is the latest sign that Mr. Trump, in his last weeks in office, is ready to challenge lawmakers in his own party, forcing them to chose between fealty to him and loyalty to their congressional leaders and, for some, their ideals.
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Wednesday appeared in Wilmington, Del., to introduce his nominee to serve as education secretary, Miguel A. Cardona, a product of the public school system who grew up in public housing, whom he called “a secretary of education for this moment.”
“We need someone who gets that education isn’t just what we do as a nation, it’s who we are,” Mr. Biden said. He also committed to reopening a majority of public schools across the country by the end of his first 100 days in office and reiterated his support for canceling up to $10,000 in student loans for each borrower because of the pandemic.
If confirmed, Dr. Cardona, who currently serves as Connecticut’s schools chief, will be tasked with managing the most urgent education crisis in decades: attempting to oversee the reopening of schools without turning the issue into a partisan matter. Dr. Cardona’s background as a public school educator stands in stark contrast to that of the current education secretary, Betsy DeVos, a billionaire champion of private schools that she and her children attended. In his brief remarks, Dr. Cardona compared the American public school system to a “wilted rose, neglected, in need of care.”
“We must be the master gardeners who cultivate it,” he said, noting that the inequities of the country’s education system would still be a problem that needed to be addressed even after the pandemic. Mr. Biden had promised during the campaign to appoint an education secretary with public school experience.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said the Biden-Harris administration would continue to fight for additional emergency relief for educators and schools in another stimulus package it plans to introduce next year.
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris took no questions.
On Wednesday, the Biden transition team also announced more individuals who will serve in the White House Counsel’s Office, as part of the incoming administration’s stated goal of helping to “restore faith in the rule of law and the accountability of government institutions.”
The new additions to the White House legal team include Jonathan Cedarbaum, a partner at WilmerHale who has been serving as senior counsel for litigation for the Biden-Harris campaign; Danielle Conley, a former associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department; Jonathan Su, who served as special counsel to President Barack Obama; and Stuart Delery, a former acting associate attorney general during the Obama administration.
Like a coin flip that never lands, America’s double-headed presidency is queasily suspended in midair as President Trump threatens to veto a bipartisan, Biden-blessed bill intended to speed relief to families, businesses and governments in time for the holidays.
The 11th-hour disruption was one of those entirely predictable surprises that have defined the Trump era. Over the last four years — especially on big-ticket budget deals (like the 2019 defense bill) — Mr. Trump has absented himself from negotiations and piped up only at the last possible second, often to little or no effect on priorities like funding his border wall.
In a speech posted late Tuesday on his Twitter account, Mr. Trump positioned himself as a guardian of the working class who had been quietly watching the congressional negotiations in horror as they crammed billions in wasteful spending into the bill, which he called “a disgrace.”
He is now pushing for $2,000 payments for individuals, not the $600 stimulus checks included in the compromise, a position embraced by progressives and deplored by conservatives.
It is not clear how Mr. Trump’s proposal will be taken in Congress. Democrats planned to raise the amount of the direct payments on Thursday by unanimous consent, but whether it passes there or even comes up in the Senate is unclear. The stimulus bill passed both houses on Monday with a veto-proof majority.
Why is Mr. Trump doing this now? One reason: A no has always been more attractive than a yes for the disruptive Mr. Trump, whose 2016 presidential run was impelled by his dislike of President Barack Obama but turbocharged by his contempt for the Republican Party establishment.
The opposite holds for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who ran in 2020 as a reassuring figure intent on restoring kindness and sanity to government. Mr. Biden offered tempered approval of the unloved $900 billion compromise deal on Tuesday, calling it a “down payment” on another coronavirus relief package next year.
On the stimulus issue, Mr. Biden is actually far closer to Mr. Trump than Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, who has been wary of writing bigger checks. But Mr. Biden, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, when the deal seemed done, cast it as a hopeful harbinger of future agreements with Mr. McConnell, his frequent bargaining partner in the Obama years.
In that sense, Mr. Biden is coming in as president the way he left the vice presidency, with a smile of reassurance, while Mr. Trump is going out as he came in — with a defiant scowl.
How the current impasse, which comes at a moment of acute national crisis, plays out is hard to say. Mr. Trump is scheduled to leave this afternoon for his annual Christmas trip to Florida, though his plans could change.
But what struck many Republican aides most on Wednesday was Mr. Trump’s sudden embrace of a cause typically championed by the other party.
While Mr. Trump floated the idea of increasing the size of the checks in private last week, he did not push for the proposal on Twitter or weigh in personally with legislative leaders, nor did he instruct Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who represented him in the talks, to reject the compromise.
With four weeks left in President Trump’s term, he is at perhaps his most unleashed — and, as events of the last few days have demonstrated, at the most unpredictable point in his presidency.
When he has emerged from his relative isolation in recent days, it has been to suggest out of the blue that he would try to blow up the bipartisan stimulus package, driving a wedge through his party in the process, and to grant clemency to a raft of allies and supporters, mostly outside the normal Justice Department process.
He has otherwise sequestered himself in the White House, playing host to a cast of conspiracy theorists and hard-core supporters who traffic in ideas like challenging the election’s outcome in Congress and even invoking martial law, seeking to give some of them government jobs.
He is almost entirely disengaged from leading the nation even as Americans are being felled by the coronavirus at record rates. Faced with an aggressive cyberassault almost surely carried out by Russia, his response, to the degree that he has had one, has been to downplay the damage and to contradict his own top officials by suggesting that the culprit might have been China.
He remains the most powerful person in the world, yet he is focused on the one area in which he is powerless to get what he wants: a way to avoid leaving office as a loser.
If nothing else, it will make for an especially anxious next 27 days in Washington.
Current advisers have described a daily struggle to keep Mr. Trump from giving in to his impulse to listen to those who are telling him what he wants to hear. And former advisers say the most worrisome issue is the gradual disappearance of the core group of West Wing aides who could get him to turn away from risky, legally dubious and dangerous ideas.
“The number of people who are telling him things he doesn’t want to hear has diminished,” said his former national security adviser, John R. Bolton, who had a very public parting of ways with Mr. Trump.
Many Trump advisers hope that his planned trip to his private South Florida club, Mar-a-Lago, will give him a change of scenery and a change of perspective. He is scheduled to arrive there on Wednesday and stay through the New Year holiday, although some aides said he still might decide against it.
The Trump administration reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech to bolster the supply of their coronavirus vaccine for the United States by 100 million doses by the end of July.
The new agreement means the companies will supply the United States with a total of 200 million doses, enough to vaccinate 100 million Americans. The additional shots will cost $1.95 billion, or $19.50 per dose, the companies said.
The agreement, announced on Wednesday, would help the United States at least partly offset a looming vaccine shortage that could leave millions of American adults uncovered in the first half of 2021. Under the new agreement, Pfizer will provide an additional 70 million doses by the end of June and another 30 million by the end of July, doubling the deliveries it promised in the initial contract. However, even with Pfizer’s new contract, the government is still short doses for about 60 million Americans eligible to be inoculated.
So far, only two coronavirus vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech’s and one made by Moderna — have won federal authorization for emergency distribution, and most of what the companies are capable of producing for the next six months has already been allocated through contracts with the United States and other governments.
The Pfizer contracts will now cost the government nearly $4 billion.
As part of the deal, the government agreed to invoke the Defense Production Act to give Pfizer better access to roughly nine specialized products it needs to make the vaccine. The government’s promise to free up supplies is not mentioned in statements issued by Pfizer or the government, but was critical to the deal, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
In September, Pfizer began asking for the government’s help in obtaining supplies, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, but the Trump administration had already granted priority status to orders from Moderna and other companies that had been working with it more closely to develop their vaccines.
Others familiar with the negotiations said the government expressed concern that prioritizing Pfizer could squeeze the supply chain, hindering the other vaccine makers that the government was backing through its vaccine development program, called Operation Warp Speed.
The new contract with Pfizer includes options for the government to purchase an additional 400 million doses.
The $900 billion stimulus bill passed by Congress this week is meant to address the needs of millions of Americans who have weathered the effects of the coronavirus pandemic for months, even as many federal programs to provide aid ran thin or expired.
Among the most anticipated components of the legislation is the direct payment, with $600 going to individual adults with an adjusted gross income of up to $75,000 a year based on 2019 earnings. Heads of households who earn up to $112,500 and a couple (or someone whose spouse died in 2020) who make up to $150,000 a year would get twice that amount.
Eligible families with dependent children would receive an additional $600 per child.
In a change from the last round, payments will not be denied to citizens married to someone without a social security number, allowing some spouses of undocumented immigrants to claim the benefit this time around.
On Tuesday night, President Trump threatened to veto the bill because he said the payments were too low. He is advocating payments of $2,000. House Democrats planned to bring up an amendment to the bill on Thursday, an aide who was familiar with the proposal said. It is not clear how the House and Senate will act.
With as many as 12 million Americans facing the prospect of losing federal unemployment assistance on Dec. 26, Congress acted to extend multiple programs, albeit at less generous levels than in the spring.
The agreement would revive enhanced federal jobless benefits for 11 weeks, providing a lifeline for hard-hit workers until March 14. The new benefit, up to $300 per week, is half the amount provided by the CARES Act in the spring.
The legislation also extends Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — a program aimed at a broad set of freelancers and independent contractors — for the same period, providing an additional $100 per week.
Targeted aid for small businesses
The agreement sets aside $285 billion for additional loans to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program, renewing the program created under the CARES Act.
The latest version includes stricter terms that appear intended to correct some of the unpopular elements of the original program. It caps loans at $2 million and makes them available only to borrowers with fewer than 300 employees that experienced at least a 25 percent drop in sales from a year earlier in at least one quarter. The agreement also sets aside $12 billion specifically for minority-owned businesses. And publicly traded companies will be ineligible to apply this time around.
Funding for vaccines and nursing homes
The legislation sets aside nearly $70 billion for a range of public health measures, including $20 billion for the purchase of vaccines, $8 billion for vaccine distribution and an additional $20 billion to help states continue their test-and-trace programs.
The bill also allows a federal program that insures mortgages for nursing homes to dole out emergency loans aimed at helping hard-hit elder care centers.
Support for climate measures
In an unusual rebuke of the Trump administration’s climate policy, the deal includes new legislation to regulate hydrofluorocarbons, the powerful greenhouse gases common in air-conditioners and refrigerators.
It also allocates $35 billion to fund wind, solar and other clean energy projects.
A ban on surprise medical bills
The bill will make it illegal for hospitals to charge patients for services like emergency treatment by out-of-network doctors or transport in air ambulances, which patients often have no say about.
The compromise would protect tenants struggling with rent by extending a moratorium on evictions for another month, through Jan. 31. The Department of Housing and Urban Development separately issued a similar moratorium on Monday that protects homeowners against foreclosures on mortgages backed by the Federal Home Administration. It runs until Feb. 28.
The bill also provides $25 billion in rental assistance.
Expanding one of the most reliable channels of aid, the agreement increases monthly food stamp benefits — formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP — by 15 percent for six months, beginning on Jan. 1.
Funding for broadband infrastructure
The legislation includes $7 billion for expanding access to high-speed internet connections, nearly half of which will go toward helping cover the cost of monthly internet bills by providing up to $50 per month to low-income families.
The deal also sets aside $300 million for building out infrastructure in underserved rural areas and $1 billion in grants for tribal broadband programs.
A federal judge in Washington has temporarily blocked the start of construction of a planned new helium drilling project partly inside a federally protected wilderness area in Utah, potentially derailing one of the large-scale mining and drilling projects the Trump administration is rushing to finalize.
The unusual action on Tuesday by Judge Rudolph Contreras came even though the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management had not yet issued permits for the Utah drilling project, planned in and around a spot known as the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness area in the San Rafael Desert region of southeastern Utah.
This would ordinarily mean a quick rejection for environmental groups because the plaintiffs’ motion addresses an “agency decision that has not yet occurred and, as such, there has not yet been final agency action subject to judicial review,” Judge Contreras wrote in his own Tuesday ruling.
But final approval of the project — which was highlighted in an article by The New York Times this month — is expected as soon as Wednesday, and the investors have indicated they planned to start road building and other construction immediately, Judge Contreras said. The goal of the lawsuit was to prevent drilling-related disturbances in the area, famous for its vast wild stretches of canyons and so-called Bowknot Bend on the nearby Green River.
Judge Contreras, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, said he had no choice but to temporarily block the project, even though it had not yet been approved; otherwise, the claims would “become ripe and then moot nearly simultaneously,” he wrote in his three-page ruling.
The environmental groups have argued that the Interior Department violated federal law when it first granted leases to drill in the area in March 2019, just before an act by Congress that designated part of the drilling site as a wilderness area was signed into law.
“Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness is too special to drill,” Landon Newell, a lawyer with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said in a statement on Tuesday.
David Wallace, one of the executives at the Colorado company behind the drilling project, said in an email late Tuesday that he was disappointed with the ruling “to delay development of a helium resource that could be critical to preventing this country’s dependence on foreign sources for helium.” He also said the environmental groups have exaggerated the impact the project would have, as the well pad where the drilling equipment would be set up would be outside the federal wilderness area, and then drill underground into the protected zone.
The restraining order will last until at least Jan. 6, giving both sides in the dispute time to file additional arguments with the court about the project.
On Tuesday night, White House officials sent an email to staff members telling them that they would start to leave their jobs after Jan. 4, as is the case when a new administration begins on Jan. 20.
“Please disregard the below message. Updated information will be shared in the coming days,” read the second email, both of which were obtained by The New York Times.
The conflicting messages will probably create confusion for a staff that is already led by a president who refuses to acknowledge he lost the election, one who continues to try to find ways to upend the results.
On Tuesday night, an email that went out “regarding the departure process” from the White House Executive Office of the President. Under “Departure Dates” was guidance about staff members leaving their jobs on Jan. 4. A second paragraph gave instructions about the final payroll period.