Presidential Transition Live Updates: What Happened and What’s Next on the Stimulus Package

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A food distribution center this month in Bloomington, Calif. The longer it takes for a final relief bill to be signed into law, the longer unemployed people will remain in limbo without federal relief.
Credit…Alex Welsh for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Unemployment coverage for millions of Americans ran out on Saturday as President Trump resisted signing a far-reaching, catchall spending package that includes $900 billion in coronavirus relief and funding for the government through Sept. 30. His unexpected threat last week to reject the bill in effect dropped a depth charge on the Republican Party, but beyond politics, the coming days will determine whether his actions actually deny or delay relief to struggling Americans and shut down the government.

What happened?

To guarantee smooth passage for both the pandemic relief package and the $1.4 trillion in funding to keep the government operating, congressional leaders and top White House officials agreed to combine all of the legislation in one behemoth package.

The end product, nearly 5,600 pages, includes a dozen must-pass funding bills and an array of bipartisan legislative priorities that are routinely attached to what is typically the last substantive legislative act of the calendar year.

But in a video posted online on Tuesday, Mr. Trump conflated the $900 billion relief package with the routine funding portion running alongside it, declaring that the coronavirus rescue bill had been larded with provisions that had nothing to do with the pandemic, like foreign aid and federal fish hatcheries. Many of the items he objected to came straight from his own budget proposal.

Mr. Trump, who was largely absent from negotiations over the compromise, doubled down on his criticism on Saturday while offering little clarity on his plans.

So what happens to the stimulus aid — and its benefits?

Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, told Americans on Monday that they could receive the $600 direct payments included in the coronavirus relief legislation as early as this week. The bill also would have ensured that two federal unemployment programs set to expire after Saturday were extended.

But Mr. Trump’s indication that he will not sign the legislation without changes, including more than tripling the size of the direct payments to individuals, to $2,000 from $600, will further delay both the distribution of any payments and the amount of time it takes for jobless workers to begin seeing their payments again. (The legislation, if signed, does ensure workers will receive back payments for the time missed.)

By when does the president need to sign something?

Millions of Americans were enrolled in two unemployment programs in early December, according to the Labor Department. Both programs expired after Saturday.

The longer it takes for a final relief bill to be signed into law, the longer unemployed people will remain in limbo without federal relief.

To provide time for the $2.3 trillion package to reach the president’s desk, Congress on Monday approved a seven-day stopgap spending bill, which Mr. Trump signed. That means government funding will run out at the end of the day Monday. The House is expected to return on Monday and could try to approve another stopgap spending bill.

What if he just doesn’t sign it?

Mr. Trump did not outright say he would veto the legislation if the changes he demanded were not made, but he may not have to. The legislation passed with the support of more than two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, easily surpassing the threshold required to override a veto if he actually did that.

But a quirk in the calendar has scrambled the rules a bit. Legislation can become law 10 days after the bill is enrolled even without a presidential signature. But because the time frame overlaps with the end of the current Congress on Jan. 3, and the convening of the 117th Congress, a “pocket veto” remains a possibility, said Josh Huder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University.

All legislation dies with a Congress, so without Mr. Trump’s signature, the behemoth legislation would have to be reintroduced and voted on a second time, further delaying funding of the government and providing relief to struggling Americans and businesses.

Ben Casselman contributed reporting.

Hundreds of people in Kentucky waiting for help this year with unemployment claims. Federal support could end if President Trump does not sign the pandemic relief bill.
Credit…John Sommers II/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on Sunday urged President Trump to sign a sweeping $900 billion aid package after millions of Americans lost their unemployment coverage on Saturday as the president put the fate of the measure in limbo by pushing for bigger relief checks.

Mr. Trump’s resistance to signing the bill risks leaving millions of unemployed Americans without crucial benefits, jeopardizes other critical assistance for businesses and families set to lapse at the end of the year and raises the possibility of a government shutdown on Tuesday.

The president blindsided lawmakers last week when he described as “a disgrace” a relief compromise that overwhelmingly passed both chambers and was negotiated by his own Treasury secretary and administration officials. He hinted that he might veto the measure unless lawmakers raised the bill’s $600 direct payment checks to $2,000, and Mr. Trump, who was largely absent from negotiations over the compromise, doubled down on that criticism on Saturday while offering little clarity on his plans. A White House spokesman declined to indicate what the president intended to do.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Saturday, a day he continued to dedicate many of his posts to falsehoods about the election. “Also, stop the billions of dollars in ‘pork.’”

If the president does not sign the $2.3 trillion spending package, which includes the $900 billion in pandemic aid as well as funding to keep the government open past Monday, coverage under two federal jobless programs that expanded and extended benefits will have ended on Saturday for millions of unemployed workers.

“None of us totally liked the bill — it’s the nature of legislating, you’re not going to end up with anything perfect — but we passed it because this was the agreed-upon number,” Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union. “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. Otherwise I don’t understand it because this just has to get done.”

Multiple lawmakers, including Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, said that Mr. Trump should not delay signing the legislation waiting for him at his Mar-a-Lago estate and instead approve a separate bill providing for the $2,000 checks.

“What the president is doing right now is unbelievably cruel,” Mr. Sanders said on ABC’s “This Week.” “Given the terrible economic crisis facing this country, yes, we do need to get $2,000 out to every working-class individual in this country, $500 for their kid. But you can’t diddle around with the bill.”

Two governors also said that the time for negotiations had passed. In an appearance on “State of the Union,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, said she had long supported stimulus checks of $2,000 to Americans, but that it was too late in the process to be making those kinds of requests.

“Sign the bill, get it done, and then if the president wants to push for more, let’s get that done too,” said Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican who also appeared on the show.

Though they harshly criticized Mr. Trump, two progressive representatives-elect also called for greater direct payments. On “State of the Union,” Jamaal Bowman, Democrat of New York, claimed that the president was “posturing to make himself, to bring himself back as the hero of the American people” after his defeat in November. But like Mr. Trump, he said Americans needed more relief.

“It needs to at least be $2,000, so he needs to talk to his Republican buddies and say ‘give the people the money,’” said Cori Bush, Democrat of Missouri, who also called the $600 figure a “slap in the face to people who are suffering.”

Democrats, who have long advocated increasing the amount of financial relief distributed across the country, plan to hold a vote on Monday to approve a stand-alone bill that would increase the payments to $2,000. But it is unclear whether that legislation will stand a chance in the Senate, where Republicans have long been resistant to spending more than $1 trillion on pandemic relief.

Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said on “Fox News Sunday” that he would oppose such a measure and urged the president to sign the bill, adding that “time is running out.”

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Mr. Toomey said. “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire.”

Harley Rouda, a Democrat from Orange County, was defeated by Michelle Steel, a member of the county board of supervisors.
Credit…Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Two years ago, Democrats celebrated a sweep of seven Republican-held congressional seats in California as evidence of the party’s growing ability to compete in swing districts here and across the nation.

But this year, Republicans snatched back four of those seats even as Joseph R. Biden Jr. swamped President Trump in California. The losses stunned Democrats and contributed to the razor-thin margin the party will hold in the House of Representatives this January.

The turnaround is testimony to how competitive the seats are, particularly in Orange County, once a bastion of conservative Republicanism that has been moving steadily Democratic over the past 20 years.

But by any measure, the results were a setback for Democrats in this state and nationally, signaling the steep obstacles they will face in 2022 competing in the predominantly suburban swing districts that fueled their takeover of the House in 2018.

The Democrats’ losses came for a number of reasons, including forces particular to California and the complications of campaigning during a pandemic. But as much as anything, they reflected the potency of Republican attacks, some false or exaggerated, that Democrats were the party of socialism, defunding the police and abolishing private health insurance.

The attacks — led in no small part by Mr. Trump as a central part of his re-election strategy — came at a time when parts of California were swept by street protests against police abuses, some of which turned into glass-shattering bouts of looting and confrontations with law enforcement that were heavily covered on local television.

“Republicans hung around Democrats’ necks that we are all socialist or communist and we all wanted to defund the police,” said Harley Rouda, a Democrat from Orange County who was defeated by Michelle Steel, a Republican member of the Orange County board of supervisors. “In my opinion, we as a party did a less than adequate job in refuting that narrative. We won in 2018 and took the House back because of people like me — moderates — flipping radical Republican seats.”

As vice president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. had a front-row seat to the eight years of obstruction that Republicans waged against President Barack Obama. 
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — When he takes office next month, President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will confront a sharply divided Congress where many Republicans argued that his election was fraudulent.

But Mr. Biden expressed optimism last week that his decades-long brand of centrist deal making would empower him to move beyond the bitter partisanship of the past four years and advance his agenda.

“My leverage is, every senior Republican knows I’ve never once, ever, misled them,” Mr. Biden said during a telephone conversation with several columnists, including David Leonhardt of The New York Times. “I’ll never publicly embarrass them.”

As vice president, Mr. Biden had a front-row seat to the eight years of obstruction that Republicans waged against President Barack Obama. In his second term, Mr. Obama all but abandoned hope for large-scale legislative victories, turning to executive actions instead. President Trump adopted a similar approach as he battled Democrats in the House.

But Mr. Biden insisted on Wednesday that his skills and his history gave him an opportunity to break the cycle.

He said the country was in a different place now. As an example, Mr. Biden argued that Americans had come to more of a consensus on climate change, with people of all political stripes saying they recognize the need for more aggressive action.

“I’m going to be able to get stuff done on the environment you all are not going to believe,” he told the columnists. “I couldn’t have gotten it done six years ago.”

Mr. Biden expressed a similar hope for bipartisan work on confronting the coronavirus pandemic and restoring economic health to a country battered by job losses and business closures.

Jon Ossoff, right, and the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock campaigning last week with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in Columbus, Ga. The contests have drawn a surge of attention and investment from outside the state.
Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

ATLANTA — The Rev. Raphael G. Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the Democratic challengers in the Senate runoffs in Georgia, have each raised more than $100 million since October — enormous sums that surpassed their Republican opponents by a significant margin and underscored Democrats’ confidence after recent gains the party has made in the state and their hopes that they might capture the Senate.

The contests have drawn a surge of attention and investment from outside Georgia, given the stakes, and the campaigning has only intensified in the final weeks before the runoff, which is scheduled for Jan. 5.

Senator David Perdue, one of the Republican incumbents, raised $68 million in the period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 16, according to reports to the Federal Election Commission made public on Thursday. Senator Kelly Loeffler, the other Republican, raised close to $64 million during that period.

Mr. Ossoff, who is running against Mr. Perdue, became the best-funded Senate candidate in history after pulling in $106.7 million, according to the filings, and Mr. Warnock, who is challenging Ms. Loeffler, has raised $103.3 million.

The Democrats’ haul was powered in large part by a flurry of smaller donations collected from across the country, filings show, with nearly half of the funds coming from people who donated less than $200.

For Mr. Perdue and Ms. Loeffler, the smaller donations accounted for less than 30 percent of what they raised.

Mr. Ossoff, who runs a media production company, spent $93.5 million during that period and had $17.4 million in cash on hand, and Mr. Warnock, the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, spent $86.1 million and had $22.7 million in cash on hand. Mr. Perdue spent $57.8 million and had $16 million in cash, and Ms. Loeffler spent $48.6 million and had $21.2 million in cash on hand.

Ms. Loeffler, one of the wealthiest members of the Senate, was the only candidate to give to his or her own campaign, donating $333,200 — far less than the $23 million of her own money she spent on the general election run.

A Trump supporter in Philadelphia last month. Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania are considering measures that would make it harder for people to vote absentee.
Credit…Mark Makela/Reuters

President Trump’s baseless and desperate claims of a stolen election over the last seven weeks — the most aggressive promotion of “voter fraud” in American history — failed to get any traction in courts across seven states, or come anywhere close to reversing the loss he suffered to Joseph R. Biden Jr.

But the effort has led to at least one unexpected and profoundly different result: a thorough debunking of the sorts of voter fraud claims that Republicans have used to roll back voting rights for the better part of the young century.

In making their case in real courts and the court of public opinion, Mr. Trump and his allies have trotted out a series of tropes and canards similar to those Republicans have pushed to justify laws that in many cases made voting disproportionately harder for Black and Hispanic people, who largely support Democrats.

After bringing some 60 lawsuits, and even offering financial incentive for information about fraud, Mr. Trump and his allies have failed to prove definitively any case of illegal voting on behalf of their opponent in court — not a single case of an undocumented immigrant casting a ballot, a citizen double voting, nor any credible evidence that legions of the voting dead gave Mr. Biden a victory that wasn’t his.

Yet there are no signs that those defeats in the courts will change the trajectory of the efforts to restrict voting that have been core to conservative politics since the disputed 2000 election, which coincided with heightened party concerns that demographic shifts would favor Democrats in the popular vote.

In Georgia, Republican legislators have already discussed toughening the state’s rules on voting by mail and on voter identification. In Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers are considering reversing moves that had made it easier to vote absentee, and their counterparts in Wisconsin are similarly considering tighter restrictions for mail voting, as well as for early voting.

If anything, Mr. Trump has given the movement to limit ballot access new momentum while becoming the singular, charismatic leader it never had.

President Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, arriving in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Wednesday. He issued 49 pardons and commutations last week.
Credit…Erin Scott for The New York Times

The statement announcing the latest raft of presidential pardons was officially attributed to the White House press secretary, but it bristled with President Trump’s own deep-seated grievances.

His friend and longtime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., the statement said, “was treated very unfairly” by prosecutors. His former campaign chairman Paul Manafort “is one of the most prominent victims of what has been revealed to be perhaps the greatest witch hunt in American history.”

In complaining about “prosecutorial misconduct,” though, Mr. Trump seemed to be talking as much about himself as his allies. In the flurry of 49 pardons and commutations issued last week, he granted clemency to a host of convicted liars, crooked politicians and child-killing war criminals, but the through line was a president who considers himself a victim of law enforcement and was using his power to strike back.

Never mind that Mr. Trump presents himself as a champion of “law and order.” He has been at war with the criminal justice system, at least when it has come to himself and his friends. And so in these final days in office, he is using the one all-but-absolute power vested in the presidency to rewrite the reality of his tenure by trying to discredit investigations into him and his compatriots and even absolving others he seems to identify with because of his own encounters with the authorities.

In some ways, of course, this is the concession that Mr. Trump has otherwise refused to issue, an unspoken acknowledgment that he really did lose the Nov. 3 election. These are the kinds of clemency actions a president would take only shortly before leaving office.

But it also represents a final, angry exertion of power by a president who is losing his ability to shape events with each passing day, a statement of relevance even as Mr. Trump confronts the end of his dominance over the nation’s capital.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India addresses a joint meeting of Congress in 2016. Mr. Modi’s relationship with President Trump has helped push New Delhi and Washington closer.
Credit…Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

The Trump administration has significantly invested in its relationship with India over the past four years, seeing the country as a crucial partner in counterbalancing the rise of China.

Military cooperation and a personal friendship between President Trump and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India — both domineering nationalists — have pushed New Delhi and Washington closer.

Now, as President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is set to move into the White House, American diplomats, Indian officials and security experts are resetting their expectations for relations between the world’s two largest democracies.

On one hand, experts said, Mr. Biden’s administration will most likely pay more attention to India’s contentious domestic developments, where Mr. Modi’s right-wing party has been steadily consolidating power and becoming overtly hostile toward Muslim minorities. Mr. Trump has largely turned a blind eye.

Others believe that the United States cannot afford to drastically alter its policy toward New Delhi because the United States needs its help to counter China and increasingly values India as a military and trade partner.

“The real opening between the United States and India began under President Clinton, it accelerated under President Bush, it continued under President Obama, and it’s accelerating again under our president, President Trump,” Stephen Biegun, the deputy secretary of state, said in October. “One of the constants in U.S.-India relations has been that every presidential administration here in the United States has left the relationship in even better shape than the one it inherited.”

Most experts agree that China will be the driving force behind how India’s relationship with Washington morphs in a Biden administration.

“We need India for various reasons,” said Ashley J. Tellis, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. “Most important of which is balancing Chinese power in Asia.”

Joseph R. Biden Jr. with his wife and granddaughter at Royal Missionary Baptist Church in North Charleston, S.C., in February. He won the state’s primary later that month.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. — Joseph R. Biden Jr. went to the Royal Missionary Baptist Church in South Carolina in late February, before the state’s presidential primary, and listened as the Rev. Isaac J. Holt Jr. delivered a message of encouragement.

“You’re going to win,” Mr. Holt said he told Mr. Biden privately, a political prophecy that was fulfilled in the coming days.

Now Mr. Holt, the pastor of one of Charleston’s largest Black congregations, has another message for Mr. Biden as he plans for his incoming administration: “Biden owes us. And we have not forgotten.”

Black voters have a political marriage of convenience with the Democratic Party. They are at once the party’s most solid voting demographic and deeply frustrated by the lack of systemic change its politicians have delivered for them.

In South Carolina, the state that helped propel Mr. Biden to the Democratic nomination and where about half of the Democratic electorate is Black, voters complain of receiving campaign promises from politicians while they are running but not being prioritized once they are elected.

There are similar grievances among voters in cities like Milwaukee, Detroit and Philadelphia, hubs of general-election campaigning in key swing states, who have grown used to the silence that follows presidential election years.

In their telling, attention quickly shifts to midterm races in gerrymandered, Republican-leaning congressional districts, and the Black voters who helped Democrats ascend to the White House are sometimes discarded. Their issues are too divisive. Their needs are too great.

Mr. Biden has insisted that this time will be different, and people like Mr. Holt are taking him at his word. Last month, in his victory speech after becoming president-elect, Mr. Biden cited Black voters specifically, alluding to those who rallied around him in South Carolina after his primary campaign flopped in other early-voting states.

“Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African-American community stood up again for me,” Mr. Biden said. “You’ve always had my back, and I’ll have yours.”

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