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Trump threatens to torpedo Covid relief package with new demands

The US president demanded changes which his fellow Republicans have opposed, including raising direct payments from 600 dollars to 2,000 dollars.

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Donald Trump (AP)

Donald Trump (AP)

Donald Trump (AP)

US president Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo US congress’ massive Covid-19 relief package in the midst of a raging pandemic and economic uncertainty, demanding changes which fellow Republicans have opposed.

Mr Trump criticised the bipartisan 900 billion dollar (£671 billion) package in a video he tweeted out on Tuesday night, and suggested he may not sign the legislation.

He called on members of US congress to increase direct payments for most Americans from 600 dollars (£447) to 2,000 dollars (£1,493) for individuals and 4,000 dollars (£2,986) for couples.

Railing against a range of provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, he told legislators to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill”.

Mr Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for the legislation in US congress to override him if he does.

However, if the president was to upend the sprawling legislation, the consequences would be severe, including no federal aid to struggling Americans and small businesses, and no additional resources to help with vaccine distribution.

In addition, because congress linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down on December 29.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Mr Trump in a tweet to “sign the bill to keep government open!”

Ms Pelosi wrote in a letter to colleagues: “The entire country knows that it is urgent for the president to sign this bill.”

The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes 1.4 trillion dollars (£1 trillion) to fund US government agencies through to September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about four billion dollars (£2.9 billion) to help other nations provide a Covid-19 vaccine for their people.

Legislators spent months in a stalemate over pandemic relief funds, even as Covid-19 cases soared across the country.

Democrats had pushed for higher payments to Americans, but compromised with Republicans to allow a deal to proceed.

Following Mr Trump’s interjection, US house speaker Nancy Pelosi all but dared Mr Trump’s Republican allies in congress to meet the president’s demand for far higher payments.

She said in a tweet: “At last, the President has agreed to $2,000. Democrats are ready to bring this to the Floor this week by unanimous consent. Let’s do it!”

An aide said she would put the proposal forward on Thursday for a vote.

Republicans have been reluctant to spend more on pandemic relief and only agreed to the big year-end package as time dwindled for a final deal.

And senator Chuck Schumer, the US senate Democratic leader, said that “Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open”, with congress stepping up to provide more aid later.

The senate cleared the huge relief package by a 92-6 vote after the house approved it by 359-53.

Those votes totals would be enough to override a veto should Mr Trump decide to take that step.

After months of partisanship and politicking about pandemic relief, the logjam broke after US president-elect Joe Biden urged his party to accept a compromise with top Republicans that is smaller than many Democrats would have liked.

Mr Biden applauded members of congress for their work. He described the package as far from perfect, “but it does provide vital relief at a critical time”.

He also said more relief would be needed in the months ahead. “We have our first hint and glimpse of bipartisanship,” Mr Biden added.

“In this election, the American people made it clear they want us to reach across the aisle and work together.”

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