U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to torpedo Congress’ massive COVID-19 relief package in the midst of a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty, suddenly demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed.
Trump assailed the bipartisan $900-billion US package in a video he tweeted out Tuesday night and suggested he may not sign the legislation. He called on lawmakers to increase direct payments for most Americans from $600 to $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for couples.
Railing against a range of provisions in the bill, including for foreign aid, he told lawmakers to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”
Trump did not specifically vow to veto the bill, and there may be enough support for the legislation in Congress to override him if he does. But if Trump were 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 lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to an overarching funding measure, the government would shut down on Dec. 29.
The relief package was part of a hard-fought compromise bill that includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as money for cash-starved transit systems, an increase in food stamp benefits and about $4 billion to help other nations provide a COVID-19 vaccine for their people.
Lawmakers 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 Trump’s interjection, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi all but dared Trump’s Republican allies in Congress to meet the president’s demand for far higher payments.
“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!,” Pelosi said in a tweet. An aide said she would put the proposal forward 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 Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said that ,”Trump needs to sign the bill to help people and keep the government open,” and Congress would step up for more aid after.
Trump’s call for changes to the legislation will test his sway with a Republican Party he has held tight control of throughout his presidency.
Several Senate Republicans, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, have begun to gingerly break with Trump and acknowledge his defeat to president-elect Joe Biden, a step Trump has refused to take. McConnell has also warned Republicans against disputing the election on Jan. 6, when Congress must formally affirm the results.
What’s happening in Canada
WATCH | Food banks struggle to do more with less during the holidays:
As of 7 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Canada’s COVID-19 case count stood at 521,509, with 75,522 of those cases considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 14,425.
Ontario on Tuesday reported 2,202 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 21 additional deaths. Hospitalizations increased to 1,005 with 273 people in intensive care unit beds, according to a provincial report.
Hard-hit Quebec, meanwhile, saw a record high daily case number Tuesday with 2,183 new cases of COVID-19. The province reported 28 additional deaths, bringing the provincial death toll to 7,794.
Manitoba health officials are reporting 155 new COVID-19 cases and 18 deaths. The number of new cases continues to trend downward following restrictions that were imposed last month on public gatherings and business openings.
Health officials say intensive care units, however, are still running well above their normal capacity.
What’s happening around the world
As of early Wednesday morning, more than 78.1 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide with more than 44 million of those cases considered recovered or resolved, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracking tool. The global death toll stood at more than 1.7 million.
In the Americas, Peru has passed 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. It is the fifth nation in Latin America to report that number as the region struggles with the pandemic’s economic and health effects.
Peru’s government was quick to declare lockdown measures for its 32 million people last March as the pandemic spread in Europe. But in spite of closing its airports for almost six months and ordering most of its residents to stay at home it has struggled to contain the virus. Officials said they had recorded 1,000,153 cases as of Tuesday evening.
More than 37,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Peru. That gives the Andean nation the world’s second highest per capita death toll from the pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Mexican officials have reported a new daily high in confirmed coronavirus cases as the country awaits its first shipment of vaccine. The Health Department reported 12,511 infections Tuesday, bringing the total to almost 1.34 million since the pandemic began. The number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths rose by 897 to almost 119,500, though because so little testing is done in Mexico, officials estimate the real death toll is closer to 180,000.
Hundreds of health-care workers are being flown into Mexico City from less hard-hit states since the capital has become the epicentre of the country’s pandemic. Roughly 86 per cent of the city’s hospital beds are in use, and authorities are racing to open expansion facilities.
Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard says Mexico expects to receive its first shipment of the Pfzier-BioNTech vaccine Wednesday. Priority will be given to front-line health workers and the elderly.
In Europe, health officials say Germany has recorded a grim new one-day record for COVID-19 deaths with 962.
The country’s disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute, also reported 24,740 newly confirmed coronavirus cases.
The eastern state of Saxony has seen the highest infection rates and overloaded hospitals have begun transferring patients to other regions. Figures show Saxony had over 414 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, more than twice as high as the national average.
In an effort to curb the spread, the German government last week shut most stores, tightened the rules on social contacts and urged people to think twice about travelling to see relatives over Christmas.
For those who do travel, authorities recommended self-isolating for a week first and then obtaining a COVID-19 test before getting on trains, planes and autobahns to visit relatives during the festive period.
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates’ highest Islamic authority, the U.A.E. Fatwa Council, has ruled that coronavirus vaccines are permissible for Muslims even if they contain pork gelatin. The ruling follows growing alarm that the use of pork gelatin, a common vaccine ingredient, may hamper vaccination among Muslims who consider the consumption of pork products “haram,” or forbidden under Islamic law.
If there are no alternatives, Council Chairman Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah said that the coronavirus vaccines would not be subject to Islam’s restrictions on pork because of the higher need to “protect the human body.”
The council added that in this case, the pork gelatin is considered medicine, not food, with multiple vaccines already shown to be effective against a highly contagious virus that “poses a risk to the entire society.”
In the Asia-Pacific region, South Korea has added 1,092 new coronavirus cases in a resurgence that is erasing hard-won epidemiological gains and eroding public confidence in the government’s ability to handle the outbreak.
The national caseload has jumped by a quarter in the last two weeks alone, the death toll is rising and the number of sick patients is raising concerns of a shortage in intensive care beds.
South Korea had been seen as a success story against COVID-19 after health workers managed to contain a major outbreak in its southeastern region in the spring. But critics say the country gambled on its own success by easing social distancing restrictions to help the economy.
In Africa, Kenya’s parliament voted to end tax cuts put in place in April to cushion the economy from the impact of the pandemic.