After months of fruitless negotiation, Congress passed a long-awaited new wave of relief on Wednesday to counter the COVID-19 pandemic that's killed over 300 thousand Americans and upended daily life in the United States.
Though Americans from all corners of the country have been pressuring local officials on COVID relief for months, the bill passed by Congress—attached to an omnibus with caveats on tax breaks for racehorse owners and allocations for three-martini lunches—has been panned as insufficient.
A particular point of contention has been the amount allocated for direct relief checks to individual Americans.
The relief package agreed to by Republicans includes only $600 stimulus checks for Americans making under $75 thousand per year. This is half as much as the stimulus checks included in the CARES Act, which was signed into law at the end of March.
Though Democrats in the House of Representatives passed multiple stimulus packages with direct payments for working Americans—such as the Heroes Act—Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refused to consider them in the Senate.
With promises that a new wave of relief would be top priority upon President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next month, Democrats agreed to the bill and Congress passed it before sending it to the Resolute Desk.
Though Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and other White House liaisons assured President Donald Trump would sign the bill, a video posted to the President's social media accounts signaled an intention to veto it.
Calling the bill a "disgrace," one of Trump's grievances was the amount of direct relief to Americans:
"I am asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2000 or $4000 for a couple."
The video comes just a week after Jeff Stein of the Washington Post reported that aides convinced Trump to back away from calls for greater direct relief, fearing it would blow up the already tenuous negotiations.
Now, it might do just that.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the President's bluff only hours later.
Pelosi said that Democrats would immediately begin bringing a bill to the floor to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2000.
Sure enough Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) brought forth a single-page amendment that would do the trick.
With the Democratic Speaker of the House and the Republican President of the United States in agreement, all pressure falls on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), whom Trump ousted as an ally this month for acknowledging President-elect Biden's election victory despite Trump's lies that the election was stolen.
To make matters worse, the two crucial Senate runoffs in Georgia that will decide whether Republicans maintain their Senate majority are just under two weeks away.
Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue—Georgia's incumbent Republican Senators—are already fighting for their political lives in the face of an election-induced schism within the GOP.
The Senate Majority Leader bucking the President's and the Speaker's efforts toward $2000 checks would almost certainly dampen Republican enthusiasm even further in a state that went blue in November's presidential election for the first time since 1992.
Though the bill passed with veto-proof majorities, it did so with officials voting under the impression that Trump would sign it. The latest revelation from the Oval Office may change the minds of his ever-loyal Republican Senators.
Essentially, Trump—however inadvertently—handed Pelosi and congressional Democrats a Christmas present that may end up wrecking his own party's efforts at Senate control.
Congressional Democrats soon began applying pressure.
Some speculate that Trump's announcement is his revenge on McConnell for acknowledging Biden's victory and for discouraging Senate Republicans from assisting Trump's effort to disrupt congressional certification of the election on January 6.
Time will tell if this development actually results in greater relief.