Politics Chat: Two Unemployment Benefits Expired, With More To Follow

Dec 27, 2020
Originally published on December 27, 2020 11:54 am

With another COVID-19 relief bill awaiting his signature or veto, what's President Trump's end game? A new Congress begins Jan. 3, a new president in 24 days, and millions of Americans are struggling.

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Millions of out-of-work Americans have little stomach for the political dysfunction surrounding the latest COVID relief bill. They are hurting, and now there's more hurt coming. Two temporary unemployment benefits have expired this weekend. Additional temporary measures meant to help the country weather the pandemic will expire in just a few days. President Trump has the new relief package with him at Mar-a-Lago, but he's called it a disgrace, blindsiding members of his own party. Joining me now to talk about this is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.


MCCAMMON: And Mara, this is a big bill - $900 billion - that took Congress a long time to hammer out. Where are we?

LIASSON: A long time to hammer out and it was passed with big margins in both houses. But now, because the president has refused to sign it, unemployment benefits have run out. There's no money for pandemic testing and tracing. Plus, this - there was money in that bill to keep the government open beyond Monday. This was negotiated by the president's top aides, presumably on his behalf, and now he hasn't signed it.

President-elect Joe Biden has said this is an abdication of responsibility. He says it will have devastating consequences even if the bill is signed. People will still lose a week of benefits because states can't restart the benefits until January. And if the bill is still unsigned by January 1, other benefits will expire, like eviction protections, student loan debt protection. And this is at a time when the pandemic is surging and small businesses are closing.

MCCAMMON: So if the president wanted $2,000 checks, Mara, why didn't he weigh in to that effect during the negotiations? What's his objective here?

LIASSON: That is a very good question. He tweeted he wanted bigger checks, but he never inserted himself in the negotiations. Now he says he wants $2,000 checks. The House Democrats said, great, they want that, too. They brought it up on the floor on Thursday, but Republicans blocked it. So now the president is at odds with his own party. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, says tomorrow she will try again and bring up the $2,000 checks for a roll call vote.

MCCAMMON: What does all of this mean for those key runoff races in Georgia that could determine which party controls the Senate?

LIASSON: Well, it can't be good for the Republicans. You know, one of the reasons - one of the possible reasons that Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell finally relented and agreed to any individual checks at all was to help Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the two Republican candidates who are facing runoffs there. So this just makes their lives much harder.

MCCAMMON: Congress comes back next week for another vote on the National Defense Authorization Bill. This is legislation that has passed every year for 60 years and this year passed with a veto-proof majority. And yet President Trump vetoed it. Why did he do that?

LIASSON: He said he didn't like a couple things in the bill, one of which was a process for removing names of Confederate generals from military bases. He doesn't like that. He also wanted Congress to undo Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. This provides legal protection for social media companies like Twitter over content from third parties and users. He also said he didn't like something in the bill about China. But it is likely that Congress will override his veto. This passed with huge majorities in both houses. And why the president wants to end his term with the very first veto override of his presidency is unclear to me.

MCCAMMON: The Trump presidency has just 24 days left, Mara - plenty of time for more surprises. What are you watching for?

LIASSON: Plenty of time for more surprises, more time for more pardons, possibly even of himself, time for more chaos and uncertainty. So just like the Trump term began, it seems like it's ending in the same way. He's thrown the Capitol into chaos - lots of uncertainty. Even White House aides themselves can't tell you what the president plans to do or wants to do.

MCCAMMON: We shall see. That's NPR's Mara Liasson.

Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.