Just when it seemed like the President couldn’t sink any lower in his quest to subvert the November election results, his mere entertainment of invoking martial law to negate Biden’s victory underscores how laser-focused he still is on his own interests at a time when the nation is mired in crisis.
Though Trump is fighting hard to stay in the White House, he has shown little interest in doing the actual work required of the commander-in-chief. Though he directed billions of dollars into Operation Warp Speed to speed the development and distribution of a coronavirus vaccine, he has done nothing to try to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the interim — tweeting Saturday that “we don’t want to have lockdowns. The cure cannot be worse than the problem itself.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Sunday evening that House and Senate leaders agreed to a package of nearly $900 billion, which he said included “targeted policies that help struggling Americans who have already waited entirely too long.”
The package will include “a targeted second draw” of the Paycheck Protection Program to help small businesses, he said, and will renew and extend “a number of the additional important federal unemployment benefits that have helped families stay afloat.”
McConnell noted that the package also will include another round of direct payments to “help households make ends meet,” which he noted was favored by Trump.
“We are going to crush the virus and put money in the pockets of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement Sunday evening.
They noted that the package will provide billions to help accelerate the vaccine distribution. Schumer and Pelosi said Democrats also secured $25 billion in rental assistance for families struggling to stay in their homes, as well as an extension of the eviction moratorium.
Leaders had said for days that they were close to a deal, but one of the major sticking points this weekend was a disagreement over the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority — a seemingly esoteric issue that would have seemed far removed from the lives of most struggling Americans if it had held up the deal.
Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, had argued the lending program, created under the CARES Act passed in March to help boost the economy, should be phased out because he believed it could become a slush fund for the incoming Biden administration. Democrats had said that authority is needed to bolster the economy.
Trump tweeted Saturday night about the deadlock, saying, “Why isn’t Congress giving our people a Stimulus Bill?” and “GET IT DONE, and give them more money in direct payments.”
Trump and Russia
Trump, who has inexplicably proven unwilling to call out Russia or President Vladimir Putin for nefarious acts over the past four years, confounded national security experts on Saturday by tweeting that “it may be China” that is responsible for the attacks.
“I have been fully briefed and everything is well under control,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Showing his lingering insecurity about the legitimacy of his 2016 victory, and his rejection of any suggestion that Russia tried to interfere in that contest against Hillary Clinton to help him win, Trump went on to say that “Russia, Russia, Russia is the priority chant when anything happens.”
“Discussing the possibility that it may be China (it may!),” the President tweeted of the cyber hack that breached US government systems.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a close ally of Trump, said Sunday he thinks it’s a “mistake” for the President to be blaming China without any evidence. “I have no reason to believe it’s China,” the South Carolina Republican told CNN’s Manu Raju and Ali Zaslav.
“I understand the President is casting about, trying to find some way to have a different result than the one that was delivered by the American people. But it’s really sad, in a lot of respects, and embarrassing, because the President could right now be writing the last chapter of this administration with a victory lap with regards to the vaccine,” Romney told CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union.”
“After all, he pushed aggressively to get the vaccine developed and distributed. That’s happening on a quick time frame. He could be going out and championing this extraordinary success. And, instead, he’s leaving Washington with a whole series of conspiracy theories and things that are so nutty and loopy that people are shaking their head, wondering, what in the world has gotten into this man?”
Other Republican senators gingerly tried to sidestep the President’s latest theories about the cyberattack and the November election this weekend. Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican who is acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said of the hack, “Everything I’ve seen is indicative of something that’s pretty widespread and serious and I think indicates that it was the Russian intelligence service.”
When asked about Trump’s claim that China might be involved in the massive cyberhack, Sen. Jim Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee and was briefed on the attack, replied, “All of I’ve heard is Russia.”
The Oklahoma Republican also told Raju that Trump made a bad decision by vowing to veto the annual defense authorization bill, which Trump has claimed is weak on China — a view Inhofe disputes.
“I really believe he’s not getting the right advice. I know people advising him — they don’t appreciate the fact that I say that,” Inhofe said. “But I believe that.”
Rep. Adam Smith, the Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called Trump “an aspiring fascist” who admires Putin and wants the same kind of control that Putin exerts over his own country and its elections. Smith said the reports that Trump entertained Flynn’s theories about invoking martial law were “unbelievably disturbing.”
“He is talking about basically leading a coup against the United States government and destroying our Constitution,” Smith told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” Saturday night. “There needs to be strong bipartisan pushback against this. It is an unbelievably dangerous thing for the President to be talking about.”
A contentious Oval Office meeting
The meeting took an “ugly” turn when Powell and Flynn accused Trump officials of failing to back up the President in his efforts to overturn the results.
The pushback against Flynn and Powell’s theories and suggestions does not appear to have tempered the President’s interest in finding a way to block Biden from taking office as he tweeted baseless theories this weekend about compromised voting machines.
Late Saturday night, he tweeted about martial law, seeming to dismiss the reporting about the idea.
This story has been updated with additional information.
CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Pamela Brown, Manu Raju, Kaitlan Collins, Ali Zaslav and Clare Foran contributed to this report.