This is the last Morning Jolt until December 28. Normally, this newsletter would take a break from hard news for some sentimental tributes to home and hearth and the joys of family around the holidays, but . . . 2020, man. The news won’t stop, even for Christmas. This morning, we sort out the status of that giant omnibus relief bill, debunk claims that a coup is coming, and note one recent warning that appears to have been heeded.
Now We Don’t Have a Relief Bill, Ho-Ho-Ho
Last night, via Twitter, President Trump denounced the recently passed pandemic relief and omnibus spending bill as “a disgrace,” and while he never explicitly used the word “veto,” he declared he was “asking Congress to amend this bill and increase the ridiculously low $600 to $2,000 or $4,000 for a couple. I’m also asking Congress to immediately get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package, and maybe that administration will be me, and we will get it done.”
“It’s called the Covid relief bill, but it has nothing to do with Covid,” the president said, ignoring that all of the normal appropriations bills that fund the government were thrown into the omnibus and attached to the COVID relief provisions. He denounced foreign-aid provisions and obscure federal programs that had little difference from ones in all three previous appropriations omnibus bills he signed into law.
Once again, President Trump changed his mind at the last second, without warning anyone, even his own staff. Earlier in the day, President Trump’s Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, praised the bill and thanked “Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy for working with the administration to provide critical additional economic relief for American workers, families, and businesses that, through no fault of their own, have been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.”
President Trump may not need to formally veto the bill; we’re now close to the time frame that enables a “pocket veto.” (I’ll pause for all of you who are having a traumatic flashback to your political-science midterms.) The Constitution grants the president ten days to review a measure passed by Congress. If the president has not signed the bill after ten days, the bill becomes law without his signature. But if the president neither signs it or vetoes it but metaphorically puts it in his pocket, and Congress adjourns during the ten-day period, the bill does not become law.
As Fox News congressional correspondent Chad Pergram lays out, ordinarily, the Congress could just wait for Trump to veto the legislation and then muster the votes to override his veto. But the Constitution mandates that a new Congress convene at noon on January 3. Meaning that this Congress ends just before then, twelve days from now.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer want to increase the checks to $2,000, but won’t want to cut any of the spending. Congressional Republicans will want to cut the spending but had previously held the line on the size of the individual relief checks. The odds of them working out their differences in a short time frame are not great.
The relief bill is indeed a mess, but the editors conclude it is a necessary mess at this point. Congressional Republicans talked the Democrats down from their initial $1.8 trillion sum to a figure about half that, put another $330 billion into the Paycheck Protection Program, added $300 to unemployment insurance, stopped bailouts for blue-state governments, and — thanks to Senator Pat Toomey holding the line — ensured the Fed’s emergency-lending programs remain limited to emergencies. If negotiations start over from a blank slate, there’s no guarantee that these provisions remain the same.
Wait, there’s more. The omnibus bill includes funding to keep the federal government open past December 29. If the president doesn’t sign it, and Congress doesn’t put together some short-term government-funding bill, the government shuts down.
This would mean that the 116th Congress — featuring a Democratic House majority that promised to be “a governing party, and to extend an arm of cooperation to the president” — started with the longest federal-government shutdown in U.S. history, impeached the president, got few if any major pieces of legislation passed, featured the speaker of the House tearing up a copy of the State of the Union address on live television, and ended with another government shutdown.
We’re in the very best of hands, aren’t we?
Okay, Wait, Just How Is This Supposed Coup Going to Work?
Meanwhile, it’s not hard to find people who fear that a government shutdown — which are depressingly normal in the modern era — would represent “gearing up for a coup.” Stu Stevens warns: “A president is in the Oval Office plotting to overthrow an election and we’re suppose to not worry because the assumption is he’s too incompetent to pull it off. That seems like a bad idea.”
I’m left wondering . . . how? A government shutdown doesn’t change anything much regarding the transfer of power. The federal government sending nonessential workers home doesn’t cancel out anything in the Constitution. There is no obscure provision, written in invisible ink on the back of the Declaration of Independence, that allows President Trump to nullify presidential-election results.
The U.S. government and a new president doesn’t need a formal inauguration ceremony; we’ve had eight non-scheduled inaugurations of new presidents in our history, most recently aboard Air Force One on November 22, 1963.
At noon on January 20, Joe Biden will take the oath of office, and he will become the president, simple as that. Marc Ambinder writes that the U.S. Secret Service does not have a plan to deal with a president who refuses to move out and leave on Inauguration Day. All Trump would obtain in that scenario is additional embarrassment. Presence in the White House is not what makes Joe Biden president at noon on January 20.
Separate from a government shutdown, a lot of Trump-really-won fans seem convinced something magical is going to happen on January 6, when Congress meets in a joint session to formally count the votes of the Electoral College. GOP House members will object. If a member of the Senate also objects, then the House and Senate go back to their own chambers and debate the objection. Sustaining the objection requires a majority vote. There won’t be a majority supporting the objection in the House, and there won’t be a majority in the Senate. The Senate may be a 50–50 tie by that point, depending upon which candidates win the Georgia runoffs. But even in that scenario, Donald Trump is not going to get every Senate Republican to vote to overrule the certified vote count in multiple key states.
The only way Trump would be able to prevent Biden from assuming the duties of president on January 20 would be with a full-scale tanks-in-the-streets military coup and suspension of the Constitution. Trump would have to remove Congress from power, lest they impeach him again and remove him from office this time, and remove any Cabinet members who conclude he’s lost his mind and want to invoke the 25th Amendment. We’ve already seen plenty of clear indications that no one in the Pentagon or uniformed services is interested in violating their oaths, ending American democracy, and tearing up more than two centuries of adherence to the Constitution and the rule of law . . . all for this guy.
Merry Christmas, everybody.
ADDENDUM: Over in the Corner, I wrote on December 21: “Get Flynn and Powell away from the President.”
The news, December 22: “Sidney Powell said she is being barred access to President Trump by top White House officials.”
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