Trump Signs Pandemic Relief Bill After Unemployment Aid Lapses

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Sunday abruptly signed a measure providing $900 billion in pandemic aid and funding the government through September, ending last-minute turmoil he himself had created over legislation that will offer an economic lifeline to millions of Americans and avert a government shutdown.

The signing was a sudden reversal for the president, who last week appeared poised to derail the bill. But the move came after two critical unemployment programs lapsed, guaranteeing a delay in benefits for millions of unemployed Americans.

The president had largely been sidelined during months of negotiations, so his last-minute resistance last week to signing the $2.3 trillion package caught lawmakers and White House officials by surprise. It raised fears that such a delay would exacerbate the economic toll as the coronavirus pandemic rages across the country.

The aid bill includes a revival of expanded and extended unemployment benefits, billions of dollars to help states with coronavirus vaccine distribution, a replenished small-business loan program and relief money for airlines. It was passed along with a spending measure to keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year.

About 24 hours after Congress overwhelmingly approved the measure, Mr. Trump emerged in a surprise video from the White House on Tuesday night and called for direct payments to be more than tripled to $2,000 per adult.

Hinting that he might veto the legislation, the president also lashed out at provisions in the funding bill that provided foreign aid and allocated money to Washington institutions like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Smithsonian. Many of Mr. Trump’s complaints were about measures that doled out money in line with his own White House budget requests.

Over the holiday weekend spent at his Florida estate and golf club, Mr. Trump appeared to double down on his reluctance to sign the legislation, calling for $2,000 direct payments and for Congress to curtail some of the government spending. But in an abrupt reversal on Sunday, he suddenly teased: “Good news on Covid Relief Bill. Information to follow!”

The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. Mr. Trump’s decision to wait multiple days before signing the bill means that two unemployment programs intended to expand and extend federal unemployment benefits lapsed, that guidance for states waiting to reprogram systems and account for the new law was delayed and that millions of unemployed Americans were left not knowing whether federal relief would come.

Lawmakers in both parties spent the weekend urging Mr. Trump to sign the bill and reverse course, with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had helped break a monthslong logjam in Congress over stimulus aid urging either an immediate signature or a veto in order to “allow those in favor to act before it is too late.”

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said on Fox News. “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire.”

Alan Rappeport and Ben Casselman contributed reporting.

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