What did President Trump gain by delaying coronavirus relief? [UPDATED]

Nothing. The legislation he described as a disgrace has been signed into law in exactly the form Congress passed it. It does not include the $2,000 handouts Trump wanted. It includes all of the wasteful spending he decried.

The president tried to save face with a “signing statement.” He declared, “the Senate will start the process for a vote that increases checks to $2,000, repeals Section 230, and starts an investigation into voter fraud.”

But Trump’s statement has no binding power on Congress. There will be no $2,000 checks (but see the update below). If there’s an investigation into voter fraud, it will be because Senate Republicans want to conduct that investigation, not because Trump delayed signing the relief legislation.

It’s no accident that when Majority Leader McConnell praised Trump for signing the legislation, he said nothing about the president’s demands. McConnell stated simply: “The compromise bill is not perfect, but it will do an enormous amount of good for struggling Kentuckians and Americans across the country who need help now.” But for Trump’s holdout, it would have started doing that good earlier.

What did Trump lose by holding out? He lost the opportunity to make Nancy Pelosi the villain of the piece, if he still cares about that. Issac Schorr explains:

The situation can be summed up thus: The president delayed signing a much-needed COVID-relief and spending bill because it did not include something he had not requested, and did include items that his administration had asked for in its proposed budget for 2021.

This saved Speaker Nancy Pelosi the trouble of being blamed for delaying the passage of a relief bill in a transparent effort to hurt his reelection campaign, something that she is guilty of and that Republicans would be talking about were they not being forced to convince the president not to “pocket veto” the bill.

Schorr continues:

This marks the second time that the president has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on this issue alone. In October, he announced that he was instructing his administration’s negotiators to halt discussions with Pelosi because she was being unreasonable, thereby taking the gun Pelosi had pointed at her own head out of her hands and aiming it at his own. If President Trump ever were a master of the art of the deal, that time has long since passed.

Maybe the time has also passed for claiming that Trump is playing five-dimensional chess in cases where all he’s really doing is lashing out or behaving petulantly.

UPDATE: Nancy Pelosi pounced on Trump’s backing for $2,000 stimulus checks. The House promptly passed legislation upping the checks to that amount.

Mitch McConnell will now have to decide whether to bring the House measure to the floor in the Senate, as Chuck Schumer is calling on him to do. Many Senate Republicans wisely oppose the Trump-Pelosi untargeted giveaway as too expensive. Given the split within the GOP caucus and the split between Trump and many GOP Senators, I hope McConnell will let Pelosi’s measure die a quiet and well deserved death.

However, I must admit that Trump might have been playing chess, after all. We’ll have to see how this plays out.

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