US President Donald Trump spent his Christmas golfing in Florida as a government shutdown looms and Covid-19 relief hangs in the balance.
Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach for the holidays, had no events on his public schedule after throwing the future of a massive Covid-19 relief and government funding bill into question. Failure to sign the bill, which arrived in Florida on Thursday night (US time), could deny relief checks to millions of Americans on the brink and force a government shutdown in the midst of the pandemic.
The White House declined to share details of the president's schedule. It said only: "During the holiday season, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls."
Trump's expected golf partner Friday was South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, a close ally.
Trump's vacation came as Washington was still reeling over his surprise, 11th-hour demand that an end-of-year spending bill that congressional leaders spent months negotiating give most Americans $2000 Covid-19 relief checks — far more than the $600 members of his own party had agreed to. The idea was swiftly rejected by House Republicans during a rare Christmas Eve session, leaving the proposal in limbo.
The bipartisan compromise had been considered a done deal and had won sweeping approval in the House and Senate this week after the White House assured GOP leaders that Trump supported it. If he refuses to sign the deal, which is attached to a $1.4 trillion government funding bill, it will force a federal government shutdown, in addition to delaying aid checks and halting unemployment benefits and eviction protections in the most dire stretch of the pandemic.
Trump's decision to attack the bill has been seen, at least in part, as political punishment for what he considers insufficient backing by congressional Republicans of his campaign to overturn the results of the November 3 election with unfounded claims of voter fraud.
"At a meeting in Florida today, everyone was asking why aren't the Republicans up in arms & fighting over the fact that the Democrats stole the rigged presidential election?" Trump tweeted Thursday.
"I will NEVER FORGET!" he later added.
Trump for weeks has refused to accept the results of the election and has been pushing new, increasingly outrageous schemes to try to overturn the results. He has been egged on by allies like his lawyer, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who accompanied the president to Florida aboard Air Force One.
Trump has provided no credible evidence to support his election claims, which have been refuted by a long list of officials, among them judges, former Attorney General William Barr, Republican governors and local election administrators.
Meanwhile, the nation continues to reel as the coronavirus spreads, with record infections and hospitalisations and more than 327,000 dead. Millions are now going through the holidays alone or struggling to make ends meet without adequate income, food or shelter thanks to the pandemic's economic toll.
To mark the holiday, the president and first lady Melania Trump tweeted out a pre-recorded video message in which they wished Americans a merry Christmas and thanked first responders and members of the military.
"As you know, this Christmas is different than years past," said Melania Trump, who focused on the acts of "kindness and courage" the pandemic had inspired.
Trump hailed the vaccine doses now being delivered and thanked those responsible. "It is a truly a Christmas miracle," he said.
Meanwhile, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have been trying to salvage the year-end legislation to try to prevent a shutdown. Democrats will call House lawmakers back to Washington for a vote Monday on Trump's $2000 proposal, though it would probably die in the Republican-controlled Senate. They are also considering a vote Monday on a stop-gap measure at least to avert a federal shutdown and keep the government running until Democrat Joe Biden is inaugurated January 20.
In addition to the relief checks, the Covid-19 bill that passed would establish a temporary $300-per-week supplemental jobless benefit, provide a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theatres and money for schools, and provide money for healthcare providers and to help with Covid-19 vaccine distribution.