President Donald Trump issued four executive orders extending relief during the coronavirus pandemic after Democrats in Congress refused to compromise with the White House to pass a relief bill. Trump has almost certainly exceeded his authority with these orders, and Democrats plan to challenge them in court. Yet by signing these orders, the president called their bluff. Democrats refused to work with him to secure coronavirus relief, planning to make Trump look heartless. In response, the president called their bluff, and now Democrats have to fight against the relief Americans need.
“We have repeatedly stated our willingness to immediately sign legislation providing expanded unemployment benefits, protecting Americans from eviction, and providing additional relief payments to families,” Trump said. “Democrats have refused these offers.”
Before signing the relief bills, the president noted that the Democratic package included many items completely unrelated to economic relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
“So the Democrat bill includes stimulus checks for illegal aliens, they require the mass release of illegal aliens from detention, they also compel the mass release of inmates, including serious felons,” Trump said. “What does this have to do with stimulus, the economy? What does this have to do with the coronavirus?”
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The president signed four executive orders. He provided a “payroll tax holiday to Americans earning less than $100,000 per year,” directing the Treasury Department to allow employers to defer payments.
He also directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to save renters and homeowners from eviction.
Trump ordered the extension of extra unemployment payments, as well. Democrats had demanded supplemental unemployment checks continue at $600 per week as before, but Republicans said the checks should be cut down to an extra $200 per week. Trump’s order represents a compromise, extending them at an extra $400 per week.
Finally, Trump signed an order extending a suspension of student loan payments. The suspension was set to expire on September 30, but Trump extended it through November.
Democrats are almost certain to challenge these orders in court, claiming Trump circumvented the legislative process. Yet the president will likely defend his actions, claiming that his authority over the executive branch allowed them. Thanks to a long string of progressive-style legislation, the administrative state possesses an authority that the Founders would likely claim violates the Constitution. Ironically, Trump is wielding the expanded government of the progressive movement against Democrats who call themselves progressive.
Republicans should hesitate to applaud these orders. While the president made a brilliant political calculation, he undercut the legislative process of Congress.
“Even if these acts are technically legal, they run counter to the spirit of our system, and continue the long-running trend of an overweening executive branch steam-rolling a feckless Congress,” National Review editor Rich Lowry tweeted.
That said, Democrats have proven particularly feckless during the coronavirus crisis.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has treated coronavirus relief bills as a far-left wish list, rather than as serious compromise legislation. Republicans have sought compromise, and even Trump’s executive orders reflect a desire for compromise. Yet it seems Democrats are working hard to block relief in order to make Trump appear heartless and uncaring.
In the most recent round of negotiations, Pelosi demanded an extra $1 trillion to bail out state and local governments, even though state governments have not yet used up the money from the CARES Act. Pelosi has also engaged in despicable rhetoric, accusing Republicans of “trying to get away with murder, the murder of George Floyd” because they disagree with a few of her proposals on criminal justice reform.
It isn’t just Pelosi, either. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has endorsed the House speaker’s shenanigans, claiming that the coronavirus pandemic is an “opportunity” for “structural change” on everything from voting to climate change.
Pelosi has played extremely stupid games, and this is her stupid prize: leading a Democratic effort to challenge executive orders extending coronavirus relief to the American people. I don’t agree with Trump’s move here, but I must admit that it is quite simply brilliant.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.