Aug 9, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Mnuchin says Trump executive orders were cleared by Justice Department

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin insisted on "Fox News Sunday" that President Trump's executive orders on coronavirus aid were cleared by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and said that Democrats are going to "have a lot of explaining to do" if they choose to challenge them in court.

Why it matters: Democrats and even some Republicans have criticized Trump's decision to circumvent Congress to extend unemployment benefits as executive overreach, given that the Constitution gives Congress power to appropriate spending.

  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the orders "absurdly unconstitutional" on CNN, but would not say whether Democrats would sue to stop them.
  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) rebuked the orders on ABC's "This Week" as weak and ineffective, but said he would "leave that up to the attorneys" when asked whether they were legal.

The executive orders:

  1. Defer payroll taxes for Americans earning less than $100,000 a year.
  2. Implement a moratorium on evictions and give financial assistance to renters.
  3. Add $400 per week in extra unemployment benefits through the end of 2020, requiring states to cover 25% of the additional benefits.
  4. Postpone student loan interest and payments through the end of 2020.

What they're saying: "We've cleared with the Office of Legal Counsel all these actions, before they went to the president," Mnuchin said when pressed on Sen. Ben Sasse's (R-Neb.) claim that the orders are "unconstitutional slop."

  • "The president knew unemployment insurance was ending. He said let's continue at $400. By the way, the 25% from the states — they can either take that out of the money we've already given, or the president can waive that. We've been told by the states they can get this up and running immediately."
  • "And I would say if the Democrats want to challenge us in court and hold up unemployment benefits to those hardworking Americans who are out of a job because of COVID, they're going to have a lot of explaining to do."

Go deeper: Pelosi says states "don't have the money" for Trump's unemployment order

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