Dec 28, 2020 - Politics & Policy

How Trump caved on the coronavirus relief bill

Mike Allen
Trump and Steven Mnuchin
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin with Trump in April. Photo: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images

Getting a cranky, stubborn President Trump to belatedly sign the COVID relief bill, after unemployment benefits had already lapsed, was like being a hostage negotiator, or defusing a bomb.

Driving the news: The deal was closed on a Sunday afternoon phone call with Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. "This is good," Trump finally said, an official familiar with the call told me. "I should sign this."

How it happened: Over many days, Mnuchin and McCarthy — aided by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who golfed with Trump in West Palm Beach on Friday — indulged the president's rants, told him there was great stuff in the bill, and gave him "wins" he could announce, even though they didn't change the bill.

  • Playing to his vanity, they invoked his legacy, and reminded him he didn't want to hurt people.
  • They convinced the author of "The Art of the Deal" that he had shown himself to be a fighter, and that he had gotten all there was to get.

Trump's sweeteners, from his 8:15 p.m. statement: "[T]he House and Senate have agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election."

  • "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. Big Tech must not get protections of Section 230! Voter Fraud must be fixed! Much more money is coming. I will never give up my fight for the American people!"

Reality check ... Republican pollster Frank Luntz, who worked hard to understand Trump, told me: "It may be too late. Too late for him, too late for the economy, too late for Covid, and too late for the Georgia senators."

  • 📄 Go deeper: Updated highlights of what's in the bill.
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