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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

Go deeper

Biden's Day 1: Stimulus stall

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A host of alarming new signs suggest that the U.S. economy is on track to deteriorate even faster than had been forecast. A huge reason: A year-end COVID rescue package now looks unlikely.

Why it matters: One of the biggest failures of the current administration and Congress will be a Day One problem for President-elect Joe Biden — and an urgent test of his theory that Republicans will be more willing to work with him once President Trump is gone.

Biden gets mixed grades on revolving door

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Biden is getting mixed marks for his reliance on industry insiders to staff his administration during its first 100 days.

Why it matters: Progressives have leaned on the new president to limit the revolving door between industry and government. A new report from the Revolving Door Project praises him on that front but highlights key hires it deems ethically questionable.

Exclusive: Sen. Coons sees new era of bipartisanship on China

Sen. Chris Coons. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Jan. 6 insurrection was a "shock to the system," propelling members of Congress toward the goal of shoring up America's ability to compete with China, Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told Axios during an interview Thursday.

Why it matters: Competition between China's authoritarian model and the West's liberal democratic one is likely to define the 21st century. A bipartisan response would help the U.S. present a united front.