The Final Weeks of Trump

First whining about losing, now whining about legislation. (And creating chaos along the way).

President Donald J. Trump disembarks Marine One at Joint Base Andrews, Md. Friday, Sept. 18, 2020, and is escorted to Air Force One by U.S. Air Force personnel. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)
Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour

As with so many things Trump, his waning days in office have been both remarkable and yet unsurprising. His actions continue to drip of narcissism and ignorance to create a slurry of nonsense never before generated by a US president.

Of course, we are all painfully aware that he has whined incessantly about his electoral loss (sorry, the massive, unbelievable fraud that was perpetrated against him by the massive algorithmic dumps of the ghost of Hugo Chávez).

Now, starting a few days ago, the tune has shifted to complaining about the Covid relief bill (part of the omnibus spending package that he has not yet signed) and the vetoing of the defense appropriations bill (he wants to leverage the bill to get Congress to repeal section 230).

But, of course, these monkey wrenches are being tossed into the machinery during Christmas time, and our “leader” seems not to care about consequences, as a Rolling Stone headline aptly notes: While in Florida Golfing, Trump Allows Jobless Benefits to Expire for Millions.

While President Donald Trump spends the holidays at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, millions of Americans will lose their jobless benefits.

Trump’s refusal to sign the $2.3 trillion Covid-19 relief and government funding bill, which his own administration negotiated, means approximately 14 million Americans will see their unemployment benefits expire on Saturday.

With at least a partial government shutdown looming if not signed by Tuesday, the bill has been sent to Florida where it awaits the president’s signature or veto.

So, the agent of chaos sows all the more chaos as he is set to leave office, demonstrating, yet again, that a) it is all about him, and b) that he really does not understand how governing works (proving, not surprisingly, that he learned nothing during his time in office). Learning, of course, requires wanting to know things.

Of the amazing things about all of this is that had Trump wanted higher relief payments, he almost certainly could have had them. Indeed, I would wager he could have had them prior to the election, which might have been to his advantage. Indeed, I commented on Trump’s lack of basic political acumen on this subject back in August: Trump isn’t very Good at Basic Politics.

Of the various amazing aspects of Trump’s move, a few days before Christmas, to object to the amount of direct payments to Americans is that he has had an agent of his administration in the middle of the negotiations, Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin. As such if Trump had wanted $2,000 instead of $600, he could have made his preferences known (and, you know, done some work). But, of course, he has been detached from his job. From CNN (emphasis mine):

The White House explicitly told Senate Republicans weeks ago that it supported pursuing the omnibus (all 12 appropriations bills tied into a single big package) and those negotiations took place for weeks.

The White House was fully aware of what was in the bill and what was agreed upon, though White House officials acknowledged late Tuesday that Trump himself had not received a detailed briefing on the package before its passage.

I am struck that the formulation “The White House” in such a report usually assumes the inclusion, indeed the direction, of POTUS. But, in the Trump White House POTUS doesn’t engage in “detailed briefing[s].”

I will note that Trump did reportedly ask about higher payments, and his Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows talked him out of it.

There is some level of consistency to Trump’s reaction, insofar as he has a multi-decade prejudice against foreign aid. It also underscores how little Trump understands how massive bills such as this one are constructed.

Speaking of Mnuchin, WaPo notes that Mnuchin’s loyalty to Trump could end with painful setback as president shreds stimulus deal.

“I simply want to get our great people $2000, rather than the measly $600 that is now in the bill,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

His demand for $2,000 stimulus checks is a direct rejection of the $600 checks that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had personally proposed and negotiated with Democrats and Republicans. Now, Trump’s rejection of the deal has confounded many leaders on Capitol Hill because they had thought Mnuchin negotiated the package on behalf of the president. The treasury chief’s standing with many lawmakers is now in tatters just days before a full-blown crisis is set to occur.

The president’s denunciation of the agreement represented a stunning public broadside against his own treasury secretary, who for four years loyally shielded the president’s tax returns, endured repeated presidential tirades in private, and defended even Trump’s most incendiary and contradictory remarks.

But, of course, this is just another example of Trump chewing up and spitting out those loyal to him:

“Loyalty and assistance to President Trump generally gets rewarded with humiliation. This is how it ends for a lot of people who work for the guy,” said Brian Riedl, a conservative policy expert at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. “Secretary Mnuchin has been completely embarrassed.”

The whole piece is worth reading.

Meanwhile, Trump’s allies in Congress are now left to deal with this mess. For example, TPM reports on Senator Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) Sunday Show appearance this morning: Toomey: Trump Will Be Remembered For ‘Erratic Behavior’ If He Doesn’t Sign COVID Relief Bill.

After Toomey said that it’s a “hopeful sign” that Trump has not yet vetoed the COVID relief bill passed by Congress, the Pennsylvania senator issued his stern warning to Trump regarding his legacy if he lets COVID relief expire.

“(Trump will) be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire,” Toomey said.

Yes, well, better late than never in coming to this realization, Senator, but “chaos and misery and erratic behavior” have all been hallmarks of the leader of your party’s approach to public policy.

A parting note: all of this is a great set of illustrations of why lame-duck congressional sessions are terrible ideas. Trump faces no electoral consequences for any of this, which is also true for any member of Congress exiting in January. It is fundamentally anti-democratic to have all of these major decisions undertaken by politicians who will never have to face the voters.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    Is it ground hog day again?

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  2. gVOR08 says:

    Spot checking, at FOX “News” website, this is government disfunction and a principled stand against “foreign aid ‘pork'”, if it’s mentioned at all. It certainly isn’t a Republican v Trump thing.

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  3. Mikey says:

    @gVOR08:

    “foreign aid ‘pork’”

    All of which is what the White House requested:

    Moreover, much of the spending allocations Trump criticized were the exact amounts he requested for those programs in his fiscal 2021 budget:

    ●$1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military? Trump’s budget asked for $1.3 billion.

    ●$134 million for Myanmar? Trump’s budget had sought $131,450,000.

    ●$40 million for the Kennedy Center? Trump’s budget asked for $40,400,000.

    Trump rails against federal spending that he requested in his budget

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  4. Gustopher says:

    Can we end 2020 with a government shutdown in a pandemic? I think we can!

    And Republicans in Congress won’t want a Covid relief bill at all once the Georgia runoffs happen, since they will shift modes into trying to make Biden (a man who is so old that there is no plausible way that he runs for a second term) a one-term president. And of course, this is the time to worry about the deficit.

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  5. DrDaveT says:

    @Mikey:

    All of which is what the White House requested:

    You say that as if “the White House” and “Trump” are interchangeable here. This is Trump being petulant to his handlers and the staffers who wrote the budget request. If there were any judges to nominate at the moment, he’d be doing the same thing to piss off the Federalist Society.

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  6. Kathy says:

    Is this actual, current news, or a rerun of the immigration/DACA negotiations?

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  7. Mikey says:

    @DrDaveT:

    You say that as if “the White House” and “Trump” are interchangeable here. This is Trump being petulant to his handlers and the staffers who wrote the budget request.

    I’m not sure it even rises to that level. I think he was so uninterested and uninvolved that he let Mnuchin do the whole thing, and now he has literally no idea what it is he’s railing against.

    But my statement was directed more toward the Fox “News” crowd and Trump’s assorted supporters who seem to think the foreign aid stuff was part of the COVID relief, rather than the federal budget request submitted by the Trump administration (regardless of who actually wrote it) months ago.

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  8. Sleeping Dog says:

    This can be explained in 3 words, attention seeking behavior. Fraud doesn’t fly and fewer people, even R’s and fringe cult45 members are beginning to tune him out. This makes him relevant.

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  9. charon says:

    @Mikey:

    I think he was so uninterested and uninvolved

    It’s more than that, he is now so cognitively impaired by progressing senile dementia he is not capable of that complexity of strategic thought.

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  10. dazedandconfused says:

    @Mikey:

    I chalk it up to an incompetent applications of Trump’s primary management method: Management by Exception https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Management_by_exception

    Trump employs this method sort of by default. He lets his people do what they wish but maintains enough distance to blame an underling if it fails. It’s bad MBE, not a competent application of the method.

    Munchkin should have known he was under this methodology and should have known he HAD to get Trump’s involvement in this process. He is a fool paying the price.

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  11. Mikey says:

    @dazedandconfused:

    He is a fool paying the price.

    “I never thought leopards would eat MY face,” sobs treasury secretary who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.

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  12. gVOR08 says:

    I’ve been reading Obama’s memoir. He first met Russian President Medvedev, and Putin’s puppet, at a G20 meeting.

    Hearing all this, I remembered what the dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said about politics during the Soviet era, that “the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of the State.”

    That strikes too close to home.

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  13. Mikey says:

    As we look back on four years of Trump, and forward to the end of his misbegotten presidency, Irish writer Fintan O’Toole has some sobering words for what could come after.

    Democracy is not just about voting – it is a system for the rational articulation of ideas about the public good. Trump set out to lay waste to that whole system, from the bottom up, poisoning the groundwaters of respect for evidence, argument and rationality that keeps it alive.

    The power of his instinct was that he knew how to tap into a hatred of government that has been barely below the surface of American culture since before the foundation of the US.

    That instinct proved sufficiently well attuned that he got nearly 75 million votes in November, even while his malign incompetence was killing his own people. He got those votes, moreover, having made it abundantly clear that he would never accept the result of the election unless he won. They were votes for open autocracy.

    This is his legacy: he has successfully led a vast number of voters along the path from hatred of government to contempt for rational deliberation to the inevitable endpoint: disdain for the electoral process itself.

    Trump has unfinished business. A republic he wants to destroy still stands

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  14. Scott F. says:

    @Mikey:

    This is his legacy…

    My father was a Methodist pastor whose preaching centered around the “Do unto others…” tenets of the faith. The first phase of my career was in theater and opera where one of the most reliable elements of the dramatic storytelling is that the good win out in the end, while the villain gets their comeuppance. My second career has been in biotech where I’ve found a meritocracy that rewards sound science and evidence based problem solving.

    I share this personal history as it helps explains how I think about how life works. The O’Toole piece you’ve linked struck me to my core. Because it is becoming clearer with each passing day that a foundation of my life’s thinking – that ultimately good will prevail and evil will be punished – is going to be undermined by how things all play out with Trump. This vile man, who has done (and will continue to do) great harm to our country, is going to escape his just deserts. This scumbag who was born into every imaginable privilege, then proceeded to spend his life lying & cheating (all the while complaining about how unfair he was being treated) is going to get to spend his end days sowing further chaos surrounded by sycophants and enablers. No prison, no financial ruin, no daily ridicule from anyone whose opinion will matter to him.

    This is profoundly demoralizing.

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  15. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    Trump will NEVER enjoy the good opinion of the people who matter most to him. His entire life can be accounted for by the fact that he’s an abjectly failed social climber.

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  16. Scott F. says:

    @CSK: What you describe is true, of course. But, sadly whatever discomfort this gives Trump is rooted in his lifelong pathologies and is not the result of his malfeasance in office. There almost no karmic value in knowing he has been a wannabe his whole life.

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  17. Michael Cain says:

    After thinking about the OP this afternoon… Trump can inflict a lot of suffering just by doing nothing. Probably as much as he could inflict if he was trying (short of the military agreeing to large strikes somewhere). But what really scares me is the possibility that the Republicans will win at least one of the Georgia Senate seats and McConnell will decide he would rather burn the whole thing down rather than anything else.

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  18. Jax says:

    @Scott F.: If it makes you feel any better, I have decided deep down in my very soul that should I die of COVID, or COVID-related long haul symptoms down the road, I am going to spend ALLLLLLLL of my uneasy rest haunting Trump, his children, and every GOP-enabler who let this happen. Up to and including my neighbors who voted for him… TWICE.

    It’s easy to make decisions like that when you have no religion and deep, abiding, white-hot rage. I suspect I won’t be the only spirit haunting them.

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  19. Gustopher says:

    @Mikey:

    “I never thought leopards would eat MY face,” sobs treasury secretary who voted for the Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.

    “I never thought leopards would eat MY face,” sobs treasury secretary for leopard that eats people’s faces, after feeding leopard other people’s faces, and then nuzzling up to the leopard and expecting to be groomed.

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  20. CSK says:

    @Scott F.:
    Yes, but he suffers acutely from knowing he’ll always be an outsider. Persona non grata. Not good enough to be admitted to the ranks of the haute monde.

    As for the past four years…even he must be aware he’s an object of contempt to world leaders. He’s condemned to live with the knowledge that the only people who like him are people he can’t stand–the rubes.

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  21. Kathy says:

    The good news, is El Cheeto signed the Omnibus and Coronavirus relief bill.

    The bad news, is he still has less of a clue about how government works than the average third grader.

    Well, it’s not news.

    He’s sending the bill back to Congress (didn’t he sign it?) with “wasteful” items “red lined,” with a formal rescission requests they be removed from the bill.

    Ok, so either he’s sending it back with comments, or he signed it. Mitch seems to believe it’s signed.

    Or El PITO, as usual, has no idea what he’s doing.

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  22. Gustopher says:

    @Kathy: I am pleased that my assumption of the worse outcome @above Does not seem to be coming about (government shutdown during a pandemic, while trying to distribute a vaccine).

    It feels weird to not have a terrible, yet plausible, thought become reality.

    It reminds me of this scene from the terrible movieShowgirls. https://youtu.be/Z5VTFjE-pok — yup, feels weird.

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  23. dazedandconfused says:

    @gVOR08:

    If you haven’t already seen it check out the series “Chernobyl”. That lie being the pillar of that state was laid out by the guy who was charged with finding the fault. Cost him big, but he did it, and did it right.

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  24. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Kathy: Is he just pretending to do item-line vetoing? That’s what it seems like to me. I don’t know what kinds of bills can be vetoed by item line anymore, but it was a thing for a while. It would be in keeping with his usual bluster then fold tactic.

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  25. CSK says:

    Trump has Tweeted that he’ll be holding “a big and wonderful RALLY” in Georgia on January 4 on behalf (allegedly) of Perdue and Loeffler on January 4.

    He’ll also be in D.C. on Jan.6: “information to follow.”

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  26. Mikey says:

    @Gustopher: “Why?” asked the frog as he and the scorpion sank.

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  27. Mikey says:

    @Scott F.: I also wish Trump would experience more direct consequences, but I do take some comfort in knowing history will regard him as the worst of America, and in time he will receive all the blame he’s due.

    It’s not as good as the poetic justice that would have applied had COVID-19 killed him, but it’s better than nothing.

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  28. Fog says:

    This is our last, best chance to marginalize the people who have been a cancer in the body politic since the foundation of this country – the white supremacists. In 1776 we swept the issue under the rug in the interest of unity and were rewarded 75 years later with a civil war that killed over half a million people. And even after all that, we swept the race issue under the rug in the name of unity, and saw the rise of the hideous evil of Jim Crow. Today the racists have rallied to Trump and are pressing him to overthrow the will of the people in order to sustain their privileged position. Trump and his followers are committing treason, and if we as a country cannot eliminate the influence of traitors in our political system, then it is WE who will be damned for betraying the ideals that made the US “the last, best hope of earth.”

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  29. @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Is he just pretending to do item-line vetoing?

    So it would seem. As I tweeted last night: this is legislative equivalent of taking the sharpie to the hurricane map.

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  30. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy:

    He’s sending the bill back to Congress (didn’t he sign it?) with “wasteful” items “red lined,” with a formal rescission requests they be removed from the bill…. Or El PITO, as usual, has no idea what he’s doing.

    The Impoundment Control Act of 1974 requires the President to spend appropriated moneys, and was passed because Nixon refused to disburse (impounded) funds for programs he didn’t approve of. The Act allows the President to make a formal request to Congress for them to rescind specific spending. Usually of the form, “You appropriated $100M for a specific project, it’s done but only cost $93M, please remove $7M from the appropriation so I’m not in violation of the law.” It can also be used the way Trump is using it here as a request for Congress to reconsider an appropriation. For 45 days after making the formal request, the President doesn’t have to spend the money. Congress generally ignores the kind of request Trump has made, but not always.

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  31. Michael Cain says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: See my comment above. A formal rescission request is a thing, and Trump is entitled to use it to ask Congress to reconsider an appropriation. According the the CRS, from FY1974 through FY2008, Presidents requested 1,178 rescissions.

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  32. @Michael Cain: I am being flippant to be sure. And you are correct about rescissions being a thing–but when one reads the WH statement, as well as the way this is being done, I stand by my characterization.

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