Trump Threatens to Reject COVID Relief Bill Over 'Wasteful' Foreign Aid, Echoing '$500m for Israel' Uproar

Trump cites expense of foreign aid, echoing social media uproar over aid to Israel – although foreign aid is part of a separate Pentagon spending bill

Ben Samuels
The Associated Press
Washington, D.C.
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U.S. President Donald Trump departs on travel to West Point, New York from the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, December 12, 2020.
U.S. President Donald Trump departs on travel to West Point, New York from the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, December 12, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Cheriss May
Ben Samuels
The Associated Press
Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened on  to derail months of bipartisan work, which included the participation of his own administration, on a massive COVID-19 relief package in the midst of a raging pandemic and deep economic uncertainty, suddenly demanding changes fellow Republicans have opposed. In a video tweeted out on Tuesday night, Trump cited both the inadequately low direct payments to U.S. citizens and a range of foreign aid provisions that were part of a separate omnibus bill.

Citing "$85.5 million for assistance to Cambodia, $134 million to Burma, $1.3 billion for Egypt and the Egyptian military, which will go out and buy almost exclusively Russian military equipment," Trump urged Congress to “get rid of the wasteful and unnecessary items from this legislation and to send me a suitable bill.”

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Trump's apparent misunderstanding of the fact that the stimulus deal was included in a broader year-end spending package (including the 2021 Pentagon spending bill, which covers foreign aid for a number of U.S. allies) echoed the uproar seen on social media this week after observers noted the bill included “$500 million for Israeli cooperation,” with a large percentage of that dedicated to missile defense systems. This seemingly disparate allocation of funds – considering negotiators could only agree on $600 stimulus checks for individual U.S. citizens – triggered much outrage on social media, to the point where “$500,000,000 for Israel” was trending on social media worldwide.

Eric Trump, the president's son, also tweeted an image detailing the foreign aid included in the omnibus bill - including the $500m allotted to "Isreal" - echoing his father's criticism and misperception of the legislation in question.

The federal government would shut down on December 29 if Trump upended the legislation, as lawmakers linked the pandemic relief bill to the overarching funding measure. The Senate cleared the relief package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by another lopsided vote, 359-53  – totals that would be enough to override a veto should Trump decide to take that step.

Trump’s threats to hold up the pandemic legislation could also complicate matters for Republicans in Georgia, where two runoff races to determine control of the Senate will be held in January. Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler have been running as ardent supporters of Trump and will now face questions about whether they will back his call for more money for Americans. Jon Ossoff, Perdue’s Democratic opponent, tweeted on Tuesday night: “$2,000 checks now.”

“The foreign aid Trump complained about – the same foreign aid he supported in three other budgets he signed -- isn’t in the COVID relief bill. It’s in the budget," Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democratic member of the Foreign Relations Committee tweeted.

Alan Lowenthal, a Democratic Congressman from California, also came down on the president: "Either the president doesn’t understand the bill he complains about, or he is being dishonest. Emergency measures were combined with a routine government funding bill. Foreign aid programs are routine, and necessary—they don’t reduce our Covid response," he said. 

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