President Donald Trump held a far-ranging press conference on August 8 in which he announced that he had signed four executive orders designed to give Americans COVID-19 stimulus relief but that raised serious separation of powers questions relating to limitations of presidential authority.
The orders did not contain stimulus checks to Americans. The orders extended extra unemployment benefits at the amount of $400 a week (as opposed to the $600 they were before), suspended rental and home evictions and student loan payments, and deferred the payroll tax for people making less than $100,000.
The president also took a swipe at his Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden, championed voter ID, said COVID-19 numbers are declining in some states, announced measures for veterans, criticized China for COVID-19, and accused Democrats of wanting to “steal the election,” among other things.
Watch the press conference here:
The federal government is funding 75% of the extra unemployment payments, and Trump said states will have to come up with the rest. A journalist asked him if governors had signed on to that and he said, “If they don’t they don’t. That’s going to be their problem. I don’t think their people will be too happy. They have the money. The states have the money. It’s sitting there.”
That’s only one question swirling around the executive orders; there’s also the question of whether they’re legal, and Trump has acknowledged he expects to be sued over them. The Washington Post reported that the orders make “dramatic changes to tax and spending policy, signing executive actions that challenge the boundaries of power that separate the White House and Capitol Hill.”
Even some members of Trump’s own administration didn’t think it was all legally possible. Larry Kudlow, the director of the White House National Economic Council, said earlier in the week of extending unemployment benefits: “I don’t think that can be done administratively. I think that requires an act of Congress.”
“The President cannot create new money with an executive order. These EOs simply show the limitations of the President’s legal authority,” said Jack Smalligan, a senior policy fellow at the Urban Institute, to The Post.
Here’s what you need to know:
Trump Repeatedly Trashed Democrats During the Press Conference for Not Using Legislation to Approve the Measures
In the Saturday, August 8 press conference, Trump repeatedly criticized Democrats. “We have repeatedly stated our willingness to immediately sign legislation providing expanded unemployment benefits, protecting Americans from eviction, and providing additional relief payment to families,” he said.
Democrats “have refused these offers,” he said, alleging, “What they really want is bail out money for states run by Democratic governors and mayors and run very badly for many many years and many decades in fact. It has nothing to do with the China Virus. It has nothing to do with anything we’ve been talking about.”
He accused Democrats of holding “vital assistance hostage on behalf of extreme partisan demands….Many of the far left policies they’re pushing have nothing to do with what we’ve been working on so hard.”
Trump called the Democrats’ stimulus proposal an “extreme left bill. It’s a bill supported by Biden, who is totally controlled now by the Bernie Sanders’ left wing of the party and in fact he’s gone further left than Bernie Sanders ever dreamed of going.”
Trump accused Democrats of wanting to ban voter ID to “steal the election. That’s what this is all about.” He accused them of seeking “universal mail-in voting which no one’s prepared for.” He said their plan “includes stimulus checks for illegal aliens…They want to have open borders. We don’t want to have open borders.”
He accused Democrats of wanting “mass release of illegal aliens from detention” and “the mass release of inmates including serious felons. How do you like that one? What does this have to do with stimulus, the economy, what does this have to do with the coronavirus?”
He called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “Crazy Nancy” and Joe Biden “Sleepy Joe.”
He also accused Democrats of blocking “direct payments of $3,400 for a family of four” as well as additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program to help businesses and support to help K12 schools reopen.
As for the specifics of the executive orders, which he signed at the end of the press conference, he said he was “providing a payroll tax holiday on Americans learning less than $100,000 a year. This will mean bigger paychecks for working families.” He said that he plans to terminate the tax if he wins the election.
Another executive order is designed so “renters and home owners can stay in their homes, protecting people from eviction. It’s not their fault that this virus came into our country and the world. It’s China’s fault…We don’t want people being evicted.”
He said that he was taking “action to provide extra $400 a week in expanded benefits.. That’s generous but we want to take care of our people. ..states will be asked to cover 25% of the cost using existing funding (including from coronavirus relief fund). States can offer greater benefits if they choose. It’s $400 a week. We’re doing that without the Democrats. We should have been able to do it very easily with them.”
Trump said he was providing “relief to student loan borrowers. Earlier this year, we slashed student loan interest rates to zero percent and suspended student loan payments.” He said he was “extending this policy through the end of the year.”
“Through these four actions my administration will provide immediate and vital relief to Americans struggling in this difficult time,” said Trump.
He said the “neverending lockdown being proposed by some…you could almost say almost all in the Democratic party would inflict unimaginable harm to our people and to our health for decades to come. It will hurt our economy. They view that as a good thing because they’re interested in one date, Nov. 3….you see the devastating results of lockdowns too. You have depression and suicide and drugs and alcohol.”
Democrats Have Slammed the Legislative Proposals From Republicans as Too ‘Meager’ to Reach Agreement
Democrats painted a very different picture of failed negotiations with Republicans. They said they just couldn’t agree to proposals that they felt shortchanged Americans in need.
For her part, Pelosi tweeted on August 7: “We remain committed to continue negotiating and reaching a fair agreement with the Administration, but we will not go along with the meager legislative proposals that fail to address the gravity of the health & economic situation our country faces.”
She added, “We call upon the White House’s negotiators to join us once again at the negotiating table today to secure a bipartisan agreement to put children, families and workers first.” In a joint statement with Democratic U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, she said, “Millions of Americans are still hurting and yet, despite this reality, President Trump and Republicans appear ready to walk away from the negotiating table to do unworkable, weak and narrow executive orders that barely scratch the surface of what is needed to defeat the virus and help struggling Americans.”
According to USA Today, “questions remain as to whether Trump has the legal authority to take these actions – or the money to pay for them.”