July 27, 2021

Why did Trump pick fights with Congress he was sure to lose?

President Trump threw Washington into chaos late last month when he announced his opposition to both a massive coronavirus relief package and a bipartisan defense funding bill. Despite the spectacle his objections created, both pieces of legislation passed without any of Trump’s demands being met.

The president called the $900 billion stimulus bill that Congress had approved a “disgrace” and demanded that the $600 direct payments included in the package be increased to $2,000. Democrats enthusiastically rallied behind the larger checks. But, as expected, the idea was a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump eventually signed the bill as written a few days later, which averted a government shutdown and ensured aid would reach millions of Americans struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic.

He also vetoed a $740 billion defense spending bill, primarily because it didn’t include a repeal of liability protections for social media companies and included language to rename military bases named after Confederate figures. Both the House and Senate easily voted to override Trump’s veto by comfortable margins. It was the first time in Trump’s presidency that Congress had reversed one of his vetoes.

It was clear to most observers from the outset that neither of Trump’s moves stood much chance of success. His demand for larger stimulus checks came after he’d been mostly absent as Democrats and Republicans pursued a delicate compromise through months of negotiations. There is some support in both parties for addressing social media liability protections, but the issue isn’t important enough to either side for them to put the fate of a critical military funding bill at risk.

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