On-again, off-again COVID aid
If you're looking for stories with a twist of irony, palace intrigue and stunning corruption, the saga of Donald Trump's Washington never disappoints.
As for us? We're looking for the days with a bit more Pollyanna-like or Dickensesque stories — perhaps not unlike "A Christmas Carol" or something somewhat uplifting.
We don't expect Trump to have an 11th-hour conversion to become a caring, giving, understanding person. If anything, he showed us last week that he's even more like Scrooge than Scrooge.
After the country breathed a sigh of relief when Republicans and Democrats made a deal to pass a stimulus aid bill, Trump did an about-face on what he had instructed his Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to demand and agree to. Trump gave us all whiplash by throwing a wrench into the deal and saying he'd veto the $900 billion package unless the $600 checks to Americans were upped to $2,000.
Now sure, that sounds like a Scrooge turned generous, but it wasn't. It was merely a Trump-likes-chaos Scrooge who wanted to one-up and embarrass Republicans like Mitch McConnell who recently told Americans. "The Electoral College has spoken" and Joe Biden won the 2020 election.
Democrats, who wanted more aid for Americans all along (like about $2 trillion more aid) tried to call Trump's bluff with legislation seeking unanimous House approval to amend the bill and send most of us $2,000 checks. But Republicans balked again and tried to counter that with a motion to force their own changes to foreign policy spending.
Yeah, you read that right — foreign policy spending. Weren't we talking about COVID aid to Americans and American hospitals and businesses? Did we miss something?
Nothing has come from any of this, of course, except that for now there is $0 aid.
And as all this played out, Trump, without saying another word about it, jetted off for the holidays to Florida.
Bah Humbug, indeed.
The real veto
That wasn't all Trump blew up last week. He did, in fact, veto the other important bill of the week — the must-pass defense bill.
The House will return to the Capitol on Monday, and the Senate on Tuesday, for a vote to override Trump's veto, which they have the votes to do. (At the same time, Democrats have said they will force a roll call vote to pass Trump's proposal for $2,000 checks. We'll see.)
The suggested coup
On an even darker note, in between Trump's made-for-TV videos about his veto and his sudden demand for bigger checks to Americans, Trump was ruminating on the tainted Michael Flynn's suggestion that he might declare martial law in the swing states he lost to stage a re-do of the election.
You remember Mike Flynn, Trump's first and brief National Security Adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Trump pardoned Flynn in November, and Flynn visited the Oval Office recently after suggesting the martial law idea in a Newsmax interview.
We really hope the "martial law" talk got your attention. It's yet another example of Trump's explorations to undo the 2020 election — perhaps with brute force.
"This is really dangerous stuff to start playing with," said Rachel Kleinfeld, a national security expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Washington Post last week. "You cannot normalize extrajudicial action outside the rule of law and believe democracy will hold. Democracies are fragile, even ours."
Thankfully, Kleinfeld and other experts are skeptical the president could actually declare martial law in the first place. Governors have that power in their states, but the president doesn't, Kleinfeld said. Other experts add that the Supreme Court has never ruled on whether a president can declare martial law without congressional approval.
"If you have martial law," Kleinfeld said, "you have total suspension of the Constitution. So that's a coup, and a coup in this country is not going to happen."
But what of the damage to our national psyche — just by the effort and conversation?
The crony pardons
The Flynn news also brings up a whole other Trump outrage of the week — a week when Trump pardoned another 29 people — all losers who look like Trump: corrupt politicians, wheeler-dealers or other of his campaign cronies who pleaded guilty or were convicted on charges arising from the Russia probe. Specifically among them are Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulous, Alex van der Zwaan and Roger Stone.
There also was Charles Kushner, the father of Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who pleaded guilty in 2004 to making false statements to the Federal Election Commission, witness tampering and tax evasion. And four Blackwater military contractors convicted of war crimes against innocent civilians.
Other pardons went to a handful of corrupt Republican politicians and former lawmakers who supported Trump, including former Rep. Duncan D. Hunter of California who pleaded guilty in 2019 of misusing campaign funds, former Rep. Chris Collins of New York who pleaded guilty to insider trading and lying to the FBI, and former Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas who was convicted in 2018 of conspiring to take hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations meant for charity and voter education.
Sounds like a replay of four years of Trump scandals, doesn't it?
Stayed tuned. There surely will be more Trump drama before there is less.