'Executive order stunt no substitute for real relief': Trump trashed for 'legally dubious' COVID-19 aid order
Donald Trumpn (AFP Photo:MANDEL NGAN)

"An executive order stunt is no substitute for real relief that meets the scale of the economic and public health crisis that is currently facing Americans. It is shameful that Senate Republicans and the president are refusing to work to pass the HEROES Act on behalf of the American people."

That is how a coalition of progressive advocacy groups and labor unions—including the American Federation of Teachers, Care in Action, Community Change Action, Greenpeace, Indivisible, MoveOn, and SEIU—responded after President Donald Trump announced Friday evening is preparing a series of executive orders after high-level talks between his Republican administration and Democratic leaders in Congress essentially collapsed with no agreement on what experts agree is an urgently needed economic relief package amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Senate Republicans and President Trump are abandoning their constituents and the country as a whole, and causing chaos and turmoil by refusing to negotiate on COVID-19 relief," the groups said in a joint statement. "Right now, the United States is approaching five million cases of COVID-19 and more than 160,000 deaths. Tens of millions of people are facing impossible choices as supplemental unemployment insurance runs out and eviction protections expire. Millions of immigrants and people of color have been entirely unable to access relief, and essential workers are going without protections and benefits they need. Meanwhile voters face the impossible choice between protecting their health and participating in our democracy."

As the Guardian reports:

The president's pledge to rescue people from poverty and homelessness took place against the unlikely backdrop of his luxury golf club, where annual fees run to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, with members in T-shirts not physically distancing as they watched and applauded him.

Trump called the sudden press conference at his club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Friday evening after the collapse of talks between White House and Democratic negotiators in Washington. "If Democrats continue to hold this critical relief hostage, I will act under my authority as president to get Americans the relief they need," the president said.

He vowed to suspend payroll tax and extend unemployment benefits until the end of the year, defer student loan payments indefinitely and forgive interest, and extend a moratorium on evictions.

Reporting for Reuters, journalist Patricia Zengerle explains that because the U.S. Constitution "puts control of federal spending in the hands of Congress, not the president, so Trump does not have the legal authority to issue executive orders determining how money should be spent on coronavirus."

Progressive critics of the president and Democratic lawmakers, however, warn that Trump's go-it-alone plan is not only legally dubious but that his stated prescriptions—including protections for pre-existing conditions that already exist under Obamacare or the suspension of payroll tax collections that would only have to be paid back later is also a backdoor effort to defund Social Security and Medicare—would do nothing to solve the crisis that tens of millions of Americans and their families are now facing.

"It has been 84 days since the HEROES Act passed in the House, a bill which would provide the relief desperately needed. While Senate Republicans and the White House have spent the past two months refusing to engage in negotiations, the economic suffering is getting worse each day," the coalition of groups said.

Jeff Hauser, who directs the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), explained in a series of tweets Friday night that Trump's strategy should be apparent.

"Let's be very clear: Trump's plan today is simple," Hauser said. First, Trump is hoping to get "caught trying to do a lot of the popular things Dems want to do." And second, he said, the president is trying to show American voters he agrees with the things Democrats have been trying to get done for months "without agreeing to needed funding for elections, including USPS"—one of the many sticking points in the crumbling negotiations.

According to Hauser, the president "believes the result will be:  (a) He is popular enough to reduce polling deficit; (b) He can then overcome remaining deficit via cheating amidst chaotic, broken election that's worse in urban areas."

Winnie Wong, a progressive organizer and former top advisor to Bernie Sanders' 2020 presidential campaign, has been among those who have warned for months that Democrats played into a trap long ago in which Trump would wait until closer to the election—with the help of GOP lawmakers in Congress forcing the delay by not passing additional relief throughout the summer—before trying to present himself as a savior to the public at time more opportune. On April 22, Wong tweeted:

In the wake of Trump's announcement about pending executive orders Friday night, Wong tweeted: "What. The. Fuck. Have. I. Been. Saying."

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said the GOP's refusal to accept a far-reaching legislative deal—in the face of the economic pain now staring millions in the face—is a direct result of their deep antagonism to the very idea of a government that serves the needs of people—even in a pandemic and amid Depression-like unemployment.

While Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said they remain committed to negotiating on behalf of the American people—with their repeated willingness to compromise away their more adequate initial demands a source of frustration by progressives—there was no sign that talks would advance over the weekend.

"Congress is taking an undeserved weekend break from coronavirus relief negotiations meanwhile Americans don’t have enough unemployment benefits and are worried about getting evicted because no one is protecting or standing up for them," the progressive advocacy group Stand Up America said Saturday morning.