Donald Trump on Thursday urged Congress to return to Washington to “do your job,” despite his own health advisers – including the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – telling Americans to practice social distancing. Impossible during the normal voting and committee procedures of Congress.
The president pulled out one of his favourite rhetorical techniques on Thursday to apparently get even with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has called Mr Trump a “weak person” and “poor leader” more than once over the last several days over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic: He’s throwing the same insults right back at her.
“Crazy ‘Nancy Pelosi, you are a weak person. You are a poor leader. You are the reason America hates career politicians, like yourself,'” the president tweeted, quoting (and tagging) one of his closest confidants, Fox News prime-time host Sean Hannity.
Mr Trump then beckoned Democrats back to the capital, adding: “She is totally incompetent & controlled by the Radical Left, a weak and pathetic puppet. Come back to Washington and do your job!”
Mr Trump deployed his new White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, to deliver the same message to Ms Pelosi on Fox & Friends on Thursday morning.
“[Democrats] need to get back to Washington. Get out from in front of that ice cream freezer, Nancy Pelosi. Come here and work with this president,” Ms McEnany said, referring to the speaker’s freezer full of artisan ice creams she showed comedian James Corden on his late night programme earlier this week.
Democratic leaders in the House, and Republican leaders in the Senate, do not plan to call their members back for full sessions until at least 4 May, they have said, noting local and CDC guidelines advocating social distancing.
Congress is also, disproportionately, an institution of older people. Many members are in the highly vulnerable age ranges for Covid-19.
Congressional leaders have been working with the Treasury Department over roughly the last 10 days on an interim relief package that can pass both chambers by unanimous consent to help provide an infusion of funding to the department’s paycheck protection program (PPP) that has already shelled out nearly $350bn to small businesses to keep employees on the payroll.
The White House announced on Thursday morning that the program has run out of funds, and is frozen until Congress refills it under a larger pact that would be Washington’s fourth major legislative reaction to the pandemic.
Such a deal would mean not all members would have to travel back to Washington to record their votes because, unless a single member of either chamber showed up to voice an objection, the next coronavirus bill could pass quickly and get to Mr Trump for his signature.
Thursday’s tweet was not the first time this week the president has complained about the strange rules of Congress preventing business-as-usual in Washington.
Mr Trump griped earlier in the week about Senate Democrats blocking dozens of his nominees, alleging many of the people pegged for administrative posts would be working on virus-related efforts if they had been confirmed.
The president even went so far as to brandish a never-before-employed power of his office to adjourn both chambers of Congress so he can make “recess appointments,” a comment that received round criticism from Democrats but a muted response from most Republicans.
But it’s Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, who controls the chamber’s calendar. He began holding pro formas early in Mr Trump’s term to block just that: recess appointments, opting to ensure his chamber would have a say in vetting potential Trump administration officials. In a subtle rebuke of Mr Trump, the Kentucky Republican’s office issued a statement late Wednesday night saying while the majority leader shares Mr Trump’s frustration about stalled nominations, he will continue trying to move them “under Senate rules that will take consent from [Minority] Leader [Chuck] Schumer.”
For Mr Trump to execute the never-used power, there would need to be a disagreement between the two chambers on a date of adjournment. Mr McConnell’s statement was a message he would play no part in orchestrating one with Ms Pelosi.