- President Donald Trump has been a historically chaotic and destructive commander in chief, and he appears set on taking this to new levels in his final days.
- Trump has sparked a fight with Republicans in Congress over bigger COVID-19 stimulus checks and is dividing the party over his antidemocratic effort to overturn the election result.
- Trump's antics could cost the GOP its Senate majority.
- The president has also issued new threats toward Iran as the US sends B-52 bombers to the Persian Gulf in a show of force, sparking fears of a new war in the Middle East.
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President Donald Trump has done immeasurable damage to the US throughout his time in office, with his administration stumbling from one self-induced crisis to the next. But with less than a month left, Trump has apparently decided to turn things up a notch.
The president is ramping up his penchant for chaos in his final days, pitting himself against Republicans in Congress, sowing chaos in Washington, sparking fears of a conflict with Iran, and continuing his unhinged, futile effort to overturn the result of the 2020 election.
Presidents generally aren't remembered for what they do as they're heading out the door. Lame-duck presidents tend to take it slow in order to foster a peaceful transfer of power. But as he has done with virtually every other democratic norm, Trump is breaking from that in major ways as he rejects the election result and compulsively seeks attention.
The president's unorthodox antics are having serious consequences beyond generating headlines.
Trump sparks a fight over COVID-19 stimulus checks that could cost the GOP its Senate majority
Though Trump has shown little interest in governing since he lost the election to President-elect Joe Biden, the president nearly derailed the latest COVID-19 stimulus package this month.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin played a key role in the painstaking negotiations behind the $900 billion bill, and the legislation was strongly supported by Republican lawmakers. When Trump initially refused to sign the bill, it sent shockwaves through Washington.
The president demanded that the $600 direct payments in the legislation, which Mnuchin had personally pushed for, be raised to $2000. In calling for fatter checks, Trump has effectively aligned himself with Democrats. The president ultimately caved, as he's often done, and lent his signature to the bill on Sunday. But in delaying the process, Trump may have cost unemployment benefits to millions of Americans who are in desperate need of assistance.
The Democratic-led House passed a standalone bill to raise the payments to $2000 in light of Trump's support.
Trump is also continuing to push for $2000 checks, telling congressional Republicans who oppose it that they must have a "death wish." He's put his own party in a terrible position ahead of the Senate runoff election in Georgia, which will determine whether Republicans maintain their majority in the upper chamber.
The $2000 checks are extremely popular with Americans, but top Republican lawmakers have cited concerns over the deficit as they've fervently pushed against bigger payments. By supporting the $2000 checks, Trump has essentially ensured that the GOP will be painted as villains for objecting to a broadly palatable proposal that would help millions of Americans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading the charge against the checks, has pulled one of his classic, Machiavellian maneuvers to ensure that the proposal is dead in the water. McConnell has injected poison pills into the bill, packaging the $2000 checks together with Trump's demands for repealing legal protections for social media companies and an inquiry into alleged voter fraud.
McConnell knows Democrats would never agree to such a package, and that's the point. The Kentucky Republican said the House-passed bill had "no realistic path to quickly pass the Senate."
But Trump is not letting up. "$2000 ASAP!" he tweeted on Wednesday. The president is driving a wedge in the GOP over the matter. GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a top ally of Trump's, is now urging McConnell to support a standalone vote on the checks. Republican Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are fighting for their political lives in the Georgia runoff, have also come out in support of the checks.
Trump's rejection of the election results is also tearing the GOP apart
Trump's ongoing rejection of the election results has also induced divisions in the GOP.
Congress is set to certify the Electoral College vote on January 6. A group of House Republicans plan to object to certification, and GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri on Wednesday became the first senator to say they'll object to the results.
Hawley's move means that the certification of Biden's win will be delayed, but it will not impact the result of the election. The Missouri senator is forcing a pointless vote that will put Republican lawmakers on the spot on whether they're willing to embrace or reject Trump's effort to overturn the election, which is based on conspiracy theories and groundless assertions of mass voter fraud.
McConnell has privately urged senators against objecting to the certification, which is typically a formality, citing the potential political ramifications. Other Republicans have publicly excoriated Hawley and any other GOP colleague supporting the effort.
"The president and his allies are playing with fire," GOP Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska said in a Facebook post on Wednesday. "They have been asking — first the courts, then state legislatures, now the Congress — to overturn the results of a presidential election."
"They have unsuccessfully called on judges and are now calling on federal officeholders to invalidate millions and millions of votes. If you make big claims, you had better have the evidence," Sasse added. "But the president doesn't and neither do the institutional arsonist members of Congress who will object to the Electoral College vote."
As he sows chaos in Washington, Trump is also renewing fears of war with Iran
Beyond his battles with Congress over the stimulus and election results, Trump is raising fears of conflict with Iran. The US this week sent B-52 bombers to fly over the Persian Gulf region send a message to Tehran after a recent rocket attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad that the Trump administration said was the work of Iranian proxy forces.
Trump has also been threatening Iran via his preferred means of communicating official government business. "Our embassy in Baghdad got hit Sunday by several rockets," Trump tweeted on December 23. "Three rockets failed to launch. Guess where they were from: IRAN."
"Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over," Trump added.
Iran's top diplomat in a Thursday tweet accused Trump of being involved in a plot to "fabricate" a "pretext for war."
This all comes roughly a year after Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, and nearly sparked a new conflict in the Middle East.
Simultaneously, Biden has accused the Pentagon of stonewalling him on vital national security issues, refusing to provide comprehensive briefings.
"Make no mistake, this lack of cooperation has real-world implications, most concerningly as it relates to our national security," Yohannes Abraham, the head of Biden's transition team, said during a virtual news briefing on Wednesday. "This intentionally generated opacity makes it harder for our government to protect the American people moving forward."
With just 20 days left in office and amid a pandemic that's already killed at least 343,000 people under his watch, Trump appears bent on dragging the country down with him. A lot can happen in 20 days.
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