Donald Trump’s mind is elsewhere as unemployment benefits run out for millions of Americans

“Fake news!” he complained on Twitter from Palm Beach, concerned for Melania’s social station on Christmas as Americans hunkered at home, enduring a holiday diminished by pandemic, darkened by the prospect of an imminent government shutdown and shaken by an eerie explosion in Nashville that authorities said was intentional.

The fashion cover gripe came as the President was returning from his golf club in Florida to his oceanfront estate, where somewhere was waiting the massive coronavirus relief package that had been specially flown from Washington for his consideration. An official familiar with the matter said the bill was at Mar-a-Lago by Friday morning.

“Made many calls and had meetings at Trump International in Palm Beach, Florida,” Trump wrote Friday on Twitter. “Why would politicians not want to give people $2000, rather than only $600? It wasn’t their fault, it was China. Give our people the money!”

He did not say whether he would sign the bill, which would renew certain unemployment programs that will soon expire, extend a moratorium on evictions, revive federal loans for small businesses and provide direct $600 payments to Americans under a certain income level.

The $600 check is surely a pittance for people struggling with back rent and unpaid bills. But it was nevertheless the amount they were promised could arrive next week when officials, including Trump’s own Treasury secretary, were lauding the bill they negotiated.

Now the fate of those checks remains uncertain — as does the functioning of the entire federal government, which only has funding to remain open through Monday.

Throwing relief into question

Asked at his club this week about his stance — which seemed to have nothing to do with the position his administration’s negotiators took in the crafting of the package — Trump has told associates he believes the measure is loaded with “pork,” according to people familiar with the conversations.

Reminded that he proposed virtually the same spending figures included in the bill — which would keep the government funded past Monday — in his own budget this year, Trump has scoffed, one person familiar with the matter said, insisting his proposal was the work of the “deep state.”

Four years after entering office, Trump is demonstrating little aptitude for the process of governing. After paying virtually no attention to the talks surrounding the Covid relief package, focused instead of his futile efforts to overthrow the election results, Trump now appears oblivious to how his demands can be manifested into reality.

Instead, Trump is demonstrating renewed willingness to directly oppose his party’s leadership, furious they have acknowledged Joe Biden’s victory. Much as he began his political career engaged in bitter feuds with Republican officials, Trump is leaving on sour terms with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, for whom he now finds little use.

In what he called “meetings” at his Florida golf course — but which people familiar with the matter said are more accurately described as informal conversations with hangers-on and friends — Trump has been encouraged to further distance himself from the Republican leaders who have stuck by him no matter what the past four years.

At his golf course on Christmas Day, Trump played a round with Sen. Lindsey Graham, one of his top associates in the Senate, who, before Trump’s video, was supportive of the relief package.

“Relief is on the way as soon as the bill becomes law,” the South Carolina Republican wrote on Tuesday.

When Trump released his video, Graham reverted to supporting the higher checks and said late Friday that Trump remained stalwart in his demand.

“After spending some time with President @realDonaldTrump today, I am convinced he is more determined than ever to increase stimulus payments to $2000 per person and challenge Section 230 big tech liability protection,” he tweeted. “Both are reasonable demands, and I hope Congress is listening. The biggest winner would be the American people.”

But as lawmakers left Washington this week, there did not appear to be sufficient support for the $2,000 payments, leaving no clear path forward.

Trump hasn’t appeared particularly eager to explain himself.

Hitting the links — again

Trump feels no pressure to be President while Americans suffer at Christmas

On past Christmases, the President has emerged from his Palm Beach vacation to help his wife track Santa Claus through NORAD, an outing that in 2018 led to memorable questioning of a 7-year-old whether she still believed in the big guy.

“‘Cause at 7, it’s marginal, right?” Trump asked, a flash of humor that, this year, he has found little of as he waged a futile effort to overturn an election he lost.

He’s also made public his annual address to American service members stationed overseas during holidays past, and usually attends evening mass on Christmas Eve at Bethesda by the Sea, the stone church near Mar-a-Lago where he was married in 2005 (an event that incidentally landed Melania Trump on the cover of Vogue).

This year Trump spent the entire festive stretch sequestered at his club or on the golf course, never inviting the press — and by extension the public — to see what exactly he was doing.

He wrote on Twitter the “fake news” was “not invited” to his troops speech on Friday. And he said nothing about the blast in Nashville, which injured three people and seemed to grow more mysterious after authorities revealed the RV was broadcasting a message before it exploded that a “potential bomb would detonate within 15 minutes.”

Trump has long been sensitive to headlines that say he’s on vacation, aware that for much of the previous administration he complained on Twitter about the expense and optics of a commander-in-chief recreating.

As President himself, he’s found it harder to adhere to the same standards he set for President Barack Obama. On Christmas, Trump paid his 309th visit to one of his golf courses since he’s been in office.

Every day he has been in Palm Beach, the White House has added a highly strange note on his daily schedule alerting readers: “During the Holiday season, President Trump will continue to work tirelessly for the American People. His schedule includes many meetings and calls.”

But each day he’s made the same 10-minute drive from Mar-a-Lago, across the Intracoastal Waterway, to his golf course, where CNN’s cameras have captured him on the green in his red cap and white golf shirt.