Live Updates: Trump Signs Stimulus Bill, but Unemployment Lapses

Credit…Erin Scott for The New York Times

President Trump on Sunday abruptly signed a measure providing $900 billion in pandemic aid and funding the government through September, ending last-minute turmoil he himself had created over legislation that will offer an economic lifeline to millions of Americans and avert a government shutdown.

The signing was a sudden reversal for the president, who last week appeared poised to derail the bill. But it arrived after two critical unemployment programs lapsed, guaranteeing a delay in benefits for millions of unemployed Americans.

The legislative package will provide billions of dollars for the distribution of vaccines, funds for schools, small businesses, hospitals and American families, and money needed to keep the government open for the remainder of the fiscal year. The enactment came less than 48 hours before the government would have shut down and just days before an eviction moratorium and other critical pandemic relief provisions were set to expire.

The crisis was of the president’s own making: About 24 hours after Congress overwhelmingly approved the measure, Mr. Trump emerged in a surprise video from the White House on Tuesday night and called for direct payments to be more than tripled to $2,000 per adult.

Over the holiday weekend spent at his Florida estate and golf club, Mr. Trump appeared to double down on his reluctance to sign the legislation, calling for $2,000 direct payments and for Congress to curtail some of the government spending. But in an abrupt reversal on Sunday, he suddenly teased: “Good news on Covid Relief Bill. Information to follow!”

The most pressing issue prompted by the president’s delay was the fate of unemployment benefits. Mr. Trump’s decision to wait multiple days before signing the bill means that two unemployment programs intended to expand and extend federal unemployment benefits lapsed, that guidance for states waiting to reprogram systems and account for the new law was delayed and that millions of unemployed Americans were left not knowing whether federal relief would come.

Lawmakers in both parties spent the weekend urging Mr. Trump to sign the bill and reverse course, with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had helped break a monthslong logjam in Congress over stimulus aid urging either an immediate signature or a veto in order to “allow those in favor to act before it is too late.”

“I understand he wants to be remembered for advocating for big checks,” Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said on Fox News. “But the danger is he’ll be remembered for chaos and misery and erratic behavior if he allows this to expire.”

Even as he acquiesced to bipartisan pleas to sign the legislation, the president issued a series of demands for congressional action, though lawmakers showed little immediate eagerness to embrace them with just six days left in the session.

“I will sign the omnibus and Covid package with a strong message that makes clear to Congress that wasteful items need to be removed,” Mr. Trump said in a statement late Sunday, saying he would send a formal request asking for some of the funds to be removed. But the 25-day time frame for considering such a request will collide with the inauguration of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Jan. 20, and House Democrats said they do not plan to vote on the request.

Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

Jon Ossoff has always been adept at making his own breaks. He has consistently outperformed his professional résumé, impressing lawmakers many years his senior with his intellect and drive. And he has capitalized on his own well-off upbringing and a series of well-timed introductions and personal endorsements to rise through Democratic politics in Georgia.

He was 16 when he wrote a letter to John Lewis, the Georgia congressman and civil rights pioneer, that led to a spot as a volunteer in Mr. Lewis’s office.

When Mr. Ossoff was 19 and a rising sophomore at Georgetown, he went to work for Hank Johnson as the primary speechwriter and press aide for Mr. Johnson’s 2006 congressional campaign.

And Mr. Ossoff was 26 when, without any journalism experience other than an internship, he was made chief executive of a small documentary film company based in England.

Now 33, Mr. Ossoff is pursuing his most ambitious goal yet: to capture a seat in the U.S. Senate against an incumbent Republican, David Perdue, in a traditionally conservative state. If successful, he would become the youngest senator in 40 years.

Mr. Ossoff first emerged on the national stage in 2017, when his bid for a House seat in a special election provided Democrats the first opportunity to express resistance to President Trump. Though he lost a close race in a well-off district in suburban Atlanta, the energy surrounding his candidacy enabled him to shatter fund-raising records and build the political network that has put him within reach of the Senate.

That energy has hardly abated. Federal filings made public last week showed Mr. Ossoff to be the best-funded Senate candidate in history after pulling in $106.7 million from mid-October to mid-December — almost $40 million more than Mr. Perdue’s tally. The stunning totals reflect the stakes: If Mr. Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock win their runoff races on Jan. 5, Democrats will gain control of the Senate.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has campaigned for both candidates, hopes a Democratic Senate will help him deliver on his campaign promises. If Republicans retain both seats, Mr. Biden will face steeper challenges in confirming his cabinet choices and will probably have to pare back his ambitions on climate change, immigration, infrastructure spending and other priorities.

Still, Mr. Ossoff has little record to run on, or against.

He has mounted a campaign based less on his own experience and accomplishments and more on the idea that his election will help foster a political change in Georgia.

At campaign events, Mr. Perdue, 71, often fails to even mention Mr. Ossoff as an opponent. Instead, he and Kelly Loeffler, the other Republican Senate candidate, direct most of their attacks at Mr. Warnock, whom they view as a more substantive target.

None of this has dented Mr. Ossoff’s confidence. And far from apologizing for his youth, he has cast himself as the inheritor of the legacy of young people who have taken leadership roles in progressive political organizations in the South.

Credit…Audra Melton for The New York Times

More than 10 million Americans who have been left in financial limbo — many of them on the brink of poverty — spent the weekend anxiously awaiting word about whether President Trump would continue to withhold approval of the $900 billion pandemic relief package sent to him on Christmas Eve.

The bill extends unemployment benefits that ran out on Saturday while also providing most taxpayers with a one-time payment of $600, a vital boost for financially pressed workers and an economy on the edge of another contraction.

But President Trump’s unexpected demand for a $2,000 per individual payment put the aid effort in jeopardy, leaving those on the financial edge to wonder how they would pay the rent and put food on their tables.

Then, on Sunday night, he signed the measure.

One of those awaiting the president’s action, Melissa Martinez, 52, of Westminster, Colo., said she had applied for more than 50 jobs since being laid off as an operations manager for a transportation company in April. Like millions of others, her unemployment benefits expired the day after Christmas. “I’m out of options,” she said.

She has a lung condition that requires her to be on oxygen and makes her vulnerable to Covid-19, so she has looked only for jobs that will allow her to work remotely. Without the stimulus money, she said she would seek jobs that require her to show up in person.

Jennifer Bryant and her family need the aid in the stimulus bill to keep their home in Flowery Branch, Ga. She and her fiancé, who have five children between them, had been collecting the now-expired unemployment benefits. Besides the extension of those benefits, the relief package would keep in place a moratorium on evictions that will otherwise expire on Dec. 31.

“When Congress passed it, it was the biggest sigh of relief for us,” said Ms. Bryant, 39, who is about $10,000 behind on her rent. But then she watched a video that Mr. Trump posted on Twitter on Tuesday, in which he called the bill “a disgrace” and implied he would not sign it.

“I went to bed in tears,” Ms. Bryant said. “To have our hope pulled out from under us, our lifeline. It’s devastating.”

More than 20 million Americans are collecting unemployment benefits and the unemployment rate stands at 6.7 percent. A year ago, before the pandemic hit, the jobless rate touched 3.5 percent, tying a 50-year low.