WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. President Donald Trump returned to Washington early from his Florida resort on Thursday, keeping up his fight with Congress over a defense bill and coronavirus aid checks while chronicling the â€œhistoric victoriesâ€ of his outgoing administration on Twitter.
The White House posted a holiday video message from Trump, who has yet to concede his November election defeat to Democrat Joe Biden, in which he praised his administrationâ€™s accomplishments, that he said included its handling of the coronavirus pandemic and rebuilding the economy.
â€œWe have to be remembered for whatâ€™s been done,â€ he said.
Trump, who had COVID-19 in October, frequently played down the severity of the pandemic and oversaw a response many health experts have criticized as disorganized, cavalier and sometimes ignored the science behind virus transmission.
Trump said the United States has produced a COVID-19 vaccine in record time and he had correctly predicted this would come before the year-end.
The United States has been one of the countries worst-hit by COVID-19 and leads the world in terms of fatalities, with nearly 340,000 deaths officially attributed to the virus.
Trump was originally scheduled to attend a New Yearâ€™s Eve party at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
The White House has given no reason for why he returned to Washington early, but it coincides with Trumpâ€™s fight with Congress over his veto of a major defense bill and his demand for increased COVID-19 stimulus checks, as well as a spike in tensions with Iran.
Trump ignored shouted questions from reporters about Iran and whether he would attend Bidenâ€™s Jan. 20 inauguration when he arrived back at the White House.
President-elect Biden is expected to spend a quiet night at his beach house in Delaware, although he is due to appear on the long-running ABC special â€œDick Clarkâ€™s New Yearâ€™s Rockinâ€™ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2021.â€
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the chamber, dealt a likely death blow on Wednesday to Trumpâ€™s bid to boost coronavirus aid to Americans, declining to schedule a swift vote on a bill to raise relief checks to $2,000 from the $600 included in a $892 billion relief package passed by Congress earlier this month.
McConnell on Thursday again rejected a vote on a standalone bill that would increase the stimulus checks, calling it â€œsocialism for rich peopleâ€ and â€œa terrible way to get help to families who actually need it.â€ The bill was passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Monday.
McConnell also said there should be nothing controversial about approving the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which Trump vetoed because it does not repeal certain legal protections for tech giants.
â€œWeâ€™ve enacted an annual NDAA for 59 straight years and counting,â€ McConnell said. â€œIn the next few days â€“ the easy way or the hard way â€“ weâ€™re going to do our job once again. This body will fulfill our responsibility to the men and women who protect our country.â€
The House voted to overturn Trumpâ€™s veto on Monday. The Senate is likely to override the veto on Saturday at the latest.
If that happens, it would mark the first time lawmakers have voted to override a Trump veto since he took office.
Republicans in Congress have largely stuck with Trump through four turbulent years, but the president is angry that they have not fully backed his unsupported claims of election fraud.
TENSIONS WITH REPUBLICANS
Trump sought to ramp up pressure on fellow Republicans to back the bigger checks for struggling Americans in a series of tweets in recent days in which he attacked Republican leaders as â€œpatheticâ€ and accused the party of having a â€œdeath wishâ€ if it did not increase stimulus payments.
Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri on Wednesday pledged to challenge Bidenâ€™s victory when Congress convenes to officially tally the Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, which could trigger a lengthy debate in the Republican-controlled Senate but has virtually no chance of overturning the results.
Some Republican senators had supported an increase in the stimulus payments, including David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, who face runoff elections in Georgia next week that will determine which party controls the Senate under Biden.
The tensions among Republicans have been exacerbated by the effort in Congress to reject Trumpâ€™s NDAA veto.
The Senate voted 80-12 on Wednesday to begin debate on the issue, with another procedural vote due on Friday.
U.S.-Iran tensions, meanwhile, have again spiked.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Thursday accused Washington of trying to fabricate a pretext for attacking his country and vowed Tehran would defend itself even though it does not seek war.
Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over the Middle East on Wednesday in what U.S. officials said was a message of deterrence to Iran ahead of the first anniversary of a U.S. drone strike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3, 2020.
Reporting by Jeff Mason, David Morgan and Trevor Hunnicutt; Additional reporting by Alexandra Alper and David Brunnstrom; Writing by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Paul Simao and Grant McCool