- 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 he has shown little interest in governing since he lost the election to 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 Republican lawmakers strongly supported the legislation. When Trump initially refused to sign the bill, it sent shockwaves through Washington.
The president demanded that the $600 direct payments, which Mnuchin had personally pushed for, be raised to $2,000. In calling for fatter checks, Trump effectively aligned himself with Democrats. The president ultimately caved and signed the bill on Sunday. But with the delay, Trump may have cost millions of Americans unemployment benefits while they're in desperate need of assistance.
In light of Trump's support, the Democratic-led House passed a stand-alone bill to raise the payments to $2,000.
Trump has continued to push for $2,000 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 elections in Georgia, which will determine whether Republicans maintain their majority in the upper chamber.
The $2,000 checks are extremely popular with Americans, but top Republican lawmakers have cited concerns about the deficit in pushing against bigger payments. By supporting the $2,000 checks, Trump has essentially ensured that Republicans would be painted as villains for objecting to a 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 Machiavellian maneuvers to ensure that the proposal is dead in the water. McConnell has injected poison pills into the bill, packaging the $2,000 checks with Trump's demands for repealing legal protections for social-media companies and opening an inquiry into his allegations of voter fraud.
McConnell knows Democrats would never agree to such a package, and that's the point. The Kentucky Republican said the bill the House passed 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. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a top ally of Trump's, is now urging McConnell to support a stand-alone vote on the checks. Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who are fighting for their political lives in the Georgia runoff elections, have also come out in support of the checks.
Trump's rejection of the election result is also tearing the GOP apart
Trump's rejection of the election result has also led to divisions in the GOP.
Congress is set to certify the Electoral College vote on January 6. A group of House Republicans plans to object to certification - which is typically a formality - and GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri on Wednesday became the first senator to say they'd also object.
Hawley's move would mean that the certification of Biden's win is delayed, but it will not affect the result of the election. The Missouri senator is forcing a pointless vote that would put Republican lawmakers on the spot on whether they're willing to embrace or reject Trump's effort to overturn the election, based on conspiracy theories and groundless assertions of mass voter fraud.
McConnell has privately urged senators against objecting to the certification, citing the political ramifications. Other Republicans have excoriated Hawley and any other GOP colleague who would support 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 renewing fears of war with Iran
Beyond his battles with Congress over the stimulus checks and the election result, Trump is raising fears of a conflict with Iran. The US this week sent B-52 bombers to fly over the Persian Gulf region to send a message to Tehran after a 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.
In a tweet on Thursday, Iran's top diplomat accused Trump of being involved in a "plot to FABRICATE pretext for war."
Roughly a year ago, Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani, and nearly sparked a new conflict in the Middle East.
Biden has accused the Pentagon of stonewalling him on vital national-security issues and 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 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 during 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.