House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the top Democrats in Congress, both called President Donald Trump's executive orders on coronavirus relief unconstitutional, although they stopped short of explicitly saying they would sue him. Trump signed the executive actions on Saturday, a day after Congress and the White House were unable to reach an agreement on a fifth coronavirus relief bill. Pelosi even said she agreed with Arkansas Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican who referred to Trump's orders as "unconstitutional slop."
"Well, the fact is, is that whether they're legal or not takes time to figure out," Pelosi told CNN on State of the Union Sunday morning. "I associate my remarks with what the Senator (Ben) Sasse who says, they're 'unconstitutional slop.' Right now we want to address the needs of the American people." When CNN's Dana Bash asked if Pelosi planned to sue to block the orders from going into effect, Pelosi said her constitutional advisers told her they are "absurdly unconstitutional."
Separately, Schumer appeared on ABC News' This Week, where he criticized how Trump's plan to sent unemployed workers $400 a week in federal unemployment benefits. Schumer called it an "unworkable plan," adding, "Most states will take months to implement it because it's brand-new. It's sort of put together with spit and paste. And many states, because they have to chip in $100, and they don't have money, won't do it." Schumer also pointed out that Trump's memorandum calls for funds from FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund to be used for the program, right at the start of hurricane season.
The plan calls for states to cover 25% of the cost of the weekly unemployment benefit, meaning the federal government contributes $300 a week. The overall $400 per week is less than the $600 weekly program included in the CARES Act that expired on July 31. Democrats wanted the $600 weekly benefit extended through next year as part of the HEROES Act, but Senate Republicans lowered it to just $200 weekly in the HEALS Act.
There is confusion from experts over whether or not Trump can unilaterally move around federal funds without Congressional approval to implement this new plan. When George Stephanopoulos asked Schumer if it was "legal" for Trump to do so, the New York Democrat replied, "Well, you know, I will leave that up to the attorneys." He added, "It doesn't do the job. It doesn't come — it's not going to go into effect in most places, because — for weeks or months because it's so put together in a crazy way. If he just would have renewed the $600, as we do in the HEROES bill through January, things would flow smoothly."
Trump also signed memorandums creating a payroll tax holiday for Americans making $100,000 a year or less and deferring student loan payments. Another executive order focused on assistance to "renters and homeowners." However, this executive order will only help residents of buildings with federally guaranteed mortgages, not those who live in rentals with private mortgages, notes Politico. It also does not extend the eviction moratorium, but instead asks the federal government to find "any and all available Federal funds to provide temporary financial assistance to renters and homeowners" whose hardships were caused by the pandemic.
On Saturday, Pelosi and Schumer called on Congressional Republicans to resume negotiations on coronavirus relief. "Everything is left out, our assistance to the schools, feeding the hungry, helping people who are going to be evicted," Pelosi told CNN Sunday. "The President's moratorium, he just did a study or a look at a moratorium. So again, something's wrong."