US President Donald Trump delivered a year-end video message today after returning early from holiday, listing his administration’s “truly historic victories”.
As the end of his presidency neared, Trump cut short his stay at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and got back to the White House a day ahead of schedule.
Upon his return, Trump released a nearly five-minute video message over Twitter to underscore his administration’s work on the vaccine, the economy and America’s “grit, strength and tenacity” in the face of challenges.
“We saved millions of American lives,” he said of his administration’s Covid response.
He called the vaccine, which is rolling out nationwide, a “truly unprecedented medical miracle” and said it would be available to every American early this coming year. “We have to be remembered for what’s been done.”
After listing his administration’s achievements for four minutes, Trump says “it’s so easy if you know what you’re doing”.
The White House didn’t give a reason for the President’s early return, and the schedule change means Trump will miss the glitzy New Year’s Eve party held annually at Mar-a-Lago.
But it comes as tensions escalate between the United States and Iran in the final weeks of his administration.
There is concern in Washington that Iran could order further military retaliation for the US killing last January 3 of top Iranian military commander General Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s initial response, five days after that deadly US drone strike, was a ballistic missile attack on a military base in Iraq that caused brain concussion injuries to about 100 US troops.
Iranian-supported Shiite militia groups launched a rocket attack on the US Embassy compound in Baghdad on December 20. No one was killed, but Trump said days later that Iran was on notice.
“Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over,” Trump tweeted on December 23. He added: “We hear chatter of additional attacks against Americans in Iraq.”
The White House announced the abrupt change in the President’s schedule on Thursday, hours after Republican Senator Josh Hawley said he would raise objections next week when Congress meets to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.
It’s the latest futile attempt by Trump and his allies to fight his election defeat and overturn the will of the voters, and scores of previous challenges have failed, including at the Supreme Court. Former Attorney General William Barr and other administration officials have said they saw no evidence of mass voter fraud, as Trump has claimed.
Trump, accompanied by first lady Melania Trump, arrived at Mar-a-Lago after dark on December 23 and spent practically the entire holiday focused on subverting the election results. That includes an effort to get Republican lawmakers to challenge the vote when Congress meets on January 6 to affirm Biden’s 306-232 win in the Electoral College.
A group of Republicans in the Democratic-controlled House already had said they will object on Trump’s behalf. They needed at least one senator to join them to force votes in both chambers, and Hawley stepped up.
The GOP objections, however, will not prevent Biden from being sworn in as president on January 20, and Senator Kamala Harris from becoming vice president.
During his holiday, Trump also took near daily swipes on Twitter at Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp and other state elections officials over his loss to Biden in that state.
While he has remained focused on the effort to stay in power, Trump has stayed mum on major developments during the holiday break, including a Christmas Day bombing in Nashville, Tennessee, the discovery of a new and apparently more contagious variant of the coronavirus in the United States and the death of congressman-elect Luke Letlow from Covid-19 complications.
Since losing the election, the usually chatty Trump has avoided engaging with reporters, even those who accompanied him to Florida. He went as far as barring them from his Christmas Day remarks to the troops, the type of event the White House typically opens for news coverage.
Before he left Washington, Trump stunned Capitol Hill by objecting to spending in a government funding bill that had been paired with a fresh round of needed coronavirus relief that included US$600 payments to most Americans. Much of that spending had been sought by his own administration.
Trump jeopardised the financial aid and flirted with a government shutdown by implying that he wouldn’t sign the sweeping legislation unless lawmakers increased the payments to US$2000, a sum sought by most Democrats and some Republicans.
Trump eventually signed the bill on Monday after several days of uncertainty in exchange for congressional votes on his demands. He also wants Congress to lift certain protections for social media companies and investigate his unfounded claims of fraud in the election.
The House voted this week in favor of increasing the payments, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all but shut the door on Thursday when he declared that Congress had provided enough pandemic aid.
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