President Donald Trump on Monday signed legislation to help 9/11 first-responders and the families of ones who died from health complications, even though the New Yorker and his administration never publicly got behind the bill.
Aides contend the president chose to push for “yea” votes behind the scenes.
Trump, a Queens native who set up shop in Manhattan as an adult and real estate executive, weighs in on a range of issues, whether in person or on Twitter. Sometimes he inserts himself into Capitol Hill debates and legislative efforts, making things difficult for lawmakers trying to pass bills.
But as former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart grabbed headlines and cable news time for his advocacy of the legislation on Capitol Hill, Trump opted against getting publicly involved — even with $10.2 billion in aid over a decade on the line.
There were no fiery tweets attacking lawmakers who erected barriers to the bill that received just 14 “no” votes as both chambers sent it to Trump’s desk with rare overwhelmingly bipartisan vote tallies.
The White House Office of Management and Budget did not release a “Statement of Administration Policy” document explaining what the president supported within the legislation, which it often does on major bills.
And as the House and Senate prepared to vote on the measure, new White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham opted against issuing an official statement stating definitively that Trump would sign it into law.
One White House official, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said, “Just because the president didn’t talk a lot about the bill publicly doesn’t mean he didn’t have conversations privately.”
“He back-channeled this one,” the official said. “Anytime anyone asked us about it, we always said he supported the bill and the first responders.”
Two conservative Republican Senate allies, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, were the lone members of that chamber to oppose the measure. But the president, despite his support for it, notably opted against criticizing the duo. (Earlier this month, Trump called Paul a “friend” when responding to a question about the senator talking directly to Iranian officials about their country’s nuclear ambitions.)
Trump’s support of those men and women who, as he put it Monday, “ran toward the wreckage, into a ball of flame like, frankly, no one in this country had ever seen” has been largely overshadowed by his controversial comments about al-Qaida’s attack on his hometown.
For instance, he has claimed he saw “thousands of people … cheering” that day from “large Arab populations” in neighboring New Jersey as the World Trade Center towers crumbled to the ground, killing thousands inside. (The independent fact-checking organization PolitiFact found no evidence to back up that claim, rating it “Pants on Fire.”)
The president has hosted many official events honoring or including first-responders, and he frequently asserts they are on his side — along with other groups like the military and “bikers.” On Monday at the Rose Garden bill signing ceremony, he said he had spent a lot of time with first-responders.
“I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first-responder,” he said. “But I was down there, I spent a lot of time down there with you.”
A few hours after posting more tweets criticizing members like Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and the city of Baltimore, Trump said the 9/11 bill signing event was a chance to “come together as one nation to support our Sept. 11 heroes.”
“We have an obligation — and it’s a sacred obligation — to the families of the first =-responders,” Trump said, noting that some first-responders on the day of the terrorist attack made “the ultimate sacrifice.”
The often-divisive president had a message for 9/11 first-responders in the audience, telling them they showed the “entire world nothing will ever break America’s spirit.”
Also among those in the audience was Rudy Giuliani, who was mayor of New York on 9/11 and is now a Trump lawyer who frequently disparages the president’s political foes on cable television. Trump singled him out for praise: “Rudy’s got a lot of guts.”