Trump denied wanting his name on relief checks. Here's how it happened
WASHINGTON - When President Donald Trump publicly denied on April 3 that he wanted his signature on stimulus checks that would be sent to millions of Americans struggling amid a pandemic, officials in the Treasury Department were already secretly working on a plan to get the president's name on the payments.
Trump, who was reportedly musing about placing his signature on the checks as early as late March, defended the unprecedented move Wednesday.
"I don't know too much about it. But I understand my name is there," Trump said. "I don't know where they're going, how they're going. I do understand it's not delaying anything, and I'm satisfied with that. I don't imagine it's a big deal. I'm sure people will be very happy to get a big, fat, beautiful check and my name is on it."
The effort to put Trump's name on millions of "Economic Impact Payment" checks began shortly after the president on March 27 signed the bipartisan $2 trillion legislation aimed at stemming the financial fallout from a global pandemic that has halted much of the economy. It will be the first time a president's name appears on an Internal Revenue Service disbursement.
While Trump has spent recent weeks talking with friends and supporters about his coronavirus response and his reelection campaign, the effort to place his name on the checks was largely kept secret until this week, with top White House officials in the dark until the plan became public. The White House press office did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.
Some senior officials at the IRS did not find out about the plan until Tuesday morning, underscoring the unorthodox process that has turned Trump's desire into reality.
After privately suggesting to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin that he be allowed to formally sign the checks, Trump settled for having his name printed in the memo section, according to administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The placement of Trump's name on the stimulus checks was taken out of the hands of the IRS early in the process, according to two government officials. The plan has been closely held within the IRS, and Commissioner Charles Rettig has not discussed it on his daily calls with his top executives, senior agency officials said.
When the decision came down from the Treasury Department late Monday that the first batch of paper checks would include "Donald J. Trump" on the memo line, it was announced to just five senior IRS officials.
The IRS, already tasked with quickly disbursing hundreds of billions of dollars in payments to Americans, is now rushing to prepare checks that bear Trump's name. The signature line will continue to feature the name of a civil servant, keeping with long-standing practice, but the IRS must change the computer code to add Trump's name before the Bureau of the Fiscal Service can print the checks, officials said.
On Wednesday, working remotely on laptops in their homes across the country, the computer code developers and testers on the IRS's technology teams raced to program the agency's mainframe computers to add the president's name to the template for millions of paper stimulus checks.
They're the first batch to be issued to Americans whose banking information the IRS does not have. With many Americans struggling to pay their bills, making the change and testing the new system must be done under a time crunch. The process is supposed to start on Thursday. The IRS and the Treasury Department said the last-minute change would not delay the payments.
Democratic leaders seized on a report in The Washington Post that the decision to put Trump's name on the relief checks could delay the delivery of some of the payments.
"Delaying direct payments to vulnerable families just to print his name on the check is another shameful example of President Trump's catastrophic failure to treat this crisis with the urgency it demands," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Wednesday.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the potential delay reflected the "height of insecurity" by Trump. "In the midst of this crisis, President Trump is doing what he always tends to do: make it all about Trump," he said.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., took to Twitter to voice her displeasure, calling the move "a cruel political stunt from a petulant man who's failing our families."
Some Republicans defended Trump.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said previous presidents took steps to show the public their role in stimulus efforts. Grassley issued a statement defending the decision as nothing out of the ordinary and carrying a "negligible expense."