How President Trump’s name on coronavirus stimulus checks could become a 2020 campaign issue

On Tuesday night, the Washington Post published a story that had been bubbling for weeks: The Trump administration was ordering that the president’s name appear on the memo line of the paper coronavirus stimulus checks set to be distributed soon.

The question was whether the change – which the IRS was reportedly only alerted to on Tuesday – would delay the checks actually being disbursed. Millions of Americans will receive their “Economic Impact Payments” via direct deposit which do not include the president’s name.

The Washington Post reported that the process could “slow their delivery by a few days.” Chad Hooper, national president of the IRS-founded Professional Managers Association (PMA), told Yahoo Finance that “reprogramming historically has led to delays.”

In 2001, the government sent a retroactive tax rebate as part of President George W. Bush’s tax legislation. Then, the 2008 Economic Stimulus Act, also during the Bush administration, included checks of $600 per individual with $300 per dependent child. The president’s name did not appear on checks in either of these instances.

President Trump during Monday’s the daily briefing of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The Treasury Department denied there will be any delays in a statement to Yahoo Finance. “Economic Impact Payment checks are scheduled to go out on time and exactly as planned—there is absolutely no delay whatsoever,” said a spokeswoman, who added that they expect the first round of physical checks to be in the mail by next week.

Hooper added that “our team works around the clock to try to make changes which would mitigate impact.”

The Treasury Department also recently announced that 80 million Americans will see the money this week via direct deposit. The first batch of printed checks is expected to arrive by April 24. Any delays may only impact the first round of checks, which will be distributed in waves.

An immediate Democratic reaction

The story appears set to become an immediate 2020 issue, especially if any delays materialize. In addition to questions about the appropriateness of the president’s name appearing on the check, Democrats are focused on how any disbursement glitches will play with average voters.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was one of the most prominent Democrats to weigh in saying in a statement that the effort could delay the payments and “is another shameful example of President Trump’s catastrophic failure to treat this crisis with the urgency it demands.”

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), a former presidential candidate himself, was asked about it on Yahoo Finance. “Are you freaking kidding me?” he responded. He added a possible preview of the message to voters: “I just think that the average person where I grew up, where we come from in Ohio, is just appalled by something so obnoxious as trying to get your name on your check for your own political gain.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the Democratic ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, said that “Donald Trump is further delaying cash payments to millions of Americans struggling to pay the rent and put food on the table to feed his ego.”

A range of Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill blasted Trump on Twitter.

A spokesperson for the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee told Yahoo Finance that “the committee was not consulted” about the addition. Members are closely monitoring the checks and will “be watching for any sort of delay the signatures may cause.”

The Republican pushback

On April 3, Trump was asked if he wanted to sign the stimulus checks himself. At the time, he said no. “There’s millions of checks,” he said. It’s “a Trump administration initiative but do I want to sign them? No.”

On Wednesday, the Trump campaign highlighted the Treasury Department’s statement denying any delays.  

The Treasury Department is focused on what it sees as a larger success story on the stimulus checks, specifically how 80 million payments are set to be made in the first 2-and-a-half weeks of the program. “This in and of itself is a major achievement,” the spokeswoman said. 

On Wednesday, the Treasury Department also launched a “Get My Payment” website to allow taxpayers set to receive a paper check to instead get the money more quickly via direct deposit (by inputting their tax and bank account information). 

A government check from 2001. Traditionally, government disbursement have only featured the signatures of civil servants, not political leaders. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Either way, the Democratic response has often featured phrases you could easily see in a campaign advertisement this fall.

Speaking about Americans in precarious financial situations, Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) told Yahoo Finance in an interview that “I hope they realize the reason that the check is going to take so long for them to get is because President Trump wanted his name on it.”

Ben Werschkul is a producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

Additional reporting by Jessica Smith and Denitsa Tsekova

Read more:

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Coronavirus stimulus checks: New IRS tool tracks your payment — but it’s down for many

Aid and stimulus guide for U.S. individuals and businesses

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