In a step experts call unprecedented, President Donald Trump’s name will appear on the paper stimulus checks expected to start being issued via mail “early next week,” a Treasury Department spokeswoman confirmed to ABC News Wednesday, while denying adding his name would delay checks from going out.
"President Donald J. Trump" will appear on the memo line in the bottom-left corner of the $1,200 checks sent out to 70 million Americans to help deal with the pandemic, but not his signature.
Experts believe it's the first time a president’s name will appear on a payment from the IRS, an agency that has often sought to maintain its independence from partisan politics.
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The checks will be signed by an official from the Bureau of the Fiscal Services, the division of the Treasury Department that prints the checks.
While the Washington Post reports that adding "President Donald J. Trump" to the checks -- under a line that says "Economic Impact Payment" -- will slow the pace of the disbursements, the Treasury spokeswoman told ABC News, “Economic Impact Payment checks are scheduled to go out on time and exactly as planned—there is absolutely no delay whatsoever.“
“In fact, we expect the first checks to be in the mail early next week which is well in advance of when the first checks went out in 2008 and well in advance of initial estimates,” she added.
The White House had no comment on the Post reporting that Trump himself had privately asked Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, who oversees the IRS, to allow him to formally sign the checks, referring questions to the Treasury Department.
The decision to add the president's name to the checks came in the last couple of days following private discussions between the president and Mnuchin, an administration official told ABC News.
Asked on April 3 whether he wanted to sign the checks, Trump answered, "No. Me sign? No. There’s millions of checks. I’m going to sign them? No. It’s a Trump administration initiative. But do I want to sign them? No."
“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 said in a statement responding to news reports.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the House committee that oversees the IRS, is calling on the Treasury Department to officially explain if stimulus checks are being delayed due to adding Trump's name. He said he wants to know who was involved in the decision.
While the administration says 80 million people will receive stimulus payments through direct deposits, which do not include the president’s name, many lower income Americans will receive checks that do.
Donald Kettl, a professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, told ABC News that Trump “just doesn't have the legal authority to sign the checks.”
“The problem here is that it's not his money, it's the country's money. It's not the authority of the president of United States doing this, but an act of Congress signed by the president that's doing it,” he said.
“There is nothing that says that in the memo line that the president’s name has to be on it. There's no legal reason for doing this. The president doesn't have the legal authority to sign the checks as a signatory for the United States of America. So, it's impossible to see this in any way except as a political step,” Kettl added.
During the Great Recession in 2008 and 2009, the IRS dispersed two rounds of stimulus checks after economic relief packages passed Congress. Neither Presidents George W. Bush nor Barack Obama put their names on those checks.
“The general idea of presidents associating themselves with good news is not new,” Andrew Rudalevige, the Thomas Brackett Reed Professor of Government at Bowdoin College, told ABC News.
In the run-up to the 1972 presidential election, President Richard Nixon took credit for a significant cost of living increase to Social Security checks. Even though the legislation passed through a Democratic-controlled Congress to correspond with rising inflation, the Republican president sought to capitalize on the increase.
“There was a letter that went with that announcement that came from the president saying that he jacked up the cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security so he could get credit for that,” Rudalevige said.
He also pointed out that President Trump has attempted to capitalize on previous coronavirus-related mailings, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s postcard on social distancing sent out to millions of Americans in March.
“This again is a pretty blatant credit-claiming maneuver,” Rudalevige said.
Both Kettl and Rudalevige argued that while the president could politically benefit from his name appearing on the checks, it could also backfire.
Kettl said the administration’s actions could hurt its already fraught relationship with Democrats needed to secure further coronavirus legislation.
“It surely will poison the relationship that the Democrats and the Republicans on Capitol Hill already have with each other,” he told ABC News.
Congressional Democrats have been quick to blast the president with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer criticizing Trump on MSNBC last night.
"I wish it were the only ego trip. It seems almost every day the president thinks this crisis resolves around him, and his desires, his needs, his enemies," he told Rachel Maddow.
Rudalevige also said that Trump’s name on the checks could forever tie the president to the coronavirus crisis.
“(Trump) clearly thinks there will be a political benefit to the degree that these are limited,” he said.
“But to the degree that people are reminded that, ‘Oh, by the way, I'm unemployed and things are so bad that the federal government is writing checks, and, oh look, there's the person who I should blame for this. It may come both ways as reminder that the disaster is not entirely a political positive I would suggest for the president,” he added.
ABC News' Matthew Vann, Jordyn Phelps, Ben Gittleson, Mariam Khan and Trish Turner contributed to this report.
This report was featured in the Thursday, April 16, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
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