In ushering in one of the largest infusions of federal aid since the Great Depression, President Biden is planning an aggressive campaign to inform voters of the benefits that are coming to them through the $1.9 trillion economic relief package approved on Wednesday, an attempt to ensure that he and his fellow Democrats get full political credit for the first big victory of his administration.
The effort will start with Mr. Biden’s prime-time address to the nation on Thursday and include travel by the president and Vice President Kamala Harris across multiple states, events that will feature a wide range of cabinet members emphasizing the legislation’s themes, as well as endorsements from Republican mayors, according to administration officials.
Mr. Biden is set to deliver the Thursday address just after 8 p.m. from the East Room of the White House, and said on Wednesday that he planned to “talk about what we’ve been through as a nation this past year.”
“But more importantly, I’m going to talk about what comes next,” he continued. “I’m going to launch the next phase of the Covid response and explain what we will do as a government and what we will ask of the American people.”
The address, which is taking place around the midpoint of Mr. Biden’s first 100 days in office, is shaping up to be one of the biggest moments for the new president since his inauguration.
It is taking place during a week of forward momentum for the new administration, not just from the passage of the stimulus plan but also from progress in filling out the president’s cabinet. On Wednesday alone, the Senate confirmed three of his picks: Merrick B. Garland as attorney general, Marcia L. Fudge as secretary of housing and urban development and Michael Regan as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
And on Thursday, the Senate is scheduled to hold procedural votes for two more cabinet selections: Xavier Becerra for secretary of health and human services and Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico for interior secretary.
The week will end with what will be another moment of triumph for the new administration, as Mr. Biden plans to sign the stimulus plan on Friday.
The White House’s decision to go out and sell the package after its passage reflects a lesson from the early months of the Obama administration. In 2009, fighting to help the economy recover from a crippling financial crisis, President Barack Obama never succeeded in building durable popular support for a similar stimulus bill and allowed Republicans to define it on their terms, fueling a partisan backlash and the rise of the Tea Party movement.
Mr. Biden starts with an advantage: The legislation is widely popular in national polling. And it will deliver a series of tangible benefits to low- and middle-income Americans, including direct payments of $1,400 per individual, just as the economy’s halting recovery from the pandemic recession is poised to accelerate.
After his address on Thursday night, which is expected to run under 20 minutes, Mr. Biden will headline a weekslong public relations effort. The White House announced Wednesday that Mr. Biden would visit the Philadelphia suburbs next week.
The economic relief plan that is headed to President Biden’s desk has been billed as the United States’ most ambitious antipoverty initiative in a generation. But inside the $1.9 trillion package, there are plenty of perks for the middle class, too.
An analysis by the Tax Policy Center published this week estimated that middle-income families — those making $51,000 to $91,000 per year — would see their after-tax income rise by 5.5 percent as a result of the tax changes and stimulus payments in the legislation. This is about twice what that income group received as a result of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Here are some of the ways the bill will help the middle class.
Americans will receive stimulus checks of up to $1,400 per person, including dependents.
The size of the payments are scaled down for individuals making more than $75,000 and married couples earning more than $150,000. And they are cut off for individuals making $80,000 or more and couples earning more than $160,000. Those thresholds are lower than in the previous relief bills, but they will still be one of the biggest benefits enjoyed by those who are solidly in the middle class.
Tax credits for parents
The most significant change is to the child tax credit, which will be increased to up to $3,600 for each child under 6, from $2,000 per child. The credit, which is refundable for people with low tax bills, is $3,000 per child for children ages 6 to 17.
The legislation also bolsters the tax credits that parents receive to subsidize the cost of child care this year. The current credit is worth 20 to 35 percent of eligible expenses, with a maximum value of $2,100 for two or more qualifying individuals. The stimulus bill increases that amount to $4,000 for one qualifying individual or $8,000 for two or more.
Cheaper health insurance
After four years of being on life support, the Affordable Care Act is expanding, a development that will largely reward middle-income individuals and families, since those on the lower end of the income spectrum generally qualify for Medicaid.
Because the relief legislation expands the subsidies for buying health insurance, a 64-year-old earning $58,000 would see monthly payments decline to $412 from $1,075 under current law, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
A rescue for pensioners
One of the more contentious provisions in the legislation is the $86 billion allotted to fixing failing multiemployer pensions. The money is a taxpayer bailout for about 185 union pension plans that are so close to collapse that without the rescue, more than a million retired truck drivers, retail clerks, builders and others could be forced to forgo retirement income.
The legislation gives the weakest plans enough money to pay hundreds of thousands of retirees their full pensions for the next 30 years.
The House on Thursday approved a bill that would require universal background checks for gun purchasers, and was poised to pass a second to strengthen them, as Democrats pushed past Republican opposition to advance major gun safety measures after decades of congressional inaction.
In a vote that fell largely along party lines, the House passed legislation that would require background checks for buyers at gun shows and online, expanding a requirement that currently exists only for in-person purchasers. It was on the brink of approving a second measure that would extend the time given to the F.B.I. to vet buyers flagged by the national instant check system.
Despite being widely popular with voters, the measures face what is expected to be insurmountable opposition in the Senate, where Republicans have resisted imposing any limits on guns, including stricter background-check requirements.
The House voted 227-203 to approve the universal background check measure. A midday vote was expected to pass the one giving federal law enforcement more time to vet gun purchasers.
Both pieces of legislation are aimed at addressing gaps in existing gun laws.
The measure passed on Thursday would require purchasers shopping for firearms online or at gun shows to have their backgrounds vetted before they could receive the weapon. They are not currently required to do so, although in-person purchasers, who make up the majority of such transactions, are.
The second bill addresses what is known as the “Charleston loophole,” which restricts to three days the time period for the F.B.I. to conduct a background check, allowing many purchasers to evade them. The provision allowed Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine people in 2015 at a historically Black church in Charleston, S.C., to buy a handgun even though he should have been barred from purchasing the weapon. The bill would extend the amount of time the F.B.I. has to complete a check for an additional week, to 10 days.
“Let’s not add more names to this registry of grief,” Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, said, reading from a lengthy list of recent mass shootings and noting that they had sharply fallen in the last year. “Let’s not rely on a pandemic to do what we ought to have done so long ago. Let’s pass these bills and reduce gun violence the right way.”
Democrats first passed the legislation in 2019, shortly after they recaptured control of the House, making it a centerpiece of their agenda as they sought to capitalize on an outpouring of student activism in favor of stricter gun safety measures after a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. Polling then and now, conducted by multiple firms, shows that over 80 percent of voters support the legislation.
Last month, President Biden called on Congress to enact the bills in a statement commemorating the three-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting.
“This administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call,” he said.
Still, the bills approved on Thursday will join a growing stack of liberal legislation that is widely popular with voters but appears destined to languish in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats must win the support of 10 Republicans to pass most major measures. It is part of a concerted strategy to increase pressure on Democrats resistant to eliminating the legislative filibuster while forcing Republicans to take difficult votes ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
“We are not going away until this legislation passes,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “We will meet the challenge to the conscience of the country, when it comes to the gun violence crisis in our country.”
Days before his inauguration, President-elect Biden was eyeing a $1.3 trillion rescue plan aimed squarely at the middle class he has always championed, but pared down to attract some Republican support.
In a private conversation, Senator Chuck Schumer, the New York Democrat who is now the majority leader, echoed others in the party and urged Mr. Biden to think bigger. True, the coronavirus pandemic had disrupted the lives of those in the middle, but it had also plunged millions of people into poverty. With Democrats in control, the new president should push for something closer to $2 trillion, Mr. Schumer told Mr. Biden.
On Friday, “Scranton Joe” Biden, whose five-decade political identity has been largely shaped by his appeal to union workers and blue-collar tradesmen like those from his Pennsylvania hometown, will sign into law a $1.9 trillion spending plan that includes the biggest antipoverty effort in a generation.
The new role as a crusader for the poor represents an evolution for Mr. Biden, who spent much of his 36 years in Congress concentrating on foreign policy, judicial fights, gun control and criminal justice issues by virtue of his committee chairmanships in the Senate. For the most part, he ceded domestic economic policy to others.
But aides say he has embraced his new role. Mr. Biden has done so in part by following progressives in his party to the left and accepting the encouragement of his inner circle to use Democratic power to make sweeping rather than incremental change. He has also been moved by the inequities in pain and suffering that the pandemic has inflicted on the poorest Americans, aides say.
“We all grow,” said Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat, whose endorsement in the primaries was crucial to Mr. Biden winning the presidency. “During the campaign, he recognized what was happening in this country, this pandemic. It is not like anything we have had in 100 years. If you are going to address Covid-19’s impact, you have to address the economic disparities that exist in this country.”
A vast share of the money approved by Congress will benefit the lowest-income Americans, including tax credits and direct checks, of which nearly half will be delivered to people who are unemployed, below the poverty line or barely making enough to feed and shelter their families. Billions of dollars will be used to extend benefits for the unemployed. And child tax credits will largely benefit the poorest Americans.
“Millions of people out of work through no fault of their own,” Mr. Biden said moments after the relief act passed the Senate over the weekend. “I want to emphasize that: through no fault of their own. Food bank lines stretching for miles. Did any of you ever think you’d see that in America, in cities all across this country?”
More than seven weeks after President Biden took office, White House staff members are working from California, Puerto Rico, Texas and elsewhere around the country, a striking indication of the strange reality of building a new administration during a pandemic as well as the sharp shift from the Trump administration’s casual approach to dealing with the coronavirus.
Many Biden officials have never met in person with colleagues they interact with on a daily basis. Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, has met her chief of staff only on a video screen.
The setup might be inconvenient and somewhat anticlimactic for government officials who would normally be sporting coveted White House badges and establishing regular after-hours watering holes. But those who chose not to move during the coronavirus pandemic said it had also given them an outside-the-bubble perspective as they experienced firsthand a grim reality that many of the administration’s policies are trying to address.
Emmy Ruiz, the White House’s director of political strategy and outreach, said she became alarmed when she lost water after the deep freeze in Texas last month and immediately recognized it as a “huge red flag.” Because she lives near a hospital, her neighborhood had until then been prioritized in keeping power and utilities running. She called the nurses she knew at the hospital, where her son was born, “and they were painting a very dire picture,” Ms. Ruiz said. “The hospitals needed water, and in some cases they had to transfer patients, but the roads were ice.”
Ms. Ruiz relayed the concerns she was hearing in her neighborhood to Julie Chávez Rodriguez, the White House intergovernmental affairs director, who was in direct contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Security Council. Ms. Ruiz also reached out to local government officials and county judges to help put them in touch with the federal government for support.
The American Rescue Plan, which gained final approval from Congress on Wednesday, will pump $1.9 trillion into the economy.
The New York Times’s personal finance experts, Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard, combed through the bill to explain what it means in real terms to real people. Here are some of the questions they answer:
Two whistle-blowers on Wednesday accused Jeffrey Bossert Clark, a former Justice Department official, of politicizing the hiring process in the waning days of President Donald J. Trump’s tenure by improperly elevating an employee who was seen as loyal to the former president.
Mr. Clark, who headed the Environment and Natural Resources Division and was acting head of the department’s Civil Division, promoted an employee days before he left the department in January. The employee had previously worked on a case, Garza v. Hargan, that involved the Trump administration’s effort to bar pregnant teens who were in federal immigration custody from obtaining abortions, the whistle-blowers said in a letter to the Justice Department’s inspector general and to members of Congress.
Few career employees at the department had been willing to work on the case, according to the whistle-blowers’ letter. And the policy was ultimately deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge.
On Jan. 12, Mr. Clark announced that the person who had worked on the Garza case had been hired to be an assistant director over two candidates who were more qualified, the whistle-blowers said in their letter.
The whistle-blowers’ letter was earlier reported by NPR.
The whistle-blowers claimed that the Civil Division changed its longstanding practices around hiring for that type of position in order to allow a political appointee to select the finalists. They said that Mr. Clark then engaged in “perfunctory” 15-minute interviews with each of the candidates before choosing “the one and only candidate who volunteered to defend one of the Trump administration’s most controversial policies.”
“Mr. Clark abused his authority by injecting himself into the career staff promotion process,” the whistle-blowers said in their letter. They called the hiring process “a sham selection process.”
Mr. Clark said in a statement that managers in the Civil Division sent him three candidates to interview, “each of whom they rated well-qualified.”
“I interviewed all three using the same process I had used for other positions,” Mr. Clark said. “I think it’s very unfortunate that the disappointed applicants would attack their own colleague’s selection. That candidate had strong leadership qualities and was the best qualified.”
Mr. Clark described the decision by the whistle-blowers to highlight that the lawyer who was promoted had worked on the Garza litigation as “a baseless attempt to cast aspersions.”
David Z. Seide, a lawyer for the whistle-blowers and a senior counsel at the Government Accountability Project, said in a statement that Mr. Clark’s “last-minute politicization of the D.O.J. hiring process” called for “immediate, close and transparent oversight and investigations.”
Mr. Clark made headlines in January for his efforts to help Mr. Trump overturn the results of the election, a plan that nearly led to the ouster of the acting attorney general and a mass resignation at the top of the agency.
Mr. Clark denied any wrongdoing and said that the discussions reported by The New York Times had been distorted by colleagues who had improperly shared them. The Justice Department’s inspector general is investigating the incident.
Before the House gave final approval to a $1.9 trillion stimulus package on Wednesday without any Republican support, Speaker Nancy Pelosi admonished Republicans for their opposition to the measure, declaring, “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”
As if to make her point, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, tweeted approvingly just hours after the bill passed about the $28.6 billion included for “targeted relief” for restaurants. His post did not mention that he had voted no.
Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief.
This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.https://t.co/Ob4pRb9Xh4
— Senator Roger Wicker (@SenatorWicker) March 10, 2021
“I’m not going to vote for $1.9 trillion just because it has a couple of good provisions,” he later told reporters.
Mr. Wicker’s post received an unwelcome reception on Twitter, prompting thousands of responses, many of them pointing out that he had voted against the measure, known as the American Rescue Plan.
Representative Debbie Dingell, Democrat of Michigan, wrote in her own tweet that she had “worked with restaurants in my district for almost a year to secure aid they desperately need,” adding, “Republican senators, including @SenatorWicker, rejected this critical aid.”
“Too many have closed & many more are suffering,” she said of the restaurants. “Just happy we got them help today despite his objections.”
Another tweet, from an account run by Senate Democrats, offered a reminder of how a certain vote was cast: “The American Rescue Plan will deliver for American families and small businesses — and Senator Wicker voted NO.”
F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors are investigating Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers militia, for any role he might have played in the storming of the Capitol two months ago, according to court documents and a law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter.
While the inquiry is in its nascent stages, the official said, its existence shows that investigators appear to be targeting the senior leadership of the paramilitary group that Mr. Rhodes has run for more than a decade. If he were ultimately charged, it could amount to a crippling blow to the militia.
The Oath Keepers, who largely draw their members from the ranks of former military and law enforcement personnel, have from the start been a central focus of the sprawling investigation into the Capitol riot, which has led to charges against nearly 300 people. Eleven members of the group stand accused of a variety of crimes stemming from the siege, most prominently an alleged conspiracy reaching back to shortly after Election Day to break into the Capitol and interfere with Congress’s Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College vote.
As three cases against his subordinates have moved through the courts, Mr. Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper, has been mentioned at least six times in legal filings as Person One, effectively putting him on notice that investigators are examining his conduct. Prosecutors have noted, for example, that two days before the Capitol attack, he issued a “call for action” on the Oath Keepers’ website, urging “all patriots who can be in D.C.” to “stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight to defeat the enemies foreign and domestic who are attempting a coup.”
In the same communiqué, Mr. Rhodes announced that the Oath Keepers would be sending “multiple volunteer security teams” to provide protection to “V.I.P.s” at events surrounding Mr. Trump’s speech and rally in Washington earlier on the day of the riot. The New York Times has identified a group of Oath Keepers who worked as security guards for Mr. Trump’s close ally and adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. at such events, and this week two of them — Roberto Minuta and Joshua A. James — were arrested in connection with the Capitol attack.
In court papers filed on Monday night, prosecutors significantly raised the stakes against Mr. Rhodes, saying that they now have evidence that he was in direct communication with some of the plot suspects before, during and after the assault on the Capitol.
Mr. Rhodes did not respond on Wednesday to messages seeking comment; he told The Washington Post that his group had “no plan to enter the Capitol.” A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did an F.B.I. spokeswoman.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, will meet next week with two senior Chinese government officials, the Biden administration’s first in-person diplomatic encounter with its chief foreign rival.
In a statement on Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said that Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan would meet in Anchorage on March 18 with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, and its top diplomat, Yang Jiechi. The announcement comes days after a speech by Mr. Blinken and a White House national security strategy document identified China as a top threat to the United States.
In his speech, Mr. Blinken called China the one country able “to seriously challenge the stable and open international system.” U.S. officials expect to compete with Beijing in areas ranging from technology to trade to political influence — but also aim to cooperate on matters like climate change, the coronavirus and the global economy.
Testifying on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Blinken said the meeting would be an opportunity “to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behavior,” including economic effects on American workers.
But he said that he and Mr. Sullivan would also “explore whether there are other avenues for cooperation.”
Mr. Blinken added that the meeting was not the start of a strategic dialogue, and that follow-up meetings would depend on “tangible progress and outcomes” on Washington’s concerns.
U.S. officials did not describe a specific agenda for the meeting. Mr. Blinken said on Twitter that he looked forward to engaging the Chinese officials “on a range of issues, including those where we have deep disagreements.”
Mr. Blinken will be on the return leg of his first foreign trip, to Asia, which the State Department also announced on Wednesday. He will depart on March 15 with planned stops in Tokyo and Seoul, and return to Washington from Anchorage on March 19.
In a statement about the Asia trip, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said that Mr. Blinken would “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to strengthening our alliances” and to “highlight cooperation” with allies in the region.