Live Updates: House Passes Biden’s Stimulus Plan

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to President Biden’s sweeping, nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package, as Democrats acted over unified Republican opposition to push through an emergency pandemic aid plan that included a vast expansion of the country’s social safety net.

By a vote of 220-211, the House passed the measure and cleared it for Mr. Biden’s signature, cementing one of the largest injections of federal aid since the Great Depression. Mr. Biden is expected to sign the bill Friday. All but one Democrat, Representative Jared Golden of Maine, voted in favor.

It would provide another round of direct payments for many Americans, an extension of federal jobless benefits and billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and provide relief for schools, states, tribal governments and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

The vote was the culmination of a swift push by Mr. Biden and Democrats, newly in control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, to address the toll of the pandemic and begin putting in place their broader economic agenda. It includes a set of measures that is estimated to slash poverty by a third this year and potentially cut child poverty in half, including expansions of tax credits, food aid and rental and mortgage assistance.

“With the stroke of a pen, President Biden is going to lift millions and millions of children out of poverty in this country,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, said. “It is time to make a bold investment in the health and security of the American people — a watershed moment.”

While Republicans argued the plan, whose final cost was estimated at $1.856 trillion, was bloated and unaffordable, polls indicate that it has widespread support, with 70 percent of Americans favoring the package, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday.

“House Democrats have abandoned any pretense of unity,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the minority leader. “This isn’t a rescue bill, it isn’t a relief bill. It’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic.”

Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats planned an elaborate effort to promote it throughout the country, racing to claim credit for the coronavirus aid and a set of provisions they hope to make permanent in the years to come, and to punish Republicans politically for failing to support any of it.

Final passage came less than two months after Mr. Biden took office and about a year after cities and states across the country began to shutter to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The measure will provide $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments and $10 billion for critical state infrastructure projects; $14 billion for the distribution of a vaccine, and $130 billion to primary and secondary schools. The bill also includes $30 billion for transit agencies, $45 billion in rental, utility and mortgage assistance, and billions more for small businesses and live performance venues.

It would provide another round direct payments to American taxpayers, sending checks of up to $1,400 to individuals making $80,000 or less, single parents earning $120,000 or less and couples with household income of no more than $160,000.

Federal unemployment payments of $300 per week would be extended through Sept. 6, and up to $10,200 of jobless aid from last year would be tax-free for households with incomes below $150,000. It would also provide a benefit of $300 per child for those age 5 and younger — and $250 per child ages 6 to 17, increasing the value of the so-called child tax credit.

The legislation also contains a substantial, though temporary, expansion of health care subsidies that could slash monthly insurance payments for those purchasing coverage under the Affordable Care Act. And for six months, it would fully cover Cobra health care costs for people who have lost a job or had their hours cut and who buy coverage from their former employer.

The American Rescue Plan, which was passed by the Senate over the weekend and is now back before the House of Representatives, would put 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:

Judge Merrick Garland testified at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington last month.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Senate voted to confirm Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday to serve as attorney general, giving the former prosecutor and widely respected federal judge the task of leading the Justice Department at a time when the nation faces domestic extremist threats and a reckoning over civil rights.

Mr. Garland was confirmed 70-30 by senators, with 20 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in supporting him. He is expected to be sworn in at the Justice Department on Thursday.

Judge Garland has vowed to restore public faith in a department embroiled in political controversy under former President Donald J. Trump, who sought both to undermine federal law enforcement when it scrutinized him and his associates and to wield its power to benefit him personally and politically.

At his confirmation hearing, Judge Garland, 68, said that becoming attorney general would “be the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced and the rights of all Americans are protected.”

Judge Garland has amassed decades of credentials in the law. He clerked for the Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., worked for years as a federal prosecutor and led major investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and others before being confirmed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 1997. He was chosen by President Barack Obama in 2016 to join the Supreme Court only to see his nomination held up for eight months in an audacious political maneuver by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader at the time. The move ultimately allowed Mr. Trump to choose his own nominee to fill the seat.

Department employees have said that Mr. Garland’s performance at his confirmation hearing, a largely amicable affair, made them hopeful that he would restore honor to the agency and lift up its 115,000-person work force demoralized by the Trump-era rancor.

Restoring trust inside and outside the Justice Department will be key, as Judge Garland will immediately oversee politically charged investigations, including a federal tax fraud inquiry into President Biden’s son Hunter and a special counsel inquiry into the Russia investigation.

The department will also be involved in civil and criminal cases related to issues that have bitterly divided the country, including systemic racism, policing, regulation of big technology companies, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and other civil liberties matters.

Judge Garland will also confront the rise of domestic extremism as law enforcement officials continue investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. His first briefings this week were expected to be with the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, to discuss the threat and with Michael R. Sherwin, the outgoing top prosecutor in Washington who has led the Justice Department inquiry.

Representative Marcia Fudge speaking to reporters in the Capitol building last December.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Marcia Fudge was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday, becoming the first Black woman in decades to run an agency that will be at the forefront of the administration’s efforts to fight racial inequity and poverty.

Ms. Fudge, a Democratic member of Congress representing the Cleveland area and the former mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, earned the support of all the chamber’s Democrats and many top Republicans, including that of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. The final vote was 66 to 34.

For a fleeting moment on Wednesday, her two jobs, in two branches, overlapped: Ms. Fudge voted by proxy in favor of the administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Ms. Fudge was confirmed by the Senate’s banking committee last month by a 17-to-7 vote, with two key Republicans — Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rob Portman, from her home state — supporting her nomination despite their misgivings about her progressive agenda.

Ms. Fudge, 68, inherits an agency with big plans and big problems.

Her predecessor, Ben Carson, oversaw a massive exodus of career staff, gutted fair housing enforcement and did little to address a nationwide crisis in affordable housing exacerbated by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Carson, a former surgeon with no prior housing experience, did “silly things” at the department, Ms. Fudge said in an interview last December.

If the agency was not at the forefront of Mr. Trump’s policy initiatives, it became a focal point of his political messaging. The former president attacked an Obama-era effort to eliminate local zoning regulations that discriminated against Black people and other groups that have faced prejudice, in a blatant pitch to white suburbanites. Proponents of the program criticized Mr. Trump’s actions as racist.

President Biden and Ms. Fudge have suggested they would push ahead with the program.

Ms. Fudge has said she would use her time at HUD to address long-term issues, including racism, the affordability crisis in major cities and homelessness. But her immediate priority is preventing evictions caused by the loss of income during the pandemic.

The administration’s pandemic bill includes $21.5 billion for emergency rental assistance, $5 billion in emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion for anti-homelessness programs and $850 million for tribal and rural housing.

In the past, Ms. Fudge, who is Black, has complained that the top position at HUD was too often used to project the false impression of diversity rather than to drive policy.

“You know, it’s always ‘we want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD,’” she told Politico shortly after the election last year.

“When you look at what African-American women did in particular in this election, you will see that a major part of the reason that this Biden-Harris team won was because of African-American women,” she added.

HUD was, in fact, not her first choice.

After Mr. Biden was elected, she lobbied publicly to be named agriculture secretary, an agency that oversees food relief initiatives, as well as farm subsidy programs. But that job was offered to Biden’s ally Tom Vilsack. Ms. Fudge was a surprise, late add to his list of nominees, supplanting Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, who had been an early favorite to lead HUD.

“I know he’s a baseball fan. I hope he remembers three strikes and you’re out,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said of Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A long-simmering feud between Senator Susan Collins and Senator Chuck Schumer flared in public on Wednesday, as the moderate Maine Republican accused the New York Democrat and majority leader of standing in the way of bipartisanship.

In remarks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Ms. Collins lashed out at Mr. Schumer for comments he made about her on CNN Tuesday night, in which he said Ms. Collins deserved some of the blame for an insufficiently large economic rescue package Democrats pushed through in 2009 amid the Great Recession.

“We made a big mistake in 2009 and ’10 — Susan Collins was a big part of that mistake,” Mr. Schumer said. “We cut back on the stimulus dramatically and we stayed in recession for five years.”

His remarks were then shared on Twitter by Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff.

Ms. Collins, one of only three Republicans who supported the 2009 stimulus after insisting that its size be pared back, unloaded on Mr. Schumer for the comments, suggesting that he held a political grudge against her.

“President Obama urged me to vote for a stimulus bill that passed that year, and indeed called me afterwards to thank me for my vote,” Ms. Collins recalled. “For Chuck Schumer, who was intimately involved in the negotiations as the assistant leader, to somehow criticize me for taking the same position that he did is simply bizarre.”

“I think it reflects, regrettably, his inability to accept the fact that despite pouring $100 million into defeating me, the people of Maine, said ‘no,’ and re-elected me to a historic term,” she added.

The bitter back-and-forth reflected the anger among moderate Republicans at being cut out of the stimulus negotiations, and how difficult it will be for Mr. Schumer to persuade them to cross party lines and join him on other proposals that will need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

It also highlighted a nasty rivalry between the two senators that has persisted for years, as Mr. Schumer has sought her vote on crucial legislation while repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — trying to recruit a candidate who could unseat her in what has become an increasingly blue state. It grew particularly toxic this past year after Mr. Schumer attacked her during her latest re-election race. She rarely misses a chance to remind him of her victories.

“Chuck Schumer has tried to take me out three times now,” Ms. Collins said in a recent interview with The New York Times, in which she called ads he ran against her in 2020 “deceptive” and “shameful.” “I know he’s a baseball fan. I hope he remembers three strikes and you’re out.”

She also noted that she has a close relationship with President Biden, whom she served with in the Senate and regards as open to bipartisan compromise, but sees Mr. Schumer as an impediment.

“I am going to continue to work with President Biden and his administration,” she said on Wednesday, naming a major infrastructure initiative as a common goal. “I just hope that Senator Schumer does not continue to be an obstacle to bipartisanship.”

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said Mr. Biden should speak out against what Mr. Schumer had said about Ms. Collins.

“It doesn’t help bipartisanship when Chuck Schumer goes on Anderson Cooper, as he did last night, and attacks the most bipartisan member of the U.S. Senate, who is Susan Collins,” he said. “That’s not a way to work together with people or find common-ground solutions.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken called China the one country able “to seriously challenge the stable and open international system.”
Credit…Pool photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

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.


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President Biden discusses the House passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, a major victory for Mr. Biden seven weeks into his term.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden will announce on Wednesday that he intends to secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine by the end of this year, with the goal of having enough on hand to vaccinate children and, if necessary, administer booster doses or reformulate the vaccine to combat emerging variants of the virus.

Mr. Biden will make the announcement during an afternoon meeting with executives from Johnson & Johnson and the pharmaceutical giant Merck, according to two senior administration officials. The rival companies are partnering to ramp up production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, in a deal brokered by the White House.

In announcing that agreement last week, Mr. Biden said that the United States would now have enough vaccine available by the end of May to vaccinate every American adult — roughly 260 million people. But the senior officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the president’s announcement, said the administration was trying to prepare for unpredictable challenges, from the emergence of dangerous virus variants to manufacturing breakdowns that could disrupt vaccine production.

“We still don’t know which vaccine will be most effective on kids,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday at the daily briefing. “We still don’t know the impact of variants, the need for booster shots and these doses can be used for booster shots, as well.” She said the decision to purchase a surplus of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was driven by a desire for “maximum flexibility.”

“It’s a one shot vaccine,” she said. “It can be stored in the fridge and not a freezer. It’s highly effective as the others are as well against hospitalization and death.”

The officials said Mr. Biden would direct officials at the Department of Health and Human Services to negotiate the details with Johnson & Johnson, and that Wednesday’s announcement would be a first step.

The White House had initially intended to hold Wednesday’s event at the Baltimore manufacturing facility of Emergent BioSolutions, another company that partners with Johnson & Johnson to make coronavirus vaccine. But Mr. Biden canceled his trip after The New York Times published an investigation into how Emergent used its Washington connections to gain outsize influence over the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency repository of drugs and medical supplies.

The White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, has since said that the administration will conduct a comprehensive audit of the stockpile.

Emergent officials will not attend Wednesday’s session. In explaining the change in plans, Ms. Psaki said that the administration thought the White House was a “more appropriate place to have the meeting,” which it is billing as a celebration of what Mr. Biden has called the “historic” partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

Last August, Johnson & Johnson signed an agreement with the government to deliver 100 million doses of its coronavirus, and in an emailed statement on Wednesday the company said it is “on track to meet that commitment.” The government has the option to purchase additional doses under a subsequent agreement.

The administration says the collaboration with Merck will increase manufacture of the vaccine itself, and will also bolster Johnson & Johnson’s packaging capacity, known in the vaccine industry as “fill-finish” — two big manufacturing bottlenecks that had put the company behind schedule.

Wednesday’s announcement is in keeping with Mr. Biden’s aggressive efforts to acquire as much vaccine supply as possible, as quickly as possible. Before Mr. Biden took office, he pledged to get “100 million shots into the arms” of the American people by his 100th day in office — a timetable that seemed aggressive at the time, but more recently has looked tame. He has been trying to speed it up ever since.

At the time, two vaccines — one made by Moderna and the other by Pfizer-BioNTech — had been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. In January, Mr. Biden said the administration would have enough vaccine to cover every American by the end of summer. Last month, the president announced his administration had secured enough doses from those two companies to have enough to cover every American by the end of July.

The recent addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received emergency authorization in late February, opened a path for the administration to move up the timetable yet again. But Johnson & Johnson and its other partners, including Emergent, were behind schedule, which prompted the administration to reach out to Merck.

Annie Karni contribute reporting.

Lisa O. Monaco, President Biden’s nominee to be deputy attorney general, speaks at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden’s nominees to fill out the Justice Department’s leadership ranks pledged at their confirmation hearing on Tuesday to tackle domestic extremism, racial inequality and other thorny issues within the bounds of the law, seeking to restore order to a department battered by political attacks during the Trump administration.

Lisa Monaco, a Justice Department veteran and national security expert nominated to be deputy attorney general, and Vanita Gupta, a civil rights lawyer known for her criminal justice overhaul work tapped as the department’s No. 3, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that they were committed to ensuring that the department meted out equal justice under the law.

Ms. Monaco, 53, who if confirmed would oversee the department’s day-to-day operations, the nation’s federal prosecutors and the F.B.I., said in her opening testimony that as “an independent investigator and prosecutor,” it was important that the department “act free from any political or partisan influence.”

“Throughout my career, these norms have been my North Star,” Ms. Monaco said.

Ms. Gupta, 46, who was nominated to be the associate attorney general, would oversee prosecutors who argue for the Biden administration in court, officials who allocate federal grant money to state and local governments, and federal law enforcement organizations. She would also oversee the department’s Civil Rights Division, which she ran under the Obama administration.

“We will follow the president’s policy agenda so long as it’s consistent with the law,” Ms. Gupta said.

Republicans on the committee reserved their sharpest questions for Ms. Gupta, who was a vocal critic of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, judicial appointments and civil rights work.

Republicans also pressed Ms. Gupta on policing, sometimes echoing a conservative attack ad that claimed she supported defunding the police. She said that was not her position, adding that she supported Mr. Biden’s commitment to provide an additional $300 million for community policing initiatives.

“I don’t support defunding the police,” Ms. Gupta said. “I have advocated for greater police resources.” She has the backing of dozens of police organizations and high-profile conservative groups, including Koch Industries, for her bipartisan efforts to enact criminal justice overhauls.

Ms. Gupta was also questioned about past comments about implicit bias; she said everyone, including herself, has biases that must be managed to ensure more fairness in the workplace and other institutional settings. Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, asked her whom she was biased against.

Declining to name a specific group, Ms. Gupta said: “I know that I hold stereotypes that I have to manage. I’m a product of my culture.”

National Guardsmen outside the Capitol on March 6 as the Senate votes on amendments for a final vote on the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The Pentagon announced Tuesday evening that more than 2,200 National Guard troops would remain in Washington for at least 10 more weeks to assist federal law enforcement agencies in protecting Congress, continuing a deployment that began during the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of former President Donald J. Trump.

Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said Guard troops would remain on Capitol Hill through May 23, approving a request from U.S. Capitol Police to extend a deployment that had been set to expire on Friday.

“This decision was made after a thorough review of the request and after close consideration of its potential impact on readiness,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement. He noted that the number of soldiers that would remain in the Capitol under the new agreement was approximately half of the contingent currently serving there.

Mr. Kirby said that the Defense Department would work with the Capitol Police to further reduce the number of Guard personnel guarding Congress “as conditions allow.”

The acting chief of the Capitol Police, Yogananda D. Pittman, formally asked the Defense Department on Thursday to keep thousands of National Guard troops on Capitol Hill beyond their scheduled departure. She cited a 93 percent increase in threats against lawmakers during January and February compared to the same period last year as part of the reason for requesting the extension.

Last week, House leaders canceled a session on March 4 in response to warnings from federal officials that militia groups inspired by the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon might try to attack the Capitol that day. No such assault materialized.

The issue of Britney Spears’ treatment is not an especially partisan one.
Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Two Republicans who rose to prominence by defending President Trump have seized on a new issue — the battle over the legal guardianship of Britney Spears, the former teen pop star who has suffered a succession of personal, professional and financial crises.

Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida sent a request to the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, asking for an investigation into the role of Ms. Spears’s father, Jamie Spears, in controlling her assets.

“Given the constitutional freedoms at stake and opaqueness of these arrangements, it is incumbent upon our committee to convene a hearing to examine whether Americans are trapped unjustly in conservatorships,” wrote the pair in a letter to Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York.

Mr. Gaetz later told Fox News he thought Ms. Spears would make a “great witness” at such a hearing.

Ms. Spears’s situation points to bigger issues involving guardianship, the pair wrote, referencing concerns about their use for older people and those with disabilities raised by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Gaetz even posted a tweet using the #FreeBritney hashtag that has been employed by her supporters. The issue has gained renewed attention after the release of a New York Times documentary about the case.

The issue of Ms. Spears’s treatment is not an especially partisan one. A wide range of critics — including Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Kardashian — have called for the removal of the legal constraints on Ms. Spears, 39, that were imposed by a court in 2008, when she was in her mid-20s.

A spokesman for the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Democrats have accused House Republicans, who have been bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riots and sidelined by the Democratic majority, of desperately trying to stay in the news by grabbing whatever issue can get them airtime or allow them to earn points with Trump supporters.

Mr. Gaetz himself has said in the past that he needs to constantly “reinvent” his image to fit a public attention span he compared to that of a “goldfish.”

On Tuesday, Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, blasted House Republican leaders for latching onto another pop culture issue — the “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss, over writing that contained racist themes and imagery — instead of helping to pass a majority bill geared at helping unions.

“Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America!” Mr. Ryan thundered on the House floor, in a video that quickly went viral. “Stop talking about Dr. Seuss, and start working with us on behalf of the American workers!”

Senator Chuck Schumer at the Capitol on Saturday shortly after the stimulus package passed in the Senate.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The moment Chuck Schumer achieved his longtime dream of becoming Senate majority leader, he was in a secure room hiding from a violent pro-Trump mob that was rampaging through the Capitol.

As rioters prowled the halls hunting for top lawmakers — Mr. Schumer, Democrat of New York, later heard that one had been looking for his desk, saying, “Where’s the big Jew?” — he was being evacuated with other leaders to a safe room at an undisclosed location.

It was then that news outlets confirmed that Jon Ossoff, a Democrat, had won the final Georgia Senate race that would give the party the majority, handing Mr. Schumer the top job. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, turned to the man who had engineered his defeat and offered a brief concession and congratulations.

With that, Charles Ellis Schumer, 70, the Brooklyn-raised son of an exterminator and a homemaker, became the first New Yorker ever to lead the United States Senate.

“Jan. 6 was the best of times,” Mr. Schumer said in a recent interview in his office, where he cracked open a Diet Coke. “And it was the worst of times.”

His dream job has come with huge challenges and a practically nonexistent margin for error. Mr. Schumer rose to power on the strength of his skills as a party messenger and relentless campaign strategist, not his talent as a legislative tactician.

Now it falls to him to maneuver President Biden’s ambitious agenda through a polarized, 50-50 Senate without one vote to spare, navigating between the progressive and moderate factions in his party in the face of a Republican opposition that is more determined than ever.

Mr. Schumer passed his first test over the weekend, squeezing Mr. Biden’s sweeping $1.9 trillion stimulus measure through the Senate along party lines — an effort that nearly fell apart as Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and a crucial moderate, balked at the 11th hour. Mr. Schumer negotiated a concession, and the bill passed, paving the way for emergency aid and the most far-reaching antipoverty effort in a generation.

“I’ve never seen anyone work as skillfully, as ably, as patiently, with determination to deliver such a consequential piece of legislation,” Mr. Biden said of Mr. Schumer.

The effort forced the Senate leader to straddle his party’s centrist and progressive wings, a trick he will have to master if he hopes to keep the president’s agenda on track and Democrats in control of the chamber, as well as fending off a possible 2024 primary challenge from Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile progressive from the Bronx.

Asked what he would do about her, Mr. Schumer shrugged and said he talked to Ms. Ocasio-Cortez “all the time.”

“What I’ve done throughout my career,” he added. “I do my job well, and everything works out.”

“It’s really important people not make the dangerous journey in the first place,” said Roberta Jacobson, a top White House adviser overseeing border issues.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The Biden administration on Wednesday restarted a program to allow children in Central America to apply for protection remotely, an effort to deter migration north as President Biden faces increasing pressure over his treatment of young immigrants along the border with Mexico.

The Obama-era program provides Central American children an alternative path to unite with parents already in the United States without first making the dangerous journey north. Mr. Biden said during his campaign that restoring the program, as well as investing $4 billion in the region, were part of a plan to address the poverty and corruption that have for years pushed vulnerable families to seek sanctuary in the United States.

Roberta S. Jacobson, one of Mr. Biden’s top advisers overseeing border issues, said the administration would begin by processing the nearly 3,000 children in the region who were approved to travel to the United States when former President Donald J. Trump abruptly terminated the program in 2017. The United States will then begin accepting new applications for the program.

“It’s really important people not make the dangerous journey in the first place, that we provide them with alternatives to make that journey because it’s not safe,” said Ms. Jacobson, a special assistant to Mr. Biden.

But Mr. Biden’s long-term strategy to bolster Central American economies and deter illegal migration is running up against the immediate challenge of how to process thousands of migrant children at the U.S.-Mexico border — a situation that has drawn swift backlash from Republicans and Democrats.

The number of migrant children in custody at border detention facilities tripled in the past two weeks to more than 3,250, according to federal immigration agency documents obtained by The New York Times on Monday. Many of those children were held longer than the three days allowed by law, a mandate previous administrations have struggled to follow.

Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, announced on Wednesday that apprehensions at the border, including at entry points, increased to roughly 100,441 in the month of February. Border agents had encountered a migrant at the border about 78,000 times in January — more than double the rate at the same time a year ago and higher than in any January in a decade.

Most of those migrants continue to be rapidly turned away under a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule, but Mr. Biden has broken from the previous administration in letting unaccompanied children into the United States.

Mr. Biden was briefed on Wednesday by top administration officials who had visited the border this past weekend, according to Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.

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