Biden Administration and Stimulus News: Live Updates

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

House Democrats are barreling toward passage of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package, with a vote on the final legislation expected by the end of the month.

Committees have been meeting remotely for the past two weeks during the House recess to haggle over the details of Mr. Biden’s proposal, with the budget and rules committees expected to be the last two panels to finalize the legislation in the coming days.

In its current form, the stimulus legislation would provide billions of dollars for schools and small businesses, bolster unemployment benefits through the fall, deliver a round of $1,400 direct payments to individuals and provide for a gradual increase in the federal minimum wage to $15.

Faced with a lapse in unemployment benefits beginning in mid-March, lawmakers hope to have the legislation passed through the House by the end of February, before sending it to the Senate. House Democratic leaders scheduled a series of phone calls this week for committees to brief rank-and-file lawmakers about the details of the emerging legislation.

Democrats aim to pass the plan using a fast track budgetary process, known as reconciliation, which would allow them to push it through the Senate with a simple majority. But it also requires lawmakers to adhere to a series of strict budget parameters, designed to prevent the process from being abused with extraneous provisions, that could derail certain liberal priorities, including the minimum wage increase.

Despite using the same parliamentary maneuvers in 2017, Republicans have argued that Democrats are forcing Mr. Biden to renege on his promises for bipartisan collaboration by cutting them out of the process. During committee work earlier this month, Republicans largely failed to force a series of amendments that would have forced the package to be more targeted in its delegation of relief or imposed requirements on the billions of dollars in funds.

President Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden, arriving at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on Monday.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

With the distraction of the impeachment trial of his predecessor now over, President Biden will quickly press for passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan before moving on to an even bigger agenda in Congress that includes infrastructure, immigration, criminal justice reform, climate change and health care.

Without the spectacle of a constitutional clash, the new president “takes center stage now in a way that the first few weeks didn’t allow,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who served as communications director for former President Barack Obama. She said the end of the trial means that “2021 can finally start.”

Mr. Biden has already been successful in pushing his agenda forward. House committees have begun debating parts of the coronavirus relief legislation, which he calls the American Rescue Plan. Several of his cabinet members have been confirmed, and his team is pressing Capitol Hill for quick action when senators return from a weeklong recess.

After former President Donald J. Trump was acquitted on Saturday of the charge of inciting an insurrection, Mr. Biden vowed to work across party lines to “heal the very soul of the nation.” But the president’s bipartisan prospects are complicated by the fact that much of his agenda is aimed at dismantling Mr. Trump’s policies or addressing what Democrats have cast as his failures, most significantly the fumbled response to the pandemic.

And the 43 “not guilty” votes from Senate Republicans are a stark reminder that Mr. Trump continues to hold sway over most of his party, and his influence with Republicans will be an obstacle. Even with control of both houses of Congress, Democrats will still need some Republican support on many of Mr. Biden’s agenda items to overcome a filibuster in the Senate.

Public polls show the president’s agenda to be broadly popular, even among some Republicans. That has contributed to pressure from Democratic progressives to forgo any compromises with Republicans that could water down Mr. Biden’s policy proposals. And Republicans — who are still adjusting to their loss of the Senate and the White House — have not yet coalesced around a consistent substantive attack on the president’s agenda.

Perhaps more than any previous president, Mr. Biden has used Mr. Trump as an effective political foil, constructing his agenda almost completely as a repudiation of Mr. Trump’s policies and personal behavior during his four tumultuous years in office.

On his first day in office, Mr. Biden issued a blitz of executive orders intended to undo many of Mr. Trump’s policies. And he often casts his broader agenda as the necessary response to actions taken — or not taken — by his predecessor.

The question now for Mr. Biden is whether he can take advantage of the political breathing room to build support for his proposals. And if he can, it’s unclear if the public pressure will be enough to persuade Republicans in Congress to buck Mr. Trump’s influence.

President Biden boarding Air Force One on Monday after a weekend at Camp David.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden is set to seize the spotlight this week after weeks of attention on former President Donald J. Trump’s impeachment trial. Mr. Biden is beginning a more public sales pitch for his domestic agenda, with his first set of work trips outside Washington.

The president plans to fly to Milwaukee on Tuesday to participate in a CNN town hall, where he will most likely outline specifics of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, including sending $1,400 checks to individuals who meet certain income thresholds. On Thursday, Mr. Biden will travel to Kalamazoo, Mich., to tour a Pfizer manufacturing site and meet workers producing the coronavirus vaccine.

The travel is the president’s first time leaving Washington for work since Inauguration Day. The White House has been balancing safety precautions with the need to sell an ambitious agenda to constituents across the country.

Presidential travel is expensive and time consuming, and brings some risk during a pandemic. But it is also considered essential to the job. So far, Mr. Biden has left the city only to spend a weekend at his former home in Wilmington, Del., and for a visit to Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

The president also appeared to be making use of a week when Congress was out of session to build support for the relief plan he is pushing them to pass after they return on Monday.

International travel, however, will have to wait.

On Friday, Mr. Biden is scheduled to join other world leaders in a virtual Group of 7 summit to discuss the pandemic and the global economy. Mr. Biden has by now already talked with most world leaders by phone, including a two-hour call with President Xi Jinping of China last week.

Mr. Biden has longstanding relationships with many foreign leaders, like Mr. Xi, and in many cases those calls have meant an immediate return to the personal rapport that existed before Mr. Trump’s presidency. But the limitations on in-person international gatherings will put off a key test of whether the United States can regain its traditional role in world affairs after the erratic and isolating “America First” approach of Mr. Trump.

President Biden signed two executive orders on his first day in office aimed at providing economic relief to the unemployed and others suffering during the pandemic.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Biden administration on Tuesday announced additional relief for American homeowners struggling with payments, saying the pandemic had “triggered a housing affordability crisis.”

The actions include:

  • extending a moratorium on foreclosures through June 30;

  • extending an enrollment window for mortgage payment forbearance requests until June 30; and

  • providing up to six months of additional mortgage payment forbearance for borrowers who entered forbearance on or before June 30.

On his first day in office, President Biden issued orders extending federal moratoriums on some foreclosures and evictions through the end of March. But the expiration of those protections would leave “many at risk of falling further into debt and losing their homes,” White House officials said in a statement.

One in five renters have fallen behind on rent and more than 10 million homeowners are behind on mortgage payments, according to the White House statement. People of color, who face greater hardship in the pandemic, are at greater risk of eviction and foreclosure.

Homeowners can find out who owns their mortgage by entering their address on various government websites.

The relief programs are part of a coordinated effort by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Agriculture.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell speaking during a Senate Banking Committee hearing in December.
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

As President Biden presses ahead with plans for a $1.9 trillion stimulus package, he and his top economic advisers are brushing aside warnings that acting aggressively to stimulate a struggling economy will bring a return of the monstrous price increases that plagued the nation in the 1970s.

After years of dire inflation predictions that failed to pan out, the people who run fiscal and monetary policy in Washington have decided the risk of “overheating” the economy is much lower than the risk of failing to heat it up enough.

Democrats in the House plan to spend this week finalizing Mr. Biden’s stimulus proposal to pump nearly $2 trillion into the economy, including direct checks to Americans and more-generous unemployment benefits, with the aim of holding a floor vote as early as next week. The Senate is expected to quickly take up the proposal as soon as it clears the House, in the hopes of sending a final bill to Mr. Biden’s desk early next month. Federal Reserve officials have signaled that they planned to keep holding rates near zero and buying government-backed debt at a brisk clip to stoke growth.

The Federal Reserve, under Chair Jerome H. Powell, and the administration are staying the course despite a growing outcry from some economists across the political spectrum, including Lawrence Summers, a former Treasury secretary and top adviser in the Clinton and Obama administrations, who say Mr. Biden’s plans could stir up a whirlwind of rising prices.

No one better embodies the sudden break from decades of worry over inflation — in Washington and elite circles of economics — than Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair and current Treasury secretary. Ms. Yellen spent the bulk of her career fighting in a war against inflation that economists have been waging for more than a half century. But at a time when the American economy remains 10 million jobs short of its pre-pandemic levels, and millions of people face hunger and eviction, she appears to be ready to move on.

In the guarded language of a Fed chair, Mr. Powell used a speech last week to push back on the idea that the economy was at risk of overheating. He said that prices could show a brief pop in the coming months, as they rebound from very low readings last year, and he said the economy could see a “burst” of spending and temporarily higher inflation when it fully reopens. But he said he expected such increases to be short-lived — not the sustained spiral that many economists worry about.

A small but influential group of economists is questioning that view — in particular, calling for Mr. Biden to scale back his economic aid plans, which include sending direct payments to most American households, increasing the size and duration of benefits for the long-term unemployed and spending big to accelerate Covid vaccine deployment across the country.

They argue that the size of the package outstrips the size of the hole the coronavirus has left in the economy. With so many dollars chasing a limited supply of goods and services, the argument goes, purchasing power could erode or the Fed might need to abruptly lift interest rates, which could send the economy back into a downturn.

“The instant Donald Trump ceased being the president, he exited the Senate’s jurisdiction,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, argued in an opinion piece.
Credit…Brandon Bell for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, offered an impassioned defense on Monday evening (not Sunday evening as an earlier version of this article stated) of his decision to acquit former President Donald J. Trump on the grounds that the Senate cannot convict former office holders, arguing that “the instant Donald Trump ceased being the president, he exited the Senate’s jurisdiction.”

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, which mirrored much of his scathing post-acquittal speech condemning Mr. Trump’s actions, he defended himself and other senators who voted to absolve the former president of a charge of an incitement of insurrection as defenders of the Constitution.

“I respect senators who reached the opposite answer,” Mr. McConnell wrote. “What deserve no respect are claims that constitutional concerns are trivialities that courageous senators would have ignored.”

Mr. McConnell came under scathing criticism this weekend from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others for his vote to acquit despite his denunciation of Mr. Trump. They noted that he had refused to bring the Senate back to hear the impeachment case against Mr. Trump while he was majority leader, ensuring that Mr. Trump would not be tried until he was out of office.

“It was not the reason that he voted the way he did,” Ms. Pelosi said of Mr. McConnell’s constitutional objection. “It was the excuse that he used.”

But in his op-ed, Mr. McConnell dug in.

“There is a modern reflex to demand total satisfaction from every news cycle,” he said. “But impeachment is not some final moral tribunal. It is a specific tool with a narrow purpose: restraining government officers.”

He argued that his “scheduling critics” were incorrect, because “the salient date is not the trial’s start but the end, when the penalty of removal from office must be possible.”

“No remotely fair or regular Senate process could have started and finished in less than one week,” Mr. McConnell wrote. His critics, he added, “think we should have shredded due process and ignited a constitutional crisis in a footrace to outrun our loss of jurisdiction.”

Representative Bennie Thompson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the lawsuit filed in federal court. The suit does not include a specific financial amount.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The N.A.A.C.P. on Tuesday morning filed a federal lawsuit against former President Donald J. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, claiming that they violated a 19th-century statute when they tried to prevent the certification of the election on Jan. 6.

The civil rights organization brought the suit on behalf of Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi. Other Democrats in Congress — including Representatives Hank Johnson of Georgia and Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey — are expected to join as plaintiffs in the coming weeks, according to the N.A.A.C.P.

The lawsuit contends that Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani violated the Ku Klux Klan Act, an 1871 statute that includes protections against violent conspiracies that interfered with Congress’s constitutional duties; the suit also names the Proud Boys, the far-right nationalist group, and the Oath Keepers, the militia group. The legal action accuses Mr. Trump, Mr. Giuliani and the two groups of conspiring to incite a violent riot at the Capitol, with the goal of preventing Congress from certifying the election.

The suit is the latest legal problem for Mr. Trump: New York prosecutors are investigating his financial dealings; New York’s attorney general is pursuing a civil investigation into whether Mr. Trump’s company misstated assets to get bank loans and tax benefits; and a Georgia district attorney is examining his election interference effort there.

In the lawsuit, Mr. Thompson said he was forced to wear a gas mask and hide on the floor of the House gallery for three hours while hearing “threats of physical violence against any member who attempted to proceed to approve the Electoral College ballot count.”

Mr. Thompson is seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the lawsuit filed in Federal District Court in Washington. The suit does not include a specific financial amount.

In an interview on Monday, Mr. Thompson said he would not have brought the suit against Mr. Trump if the Senate had voted to convict him in last week’s impeachment trial.

Mr. Thompson said: “This is me, and hopefully others, having our day in court to address the atrocities of Jan. 6. I trust the better judgment of the courts because obviously Republican members of the Senate could not do what the evidence overwhelmingly presented.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaking during a news conference last week.
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Congress would move to establish an independent, 9/11 Commission-style panel to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including facts “relating to the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.”

In a letter to her Democratic colleagues in the House on Monday, Ms. Pelosi also promised to move forward in coming weeks with emergency funding legislation “for the safety of members and the security of the Capitol” after consulting with Russel L. Honoré, a retired Army lieutenant general, whom she had asked to examine security on Capitol Hill.

“Security is the order of the day: the security of our country, the security of our Capitol, which is the temple of our democracy, and the security of our members,” Ms. Pelosi wrote in the letter, adding that it was clear from both General Honoré’s findings and “from the impeachment trial that we must get to the truth of how this happened.”

Calls have grown for a bipartisan, independent investigation into the law enforcement and administrative failures that led to the first breach of the Capitol complex in two centuries, particularly after the Senate acquitted former President Donald J. Trump in his impeachment trial on a charge of inciting the rioters. For some lawmakers, such a commission offers the last major opportunity to hold Mr. Trump accountable.

“There’s still more evidence that the American people need and deserve to hear,” Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, said over the weekend on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Establishing such a commission would most likely require legislation if it were modeled on the 9/11 Commission, which in 2002 embarked on a bipartisan 20-month investigation after President George W. Bush signed a law mandating that the panel investigate what led to the Sept. 11 attacks and how to prevent similar ones. The commission ultimately offered recommendations that led to the reshaping of congressional oversight and intelligence coordination. The recommendations were released before Mr. Bush was re-elected for a second term and were not weighed down with the political partisanship that fueled the Capitol attack in the first place.

Ms. Pelosi said the panel would be assigned to “investigate and report on the facts and causes relating to the Jan. 6, 2021, domestic terrorist attack upon the United States Capitol complex” as well as “the interference with the peaceful transfer of power.”

A group of House Republicans wrote to Ms. Pelosi on Monday complaining that she had tapped General Honoré without input from their party and demanded that she answer questions about what she knew ahead of the Jan. 6 attack. Republicans have already objected to Ms. Pelosi’s decision to install magnetometers outside the House chamber in response to concerns about some lawmakers bringing firearms onto the chamber floor.

Lawmakers have also asked to use campaign funds to pay for additional security in their districts. An emergency funding bill would most likely help fund security for lawmakers in the districts as well as at the Capitol, which remains surrounded by fencing and patrolled by National Guard troops.

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