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Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Biden on Thursday evening will direct states to make all adult Americans eligible to receive coronavirus shots by no later than May 1, using his first prime-time, nationwide television address to say he expects life in the United States to return to a kind of normal by the Fourth of July, his advisers said.
Mr. Biden plans to offer a renewed sense of hope as he marks a year that plunged the nation into health and economic crises. With continued vigilance, he will say, families and friends will be able to gather for barbecues to celebrate the nation’s independence.
But Mr. Biden will warn that a return to normal this summer will require the public continuing to wear masks, social distance and sign up to be vaccinated in the meantime. His order to eliminate the current prioritization of vaccine eligibility is a reflection, his aides said, of the administration’s confidence that there will soon be enough vaccine for everyone.
The speech will come just hours after Mr. Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law, saying that an “overwhelming percentage” of the American people support the legislation and calling it an effort focused on “rebuilding the backbone of this country.”
Speaking from the East Room of the White House a year to the day after his predecessor used an Oval Office address to announce that travel would be shut down from Europe, Mr. Biden will acknowledge the devastating impact of a virus that has shuttered restaurants and businesses, emptied sports stadiums, driven patrons from movie theaters and gyms, forced students to learn at home and left tens of millions out of work.
But advisers said the president is also determined to lay out an optimistic vision in which the country not only recovers, but gets stronger, setting the stage for a fierce debate about the contours of trillions of dollars in spending to move the country beyond the pandemic that has ravaged life in the United States.
“I’m going to talk about what comes next,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of the past year, but we cannot let our guard down now or assume that victory is inevitable. Together, we’re going to get through this pandemic and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future.”
“There’s real reason for hope, I promise you,” he concluded.
Mr. Biden and his team are keenly aware that his presidency will be judged by how he manages to end the pandemic, restore economic growth and return a sense of normalcy for the future after one of the darkest periods in American history.
During the speech, he will announce a series of new actions to speed up vaccinations, including new federal mass vaccination sites, an expanded partnership with pharmacies to distribute the vaccine, and the use of dentists, veterinarians, medical students and others to actually deliver the shots.
The federal government will also open a website on May 1 to allow Americans to find out where the vaccine is available.
The president faces real challenges ahead: a polarized country still deeply torn about whether to wear masks and remain in a tiresome lockdown; logistical barriers to vaccinating tens of millions of people and a portion of the public that remains deeply suspicious about receiving one; and Republican adversaries who have so far resisted Mr. Biden’s solutions, voting en masse against the president’s nearly $2 trillion rescue plan.
In the 20-minute speech, the president is not expected to unveil details of what he calls the “next phase” of the pandemic response. But his administration has already signaled that he intends to push for a far-reaching effort to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, providing new opportunities for jobs and pumping more into the economy.
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the spread of the virus a global pandemic, but then President Donald J. Trump played down the health and economic risks of the virus, saying that “the risk is very, very low” for most Americans and predicting that “we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”
That did not happen, and a year later, Mr. Biden will call on Americans to remain vigilant even as he promises the one thing that has been in short supply in the long stretch of time since Mr. Trump’s remarks: hope.
Biden Signs $1.9 Trillion Covid-19 Relief Bill
President Biden signed a historic $1.9 trillion economic relief package into law Thursday afternoon, a day earlier than the White House had planned, ushering in new federal aid across the country amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s clear that an overwhelming percentage of the American people — Democrats, independents, our Republican friends — have made it clear, the people out there, made it clear they strongly support the American Rescue Plan. Yesterday, with the final passage of the plan in the House of Representatives, their voices were heard, and reflected in everything we have in this bill. And I believe this is, and most people, I think, do as well, this historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation, working people, middle-class folks, the people who built the country, a fighting chance. That’s what the essence of it is. What I’m going to do is sign this bill, and make a presentation tonight. And then there’s going to be plenty of opportunities. We’re going to be on the road, not only talking about — what I’m talking about tonight is the impact on the virus and how we’re going to end this pandemic. And we’re going to talk all the elements of the bill beginning Friday and Saturday, through the week. So, thank you for being here.
President Biden signed a historic $1.9 trillion economic relief package into law Thursday afternoon, a day earlier than the White House had planned, ushering in new federal aid across the country amidst the coronavirus pandemic.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion economic relief package on Thursday afternoon, ushering in an aggressive infusion of federal aid in a far-reaching effort to address the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Mr. Biden said, “and giving people in this nation, working people, middle-class folks, people who built the country, a fighting chance.”
Mr. Biden had originally been scheduled to sign the bill on Friday, after it had been reviewed again and printed. But the president and his advisers, aware that low- and middle-income Americans are desperate for the round of direct payments that the bill includes, moved up the timeline to Thursday afternoon.
Minutes after Mr. Biden signed relief package, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said, “People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend.”
Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, wrote on Twitter earlier in the day that the enrolled bill had arrived at the White House on Wednesday night, adding, “We want to move as fast as possible.”
He continued, “We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with Congressional leaders!”
The president signed the measure in the Oval Office hours before he was set to deliver a prime-time televised address on Thursday night, kicking off an aggressive campaign to inform voters of the benefits that are coming to them through the relief package.
The campaign will 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.
The White House’s decision to go out and sell the stimulus 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, Mr. Biden will headline a weekslong public relations effort. He is set to visit the Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday, and he and Ms. Harris are scheduled to travel to Atlanta next Friday.
Credit…Mary Mathis for The New York Times
Despite not receiving a single Republican vote in favor of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, President Biden on Thursday night aims to make it clear he still believes in “unity.”
The question is whether he can use his first prime-time White House address to preach a hopeful message, while also making Republicans pay a political price for not supporting a bill that has broad bipartisan support among voters.
Any talk of unity looks beyond Washington, where Republicans in both the House and the Senate unanimously voted against the relief plan, and where G.O.P. leaders were already trying to separate an economic recovery from the stimulus bill in order to deny Mr. Biden political credit for any upturn.
“The American people are going to see an American comeback this year,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, “but it won’t be because of this liberal bill.” The Republican National Committee was ignoring the bill’s enactment altogether on Thursday evening, and sending out emails about what it called “the Biden border crisis,” instead.
White House officials signaled that Thursday night’s address was intended to serve as a kickoff for a new phase of the presidency, one that will include more travel, more questions answered, and more marquee speeches, as Mr. Biden takes his case for the bill out into the country.
Polls show that despite the measure’s unpopularity among Republicans in Washington, it won’t need much selling elsewhere — its support is broad, and reaches across the country’s political divide. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll said that about 59 percent of Republicans at least somewhat supported the package.
“Washington and the media need a new definition of what bipartisan success is,” said John Anzalone, Mr. Biden’s campaign pollster. “The threshold on bipartisanship should be how real people feel about it — not just whether partisan Republican politicians come to the table or vote for it. They will pay the price because they were not willing to follow the lead of the American people of all parties.”
But Republicans won’t necessarily pay any price without Mr. Biden and the Democrats pressing the point.
Voting against a plan that saved airline jobs, small-business jobs and extended unemployment benefits while trying to cut the estate tax could be a tough position for Republicans to defend in November of next year, when Mr. McCarthy is hoping to flip five seats to take back the majority in the House.
“They are making it pretty easy on the Democratic ad makers,” said Tim Miller, a former top aide to former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida.
But Mr. McCarthy could also succeed in celebrating the potential economic recovery in a way could bolster Republicans.
“It doesn’t feel to me that Democrats have done that much or really tried to do that much to hang this around the Republicans’ neck as a defining moment for a Marie Antionette-like G.O.P.,” said Bill Kristol, the conservative columnist. “Maybe that comes later?”
The awkward position was already apparent online, where Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi tweeted approvingly of a part of it just hours after the bill passed. Notably absent from his praise was any mention that he voted against it.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
President Biden will deliver his first prime-time presidential address at 8 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, he is expected to focus on the coronavirus pandemic as the nation reaches an inflection point: the first anniversary of the World Health Organization’s official declaration of the pandemic, and the day he signed into law a $1.9 trillion relief package. One year into the pandemic, the United States has recorded by far the world’s largest outbreak, with about 530,000 deaths and more than 29 million infections.
The speech is anticipated to be about 20 minutes long, and will be carried on major networks and news cable channels.
A livestream of the full speech will be available on The Times’s home page, and Times reporters will be covering it in our Washington live briefing throughout the evening.
Credit…Liam Doyle for The New York Times
Economic forecasters expect an almost immediate boost to the U.S. economy from the $1.9 trillion relief bill that President Biden signed into law on Thursday.
The law, the American Rescue Plan, includes several provisions meant to put money in the hands of low- and middle-income segments of the population quickly, including direct payments of $1,400 per individual that White House officials say will start showing up in bank accounts this weekend. It also extends unemployment benefits for millions of jobless workers through September, including an additional $300 per week from the federal government.
Economists expect those provisions, among others in the bill, to power an acceleration in consumer spending at a moment when parts of the economy badly damaged by the pandemic, like the hospitality and tourism industries, are beginning to show new signs of life thanks to ever broader vaccine deployment.
With the bill signed into law, cash will “begin to flow very quickly,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note on Thursday. He also expects municipal and state governments to quickly begin rehiring some of the 1.3 million workers they laid off in the depths of the crisis, reassured by the law’s designation of $350 billion in aid to cities and states, though that money will not be disbursed as quickly as individual aid.
“This will come at the same time as private businesses are rehiring people in customer-facing jobs as the reopening continues in the leisure, recreation, and travel sectors, so we’re expecting payroll growth to accelerate dramatically over the next few months,” he wrote.
Mr. Shepherdson now predicts that U.S. economic growth will hit 7 percent for 2021, which would be the nation’s fastest annual pace since the early 1980s. Many other forecasters have revised up their growth predictions in light of the bill’s passage, even if they are not all as bullish as Mr. Shepherdson.
The international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted this week that the Biden plan would help the U.S. economy grow at a 6.5 percent rate this year. Some economists worry that the growth boost could be too strong, stoking runaway inflation, though there is no indication yet in economic data that a sustained price spike across the economy is imminent. Inflation has on average been running below the Fed’s 2 percent target for several years.
The timing of the rescue plan could strengthen Mr. Biden’s ability to claim credit for an economic rebound, though even before he took office, forecasters were projecting a return to growth, albeit less vigorous. Job growth accelerated in February, Mr. Biden’s first full month in office.
Mr. Biden and his aides plan to aggressively make the case that his relief package is responsible for any rapid economic improvement. At the signing on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Biden got started.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation — working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance,” the president said. “That’s what the essence of it is.”
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times
The House on Thursday approved a pair of bills that would expand and strengthen background checks for gun purchasers, as Democrats pushed past Republican opposition to advance major gun control measures after decades of congressional inaction.
In votes that fell largely along party lines, the House passed legislation that would require background checks for all gun buyers and 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 to 203 to approve the universal background check measure. The vote was 219 to 210 to pass a second 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 a 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 the F.B.I. has to conduct a background check, allowing many purchases to proceed without 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.”
Credit…Max Whittaker for The New York Times
From almost the day he was tapped to head the Office of Federal Student Aid under the Trump administration, Mark A. Brown was a target of consumer and labor groups aligned with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This week, they cheered his resignation.
In announcing Mr. Brown’s departure, the Biden administration’s recently confirmed education secretary, Miguel Cardona, outlined a general set of promises for the student aid office, saying it would “renew its focus on streamlining access to and management of federal financial aid, easing the burden of student debt and carefully stewarding taxpayer dollars.”
Mr. Brown, a retired Air Force major general, was appointed chief operating officer of the agency in March 2019, overseeing a $1.6 trillion federal student loan portfolio for 43 million borrowers. His resignation on Friday came one year shy of the end of his three-year term.
Betsy DeVos, the former education secretary, appointed Mr. Brown in March 2019, a time when Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was making student debt forgiveness a centerpiece of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.
Ms. Warren sent him a 23-page letter in May 2019 to congratulate him on his appointment, and to “discuss your vision for the student loan program and loan servicing, which has been under scrutiny for years,” as the letter put it. She said the agency he was leading had “repeatedly failed borrowers and taxpayers.”
She and her allies were no happier with the office under Mr. Brown. Two advocacy groups sued the agency last year for garnishing the wages of thousands of student borrowers who were behind on their loans during the coronavirus pandemic, despite a federal order not to do so. The department blamed employers.
Ms. Warren welcomed Mr. Brown’s resignation with a tweet: “Whether it was incompetence, malice, or a mix of both, @usedgov’s student loan bank under Betsy DeVos was a disaster. The resignation of her Federal Student Aid COO Gen. Mark Brown is good for student borrowers.”
Mr. Brown made a farewell video defending his record. “You do not have the luxury of opining from the sidelines or offering opinion only when it is politically convenient to do so,” he told his staff in the video. “Indeed, you find yourself in the arena each day, trying to make all this work for parents, students and borrowers.”
Credit…Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
The Pentagon’s press secretary, John F. Kirby, on Thursday publicly rebuked Tucker Carlson for sexist comments made by the Fox News host, in which Mr. Carlson ridiculed recent changes the military had made to be more accommodating to women.
“So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits — pregnant women are going to fight our wars,” Mr. Carlson said on his show Wednesday night. “It’s a mockery of the U.S. military.”
Mr. Carlson went on to praise the Chinese military for increasing the number of ships in its navy, a move he described as “more masculine.” His comments came days after two women — Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army — were nominated to lead two of the military’s combatant commands.
“What we absolutely won’t do is take personnel advice from a talk-show host or the Chinese military,” Mr. Kirby told reporters on Thursday. “Now maybe those folks feel like they have something to prove; that’s on them.”
Soon after Mr. Kirby made his remarks, the U.S. Army posted a tweet in support of women in the armed forces.
Mr. Kirby’s comments were also echoed by a number of active duty military officials, including several generals and the senior enlisted leader of the U.S. Space Command, with some calling out Mr. Carlson directly.
“I’ll remind everyone that his opinion, which he has a right to, is based off of actually zero days of service in the armed forces,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott H. Stalker of the Space Command.
“The bottom line is that we value women in our armed forces,” he added, citing his own 28 years in the Marine Corps, which includes service in combat.
Mr. Carlson’s remarks drew immediate backlash on social media from women on active duty and in the Reserves, as well as female veterans. On Twitter, Maggie Seymour, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, noted the disparity in service between Mr. Carlson and herself.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and an Iraq war veteran, mocked Mr. Carlson by pointing to his 2006 performance on the television show “Dancing With the Stars,” which resulted in him being quickly eliminated from the competition.
“While he was practicing his two-step, America’s female warriors were hunting down Al Qaeda and proving the strength of America’s women,” Ms. Duckworth tweeted.
The senator, whose legs were blown off in combat in Iraq as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the Army, added, “Happy belated International Women’s Day to everyone but Tucker, who even I can dance better than.”
The American Rescue Plan, which gained final approval from Congress on Wednesday and was signed by President Biden on Thursday, 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 law to explain what it means in real terms to real people. Here are some of the questions they answer:
Garland Pledges to Protect Justice Department Integrity
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland promised to protect the Justice Department’s credibility, and defend civil liberties and equal justice, in his first speech to the department’s staff on Thursday after being sworn in.
All of us are united by our commitment to the rule of law, and to seeking equal justice under law. We are united by our commitment to protecting our country, as our oath says, from all enemies, foreign and domestic, and by our commitment to enforcing our country’s laws and to ensuring the civil rights and the civil liberties of our people. The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee since Edward Levi’s stint as the first post-Watergate attorney general. As I said at the announcement of my nomination, those norms require that like cases being treated alike. That there not be one rule for Democrats and another for Republicans. One rule for friends and another for foes, one rule for the powerful and another for the powerless, one rule for the rich and another for the poor, or different rules depending upon one’s race or ethnicity. I am honored to work with you once again. Together, we will show the American people, by word and deed, that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland promised to protect the Justice Department’s credibility, and defend civil liberties and equal justice, in his first speech to the department’s staff on Thursday after being sworn in.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Kevin Dietsch
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland promised on Thursday to protect the credibility of the Justice Department and Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties, delivering a short speech via video to the Justice Department’s roughly 115,000 employees about an hour after he was sworn in.
“I am honored to work with you once again,” Mr. Garland said, speaking from the department’s Great Hall. “Together, we will show the American people that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law.”
Mr. Garland’s speech was his first official act as attorney general. He used the moment to assure the rank and file that the Justice Department would no longer face pressure to attack the president’s enemies and protect his allies — a callback to the unyielding push by former President Donald J. Trump that diminished public confidence in the institution and led some career lawyers to resign.
“The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee,” Mr. Garland said. “Those norms require that like cases be treated alike.”
Mr. Garland was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday in a bipartisan vote, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting his nomination. He was sworn in as attorney general in a private ceremony at the Justice Department on Thursday morning, with a public ceremony overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris to be held in the afternoon.
Mr. Garland most recently served as a federal appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, but he is best known for his 2016 nomination to serve on the Supreme Court, which Republicans refused to consider in a political power play that ultimately allowed Mr. Trump to fill the seat.
But Mr. Garland is also a longtime veteran of the Justice Department, having worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington during the George H.W. Bush administration and as a department official during the Clinton administration.
“When I walked in the door of Main Justice this morning, it really did feel like I was coming home,” Mr. Garland told employees who watched him via video and the handful attending in person, who sat socially distanced as he spoke.
Credit…Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times
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.