President Biden said Friday that a weak jobs report created new urgency for his proposed $1.9 trillion economic aid package, and that he would not delay the bill in hopes of attracting Republican support.
“It is very clear our economy is still in trouble,” Mr. Biden said during remarks at the White House.
“I know some in Congress think we’ve already done enough to deal with the crisis in the country,” he said. “Others think that things are getting better and we can afford to sit back and either do little or do nothing at all. That’s not what I see. I see enormous pain in this country. A lot of folks out of work. A lot of folks going hungry.”
Mr. Biden’s comments came as the Labor Department’s reported on Friday that the economy added only 49,000 jobs in January, and just 6,000 in the private sector. The labor market remains 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic levels.
Democrats are moving quickly to pass Mr. Biden’s American Rescue Plan — which centers on $1,400 direct checks to low- and middle-income Americans, money to fight the pandemic and several expansions of the social safety net — through Congress with limited changes. House committee chairs and Democratic leaders met with the president at the White House to discuss legislative strategy on Friday morning, after which Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was her goal to have a bill approved and on to the Senate within two weeks.
Senate leaders could begin working on their own bill, mirroring the House effort, even before the House approves its legislation, in hopes of delivering a final package to Mr. Biden’s desk before supplemental unemployment benefits are set to expire in mid-March.
In his speech, Mr. Biden took aim at Republicans, saying that while he wants to get bipartisan support for his proposal, he will not engage in a long debate in order to get a less-than-adequate package through Congress.
“If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that’s up to the crisis, that’s an easy choice. I’m going to help the American people who are hurting now,” he said. “What Republicans have proposed is either to do nothing or not enough.”
Briefing reporters after the remarks, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, cited poll numbers showing bipartisan support among American voters for the plan as evidence that Mr. Biden was delivering on his campaign promise to unify the country.
“The president ran on unifying the country and putting forward ideas that would help address the crises we’re facing,” she said. “He didn’t run on a promise to unite the Democratic and Republican Party into one party in Washington. This package has the vast majority of support from the American public.”
In his speech, Mr. Biden also allowed for the possibility that his plans could change slightly to appease moderates in both parties, acknowledging that he favored restricting the direct payments so that people earning more than $300,000 would not get them. He did not specify what threshold he would accept to begin phasing out the checks. But he made clear the starting amount would not change.
“I’m not cutting the size of the checks,” he said. “They’re going to be $1,400, period. That’s what the American people were promised.”
The Labor Department’s report on Friday that the economy added 49,000 jobs in January, while unemployment fell to 6.3 percent, is fueling a push by President Biden and congressional Democrats to pass a $1.9 trillion aid package as soon as this month.
The report showed the economy remains 10 million jobs below its pre-pandemic levels, with sluggish job growth outside of government: The private sector added only 6,000 jobs on net for the month. Revisions to November and December’s jobs data also showed the job market was struggling even more than previously known in the late fall and early winter.
Even the government gains, which were entirely concentrated in state and local education hiring, could be illusory. The department warned in its report that education layoffs caused by the pandemic last year “distorted the normal seasonal buildup and layoff patterns” in education, and possibly made January’s hiring numbers look better than they actually were.
Mr. Biden lamented the jobs numbers before a meeting with House Democrats in the White House to discuss the aid package, saying the 6,000 new private-sector jobs was far too small a figure. “At that rate it’s going to take 10 years before we get to full unemployment.”
“We can’t do too much here, but we can do too little,” he said. “We’ve got a chance to do something big here.”
Mr. Biden, who is set to speak about the economy later on Friday morning, has repeatedly urged Congress to spend aggressively on vaccine deployment, direct aid to individuals and families, expansions of the social safety net and other provisions meant to bring the pandemic to a swifter end and to bridge vulnerable people and businesses to the resumption of normal levels of economic activity.
He and his aides dismissed any sign in the latest report of an economy healing faster than expected and any reason to scale back on plans to provide more help.
The White House Council of Economic Advisers posted a series of messages to Twitter on Friday morning, calling the report “yet another reminder that our economy remains in a hole worse than the depths of the Great Recession and needs additional relief.”
Strong relief is urgently and quickly needed to control the virus, get vaccine shots in arms, and finally launch a robust, equitable, and racially inclusive recovery
— Council of Economic Advisers (@WhiteHouseCEA) February 5, 2021
“Strong relief is urgently and quickly needed,” the council wrote, “to control the virus, get vaccine shots in arms, and finally launch a robust, equitable, and racially inclusive recovery.”
Analysts had been expecting more significant job gains, and they largely called the report a disappointment. “This is not a good start to 2021,” said Nick Bunker, economic research director at the online jobs site Indeed. “Today’s report is essentially the opposite of what we need almost a year into the pandemic.”
Still, some Republicans have argued that the economy is just now starting to reap the benefits of a $900 billion aid package Congress approved in December and that the economy does not need an additional $1.9 trillion jolt. They are likely to point to the drop in the unemployment rate reported on Friday as further evidence that the aid bill should be smaller and more targeted.
Representative Kevin Brady, Republican of Texas, called the jobs report “weak” but said the economy did not need the type of stimulus package that Mr. Biden is proposing.
“Unfortunately, there is little stimulus in the president’s nearly two-trillion dollar ‘stimulus,’” he said. “And unless he begins to work with Republicans in earnest, Americans will suffer tepid job growth as the new normal.”
Claims by former President Donald J. Trump’s lawyers that his conduct around the Jan. 6 Capitol riot is shielded by the First Amendment are “legally frivolous” and should do nothing to stop the Senate from convicting him, 144 leading First Amendment lawyers and constitutional scholars from across the political spectrum wrote in a new letter circulated on Friday.
Taking aim at one of the key planks of Mr. Trump’s impeachment defense, the lawyers argued that the constitutional protections do not apply to an impeachment proceeding, were never meant to protect conduct like Mr. Trump’s anyway and would likely fail to shield him even in a criminal court.
“Although we differ from one another in our politics, disagree on many questions of constitutional law, and take different approaches to understanding the Constitution’s text, history, and context, we all agree that any First Amendment defense raised by President Trump’s attorneys would be legally frivolous,” the group wrote. “In other words, we all agree that the First Amendment does not prevent the Senate from convicting President Trump and disqualifying him from holding future office.”
Among the 144 lawyers, scholars and litigants who signed the letter, a copy of which was shared with The New York Times, were Floyd Abrams, who has fought marquee First Amendment cases in court; Steven G. Calabresi, a founder of the conservative Federalist Society; Charles Fried, a solicitor general under Ronald Reagan; and pre-eminent constitutional law scholars like Laurence Tribe, Richard Primus and Martha L. Minow.
The public retort came after Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr. and David Shoen, indicated this week that they planned to use the First Amendment as part of their defense when the trial opens on Tuesday. They argued in a written filing on Tuesday that the House’s “incitement of insurrection” charge “violates the 45th president’s right to free speech and thought” and that the First Amendment specifically protects Mr. Trump from being punished for his baseless claims about widespread election fraud.
The House impeachment managers have argued that Mr. Trump’s false statements claiming to have been the true winner of the election, and his exhortations to his followers to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to reverse the outcome helped incite the attack.
In their letter, the constitutional law scholars laid out three counterarguments to the president’s free-speech defense that the Democrats prosecuting the case are expected to embrace at trial.
First, they asserted that the First Amendment, which is meant to protect citizens from the government limiting their free speech and other rights, has no real place in an impeachment trial. Senators are not determining whether Mr. Trump’s conduct was criminal, but whether it sufficiently violated his oath of office to warrant conviction and potential disqualification from holding future office.
“As a result, asking whether President Trump was engaged in lawful First Amendment activity misses the point entirely,” they write. “Regardless of whether President Trump’s conduct on and around January 6 was lawful, he may be constitutionally convicted in an impeachment trial if the Senate determines that his behavior was a sufficiently egregious violation of his oath of office to constitute a ‘high crime or misdemeanor’ under the Constitution.”
What is more, they argued, even if the First Amendment did apply to an impeachment trial, it would do nothing to bar conviction, which has to do with whether Mr. Trump violated his oath, not whether he should be allowed to say what he said.
“No reasonable scholar or jurist could conclude that President Trump had a First Amendment right to incite a violent attack on the seat of the legislative branch, or then to sit back and watch on television as Congress was terrorized and the Capitol sacked,” they wrote.
Finally, they contended that there is an “extraordinarily strong argument” that the defense would even fail in a criminal trial, because the evidence against Mr. Trump is most likely strong enough to meet the Supreme Court’s high bar for punishing someone for inciting others to engage in unlawful conduct.
Many of the signatories to Friday’s letter had signed onto a previous one pushing back on another key argument in Mr. Trump’s defense: the assertion that the Senate does not have jurisdiction to try a former president because the Constitution does not explicitly grant it that power.
Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia, lashed out at Democrats on Friday in her first comments after the House voted to strip her of her committee assignments — defiantly making a case to help lead the clamorous Trump wing of the Republican Party.
“I woke up early this morning literally laughing thinking about what a bunch of morons the Democrats (+11) are for giving some one like me free time,” she wrote on her personal Twitter account.
“In this Democrat tyrannical government, Conservative Republicans have no say on committees anyway,” she said, adding, “Oh this is going to be fun!”
Ms. Greene is responding to her public reprimand in much the same way that former President Donald J. Trump, a role model and ally, reacted to his — by hurling insults.
Unlike Mr. Trump, she pulled back the curtain to reveal her political approach, admitting that Democrats were helping to amplify her importance on social and mass media.
Ms. Greene, 46, cast the saga as a battle for free speech in a news conference on Capitol Hill, lamenting that Republicans “are being told that their white skin makes them inherently racist,” in her first extensive remarks since she was stripped of her committees a day before.
She began with a free-ranging speech in which she chastised the media for their coverage of her, declaring that the Republican Party belongs to Donald J. Trump and “doesn’t belong to anybody else.”
She complained that her the loss of committee posts “stripped my voters of having representation to work for them,” adding that as a successful business owner, she would have been a valuable voice on the Budget Committee.
A moment later, however, she claimed the decision had “freed” her from “wasting my time” with the minute details of legislating.
On Thursday, Democrats warned that the unwillingness of House Republicans to punish one of their own represented a danger to their party and to the country at large.
“When acquiescence to the suggestion of violence of any kind is allowed to go unchecked, it is a cancer that can metastasize on the body politic of our nation,” said Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader of the House, in a speech on the House floor, as Ms. Greene sat nearby.
Ms. Greene’s determination to remain in the spotlight obliterated even the slim hopes of House Republican leaders that Ms. Greene, empowered by her devotion to Mr. Trump, would quiet down in the name of party unity after her rebuke.
On Thursday, 11 Republicans joined all the chamber’s Democrats in removing her committee assignments. Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, had refused to discipline her after stripping Representative Steve King of Iowa of his assignments two years earlier.
The episode laid bare deep divisions among Republicans about how to move forward as a party. In the days leading up to the vote on Ms. Greene, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the most powerful Republican in Washington, had denounced her statements, which he called “loony lies,” saying such conspiracy theories were a “cancer” on the party.
Several other top Republican senators had joined him in denouncing Ms. Greene and saying she could not become the face of the party.
Hours before her Friday tweet, Ms. Greene — who has allied herself with the QAnon conspiracy movement, promoted anti-Jewish tropes and suggested using violence against political opponents — sought to downplay her previous statements and cast herself as an earnest newcomer trying to represent her constituents.
In emotional remarks on the House floor, Ms. Greene expressed regret for her previous comments and disavowed many of her most outlandish and repugnant pronouncements. She said she believed that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks “absolutely happened” and that school shootings were “absolutely real” after previously suggesting that aspects of both were staged.
Asked by a CNN reporter on Friday if she would apologize for some of her most offensive comments made before she was elected to Congress, Ms. Greene initially stood firm and demanded that the reporter offer an apology for the network’s coverage of the Trump-Russia investigation.
Asked again — by a different reporter — Ms. Greene offered her first unequivocal apology to date.
“Of course I’m sorry for saying all those things that are wrong and offensive,” Ms. Greene replied. “And I sincerely mean that, and I’m happy to say that. I think it’s good to say when we’ve done something wrong.”
Since Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat, took to Instagram Live on Monday to describe what the Jan. 6 riot was like from inside the Capitol complex, critics have claimed that she wasn’t where she said she was, or that she couldn’t have experienced what she described from her location.
These claims are false.
While Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was not in the main, domed Capitol building when the rioters breached it, she never said she was. She accurately described being in the Cannon House Office Building, which is part of the Capitol complex and is connected to the main building by tunnels.
In her livestream, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez recalled hiding in a bathroom and thinking she was going to die as unknown people entered her office and shouted, “Where is she?” They turned out to be Capitol Police officers who had not clearly identified themselves, and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said so on Instagram. She did not claim that they were rioters — only that, from her hiding spot, she initially thought they were.
During the riot, reporters wrote on Twitter that the Cannon building was being evacuated because of credible threats, and that Capitol Police officers were running through the hallways and entering offices just as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez described.
The false claims about her statements have spread widely online, much of the backlash stemming from an article on the conservative RedState blog and a livestream from the right-wing commentator Steven Crowder. On Thursday, Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina, tweeted, “I’m two doors down from @aoc and no insurrectionists stormed our hallway.”
But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez never said insurrectionists had stormed that hallway, and Ms. Mace herself has described being frightened enough to barricade her own door. A spokeswoman for Ms. Mace said on Friday that the congresswoman’s tweet had been intended as “an indictment of the media for reporting there were insurrectionists in our hallway when in fact there were not,” and that it “was not at all directed at Ocasio-Cortez.”
“As the Capitol complex was stormed and people were being killed, none of us knew in the moment what areas were compromised,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in response to Ms. Mace’s post. (A spokeswoman for Ms. Ocasio-Cortez said the lawmaker had no additional comment.)
Others have corroborated Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s account and confirmed that the Cannon building was threatened, even though the rioters did not ultimately breach it.
Ari Rabin-Havt, a deputy manager for Senator Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted that he was in the Capitol tunnels during the attack. As Mr. Rabin-Havt moved toward the Cannon building, he wrote, members of a SWAT team yelled at him to find a hiding place.
And Representative Katie Porter, Democrat of California, said on MSNBC that after the Cannon building was evacuated, she and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez sheltered in Ms. Porter’s office in another building. She said Ms. Ocasio-Cortez was clearly terrified, opening closets to try to find hiding places and wishing aloud that she had worn flats instead of heels in case she had to run.
Jacob Silver contributed reporting.
More than 200 members of the Obama administration urged Congress on Friday not to shrink its stimulus bill in response to Republicans’ criticism about deficit spending, warning that Democrats risked repeating the same mistake they made 12 years ago, amid the last economic crisis.
The signers of the open letter argue that the decision by the Democratic-led Congress in 2009 to pass a stimulus of $787 billion, less than what some economists at the time said was needed, unnecessarily prolonged the Great Recession.
“The resistance we faced from deficit fearmongers seeking to water it down ate up valuable time and diluted the amount of aid that reached struggling families and small businesses,” the letter says of the 2009 stimulus package. “We know from history that they are wrong and sabotaging the ability of our nation to fully and equitably recover.”
The signers include several members of Mr. Obama’s cabinet, among them Tom Perez, who was labor secretary and later led the Democratic National Committee; Julián Castro, who was secretary of housing and urban development and ran for president last year; and Kathleen Sebelius, who was secretary of health and human services. High-ranking advisers such as Valerie Jarrett, Dan Pfeiffer and John Podesta also signed.
“The lesson that we need to learn from the past is if we have the power to meet the needs of Americans, then we need to do that immediately, whether congressional Republicans agree with it or not,” Mr. Castro said in an interview.
President Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion package that includes $1,400 stimulus checks for Americans making up to $75,000 a year, a $400-a-week supplement to unemployment benefits through September, aid for state and local governments, and other provisions. Congressional Democrats are advancing it through the budget reconciliation process. With that approach, the bill would be shielded from a filibuster in the Senate and could pass the chamber with only Democratic votes, as a blueprint did early Friday.
Mr. Biden met with Republican senators at the White House this week but described their counterproposal, which would reduce stimulus checks to $1,000 and the total cost of the package to $600 billion, as a nonstarter. He has expressed openness to tightening the income limit to receive a check.
Many Democrats have expressed concern about repeating what they see as the mistakes of 2009, when the party scaled back its stimulus package in an ultimately fruitless pursuit of bipartisan support. Only three Republicans voted for the bill, and the former Obama officials who signed the open letter argue that the economy would have fared better if Democrats had ignored Republicans and passed a larger package on their own.
“Quite frankly, we all had to live the consequences of the Republican intransigence,” Mr. Perez said. “The economic numbers here are dire. They make the Great Recession look like it was a mild recession, which it wasn’t. We can’t afford not to do what the president is proposing.”
President Biden thanked congressional Democrats on Friday for pushing through a budget blueprint this week that included his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, saying they had the opportunity to get something “consequential” done for the country amid a devastating pandemic.
“We’ve got a chance to do something big here,” Mr. Biden told senior House Democrats at the White House, just hours after the Senate endorsed his sweeping pandemic aid package, voting just before sunrise to approve it over unified Republican opposition. The House was expected to give it final approval later Friday.
After a 15-hour voting session that stretched overnight, Vice President Kamala Harris arrived early in the morning to the Senate dais, where she cast her first tiebreaking vote. The Senate adopted the budget measure by a vote of 51 to 50 at about 5:30 a.m.
In the marathon session — known as a vote-a-rama and for which more than 800 amendments were drafted — Senate Democrats maneuvered through a series of politically tricky amendments that Republicans sought to attach to their budget plan.
They also endorsed a number of ideas that could drive negotiations on Mr. Biden’s stimulus measure, embracing a proposal to exclude high earners from direct payments of up to $1,400 — an idea that the president and leading Democrats have already said they are open to — and the creation of a new form of child allowance for low- and middle-income families. Senators also agreed to bar any increase in the federal minimum wage, a centerpiece of Mr. Biden’s plan, during the pandemic.
Despite the amendments, the process left Mr. Biden’s plan largely intact as Democrats moved forward.
“We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader. “We cannot do too little.”
The resolution will go next to the House, where Democrats do not require Republican support to approve it. While the measure does not have the force of law, the action paves the way for the next step in the budget reconciliation process, which ultimately would allow Democrats to advance Mr. Biden’s plan without Republican votes.
In a letter on Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Democrats that the House would complete work on the package by the end of the month.
“With this budget resolution, we have taken a giant step to save lives and livelihoods,” Ms. Pelosi wrote.
Still, the proposal did not pass the Senate without some setbacks for Democrats. In a potential sign of trouble ahead for a major plank of Mr. Biden’s plan, the Senate agreed to a proposal by Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, to prohibit any minimum wage increase during the pandemic.
The measure passed by a voice vote, signaling that Democrats were not attempting to defeat it. Mr. Biden’s stimulus package would increase the wage to $15 per hour by 2025, and Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, who has been leading the push for the wage increase in the Senate, said he was not contesting Ms. Ernst’s effort because he had never sought to raise it during the pandemic.
But the vote was a signal that the wage increase could be difficult to pass in an evenly split Senate, where at least one Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, is on record opposing it.
“A $15 federal minimum wage would be devastating for our hardest-hit small businesses at a time they can least afford it,” Ms. Ernst said on the Senate floor. “We should not have a one-size-fits-all policy set by Washington politicians.”
Federal officials piecing together the puzzling, chaotic story of the Capitol Hill riot are increasingly focusing on the Proud Boys, a far-right group that played a significant role in coordinating the attack on the heart of American democracy on Jan. 6.
The efforts of the group — some of former President Donald J. Trump’s most vocal and violent supporters — are coming under increased scrutiny as prosecutors assign responsibility for the attempt, unparalleled in U.S. history, to disrupt the process of certifying a free and fair presidential election.
In previous filings, the government has said that some Proud Boy members went to the Capitol with communication equipment and that leaders ordered subordinates to show up undercover, not in their typical black-and-yellow shirts.
In a flurry of court papers filed in recent days — four separate cases against six individual Proud Boys — federal officials have begun detailing the actions of individual members who entered the fray with a plan.
When Ethan Nordean, the “sergeant of arms” for the Seattle Proud Boys, led a mob of his fellow far-right nationalists on a winding march to the Capitol last month, an angry crowd had already gathered at the barricades, facing off against a small detachment of the Capitol Police.
It was then, court papers say, that Mr. Nordean had a brief exchange with a young man in the throng wearing goggles, a battle helmet and head-to-toe military garb.
Within an hour, court papers say, that man, Robert Gieswein, was among the first wave of violent rioters to break into the Capitol, breaching the building through a window shattered by a Proud Boy from New York.
In a criminal complaint released on Wednesday night, for instance, prosecutors said that days before the Capitol attack, Mr. Nordean issued a call on social media asking for donations of “protective gear” and declared during his podcast, “We are in a war.”
While prosecutors have not issued an overarching indictment accusing the group of a detailed conspiracy to storm the halls of Congress, they have left hints in the record that they believe a measure of planning went into disrupting the certification of the presidential vote.
The Proud Boys have been a chief focus of the F.B.I.’s inquiry into the Capitol assault — not the least because they were one of the extremist groups with a large and visible presence in Washington before the riot.
On Wednesday, the group came under increased pressure as the Canadian government moved to formally designate it as a terrorist organization, a step that could lead to financial seizures and allow the police to treat any crime committed by members as terrorist activity.
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, said this week that he hopes to examine the influence of foreign powers on antigovernment extremist groups like the ones that helped mobilize the attack on the Capitol last month.
The American public has given President Biden favorable reviews since he took office last month, and the policies that he is hurrying to put in place appear broadly popular, according to polls.
And notably, as he signs a wave of executive actions and pushes a major $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, Mr. Biden is facing muted opposition from Republicans so far — a reflection of the party’s weakened position as it juggles two increasingly divided factions.
This intraparty division gives Mr. Biden the “upper hand” as he pushes his legislative agenda forward, said Doug Schwartz, the director of polling at Quinnipiac University, which released a nationwide poll on Wednesday. “He’s advocating policies that have solid support in the public, so Republicans are in more of a defensive posture, as they’re opposing popular policies,” Mr. Schwartz said.
The public’s dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in the United States remains high: Roughly seven in 10 said they were unhappy with the way things were going, according to the Quinnipiac poll. But optimism is on the rise, and many are attaching their hopes to the new president. When asked about the coming four years under Mr. Biden, 61 percent of Americans described themselves as optimistic.
In a Monmouth University poll released last week, 42 percent of Americans said the country was headed in the right direction — considerably less than half, but still more than in any Monmouth poll going back to 2013.
The Quinnipiac survey found that more than two-thirds of Americans supported Mr. Biden’s coronavirus relief package, with wide majorities also backing certain key elements — including a permanent increase to a $15 minimum wage and a round of $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals. On the question of the stimulus payments, even 64 percent of Republicans supported them.
On a range of other Biden policies, the poll found widespread support: rejoining the Paris climate accord, opening a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and ending Mr. Trump’s ban on travel from some predominantly Muslim countries.