Biden Sets High Expectations for an American Recovery

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Pharmacist Brittany Marsh administers a Covid-19 vaccine to Scott Moody at her pharmacy this week in Little Rock, Ark.
Credit…Rory Doyle for The New York Times

Having used a national address Thursday night to offer Americans hope — and the tantalizing promise of a Fourth of July with friends and family — President Biden now faces a pair of logistical challenges that may shape the arc of his presidency.

First, he must use the power of the government he leads to administer the coronavirus vaccine to most of the country in less than four months. To do that, he will have to press the limits of a public health system that has not faced a pandemic of this magnitude in more than a century.

At the same time, Mr. Biden needs to ensure that his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan delivers on the promise of its name — to bolster the economy, provide emergency cash for the unemployed, enable students to return to classrooms and restart the businesses that will allow people to return to work.

If he can do both, the president will most likely be rewarded by a weary public that is eager to cast off the heavy burdens that the pandemic has placed on their lives. In his speech, the president was explicit about his belief that his administration would meet those challenges.

“It’s never, ever a good bet to bet against the American people,” he said as he concluded. “America is coming back.”

But Mr. Biden’s speech was a risky moment for a new president who faces real challenges ahead, any of which could undermine the public’s confidence in his ability to govern and create openings for Republicans.

His promise of a return to a semblance of normalcy by the Fourth of July depends, as he made clear during the speech, on the American public continuing to follow the rules: wearing masks, maintaining social distancing rules and getting the vaccine when it is available to them.

But there is already evidence that it may not be that easy. The recent decision by Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas to abandon the state’s mask mandate was just the latest example of how deeply torn the country remains over following onerous restrictions. The more states that follow Texas’ lead, the harder it will be for Mr. Biden to make good on his promise.

Despite the president urging Americans to get vaccinated, a portion of the public remains deeply suspicious about the vaccines. Even if Mr. Biden can make doses available to every adult American by the end of May, as he has promised, he may still fall short if too many people refuse it.

The president has also in effect taken responsibility for ensuring that the vaccine makers can deliver the hundreds of millions of doses they have promised on tight time frames, avoiding more of the glitches and missed deadlines that slowed the early portions of the rollout.

In his speech, the president practically begged Americans not to be afraid of vaccines that have already been given to millions of people around the country. “Talk to your family, friend, your neighbor,” he implored. “We need everyone to get vaccinated.”

“Because even if we devote every resource we have,” he added, “beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity.”

Finally, Mr. Biden faces a political challenge that could undercut his efforts to make people feel like the economy is working again.

Mr. Biden pushed the American Rescue Plan through Congress with not a single Republican vote. That gives his adversaries little reason to hope for its success and ample motivation to publicize its failures.

The White House has said it will mount an all-out public relations campaign over the next several weeks aimed at making sure that the American public understands what the legislation will do for them: direct payments, unemployment benefits, extra money to care for children and help for schools, businesses and local governments.

The stimulus package encompasses a complex array of programs that will have to be enacted quickly across a host of government agencies. The White House is eager to avoid the kinds of breakdowns that plagued the small business assistance program last year, when crashing computer systems and opaque rules created logjams and inequities that marred the program’s initial stages.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Thursday that people could begin seeing deposits in their checking accounts as soon as this weekend.

But administration officials have quietly acknowledged that some of the money in the American Rescue Plan will not be spent for months or even longer. And they have indicated a desire to find someone to oversee the vast effort — a clear sign they recognize the danger if they stumble amid a need to move quickly

The most important question for Mr. Biden may be: Will Americans be patient?

President Joe Biden, after he signed the American Rescue Plan with Vice President Kamala Harris in the Oval Office on Thursday. A signing celebration is planned for Friday in the White House Rose Garden.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

One day after President Biden issued a televised address promising that his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan could help lift up an economy stunned by the coronavirus pandemic, he is expected to celebrate passing the package into law with a group of Democrats at the White House.

Since the plan was passed with no Republican support, the signing celebration, planned for the Rose Garden on Friday afternoon, will be a “bicameral” but not “bipartisan” event, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Thursday. Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, along Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat, are expected to attend, as is Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader.

The event will amount to a victory lap for a White House that has rolled out a media blitz to hail the largest federal infusion of aid to the poor in generations. And the event will be part of a campaign by Democrats to sell the landmark legislation to people who are politically opposed to it. Mr. Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Jill Biden, the first lady, are among the figures who will soon travel around the country to promote the particulars of the plan.

The legislation substantially expands the child tax credit and increases subsidies for health insurance. Restaurants will get financial help and state governments will get an infusion of aid. Among its many other provisions, the plan provides some $130 billion to assist in reopening schools.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Mr. Biden said to reporters who had gathered in the Oval Office on Thursday, “and giving people in this nation, working people, the middle-class folks, people who built the country, a fighting chance.”

Mr. Biden has also encouraged Americans to receive vaccines and practice social distancing. On Thursday evening, he said that he would use his executive authority to require states to make all adults eligible for the vaccine by May 1, with a broad goal that life could return to some semblance of normalcy by July 4.

President Joseph R. Biden Jr. signs the American Rescue Plan with Vice President Kamala Harris looking on in the Oval Office on Thursday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Congressional Republicans and Democrats finally agree on something: The pandemic rescue bill President Biden signed into law on Thursday is the largest expansion of government support programs in more than 50 years. Where they differ is on whether that is good or bad.

Trying to undermine the widely popular $1.9 trillion legislation, Republicans are denouncing the bill as “the most progressive domestic legislation in a generation.” They call it a spending spree that amounts to “a massive expansion of the entitlement system,” funds a longstanding “list of liberal priorities” and was muscled through on a party-line vote by Democrats unwilling to lower its price tag in drawn-out negotiations with Republicans. Democrats proudly own every word of that description.

“If you are a Democrat charged with that, you’d better prove yourself guilty,” said Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania.

The question for Republicans is whether they can get away with excoriating a bill that will deliver tangible benefits in the form of cash, tax credits, help paying child care and health care expenses, and much more to millions of Americans who have struggled for a full year with financial devastation and uncertainty.

Democrats say that Republicans will have a very hard time doing so. Democrats are unreservedly embracing the scope and cost of the plan they call transformative, bolstered by polls that show it is supported by a substantial majority of Americans, including Republican voters.

Privately, some top Republicans said they believed their pushback against the bill had been weak and too heavily focused on process, allowing Democrats to gain the upper hand with their celebration of the extensive help they are providing.

The rush is now on by both parties to define the bill that is likely to be a main point of contention in next year’s midterm elections, as Democrats seek to retain their thin majorities in the House and the Senate against a Republican onslaught.

Aides who work for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and were barricaded in a room in her office suite during the January 6 attack on the Capitol watch video from that day during the Senate impeachment trial.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

After the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob on Jan. 6, Herline Mathieu knew things had to change.

As president of the Congressional Black Associates, one of a hodgepodge of organizations on Capitol Hill that represent the aides who serve members of the House and the Senate, she heard from scores of fellow staff members who did not want to return to the complex after the violence and racism of the riot.

“I spoke with at least 60 members who were just really concerned about their safety,” said Ms. Mathieu, a legislative aide.

So Ms. Mathieu began to organize, a relatively rare endeavor for employees in Congress, which is exempt from most labor laws, including occupational safety and anti-discrimination statutes.

Before long, Ms. Mathieu had brought together 10 different staff associations — together representing more than 1,000 congressional staff members, mostly people of color — to push for a safer environment, better work conditions and more access to counseling and other services after the riot. They are also calling for changes to the Capitol Police force, which they argue let them down on Jan. 6, and a say in the makeup of an independent, 9/11-style commission proposed to investigate the attack.

“It’s important for us to come together to show that we are here,” said Ms. Mathieu, who works for Representative Emanuel Cleaver II, Democrat of Missouri. She stressed that she was acting on behalf of the staff association, not the congressman. “This is honestly the closest thing we’ve got to a union,” she said.

But in their push for a safer environment, the aides are also pressing to ensure that the Capitol Police does not resort to racial profiling or cracking down on minority groups in response to the latest rash of violence.

“We’ve seen in post-9/11 that South Asians have been disproportionately profiled,” said Nishith Pandya, the president of the Congressional South Asian-American Staff Association. “It is very clear who the perpetrators of this attack were, and it’s nobody who looks like the people here. Yet we all have to be concerned about racial profiling because of how this country has reacted to attacks like this before.”

President Biden addresses the nation from the White House.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The 365 days between the United States’ panicked retreat from offices and schools and President Biden’s speech on Thursday night, celebrating the prospect of a pandemic’s end, may prove to be one of the most consequential years in American history.

People learned about national vulnerabilities most had never considered, and about depths of resilience they never imagined needing except in wartime. Even the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, for all their horror and the two decades of war they ushered in, did not change day-to-day life in every city and town in the United States quite the way the coronavirus did.

One president lost his job in large part for mishandling a crisis whose magnitude he first denied. His successor knows his legacy depends on bringing the catastrophe to a swift conclusion.

The halting response demonstrated both the worst of American governing and then, from Operation Warp Speed’s 10-month sprint to vaccines to the frantic pace of inoculations in recent days, the very best. The economic earthquake as cities and towns shuttered so altered politics that Congress did something that would have been unimaginable a year ago this week. Lawmakers spent $5 trillion to dig the nation out of the economic hole created by the virus and, almost as a political aftershock, enacted an expansion of the social safety net larger than any seen since the creation of Medicare nearly 60 years ago.

No country can go through this kind of trauma without being forever changed. There were indelible moments. In the spring came the racial reckoning brought on by the death of George Floyd after a police officer in Minneapolis knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. On Jan. 6 came the mob attack on the Capitol that led many to wonder whether American democracy was still capable of self-correction.

But Mr. Biden’s message on Thursday centered on the theme that the country did finally come together in a common cause — vaccines as the road to normalcy — and from that could spring a glimmer of unity, as a still-divided nation seeks solace in millions of tiny jabs in the arm. In his speech, Mr. Biden held out two distinct dates of hope: May 1, when all adults in the United States will be eligible to receive a vaccine, and July 4, when modest Independence Day celebrations might resemble life a little like it once was.

For Mr. Biden, the question is when he will be able to pivot from what he has called the “rescue” phase of the pandemic to the “recovery” phase after the pandemic. In his speech on Thursday, the president made it clear that the rescue was still underway.

President Biden walking away from the podium after his first prime-time address from the White House.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden, in a prime-time address on Thursday night, exaggerated elements of the coronavirus pandemic along with his, and his predecessor’s, response to it. Here’s a fact-check.

What Mr. Biden Said

“A year ago we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months.”

This is exaggerated. It is true that President Donald J. Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic for months. But he was not exactly silent and did not fail to respond completely. One year ago, on March 12, 2020, Mr. Trump delivered an address from the Oval Office acknowledging the threat and announced new travel restrictions on much of Europe.

What Mr. Biden Said

“As of now, total deaths in America, 527,726. That’s more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined.”

This is exaggerated. According to estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a total of 392,393 died in combat in those three wars. Combined with the 2,977 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that figure would be indeed smaller than the coronavirus death toll Mr. Biden cited. It would also be lower than the 529,000 death figure tracked by The New York Times. But factoring in deaths that occurred in service but outside of combat, the toll from the three wars (more than 610,000) would be higher than the current total number of virus-related deaths Mr. Biden cited.

What Mr. Biden Said

“Two months ago this country didn’t have nearly enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all or anywhere near all of the American public. But soon we will.”

This is misleading. By the end of last year, the Trump administration had ordered at least 800 million vaccine doses that were expected for delivery by July 31, 2021, the Government Accountability Office reported. That included vaccines undergoing clinical trials as well as those not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. According to Kaiser Health News, that would have been enough to vaccinate 200 million people with authorized vaccines, and more than enough for 400 million once all the vaccines were cleared for use. The current U.S. population is roughly 330 million. And, contrary to Mr. Biden’s suggestions, both administrations deserve credit for the current state of the vaccine supply.

What Mr. Biden Said

“When I took office 50 days ago, only 8 percent of Americans after months, only 8 percent of those over the age of 65 had gotten their first vaccination. Today, that number is 65 percent.”

This is misleading. When Mr. Biden took office on Jan. 20, the vaccination effort had just begun, after the F.D.A. authorized Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in mid-December.

Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people between ages 65 and 74 receive the vaccine only after it has been administered to health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, frontline essential workers and people over the age of 75.

It’s also worth noting that about 62.4 percent of people over 65 have received one vaccine dose, but just 32.2 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C.

Credit…Pew Research Center

With President Biden taking a victory lap after signing his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, he continues to enjoy widespread confidence in his handling of the pandemic, according to a Pew Research Center poll released on Thursday.

Almost two-thirds of Americans expressed faith in Mr. Biden’s ability to confront the health crisis, including one-third of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. An even higher share — 70 percent of all Americans — expressed a favorable view of the relief package, according to another set of results from the same survey released earlier this week.

That lines up with the results of a CNN poll, also released on Thursday, that found that 67 percent of the country had confidence in Mr. Biden’s ability to guide the country out of the pandemic.

Mr. Biden’s overall job approval rating sits firmly in positive territory, with 54 percent giving him positive marks and 42 percent disapproving, the Pew survey found. But he continues to face a stubborn partisan divide: Among Republicans and Republican leaners, just 16 percent expressed approval.

By comparison, at a similar moment in President Barack Obama’s first term, Pew found that 37 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners gave him positive marks. For Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, the number was 30 percent among those in the opposing party.

So while Mr. Biden enjoys broad public confidence on his ability to handle the pandemic, and while a solid majority of the country told Pew researchers that they trusted him to make sound decisions on foreign policy and the economy, there is less faith in his ability to bring the country together, although it was a key component of his campaign.

Forty-eight percent of Americans said they felt good about his chances of uniting the country, while 52 percent said they didn’t have a lot of confidence, according to Pew.

The poll found more evidence of the entrenched divide: The Democratic Party was slightly more popular than the Republican Party, with 47 percent of Americans expressing a positive view of it — compared with 38 percent for the G.O.P. — but about three in five Americans described both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as “too extreme in its positions.”

The poll was conducted from March 1-7, and reached 12,055 respondents via Pew’s American Trends Panel, which uses a probability-based model to draw a sample that is representative of the national population.

A rally in February to oppose the series of hate crimes that have targeted Asian-American people in San Francisco.
Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

President Biden on Thursday evening condemned “vicious” hate crimes against Asian-Americans, who he said have been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“They’re forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” Mr. Biden said during a prime-time address at the White House, marking a year since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. “It’s wrong. It’s un-American, and it must stop.”

Asian-Americans have grappled with anxiety and fear as violence against them spiked during the pandemic. Activists and elected officials say the attacks were fueled early on in part by the rhetoric of former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” because it originated in Wuhan, China. Mr. Trump has also blamed the Chinese government for the pandemic, saying Beijing failed to keep the virus from spreading beyond China’s borders.

Over the past year, researchers and activist groups have tallied thousands of racist incidents against Asian-Americans. Earlier this year, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground during an attack in San Francisco, and he later died. The killing, which his family described as racially motivated, spurred a campaign to raise awareness of his death and the recent attacks against Asian-Americans.

In New York, the number of hate crimes involving Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department jumped to 28 in 2020, up from just three the previous year.

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