The Senate returns to a complicated agenda, seeking to pass infrastructure and other economic priorities.


The Senate returns to a complicated agenda, seeking to pass infrastructure and other economic priorities. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, has been working to prepare a pair of bills addressing infrastructure and other Democratic economic priorities. “We are proceeding on both tracks very well,” he said. Credit… Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times The Senate returned to Washington on Monday after a two-week recess facing a pile of complicated legislative work and key deadlines looming in the push to enact President Biden’s far-reaching economic agenda. Democratic leaders have mapped out a monthlong sprint for senators, warning them to prepare for late nights, weekend work and even the cancellation of part of their beloved August recess to set up final passage of their priorities in the fall. The House does not return until next week, but will face a similar time crunch when it does. Their goal is to simultaneously advance two hulking bills before the summer break: a bipartisan investment in roads, bridges, high-speed internet and other infrastructure projects; and a far larger and more partisan package that would include tax increases on corporations and the rich to fund an expansion of the social safety net and programs to fight climate change. If successful, the July sprint would set up Congress to pass both bills into law when it returns to work in September. “We are proceeding on both tracks very well,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said on Sunday. “I was on the phone all weekend talking to all kinds of different people and legislators about moving forward on those tracks, as well as with the White House and the president, and we’re moving forward.” But given the sheer ambition of the legislation — the two bills together could spend $3 trillion or much more — and Democrats’ narrow majorities in both the House and Senate, the task will not be easy. One or both bills could stall or fall apart as Democratic leaders try to placate both a group of moderate Republicans and Democrats who struck a rare bipartisan agreement on traditional infrastructure spending, as well as their more progressive Democratic members, who are pushing for a more ambitious package focused on education, child care, taxes, health care and the environment. After reaching an agreement to spend $579 billion in new money on infrastructure projects last month, the bipartisan group of senators spent much of the extended July 4 recess turning their framework into real legislation that they believe can win 60 votes in the Senate and pass the Democratic-led House. Key Senate committees are expected to begin moving parts of that bill this week, and Mr. Schumer has said he expects a vote by the full Senate before leaving in August. It remains to be seen if he can consolidate the votes needed to pass it. Work on the other legislative package, which Republicans have signaled they will oppose, is progressing more slowly. Democrats are prepared to pass it using a budget maneuver known as reconciliation that would allow them to get around a Republican filibuster. But that means the party will most likely have no votes to spare in the Senate, and its moderate and progressive wings will have to reach agreement on what to include and how much to spend. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont progressive who is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is pushing for up to $6 trillion in spending, and told The New York Times last week that a proposal by moderates to spend one-third of that or less was “much too low.” Those differences will have to be resolved quickly. Mr. Schumer wants the Senate to hold a vote on a budget resolution mapping out the reconciliation spending before the Senate leaves town. Action in the House could follow. Read more

Rob Portman, Ohio Senator, is optimistic a bipartisan infrastructure deal will prevail. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, left, meeting with President Biden and a bipartisan group of Senators to discuss infrastructure at the White House last month. Credit… Pete Marovich for The New York Times Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio and a three-decade veteran of Washington, helped lead the bipartisan negotiations that produced an infrastructure deal that has been endorsed by President Biden. But that may have been the easy part. Now, it will be up to Mr. Portman and his colleagues to write the bill, set to provide nearly $600 billion in new federal spending, and shepherd it through the narrowly divided and deeply polarized House and Senate to Mr. Biden’s desk. With five Republicans publicly on board with the compromise, at least five more would need to join all 50 Democrats for the measure to have the 60 votes necessary to advance in the Senate. Mr. Portman spoke recently with The New York Times about his early, negative experience working with Mr. Biden this year on a virus relief bill, why he trusts the president now and why he thinks Republicans should support the bipartisan infrastructure deal even though they oppose the much bigger spending bill Democrats plan to jam through. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. You mentioned that there’s a lot of people that agree on what core infrastructure is, but are you confident that will translate to the votes you need for this deal? Yes, I think it’s a compelling framework, which says that we should focus on core infrastructure. And both sides made compromises as to how much to spend. Republicans would’ve wanted to spend less, as an example, on passenger rail or transit. Democrats would’ve wanted to spend more on areas like green technology or electric car companies. But we were able to find that middle ground, and I think there’s an enormous amount of support for that, both in Congress and, more importantly, in the country. People want to see our infrastructure be improved. They’re tired of waiting in traffic during their rush hour commute. They’re tired of the bridges, like some in Ohio, that are well beyond their usefulness and causing a lot of inefficiency in the economy, because of the bottlenecks that they represent. People are tired of worrying about lead pipes. So there’s a strong interest in coming up with a way to provide funding for these long-term assets like bridges and roads and water systems, and doing it in a smart way. And I think that’s why this is likely to — at the end of the day — prevail, despite some of the ups and downs. It’s very popular because it’s something people know is needed. Read more

Continue reading the main story

Walking a fine line, Biden balances confronting crime and supporting police reform. Video transcript Back bars 0:00 / 1:18 – 0:00 transcript Biden Hosts Meeting on Gun Violence Prevention President Biden met at the White House on Monday with leaders including Attorney General Merrick Garland and New York’s Democratic mayoral nominee, Eric Adams, to discuss ways to combat rising gun violence. We’ve been at this a long time, a long time, seems like most of my career I’ve been dealing with this issue. Well, there’s no one-size-fit-all approach. We know there are some things that work. And the first of those that work is stemming the flow of firearms used to commit violent crimes. And we’ve talked, you and I have talked about this before. And it includes cracking down on holding rogue gun dealers accountable for violating the federal law. It includes the Justice Department creating five new strike forces to crack down on illegal gun trafficking in the corridor supplying weapons to cities of New York, from New York to the Bay Area. Secondly, supporting local law enforcement with the federal support they need. Our strategy provides including funding for law enforcement through the American Rescue Plan for states, cities, and to be able to hire police and pay them overtime in order to advance community policing. Third, our plan invests in community violence and intervention. We what we want to do is when we know we utilize trusted community members and encourage more community policing, we can intervene before the violence erupts. President Biden met at the White House on Monday with leaders including Attorney General Merrick Garland and New York’s Democratic mayoral nominee, Eric Adams, to discuss ways to combat rising gun violence. Credit Credit… Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times President Biden said on Monday that Americans owed law enforcement and community leaders “big time” as he met with mayors and police chiefs from some of the nation’s largest cities, sending a clear signal to progressives in his party and Republican critics that he would crack down on crime. In a meeting at the White House, Mr. Biden urged the local officials to invest in police departments and establish community-based programs that could help rebuild trust between people of color and law enforcement. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland also attended the meeting, For Mr. Biden, the meeting was part of an increasingly urgent effort by the White House to demonstrate that the president is aggressively confronting gun violence as homicides rise in cities across the country and Republicans accuse his administration of being soft on crime. The president has called on Congress to pass measures that would close background-check loopholes, restrict assault weapons and repeal gun manufacturers’ immunity from lawsuits, but his call for a bipartisan gun control effort is stalled. Last month, Mr. Biden called on states and local governments to use money from the American Rescue Plan to hire more police officers and beef up enforcement. But the get-tough language is tricky for Mr. Biden, who risks alienating liberals in Congress and voters who are pushing for criminal justice reform after police killings of Black people last year. Some of the most vocal Democrats in Congress continue to demand that lawmakers defund police departments that employ racist tactics and instead invest in education, mental health or other social services. Among those at Monday’s meeting was Eric Adams, the Brooklyn borough president who won the Democratic nomination for New York City mayor in part by making public safety a centerpiece of his campaign. By inviting Mr. Adams, who is heavily favored to win the general election in November, Mr. Biden is showing a desire to strike the same balance that Mr. Adams, a former New York City police captain, did in the primary — satisfying liberals on reform efforts but also demonstrating that he will do something about what the president called the “first responsibility of democracy: to keep each other safe.” Mr. Biden’s plan, which he reiterated on Monday, includes urging communities to use $350 billion in funds from his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to surge hiring at departments as well as support more community-focused organizations. Americans are concerned about Mr. Biden’s handling of crime. A Washington Post-ABC News poll released this month showed that just 38 percent approved, 48 percent disapproved and 14 percent offered no opinion. Michael D. Shear and Read more

Monthly payments to families with children will begin, but the program’s future is in doubt. Students at a summer program in New York this month. Nearly nine in 10 children will qualify for the new monthly payments under an expanded version of the child tax credit. Credit… Jose A. Alvarado Jr. for The New York Times If all goes as planned, the Treasury Department will begin making a series of monthly payments in coming days to families with children, setting a milestone in social policy and intensifying a debate over whether to make the subsidies a permanent part of the American safety net. With all but the most affluent families eligible to receive up to $300 a month per child, the United States will join many other rich countries that provide a guaranteed income for children, a goal that has long animated progressives. Experts estimate the payments will cut child poverty by nearly half, an achievement with no precedent. But the program, created as part of the stimulus bill that Democrats passed over unified Republican opposition in March, expires in a year, and the rollout could help or hinder President Biden’s pledge to extend it. While the government has increased many aid programs during the coronavirus pandemic, supporters say the payments from an expanded Child Tax Credit, at a one-year cost of about $105 billion, are unique in their potential to stabilize both poor and middle-class families. “America is dramatically behind its industrial peers in investing in our children,” said Senator Cory Booker, a Democrat from New Jersey. Among America’s 74 million children, nearly nine in 10 will qualify for the new monthly payments — up to $250 a child, or $300 for children under six — which are scheduled to start on Thursday. Those payments, most of which will be sent to bank accounts through direct deposit, will be half of the year’s subsidy. The rest will come as a tax refund next year. Mr. Biden has proposed a four-year extension in a broader package, called the American Families Plan, but the program’s fate may depend on whether Democrats can unite and advance it through the evenly divided Senate. The unconditional payments — what critics call “welfare” — break with a quarter century of policy. Since President Bill Clinton signed a 1996 bill to “end welfare,” aid has gone almost entirely to parents who work. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, recently wrote that the new payments, with “no work required,” would resurrect a “failed welfare system,” and provide “free money” for criminals and addicts. A few conservatives, however, support subsidies for children, on the theory they might boost falling birthrates and allow more parents to raise children full-time. Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, has proposed a larger child benefit, though he would finance it by cutting other programs. Read more

Continue reading the main story

Biden says U.S. stands with Cuban protesters, as lawmakers from both parties join in. Video People in Cuba took to the streets to protest the country’s economic crisis and the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, in one of the largest demonstrations in decades. Credit Credit… Eliana Aponte/Associated Press President Biden on Monday called on the Cuban government to heed the demands of thousands of citizens who took to the streets on Sunday to protest power outages, food shortages and 60 years under harsh rule by the Communist Party. “The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime,’’ Mr. Biden said at the White House. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this in a long, long time. Or quite frankly ever.” He added that “the United States stands firmly with the people of Cuba, as they assert their universal rights, and we call on the government to refrain from violence or attempts to silence the voice of people of Cuba.” Democrats and Republicans alike spoke out in support of the astonishing street demonstrations in Cuba, a country known for quashing dissent. Remarkable scenes emerged around the nation on Sunday, with thousands of Cubans taking to the streets in a surge of protests not seen in nearly 30 years. Shouting phrases like “freedom” and “the people are dying of hunger,” protesters overturned a police car in Cardenas, 90 miles east of Havana. Another video showed people looting from a government-run store — acts of open defiance in a nation with a long history of repressive crackdowns on dissent. Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, spoke out on national television on Monday, calling the demonstrations a consequence of an underhanded campaign by Washington to exploit peoples’ “emotions” at a time when the island is facing food scarcity, power cuts and a growing number of Covid-19 deaths. Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, invoked his family’s Cuban history in predicting the leadership of the island would resort to violence against protesters but would ultimately fall. “This regime has brutalized and denied freedom to generations of Cubans, forcing many including my family to flee or be murdered,’’ he said in a statement on Monday. He said the regime “will be consigned to the dustbin of history.’’ Representative Nicole Malliotakis, Democrat of New York, who is a daughter of a Cuban refugee, urged Mr. Biden not to return to “President Obama’s failed” strategy with Cuba, according to a statement from her office. Mr. Obama and the Cuban leader Raul Castro agreed to normalize relations in 2014, thawing travel and commerce restrictions, and leading to the removal of Cuba from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. “I hope this is the beginning of real change toward freedom and democracy on the island,” Ms. Malliotakis said. Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, also of Cuban heritage, issued a series of tweets on Sunday and Monday, and called the demonstrations “a leaderless, grassroots & nationwide movement. The anger has been building up for months & it’s just getting started.” Inevitably, American politics also entered the picture. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, tweeted, “President Biden: freedom in Cuba needs you now. Don’t be AWOL.” And Mr. Rubio scrawled over a White House statement by Mr. Biden to scold him for what Mr. Rubio portrayed as a delayed and incomplete statement on Cuba’s “authoritarian regime.’’ “You forgot something,’’ Mr. Rubio wrote, adding “socialist and communist” to describe Cuban leadership. The protests in #Cuba began over 24 hours ago

And you forgot something 👇 — Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) July 12, 2021 Oscar Lopez, Ernesto Londoño and Read more

Texas Democrats fled the state to thwart Republican legislation to restrict voting. A private plane waiting for the arrival of Democrats from the Texas legislature at the Austin airport on Monday. Credit… Eric Gay/Associated Press Texas Democrats fled the state on Monday in a last-ditch effort to prevent the passage of a restrictive new voting law in the Republican-controlled legislature, heading to Washington to draw attention to what they portray as a damaging assault on the right to cast a ballot. The group left Austin in midafternoon on a pair of chartered flights, then called on the nation to do more to protect voting rights in a news conference after their arrival in Washington. “We are here to fight,” said Representative Joe Moody, who represents El Paso. “We just hope we aren’t alone.” An official involved with the effort said at least 51 of the 67 Democrats in the Statehouse had signed on, enough to prevent Texas Republicans from attaining a quorum, which is required to conduct state business. But the Democrats’ move also lays bare their limited options in a legislature where the Republicans hold the majority in both chambers. Parliamentary procedures and efforts to add amendments can delay the process but not derail it, and leaving the state to prevent a quorum, Republicans said Monday, would ultimately fail as well. Video transcript Back bars 0:00 / 0:57 – 0:00 transcript Harris Praises ‘Courage and Commitment’ of Texas Democrats Vice President Kamala Harris praised Texas Democrats’ ongoing efforts to prevent passage of a new restrictive voting law by the Republican-controlled state legislature. On Monday, the group headed to Washington to draw attention to what they view as an attack on voting rights. I do want to first start by making a statement about the legislators in Texas who are showing extraordinary courage and commitment. I met with them when many of them traveled to Washington, D.C., we sat down and had an extensive conversation in the Roosevelt Room in the White House. And I applaud them standing for the rights of all Americans, and all Texans, to express their voice through their vote unencumbered. They are leaders who are marching in the path that so many others before did when they fought and many died for our right to vote. And I’ll say this later in my comments, but I do believe that fighting for the right to vote is as American as apple pie. It is so fundamental to fighting for the principles of our democracy. Vice President Kamala Harris praised Texas Democrats’ ongoing efforts to prevent passage of a new restrictive voting law by the Republican-controlled state legislature. On Monday, the group headed to Washington to draw attention to what they view as an attack on voting rights. Credit Credit… Nicole Hester/The Grand Rapids Press, via Associated Press “It’s just delaying the inevitable,” said Representative Briscoe Cain, a Houston-area Republican who chairs the House Elections Committee, describing the Democrats’ move as “political theater.” The bill is among the most expansive and sweeping efforts to restrict voting in a state that already ranks as one of the most difficult in the country to cast a ballot, with Democrats and voting rights groups contending that passage of the bill threatens the very democratic foundations of the state. The move comes just one day before President Biden is scheduled to deliver a major speech on voting rights in Philadelphia. Activists have been imploring the administration recently to address the issue with more urgency. David Montgomery contributed reporting from Austin, Tex. Reid J. Epstein and Read more

Continue reading the main story

Six months after the Jan. 6 siege, the Capitol Police force faces multiple crises. Officer James Blassingame of the Capitol Police says he still avoids certain hallways at the Capitol, struggles with feelings of guilt and routinely has flashbacks of fighting off the violent mob. Credit… Erin Schaff/The New York Times Half a year after the assault on the U.S. Capitol, the 2,000-member police force charged with protecting Congress finds itself at perhaps its biggest crossroads in its nearly two-century existence. Its work force is traumatized and overworked as its ranks have been hollowed out by a flood of departures. The agency is facing possible furloughs as it teeters on the brink of running out of funding as overtime costs outpace its budget for salaries. It has been besieged by criticism by members of both parties for the stunning security failures that allowed the assault to occur. And on top of it all, its officers have become the target of conspiracy theories by Republican lawmakers who, following Mr. Trump’s lead, have suggested that a Capitol Police officer premeditated the killing of Ashli Babbitt, a rioter who was shot steps away from the door to the House chamber. As the mob pushed its way through the Capitol’s Crypt on Jan. 6, Officer James Blassingame was slammed back against a stone column and nearly overrun. He saw hate in the eyes of the rioters, hoisting Trump flags and “Make America Great Again” hats, as they urinated on the walls where American icons have served and called him racist slurs. “Legitimately, I did not think I was going to make it home,” Officer Blassingame, 40, and a 17-year veteran of the Capitol Police force, said in a recent interview. He did survive, but the horrors of Jan. 6, when supporters of President Donald J. Trump violently breached the Capitol, had a profound effect on Officer Blassingame. He was injured in the head and back. He avoids certain hallways at the Capitol, struggles with feelings of guilt and routinely has flashbacks of fighting off the violent mob. And his personal trauma mirrors a broader crisis within the U.S. Capitol Police, which is badly damaged, demoralized and depleted six months after the attack. “We have people retiring like crazy; we have people quitting,” said Officer Blassingame, who filed a lawsuit with another officer against Mr. Trump for damages for their physical and emotional injuries. “I have friends of mine who have literally come in and quit. They don’t even have jobs.” The agency says more than 70 officers have retired or resigned since the Jan. 6 attack, which cost the lives of two members of the force who battled the rioters: Officer Brian D. Sicknick, who died from a stroke, and Officer Howard Liebengood, who took his own life. Officials say the departure rate is slightly higher than normal, but Gus Papathanasiou, the chairman of the of the Capitol Police union, said he believed the rate was far worse than was being disclosed. Read more

U.S. officials tell Pfizer that more data is needed for a decision on booster shots. Video transcript Back bars 0:00 / 1:25 – 0:00 transcript ‘Seriously Disappointing’: W.H.O. Criticizes Booster Vaccines Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. director general, called on wealthy countries not to order Covid booster shots while most countries are still struggling to give their residents initial vaccines. While many countries haven’t even started vaccinating, and another country has already vaccinated majority of its population, the two doses and now moving to a surplus, which is the booster. It’s really not only disappointing, it’s seriously disappointing. And high-income countries who are vaccinating their population significantly are starting to see Covid-19 pandemic as if it’s not their problem. That is dangerous. You have seen it and everybody is seeing it now. High-income countries are starting to say, we have managed to control it. It’s not our problem. And there will be two problems on this: One, I’m not sure if they are out of the woods, and I don’t think they’re in control. Instead of Moderna and Pfizer prioritizing the supply of vaccines as boosters to countries whose populations have relatively high coverage, we need them to go all out to channel supply to Covax, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, and low- and middle-income countries, which have very little vaccine coverage. Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the W.H.O. director general, called on wealthy countries not to order Covid booster shots while most countries are still struggling to give their residents initial vaccines. Credit Credit… Christopher Black/World Health Organization, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images Representatives of Pfizer met privately with senior U.S. scientists and regulators on Monday to press their case for swift authorization of coronavirus booster vaccines, amid growing public confusion about whether they will be needed and pushback from federal health officials who say the extra doses are not necessary now. The high-level online meeting, which lasted an hour and involved Pfizer’s chief scientific officer briefing virtually every top doctor in the federal government, came on the same day that Israel started administering third doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to heart transplant patients and others with compromised immune systems. Officials said after the meeting that more data — and possibly several more months — would be needed before regulators could determine whether booster shots were necessary. The twin developments underscored the intensifying debate about whether booster shots were needed in the United States, at what point and for whom. Many American experts, including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser for the pandemic, have said that there is insufficient evidence yet that boosters are necessary. Some, though, say Israel’s move may foreshadow a government decision to at least recommend them for the vulnerable. Pfizer is gathering information on antibody responses in those who receive a third dose, as well as data from Israel, and expects to submit at least some of that to the Food and Drug Administration in the coming weeks in a formal request to broaden the emergency authorization for its coronavirus vaccine. But the final decision on booster shots, several officials said after the meeting, will also depend on real-world information gathered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about breakthrough infections — those occurring in vaccinated people — that cause serious disease or hospitalization. And any recommendations about booster shots are likely to be calibrated, even within age groups, officials said. For example, if booster shots are recommended, they might go first to nursing home residents who received their vaccines in late 2020 or early 2021, while older people who received their first shots in the spring might have a longer wait. And then there is the question of what kind of booster: a third dose of the original vaccine, or perhaps a shot tailored to the highly infectious Delta variant, which is surging in the United States. “It was an interesting meeting. They shared their data. There wasn’t anything resembling a decision,” Dr. Fauci said in a brief interview Monday evening, adding, “This is just one piece of a much bigger puzzle, and it’s one part of the data, so there isn’t a question of a convincing case one way or the other.” A spokeswoman for Pfizer said in a statement: “We had a productive meeting with U.S. public health officials on the elements of our research program and the preliminary booster data.” With less than half of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, some experts said that the country needed to remain focused on getting all Americans their first dose. The Food and Drug Administration’s most important task, they said, is to increase public confidence by granting full approval to the coronavirus vaccines in use, which for now are authorized on an emergency basis. “At this point, the most important booster we need is to get people vaccinated,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease expert at Emory University in Atlanta. Within the Biden administration, some fear that if Americans are convinced that coronavirus vaccines provide only short-lived immunity before requiring a booster, they will be less likely to accept a shot. But those concerns could fall by the wayside if data from Israel, expected in the next several weeks, shows conclusively that immunity wanes after six to eight months, significantly raising the risks for older people or other vulnerable populations. The administration convened Monday’s session in response to last week’s announcement by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, that they were developing a version of their vaccine that targets the Delta variant, and reporting promising results from studies of people who received a third dose of the original vaccine six months after the second. The new data is not yet published or peer-reviewed, but when the companies announced that they would submit data to the Food and Drug Administration for authorization of booster shots, it caught the Biden White House by surprise. In an unusual joint statement Thursday evening, hours after the Pfizer-BioNTech announcement, the F.D.A. and the C.D.C. pushed back. Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Read more

Continue reading the main story