Senate Approves Biden’s Stimulus Plan, but Blocks $15 Minimum Wage Hike
Senate lawmakers gave their support to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package just before sunrise on Friday, clearing a major hurdle for the legislation to proceed without Republican support after an overnight voting session that stretched for about 15 hours.
Vice President Kamala Harris arrived early in the morning to the Senate dais, where she cast her first tiebreaking vote, and the Senate adopted the resolution along party lines, 51-50, 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 wanted to attach to a coronavirus relief package as lawmakers pressed forward with a budget plan that includes Mr. Biden’s economic aid proposal.
The resolution will go to the House, where Democrats do not require Republican support to approve it.
Still, the proposal did not pass without setbacks for some Democrats. Lawmakers dealt a significant blow to Mr. Biden’s plan by dismissing a major tenet: a measure that would raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.
In an impassioned speech around 5 a.m., Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, called for his colleagues to back the budget resolution in the “strongest possible terms,” even after they rejected the minimum wage proposal for which he has been the Senate’s leading proponent.
“We now come to the end of the debate that has gone on for over 14 hours, and we end this debate in a moment in which our country faces more crises, more pain, more anxiety than any time since the Great Depression,” Mr. Sanders said. “But we have the opportunity to give hope to the American people and restore faith in our government by telling them that tonight we understand the pain that they are experiencing and we are going to do something very significant about it.”
By a voice vote, senators backed an amendment from Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, to “prohibit the increase of the federal minimum wage during a global pandemic.” It was a signal that the wage increase would 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.”
Mr. Sanders seemed unfazed. He said that his plan was to carry out the wage increase over five years and that he had never wanted to raise it during the pandemic.
“We need to end the crisis of starvation wages in Iowa and around the United States,” Mr. Sanders said, taking a swipe at Ms. Ernst’s home state. He added that he planned to try to get the phased-in wage increase included in a budget reconciliation bill that would allow Mr. Biden’s stimulus plan to circumvent the Senate’s 60-vote filibuster rule.
“At a time when half of our workers are living paycheck to paycheck, when millions of workers are earning starvation wages and when Congress has not voted to raise the minimum wage since 2007, I will do everything that I can to make sure that a $15-an-hour minimum wage is included in this reconciliation bill,” Mr. Sanders said.
Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.
The House on Thursday took the extraordinary step of ousting a lawmaker from two congressional committees, exiling Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia for endorsing the executions of Democrats and spreading dangerous and bigoted misinformation even as her fellow Republicans rallied around her.
In a move without precedent in the modern Congress, the House voted 230 to 199— over near-unanimous Republican opposition — to remove Ms. Greene from the Education and Budget Committees.
The move effectively stripped Ms. Greene of her influence in Congress by banishing her from committees critical to advancing legislation and conducting oversight. Party leaders traditionally control the membership of the panels, and while Democrats and Republicans have occasionally moved to punish their own members by stripping them of assignments, the majority has never in modern times moved to do so to a lawmaker in the other party.
Democrats argued that Ms. Greene’s comments — and Republican leaders’ refusal to take action against her themselves — had created an untenable situation that required the unusual action. In social media posts made before she was elected, Ms. Greene endorsed executing top Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi; suggested a number of school shootings were secretly perpetrated by government actors; and repeatedly trafficked in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic conspiracy theories.
The vote came a day after Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, released a statement that condemned Ms. Greene’s past comments endorsing violent behavior and conspiracy theories — but made clear that the party did not intend to punish her. Eleven House Republicans voted to affirm the resolution.
“You would think that the Republican leadership in the Congress would have some sense of responsibility to this institution,” Ms. Pelosi said at a news conference on Thursday. “For some reason, they’ve chosen not to go down that path.”
In wide-ranging and emotional remarks on the House floor on Thursday, Ms. Greene, who represents the 14th congressional district in Georgia, expressed regret for her previous comments. She said that she believed the Sept. 11 attacks “absolutely happened” and that school shootings were “absolutely real,” after previously suggesting aspects of both were staged.
“I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them, and that is absolutely what I regret,” Ms. Greene said, wearing a mask embroidered with the phrase “FREE SPEECH.”
“When I started finding misinformation, lies, things that were not true in these QAnon posts, I stopped believing it,” she said, adding that her revelation came in 2018. “Any source of information that is a mix of truth and a mix of lies is dangerous.”
She did not apologize over the course of the roughly eight-minute speech, but portrayed her previous comments as “words of the past” that “do not represent me.” She warned that lawmakers were creating a “big problem” if they chose to “crucify” her for “words that I said, and that I regret, a few years ago.”
Her contention that she broke away from QAnon in 2018 also does not square with a series of posts she made in 2019 and other social media activity from that time, including liking a Facebook comment that endorsed shooting Ms. Pelosi in the head and suggesting in the same year that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had been replaced with a body double.
Ms. Greene’s comments are likely to assuage some in the Republican conference, but Democrats immediately indicated that they were not impressed.
“I just have to say that I did not hear an apology or denouncement for the claim, the insinuation that political opponents should be violently dealt with,” said Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts and the chairman of the Rules Committee. “I didn’t hear anybody apologize or retract the anti-Semitic and Islamophobic remarks that have been made, that have been posted, over and over again.”
The step of stripping a House member of committee assignments is usually reserved for lawmakers who are facing indictments or criminal investigations or who have otherwise broken with their party in a particularly egregious way. Mr. McCarthy in 2019 stripped former Representative Steve King of Iowa of his committee posts after an interview with The New York Times in which he questioned why the term “white supremacist” was considered offensive.
Lawyers for former President Donald J. Trump said on Thursday that he would not voluntarily testify at his impeachment trial next week, wasting little time to swat back an invitation by the House managers to answer questions under oath about his actions surrounding the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol.
In a letter to Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the lead House manager prosecuting the case, the lawyers called the request a “public relations stunt.”
“Your letter only confirms what is known to everyone: you cannot prove your allegations against the 45th president of the United States, who is now a private citizen,” wrote the lawyers, Bruce L. Castor Jr. and David Schoen.
Mr. Schoen later clarified by text message that Mr. Trump did not plan to testify voluntarily. He accused Democrats in the House and Senate of running an unfair proceeding because they had yet to share even basic rules, like how long the defense would have to present.
“I don’t think anyone being impeached would show up at the proceedings we firmly believe are unconstitutional,” Mr. Schoen said.
The House managers could still attempt to subpoena testimony from Mr. Trump during the trial, which is scheduled to begin on Tuesday. But doing so would require support from a majority of the Senate, and members of both parties already gunning for a speedy proceeding signaled skepticism to calling Mr. Trump on Thursday.
In making his request, Mr. Raskin had said that the president’s formal response this week to the House’s “incitement of insurrection” charge had challenged “overwhelming evidence” about his conduct as the assault unfolded, and demanded further explanation.
Read the Letter Calling on Trump to Testify
In a letter to former President Donald J. Trump, the lead House impeachment prosecutor said Mr. Trump’s response this week to the House’s charge had challenged “overwhelming evidence” about his conduct as the assault unfolded, and demanded further explanation.
“In light of your disputing these factual allegations, I write to invite you to provide testimony under oath, either before or during the Senate impeachment trial, concerning your conduct on January 6, 2021,” Mr. Raskin wrote. He had proposed conducting an interview “at a mutually convenient time and place” between Monday and Thursday.
In a filing on Tuesday, Mr. Trump’s lawyers denied that he incited the attack or meant to disrupt Congress’s counting of electoral votes to formalize President Biden’s victory, which was underway at the Capitol. They denied that when the former president told his followers to go to Capitol Hill and “fight like hell” that it “had anything to do with the action at the Capitol.” They also rejected that Mr. Trump had spread falsehoods about election fraud, asserting that because he believed that he “won it in a landslide,” he was merely exercising his First Amendment right. The invitation from the managers was a voluntary request, and though the Senate could vote to subpoena Mr. Trump’s testimony, doing so would present thorny legal and political issues.
Mr. Trump has never shied from defending himself, but it was unlikely that his lawyers would allow him to go on record in a case they already believe is headed for acquittal.
Anticipating a possible refusal, Mr. Raskin wrote in his original request that the managers could use his refusal to testify to draw an “adverse inference” about his actions on Jan. 6, meaning that they would cite his silence as further proof that their allegations were true.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers rejected that conclusion in their reply.
“As you certainly know, there is no such thing as a negative inference in this unconstitutional proceeding,” they wrote.
The exchange highlighted one of the biggest evidentiary holes in the managers’ case: how precisely Mr. Trump conducted himself when it became clear the Capitol was under assault on Jan. 6. The president sent several tweets sympathizing with the mob and calling for peace during that time, but media reports and accounts by lawmakers who desperately tried to reach him to send in reinforcements suggested he was “delighted” by the invasion.
Hailey Fuchs and Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.
President Biden outlined a sweeping vision of restored American global leadership on Thursday, announcing an end to U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen and vowing to confront Russia and China.
He also promised to work with allies to combat issues like the pandemic and climate change and announced a freeze on President Donald J. Trump’s planned troop redeployments from Germany.
After two weeks of emphasis on domestic issues, Mr. Biden visited the State Department to turn his focus to foreign policy and make good on campaign promises to revitalize American diplomacy, alliances and moral authority. Speaking to diplomats at the Harry S. Truman Building in Washington, Mr. Biden said he intended to “send a clear message to the world: America is back.”
“We’re going to rebuild our alliances,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re going to re-engage the world.”
In the first foreign policy speech of his administration, the president said he would rebuild “the muscle of democratic alliances that have atrophied over the past few years of neglect and, I would argue, abuse.”
In ending American support for offensive Saudi operations in Yemen’s civil war — which he said had “created a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe” — Mr. Biden is delivering on a campaign promise, days after his administration announced a review of major U.S. arms sales to Riyadh that were approved by the Trump administration. The U.S. has also provided intelligence, targeting data and logistical support for the Saudi intervention. Mr. Biden said he would work to revive dormant peace talks and announced the appointment of a special envoy for Yemen.
Mr. Biden announced he was “stopping any planned troop withdrawals from Germany,” halting Mr. Trump’s order to redeploy roughly 12,000 U.S. troops stationed in the country. National security experts from both parties had called Mr. Trump’s order shortsighted.
The president struck a firm tone toward Moscow, vowing to stand up to Russian efforts to disrupt American democracy and saying he had made it clear in a recent call with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, “in a manner very different from my predecessor, that the days of the United States rolling over in the face of Russia’s aggressive actions” were over. He called on Moscow to release the imprisoned dissident Alexei A. Navalny, adding: “We will not hesitate to raise the cost on Russia.”
Mr. Biden said that strong alliances were key to deterring Moscow, along with the “growing ambitions of China to rival the United States.” But he also stressed that he would cooperate with both nations when it served U.S. interests, citing his new agreement with Mr. Putin to extend the New Start agreement, which limits the size of the two countries’ strategic nuclear arsenals, for five years.
Mr. Biden also acknowledged the damaged state of American democracy, saying that the United States will be “a much more credible partner” in the global effort to defend democracies from threats like authoritarianism and disinformation if it can shore up its own economy, politics, civil society and racial equality gap.
“There’s no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy,” he said.
And in what may have been an implicit nod to the riot at the Capitol last month, Mr. Biden said of the military coup in Myanmar that “force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election.”
Mr. Biden also announced he would issue a presidential memorandum to federal agencies “to reinvigorate our leadership” on L.G.B.T.Q. issues worldwide.
Earlier, Jake Sullivan, Mr. Biden’s National Security Adviser, said the president’s visit would be the first of several to national security departments and agencies, including the Pentagon and the intelligence community. But even though many State Department officials were aghast at the policies under Mr. Trump, who derided their work as the “Deep State Department,” Mr. Biden will face a diplomatic corps that remains skeptical of the new White House.
Some employees have noted with concern that political appointees, not career diplomats, are beginning to fill the top ranks at the department. While that is not particularly unusual — and is within any president’s prerogative — it singes a staff that felt burned by Mr. Trump’s efforts to install loyalists with little experience in diplomacy.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, is amping up the pressure on President Biden to take fast action on a plan to cancel $50,000 in student loan debts for each borrower, a top progressive priority.
Congressional Democrats have proposed a nonbinding resolution calling upon Mr. Biden to use his executive authority to cancel about 80 percent of the student loan debt run up by some 36 million borrowers. Many are low-income people, including millions of Black and Hispanic students, disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Mr. Biden, already wrangling with Republicans over his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal, has thrown his support behind legislation calling for $10,000 in relief.
He is not expected to quickly shift, according to aides to Democratic senators familiar with the administration’s position.
Mr. Biden “continues to support” the canceling of student debt, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki wrote on Twitter. “Our team is reviewing whether there are any steps he can take through executive action and he would welcome the opportunity to sign a bill sent to him by Congress,” she added.
The resolution, which would have no legal effect if passed, calls for cancellation for all borrowers, whereas a previous Democratic proposal limited the program to people earning under $125,000 per year.
Speaking during a news conference outside the Capitol early Thursday, Mr. Schumer said, “We are not going to let up until we accomplish it, until $50,000 of debt is forgiven for every student in the country.”
Most Republicans oppose the move, making passage through the Senate difficult; And the proposal has its political perils because it essentially picks winners and losers — leaving borrowers who recently paid off their debt and future recipients of loans without any such relief.
An economic working paper published by the Roosevelt Institute casts debt forgiveness explicitly in racial-justice terms. The total percentage of Black households that would benefit would be greater than white households, and the relative gains for those households’ net worth are far larger, the researchers found.
The legal argument for debt cancellation by executive action hinges on a passage in the Higher Education Act of 1965 that gives the education secretary the power to “compromise, waive or release” federal student loan debts.
In December, Mr. Schumer, who represents New York, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who has long pushed the plan, wrote in a joint op-ed last week that debt cancellations would give “Black and brown families across the country a far better shot at building financial security.”
It was, they added, the “single most effective executive action available to provide massive stimulus to our economy.”
The American economy continues to stagger toward the expected salvation of a vaccine-spurred recovery later this year, but new jobs numbers signaled a protracted struggle for American workers — while longer-term losses accelerated by the pandemic take root.
The Labor Department reported Thursday that new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week for the third straight week, but they remained at extraordinarily high levels by historical standards. Last week brought 816,000 new claims for state benefits, compared with 840,000 the previous week.
The latest data strengthens the argument for more stimulus, economists say, a key policy position of the Biden White House. The $900 billion aid package passed in December helps many unemployed workers only through mid-March.
President Biden and congressional Democrats are pushing ahead with a $1.9 trillion aid package that includes $1,400 in direct payments to many Americans as well as help for states and cities, which are major employers.
While these proposals dwarf previous relief packages, they will do little to address quiet but consequential changes to the economy, now hammering workers whose jobs were being eliminated by automation even before the virus hit. Employers who have been forced to cut workers are turning to existing or new technology to carry on with less labor. And the shift could be magnified by the fact that demand in some cases came back before employees safely could.
Layoffs have shifted from temporary to permanent as the pandemic has dragged on, and many workers have moved to the sidelines of the labor market as service jobs in particular — like those in conference centers, hotels and tollbooths — are downsized or streamlined. It is unclear how quickly workers will find new jobs that are good substitutes in terms of skills and salaries.
John Mahalis of Philadelphia was two and a half months from his pension’s vesting when he learned that he would be permanently laid off from his job as a toll collector on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The job evaporated overnight when the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, decided in June to move up its plan to lay off nearly 500 toll workers and replace them with electronic tolling. Dismissals planned for early 2022 instead went into effect immediately, a move that the commission said would help the system financially accommodate weaker traffic during the economic downturn.
“It came out of the blue,” said Mr. Mahalis, 65. He had loved the work, especially interacting with customers, and earned good money: By taking as much overtime as he could get, he made about $53,000 a year, along with benefits.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” he said.
As some Republicans condemn her inflammatory statements, and Democrats push to strip Representative Marjorie Taylor Green of her committee assignments, the freshman lawmaker has argued that the resistance confronting her only “strengthens my base of support at home and across the country.”
And to some degree that is true.
In the three months since she was elected, Ms. Greene has created a national brand for herself as a conservative provocateur who has proudly brought the hard-right fringe to the Capitol.
Her most fervent supporters saw in the treatment of Ms. Greene a reminder of all that they loathed about Washington. But in a congressional district proud of its ranking as one of the most conservative in the country, voters drawn to her unapologetic intensity were now also brushing the limits of their support.
The 14th Congressional District of Georgia is a largely white and rural corner of the state sprawled across a dozen counties from the outer suburbs of Atlanta to the outskirts of Chattanooga.
Ms. Greene gained traction by hewing to core conservative themes — defending gun rights, opposing immigration and supporting former President Donald J. Trump.
One of Ms. Greene’s supporters, Billy Martin, a retired teacher and coach from the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, said he found Ms. Greene’s posts and statements puzzling.
“Sometimes people say things they regret, speak before they think,” Mr. Martin said. Still, he added, he was not sure what to believe. “I don’t think they treat you fairly anymore,” referring to the news media and Democratic politicians.
For others, the revelation of Ms. Greene’s past social media posts — including one about a space laser controlled by Jewish financiers starting a California wildfire — has unsettled some who once backed her.
“It’s embarrassing,” Ashley Shelton, a stay-at-home mother who voted for Ms. Greene, said of the controversy.
“I think she’s kind of a loose cannon,” Ms. Shelton said before paraphrasing a line from the Old Testament: “The wise are the quiet ones,” she said. “The more she opens her mouth, the less evidence of her wisdom.”
Hunter Biden is publishing a memoir about his struggles with addiction and drug abuse — from his first sips of alcohol as a child, when he was dealing with the aftermath of family tragedy, to his crack-cocaine use.
The book, titled “Beautiful Things,” is scheduled to be published in the United States on April 6 by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. It has already drawn praise from high-profile writers like Anne Lamott, Dave Eggers, Bill Clegg and Stephen King, who in a blurb called it “both heartbreaking and quite gorgeous.” Gallery declined to disclose the financial terms.
A lawyer and former lobbyist, Hunter Biden, 51, is President Biden’s oldest surviving child, and he has been a favorite target of conservatives, including former President Donald J. Trump, who openly pressed the Justice Department to investigate Hunter and his father.
In addition to recounting Hunter Biden’s substance abuse, the book will also describe how the Biden family coped with a series of staggering losses: the deaths of Hunter’s mother and younger sister, who were killed in a car crash when he was a toddler, and the death of his older brother, Beau, from brain cancer. (The book’s title comes from a phrase Beau and Hunter would say to each other after Beau was diagnosed.)
Its release could bring additional scrutiny to Hunter Biden’s business relationships and finances, which were a source of controversy during the 2020 presidential campaign.
“Beautiful Things,” which was written with the journalist Drew Jubera, will be more of a personal narrative about addiction and recovery rather than a political memoir, according to Jennifer Bergstrom, the senior vice president and publisher of Gallery Books.
In an email, Ms. Bergstrom called it “a heartfelt, highly personal book about being a father and being a son” and noted that the story “will remind all of us that sobriety is a fragile, living thing.”
Hunter Biden’s memoir is one of a handful of new and forthcoming books about the Biden family and administration. Several journalists have sold books about the Bidens, including John Heilemann’s account of Biden’s rise to the presidency; Franklin Foer’s book about Biden’s first 100 days in office; and the Politico correspondent Ben Schreckinger’s book about the Biden family’s past tragedies, scandals and triumphs, and a book about Jill Biden’s tenure as first lady by the New York Times reporter Katie Rogers.
There will likely be a coming wave of books about the Bidens from conservative authors and commentators, as there were during the Clinton and Obama presidencies.
It is still early in his term, but President Biden seems to have broken out of the red-blue trench warfare of public polling of the Trump era — hitting the 61 percent approval mark in an A.P.-NORC Center for Public Affairs poll released Thursday.
The poll, which is roughly in line with other recent surveys, shows that Mr. Biden’s popularity is powered by his commitment to tackling the pandemic and other problems by consulting advisers and experts, along with near-universal approval among Democrats.
Unlike former President Donald J. Trump, whose approval never moved beyond his conservative base, Mr. Biden is making modest inroads with Republicans — earning a 27 percent approval rating, up from the low teens or high single digits in most polls taken during the 2020 campaign.
Independents, who swung for Mr. Biden in his race against Mr. Trump, approved of him by a 58-to-39 percent mark, the survey found.
Recent polls from other organizations have shown Mr. Biden with a somewhat lower approval rating, in the low- and mid-50s, with an aggregated 54.3 percent approval rating, according to RealClearPolitics.com.
But there are indications that Mr. Biden’s honeymoon could be provisional.
When asked to judge the new president on a variety of criteria (from fighting corruption to managing the military to shepherding the economy) Americans who answered the A.P. poll were broadly split into three nearly equal camps — those who support him, those who oppose him, and those who are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Most presidents top 55 percent or higher in their first few months in office. Mr. Trump, who often touted (and distorted) his approval ratings, is the first modern-era president never to reach 50 percent in poll aggregations at any time during his four years in office.
The closest he came was hitting the mid-40s in the week after he took office. But his approval ratings plummeted after he instituted a ban on immigration from some Muslim countries in January 2017.
And Mr. Trump’s approval numbers have fallen since the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, settling below 40 percent in most recent surveys, after which he was impeached by the House and charged with “incitement of insurrection.” A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday found Americans were closely divided on whether the Senate should convict him in the trial: 50 percent said yes and 45 percent said no, with a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will examine the influence of Russia and other foreign powers on anti-government extremist groups like the ones that helped mobilize the deadly attack on the Capitol last month, the panel’s new chairman said in an interview this week.
As the executive branch undertakes a nationwide manhunt to hold members of the mob accountable, Senator Mark Warner, Democrat of Virgina, said it would be vitally important for the influential committee to do a “significant dive” into anti-government extremism in the United States, the ties those groups have to organizations in Europe and Russia’s amplification of their message.
With the power-sharing agreement between Democrats and Republicans in place, Mr. Warner took over as the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee this week, after four years as its vice chairman. In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Warner outlined his priorities, such as the spread of disinformation, the rise of anti-government extremist groups, Chinese domination of key technologies, Russia’s widespread hack of government computer networks and strengthening watchdog protections in the intelligence agencies.
The White House has ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to work with the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. on a new analysis of the threat from domestic extremist groups and the support they receive from foreign powers or overseas organizations.
Those anti-government extremists include QAnon, the conspiracy movement, and the Proud Boys, a far-right organization that Canada named as a terror group on Wednesday. Supporters of those groups and others were part of the attack on the Capitol building on Jan. 6, which aimed to stop the transfer of power to the Biden administration.
The Senate Intelligence Committee will look at both white supremacist groups on the right, and antifascist, or antifa, groups on the left, though Mr. Warner was quick to say that the danger the groups posed was not the same. “I don’t want to make a false equivalency argument here,” he said, “because the vast preponderance of them are on the right.”
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, unveiled a plan on Thursday to send payments of up to $1,250 per month to families with children, in an effort to encourage Americans to have more children while reducing child poverty rates.
Mr. Romney’s Family Security Act would provide $350 a month for each child up to 5 years old and $250 a month for children aged 6 to 17, via the Social Security Administration. The payments would be capped at $1,250 per family per month, and they would phase out for individual parents earning above $200,000 a year and couples earning more than $400,000.
“American families are facing greater financial strain, worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, and marriage and birthrates are at an all-time low,” Mr. Romney said in a news release. “Our changing economy has left millions of families behind. Now is the time to renew our commitment to families to help them meet the challenges they face as they take on the most important work any of us will ever do — raising our society’s children.”
The plan would not increase the federal budget deficit, Mr. Romney projects. To offset the costs of the new benefit, Mr. Romney proposed eliminating other government safety net spending, including the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and the expanded “head of household” deduction for parents who do not itemize their income tax returns.
He would also eliminate the state and local tax deduction, known as S.A.L.T., which largely benefits higher-income taxpayers in high-tax states like Maryland and New Jersey — a move that is likely to antagonize Democrats who have fought to expand the deduction after Republicans limited it in 2017.
Still, Mr. Romney’s plan drew praise as an example of the possibilities of bipartisan action, with the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, writing in a tweet that it was an “encouraging sign.”
President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan includes a one-year expansion of the existing child tax credit and earned income tax credit, which analysts say could cut child poverty in half. Mr. Romney’s plan would streamline the earned income tax credit, while adding in the child allowance.
Analysis from the Niskanen Center, a middle-of-the-road think tank in Washington, finds that Mr. Romney’s proposal “would reduce U.S. child poverty by roughly one third, and deep child poverty by half.”
All members of the Capitol Police will be vaccinated against Covid-19, the acting chief of the force announced on Thursday, almost a month after the deadly riot at the Capitol that killed one officer and injured others.
“The department expects delivery of the vaccines to occur shortly, and is already working with the Office of Attending Physician on logistics to administer them to our employees as quickly and safely as possible,” Chief Yogananda Pittman said, adding, “I am tremendously grateful for the dedication of our officers who have worked tirelessly and sacrificed to uphold our mission.”
Chief Pittman took over the top post at the department when her predecessor resigned following the riot at the Capitol on Jan 6. She apologized to Congress last month for the agency’s extensive security failures, and acknowledged that the department had been aware of a “strong potential for violence” on Jan. 6.
Several members of Congress who took shelter in the Capitol during the riot have since tested positive for the coronavirus, and there have been complaints that some members and their staffs have been heedless about mask-wearing and other pandemic safety precautions.
The announcement came after President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and other lawmakers paid their respects to Brian D. Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died of injuries he received during the riot. On Tuesday, he became the fifth person to lie in honor at the Capitol. At a news conference on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Mr. Sicknick a “martyr for democracy.”
Ms. Pelosi said that Lt. Gen. Russell Honoré, whom she tapped to lead a review of security at the Capitol complex, recommended that the force be vaccinated.
“To do the people’s work, it is essential to keep the people safe and to keep this House safe,” she said. Ms. Pelosi added that “the Capitol Police have been severely affected by Covid, separately and apart from everything else that’s going on.”
A recent Mexican law prohibiting the detention of immigrant children and families is forcing American border agents to resume releasing migrant families into the United States, according to three Biden administration officials, presenting an immediate challenge to the Biden administration.
The Trump administration began turning back migrants entering the country in March, citing the threat of the coronavirus, and the emergency rule effectively sealed the border from asylum seekers. But because of a law Mexico passed in November that prohibits the detention of immigrant children and families, the country has stopped accepting such families from South Texas, an area typically susceptible to illegal crossings, officials said.
The recent shift has alarmed officials at the Department of Homeland Security who have said that the emergency rule was necessary to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in detention facilities along the border, even as it prevented vulnerable families from having their asylum claims heard.
This has led to an increasing number of families being held in recent weeks in such facilities in the Rio Grande Valley, as well as in Del Rio, Texas, officials said.
Stephanie Malin, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, said because of pandemic precautions and social distancing guidelines, some facilities had reached full “safe holding capacity.”
President Biden campaigned on restoring asylum at the southwestern border and signed an executive order this week directing the administration to review rolling back President Donald J. Trump’s restrictionist policies.
But the new administration has not detailed publicly when the pandemic emergency rule would be lifted. A federal judge in the District of Columbia lifted a block on the rule, which prevented the United States from turning away unaccompanied migrant children. The White House said it would use its discretion in deciding when to apply the policy.