Power Up: With a deadline and a red line, Biden and Democrats advance coronavirus relief package

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In fact, as our colleague Jeff Stein scooped yesterday, senior Democrats are today set to unveil a key plank aimed at “making a major dent in child poverty.” 

With millions of Americans set to be cut off from unemployment benefits in March, top White House officials are eyeing the first week of March to push through and enact Biden’s $1.9 trillion package. And the president himself drew his clearest red line yet, saying Friday he couldn’t “in good conscience” shrink and delay the package.

  • “Too many people in the nation have already suffered for too long through this pandemic and economic crisis,” said Biden. “And telling them we don’t have the money to alleviate their suffering, to get to full employment sooner, to vaccinate America after $8 trillion in deficit spending over the past four years — much of it having gone to the wealthiest people in the country — is neither true nor necessary.”

Biden also spelled it out on Friday: while his preference is to work with Republicans and Democrats, if faced with the choice “between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly, and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation,” he’d choose the former. 

In other words: the White House appears ready to leave Republicans behind after the House approved the 2021 budget resolution. House Democrats are prepared to advance a key provision of the package today. 

  • Aides to the president told our colleagues Ashley Parker, Matt Viser, and Seung Min Kim that they’d like to pass something “ahead of a March 15 deadline when enhanced unemployment insurance benefits are set to expire.”
  • On Monday, we will begin working on the specifics on the bills,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters after a Friday meeting with Biden and Vice President Harris. “Hopefully, in a two-week period of time, we’ll send something over to the Senate and this will be done long before the due date of the expiration of so many initiatives.”

Biden allies argue using the budget reconciliation process, which requires only 50 votes to pass the stimulus,  “does not preclude both bipartisanship and a big covid stimulus.” 

  • Biden rejects the premise that these two things are mutually exclusive, that bipartisanship and speed are mutually exclusive,” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield told Ashley, Matt and SMK. “He is going to continue to pursue bipartisan support for the package, regardless of the mechanism.”

But the price tag will be an issue: House Democrats, per Jeff’s reporting, want “to provide $3,000 per child to tens of millions of American families.” 

  • Under the proposal, the Internal Revenue Service would provide $3,600 over the course of the year per child under the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per child of ages 6 to 17. The size of the benefit would diminish for Americans earning more than $75,000 per year, as well as for couples jointly earning more than $150,000 per year. The payments would be sent monthly beginning in July, a delay intended to give the IRS time to prepare for the massive new initiative,” per Jeff.
  • Republican Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) released a plan last week proposing to send even more in direct cash payments per child to American families: “Romney’s proposal would provide $4,200 per year for every child up to the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per year for every child age 6 to 17,” according to Jeff. 
  • “Biden’s proposed child benefit has quickly emerged as a potentially defining feature of his administration’s economic agenda — one that could make a lasting imprint on American welfare policy. Its execution could also prove crucial to deciding Democrats’ ability to maintain control of Congress, given its likely direct impact on the lives of tens of millions of voters.” 

So far, Biden has yet to garner any GOP support and a large child tax credit could make that even harder, He sat down last week for two hours with ten Senate Republicans to discuss relief legislation doesn’t seem willing to concede on key flash points — like the omission of state and local funding and cutting the size of direct payments. 

“I’m not cutting the size of the checks,” Biden said Friday. “They’re going to be $1,400, period.” But the president is more flexible on how targeted the payments are: 

  • “I’m prepared to negotiate on that — but here’s the deal: middle class folks need help,” Biden told CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell. “But you don’t need to get any help to someone making 300,000 bucks or [$250,000]. So it’s somewhere between an individual making up to [$75,000] and phasing out and a couple making up to [$150,000] and phasing out. But again, I’m wide open on what that is.”
  • Biden also told O’Donnell he suspects that the $15 minimum hike wage will not “survive” the relief bill due to “the rules of the United States Senate.”
  • Note: Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told CNN’s Jake Tapper the effort to include the wage hike is ongoing:  “I can tell you as chairman of the (Senate Budget Committee), we have a room full of lawyers working as hard as we can to make the case to the parliamentarian that, in fact, raising the minimum wage will have significant budget implications and, in fact, should be consistent with reconciliation rules.”
  • The Vermont senator would not say whether he thinks [Harris] should overrule the parliamentarian in her role as President of the Senate to help push through legislation including the minimum wage provision, as he had previously advocated for during his presidential campaign, per CNN’s Devan Cole and Allison Main

By the numbers: The self-described wartime president’s apparent preference for going it alone comes as monthly jobs reports provided Biden with new data showing more Americans falling into long-term unemployment. He offered a grim analysis of the numbers himself, telling House Democrats in the Oval Office it’s “very clear our economy is still in trouble.”

  • “More than four million people in January had been out of work for more than six months, the standard definition of long-term unemployment. That was up slightly from December and almost four times the number before the pandemic began,” the New York Times’s Ben Casselman reports.
  • “About 400,000 people LEFT the Labor Force in January, meaning they didn’t find work and stopped even looking for a job,” our colleague Heather Long noted. “The unemployment rate declined b/c the labor force got smaller. That’s not good.”
  • Joblessness rates have remained especially high for women and people of color: 
  • “A study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia showed that tenants who lost jobs in the pandemic had amassed $11 billion in rental arrears, while a broader measure by Moody’s Analytics, which includes all delinquent renters, estimated that as of January they owed $53 billion in back rent, utilities and late fees,” writes the Times’s Conor Dougherty. 

Millions are still reporting high rates of hardship across the board, according to an analysis by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities of the Census Bureau’s survey tracking the pandemic’s impact. 

  • “Nearly 24 million adults — 11 percent of all adults — reported that their household sometimes or often didn’t have enough to eat in the last seven days,” according to the latest data collected from Jan. 6 to 18, per CBPP’s Claire Zippel. “An estimated 15.1 million adults living in rental housing — 1 in 5 adult renters — weren’t caught up on rent.”

On the Hill

IT’S IMPEACHMENT EVE. HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: A top conservative constitutional lawyer broke with some in the GOP’s argument that an ex-president can’t be tried in the Senate.

  • “It defies logic to suggest that the Senate is prohibited from trying and convicting former officeholders,” Chuck Cooper wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
  • Senate Republicans who say it’s unconstitutional to impeach Trump because he’s no longer president have misread the constitution, Cooper wrote. “The provision cuts against their interpretation.”
  • Why this matters: Cooper “was a close confidant and adviser to Senate Republicans, like Ted Cruz of Texas when he ran for president, and represented House Republicans — including the minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California — in a lawsuit against Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He is also the lawyer for conservative stalwarts like John R. Bolton and Jeff Sessions, and over his career defended California’s same-sex marriage ban and had been a top outside lawyer for the National Rifle Association, the Times’s Michael S. Schmidt reports.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) isn’t holding back after her impeachment vote jeopardized her job as GOP conference chair and got her censured back home.

  • “Somebody who has provoked an attack on the United States Capitol to prevent the counting of electoral votes, which resulted in five people dying, who refused to stand up immediately when he was asked and stop the violence — that is a person who does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward,” Cheney told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.
  • No dice: Kevin McCarthy tried to get Liz Cheney to apologize for how she handled her vote to impeach former President Trump before last week’s highly anticipated House GOP conference meeting — a request she refused,” Axios’s Alayna Treene reports. 

Here’s how lawyers and House managers are preparing for Tuesday: “Prosecutors will try to force senators who lived through the deadly rampage as they met to formalize President Biden’s election victory to reckon with the totality of Trump’s months-long drive to overturn the election and his failure to call off the assault they argue it provoked,” the Times’s Nicholas Fandos reports

The prosecution will “tell a story of how Trump seeded, gathered and provoked a mob to try to overturn his defeat.” Here’s what Trump’s lawyers will do: 

  • Mount a technical defense. “Trump’s lawyers have indicated that they intend to mount a largely technical defense, contending that the Senate ‘lacks jurisdiction’ to judge a former president at all after he has left office because the Constitution does not explicitly say it can.”
  • Claim First Amendment protection. “[They] plan to deny that Trump incited the violence at all or intended to interfere with Congress’s formalizing of Biden’s victory, asserting that his claims that the election was ‘stolen’ are protected by the First Amendment.”
  • Reminder: At least 67 votes are needed to convict Trump. That’s very unlikely to happen.

Global power

BIDEN SAYS HE’LL APPROACH U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS DIFFERENTLY: In his first network television interview since taking office, “Biden said that he would not handle relations between the United States and China ‘the way Trump did,’” our colleagues Amy B Wang and Anne Gearan report

  • “Biden and his officials have indicated a willingness to take a more aggressive posture toward China, while maintaining that it is perhaps the most important relationship for the United States.”
  • Biden on Chinese President Xi Jinping: “He’s very bright. He’s very tough. He doesn’t have — and I don’t mean it as a criticism, just the reality — he doesn’t have a democratic, small D, bone in his body. I’ve said to him all along that we need not have a conflict. But there’s going to be extreme competition. And I’m not going to do it the way that he knows. I’m not going to do it the way Trump did. We’re going to focus on international rules of the road.”

Biden also refused to lift sanctions against Iran until its leaders agreed to stop enriching uranium

  • But “Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei repeated that Iran expects the United States to act first, lifting all sanctions before it will return to its own commitments under the deal,” our colleagues report.

Outside the Beltway

U.K. CORONAVIRUS VARIANT IS SPREADING THROUGH THE U.S. “The coronavirus variant that shut down much of the United Kingdom is spreading rapidly across the United States, outcompeting other strains and doubling its prevalence among confirmed infections every week and a half,” our colleague Joel Achenbach reports

  • “The spread of the variant, officially known as B.1.1.7, and the threat of other mutant strains of the virus, have added urgency to the effort to vaccinate as many people as possible as quickly as possible. The variant is more contagious than earlier forms of the coronavirus and may also be more lethal, although that is far less certain.”

Florida and California lead the nation with the highest cases of the variant.

More on Florida: Experts and government officials are worried that last night’s Super Bowl parties could turn “Super Bowl Sunday into Superspreader Sunday,” our Post colleagues report

  • “Other events celebrated with widespread get-togethers, such as Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving, have been accompanied by a jump in infections. Although cases are trending down across the nation and vaccinations are underway, caseloads remain high and most Americans have not yet been inoculated.”
  • [Indoor Super Bowl parties create] a perfect environment to accelerate new transmission chains, because that person gets infected, doesn’t realize it, sees their parents,” David Rubin, director of the PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told our colleagues.

Despite these warnings, large crowds gathered to watch the game Sunday

The people

COLD WAR DIPLOMAT DIES AT 100: “George P. Shultz, one of only two people to serve the United States in four Cabinet-level posts and a major force in economic and foreign policy in two Republican administrations, died Feb. 6 at his home in Stanford, Calif.,” our colleague Michael Abramowitz reports

  • “Dr. Shultz’s prodigious inside knowledge of the U.S. government was rivaled by few figures in recent memory, and his soft-spoken, cerebral manner obscured his strong conservative views about the wisdom of keeping spending under control, limiting government regulation and vigorously confronting terrorists.”


TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS CLINCH SUPERBOWL TITLE: “[Tom] Brady, with three touchdown passes, bested Patrick Mahomes in a marquee quarterback matchup, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-9, in Super Bowl LV,” our colleague Mark Maske reports.

  • “It was the seventh career Super Bowl triumph for Brady in his 10th appearance, punctuating his storybook first season with the Buccaneers after two dynastic decades with the New England Patriots that included six Super Bowl wins in nine appearances.”

A few firsts: Two women coached in the game – and the first woman officiated a Super Bowl. “Lori Locust, a defensive line assistant, and Maral Javadifar, an assistant strength and conditioning coach, are both on the staff of Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Bruce Arians,” per the Times’s Kevin Draper. 

  • “When Javadifar and Locust go to shake the referees hands, they’ll shake the hand of down judge Sarah Thomas, the first woman to officiate a Super Bowl. Thomas, 47, became the first woman to referee full-time in the N.F.L. in 2015 and first officiated a playoff game in 2019. She was profiled by The New York Times in 2009, when Thomas was major college football’s only female referee.”

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