President Biden said on Thursday that Republican efforts to limit voting rights were “sick” and “un-American,” vowing to prevent states from taking what he called “despicable” actions that undermine democracy by making it harder for people to cast ballots.
Speaking to reporters in the East Room of the White House for his first formal news conference, Mr. Biden said he would do “everything in my power” to pass voting rights legislation now under consideration in the Senate. But when asked about ending the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to approve most legislation — one of the biggest obstacles to the voting rights bill and much of the rest of his agenda — the president was more cautious, suggesting he was open to change but not committing himself to it.
The 60-vote threshold imposed by the filibuster was being “abused in a gigantic way,” Mr. Biden said, reiterating his support for a proposal that would require senators to keep talking in order to block legislation — a shift in practice that could deter routine use of the rule.
“I strongly support moving in that direction,” he said.
But he also signaled more directly than he has previously that he might eventually back more far-reaching proposals to limit or abolish the filibuster if doing so turned out to be essential for passage of a voting rights measure and other key elements of his agenda in a Senate that is currently divided 50 to 50.
“If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster,” the president said, “then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”
During a question-and-answer session that lasted more than an hour, Mr. Biden said it was his “expectation” that he would run for re-election in 2024, with Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.
He said for the first time that he “can’t picture” American troops still in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year, though he repeated that it would be hard to have them out by the current deadline of May 1. And he promoted his administration’s progress in fighting the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic, vowing to deliver 200 million vaccinations by the end of April — twice his previous pledge — even as the government also delivers a big new infusion of financial aid.
“As of yesterday, more than 100 million payments of $1,400 have gone into people’s bank accounts,” the president said, referring to the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that he pushed through Congress with no Republican support. “That’s real money in people’s pockets bringing relief instantly, almost. And millions more will be getting their money very soon.”
President Biden said on Thursday that he was unlikely to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan by May 1, the deadline agreed to by his predecessor, but added that he could not imagine troops still there a year from now.
His statement, at his first formal news conference since his inauguration just over two months ago, marked the first time that he had put a time frame on the American withdrawal. He had previously said that he was unlikely to meet the May 1 deadline for withdrawal that was part of an agreement made a year ago between the Trump administration and the Taliban.
“We’ve been meeting with our allies,’’ Mr. Biden said, particularly those who still have troops in Afghanistan, “and if we leave we are going to do so in a safe and orderly way.”
But moment later, when pressed, he moved away from the “if,’’ saying “It is not my intention to stay there for a long time.”
Mr. Biden’s statement appeared to make clear that he plans to pull out the 2,500 American troops remaining in the country, nearly 20 years after President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of the country to eliminate Al Qaeda’s base there, from which the September 11, 2001 terror attacks were launched.
But Pentagon officials have long warned that the troops are necessary to maintain a minimum force to collect intelligence and conduct counterterrorism operations. And Mr. Biden has not yet explained how, once the troops are gone, those functions will be carried out from afar.
In the same news conference, Mr. Biden said that North Korea’s decision to launch two short-range ballistic missiles on Thursday violated United Nations resolutions. “There will be responses if they choose to escalate,’’ he said. “We will respond accordingly.”
But he also opened the door to negotiations, “conditioned on the end result of denuclearization.” That condition may be a nonstarter for any meaningful negotiation: North Korean officials have previously said that they would never agree to unilateral denuclearization.
During the first summit meeting in 2018 between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, the country appeared to commit to eventual denuclearization. But its stockpile of nuclear material ultimately soared during the Trump years.
President Biden on Thursday swatted aside speculation that he would not seek a second term, saying he anticipated running again — while casting doubt on whether “there will be a Republican Party” in 2024 when asked about a rematch against former President Donald J. Trump.
“The answer is yes, my plan is to run for re-election. That’s my expectation,” Mr. Biden said, adding that he was confident that Vice President Kamala Harris would also be on the ticket.
When a reporter followed up to ask if he expected Mr. Trump to run again, Mr. Biden — enlivening an otherwise low-key, fact-laden performance — perked up.
“Oh, come on. I don’t even think about — I have no idea. I have no idea if there will be a Republican Party, do you?” he said.
Mr. Biden, who recovered from a succession of personal tragedies and political setbacks over many years to win the White House, hedged a little, saying that he had no way of predicting what the future might hold.
“Look, I don’t know where you guys come from, man,” he added. “I’m a great respecter of fate. I’ve never been able to plan four and a half, three and a half years ahead for certain.”
The Joe Biden who held forth for about an hour in the East Room on Thursday had much in common with the Joe Biden who held forth on the Senate floor for nearly four decades, although he was grayer, and more hoarse and halting in his delivery.
The president was characteristically long-winded, self-deprecating and intent on projecting the image of a convivial and candid leader — as he has throughout his career.
Mr. Biden’s staff, both in the White House and on the campaign trail, have been reluctant to put him in front of reporters for long, unstructured intervals, a hangover from decades of gaffes and rambling performances.
But he appeared to do himself no great harm, and made a point of striking a contrast with his combative predecessor, who labeled the press the “enemy of the people.”
He apologized to reporters for over-talking or for assuming they did not have background information on issues, and he went out of his way to praise them for their reporting on the immigration crisis at the country’s border.
Yet for all his deep-dive policy discussions, personal asides and demonstrations of decorum, Mr. Biden could not quite shake off the lingering, disruptive presence of Mr. Trump.
“My predecessor. Oh, God, I miss him,” Mr. Biden said with an acid laugh.
President Biden spoke to reporters on Thursday in his first formal news conference. Here’s a fact check of his remarks.
What was said
“We’re sending back the vast majority of the families that are coming.”
This is false. Federal officials recorded about 19,000 encounters with families at the southwestern border in February. Of those, about 7,900 families, or 42 percent, were expelled, far short of a majority. According to Axios, that rate was 13 percent last week.
Mr. Biden correctly noted later in the news conference that most encounters over all led to expulsions because of the high proportion of single adults: Out of more than 100,000 encounters at the southwestern border in February, more than 70,000 led to expulsions. But that is not true for families specifically.
What was said
“I started to deal with it back when I was a United States senator — I mean, vice president, putting together a bipartisan plan of over $700 million to do the root causes of why people are leaving. What did Trump do? He eliminated that funding. He didn’t use it.”
This is false. President Donald J. Trump did not completely eliminate the aid that Mr. Biden cited.
The federal government increased foreign assistance to Central America to $750 million in 2016 from $338.1 million in the 2014 fiscal year.
While Mr. Trump requested steep cuts to foreign aid in his annual budgets, he did not seek to eliminate that funding entirely. Congress ultimately agreed to reduce aid to Central America to $505.9 million in the 2021 fiscal year. The Trump administration also temporarily suspended that aid in April 2019, when the number of migrants at the border increased, but restored the funding in October 2019.
What was said
“He, in fact, shut down the number of beds available.”
This is exaggerated. As The New York Times has previously reported, Mr. Trump did not “shut down” bed capacity to house migrant children.
When the Obama administration faced an influx of migrant children, the refugee agency increased its monthly bed capacity to about 8,000 beds in the 2015 fiscal year from about 2,000 in the 2011 fiscal year, according to a Government Accountability Office report in 2016. Under the Trump administration, monthly bed capacity fell to less than 7,000 in October 2017 but grew to over 16,000 by December 2018. By Mr. Trump’s last full month in office, in December 2020, monthly bed capacity was more than 13,000.
What was said
“Between 1917 and 1971 the filibuster existed, there were a total of 58 motions to break a filibuster. That whole time. Last year alone, there were five times that many.”
True. The filibuster is an old procedural tactic to delay action on a bill. Mr. Biden highlighted 1917 because that year, the Senate adopted a rule allowing a two-thirds majority to “invoke cloture,” or end debate and vote on a measure. In 1975, the Senate reduced that threshold from two-thirds to three-fifths of the body.
Experts have considered motions to invoke cloture a “useful proxy” to measure how often filibusters occur.
According to the Senate website, there were 58 motions for cloture between 1917 and 1970, but debate was ended only eight times. In the 116th Congress — from 2019 to 2020, when Democrats were the minority party — there were 328 motions, and 270 resulted in cloture being invoked. Mr. Biden did not mention that of those motions to end debate, all but one was filed by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who was the majority leader at the time.
What was said
“Did you hear them complain, when they passed close to $2 trillion Trump tax cut, of 83 percent going to the top 1 percent?”
This is exaggerated. Mr. Biden repeated a talking point that has been popular for years among Democratic politicians. It comes from a 2017 study from the Tax Policy Center on the tax cut law that year. According to the study, by 2027, about 82.8 percent of the benefits of the tax cut will accrue to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. But in two other years examined in the study, 2018 and 2025, the researchers estimated that the top 1 percent’s share of the tax cuts would be about 20 percent to 25 percent.
Georgia on Thursday passed a sweeping law to limit voting access, making it the first major battleground state to overhaul its election system since the turmoil of last year’s presidential contest.
The legislation, which followed Democratic victories that flipped the state at the presidential and Senate levels, comes amid a national movement among Republican-controlled state legislatures to mount the most extensive contraction of voting access in generations. Seeking to appease a conservative base that remains incensed about the results of the 2020 election, Republicans have already passed a similar law in Iowa, and are moving forward with efforts to restrict voting in other states, including Arizona, Florida and Texas.
Democrats and voting rights groups have condemned the Georgia law, arguing that it unfairly targets voters of color. They say it particularly seeks to make voting harder for the state’s large Black population, which was crucial to President Biden’s triumph in Georgia in November and the success of Senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the January runoff elections.
Mr. Biden joined Georgia Democrats on Thursday in denouncing efforts to limit voting, calling Republicans’ push around the country “un-American.”
“It is the most pernicious thing,” Mr. Biden said at his first formal news conference since taking office. “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
Though the law is less stringent than the initial iterations of the bill, it introduces a raft of new restrictions for voting and elections in the state, including stricter voter identification requirements, limiting drop boxes, stripping the secretary of state of some of his authority, imposing new oversight of county election boards, restricting who can vote with provisional ballots, and making it a crime to offer food or water to voters waiting in lines. The law also requires runoff elections to be held four weeks after the original vote, instead of the current nine weeks.
The law does not include some of the harshest restrictions that had been proposed, like a ban on Sunday voting that was seen as an attempt to curtail the role of Black churches in driving turnout. And the legislation now, in fact, expands early voting options in some areas.
The law passed the Georgia House on Thursday morning by a party-line vote of 100 to 75, and was approved by the Senate in the evening on a 34-to-20 vote. It was promptly signed by Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican.
Thomas Kaplan contributed reporting.
Parler, the social network popular with Trump supporters said on Thursday that it had been working with law enforcement for months to identify possible illegal activity, including notifying authorities of specific threats to the Capitol ahead of the Jan. 6 assault on Congress.
Parler said in a letter to Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York and chair of the House Oversight Committee, that it formalized its relationship with the F.B.I. in November “to facilitate proactive cooperation and referrals of violent threats and incitement to law enforcement.”
The company said that it sent the bureau dozens of concerning posts written by its users, including some related to the deadly Jan. 6 attack.
“In the days and weeks leading up to Jan. 6, Parler referred violent content from its platform to the F.B.I. for investigation over 50 times,” the company said in its letter. “Parler even alerted law enforcement to specific threats of violence being planned at the Capitol.”
The letter raises fresh questions about whether the F.B.I. took seriously enough threats of violence made ahead of Jan. 6, when Congress formally certified the Electoral College after President Donald J. Trump had spent weeks spreading baseless claims about election irregularities.
The F.B.I. declined to comment on the letter or on what it has done with any information it has received from Parler.
Four days before the riot, the company said it gave the F.B.I. posts made by a user who said that he would attend the Jan 6 rally in body armor because “it’s no longer a protest.”
“This is the final stand where we are drawing the red line at Capitol Hill,” according to quotes from his messages that Parler shared with Congress.
“This is not a party until they announce #Trump2020 a winner,” the user wrote. “Don’t be surprised if we take the #capital [sic] building.”
In late December, the company said that it gave the F.B.I. three screenshots of particularly violent rhetoric from a user who threatened to kill politicians and who specifically threatened former Attorney General William P. Barr. And on Christmas Eve, it gave the F.B.I. a post by a user who said that he was looking for “some guys that are planning on lighting up Antifa” when they came to Washington on Jan. 6 because he wanted to “start eliminating people”
“Even after the violent attacks stopped, Parler continued to dutifully and proactively report posts to the F.B.I. where users threatened additional violence,” the company said in its letter.
Parler was embraced by conservatives after the November election, as Twitter and Facebook cracked down on misinformation around the election and kicked Mr. Trump off their platforms for incendiary speech.
The social network became a conservative cause célèbre in January, when mainstream companies like Apple, Amazon and Google removed it from their app stores and refused to provide it with technical services, claiming that it had allowed too much content that encouraged violence and crime.
The company came back on line last month with the help of a network of small web-hosting firms.
Separately on Thursday, top Democrats sent letters to the White House, the Justice Department, the F.B.I., the Pentagon, Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, the Park Police, the Metropolitan Police and some cabinet officials requesting all documents and communications related to the attack on the Capitol and its aftermath. The letters were signed by the chairs of the House committees on oversight, judiciary, intelligence, homeland security, administration, armed services and appropriations.
President Biden said Thursday his administration was working with Mexico to rapidly turn away all migrant families that cross the southwest border, while rejecting the notion that the surge in migration was because he was a “nice guy.”
The Biden administration has faced growing criticism over its handling of migration at the border, with Republicans saying Mr. Biden’s campaign promise to be more compassionate to migrants has led to an increase in crossings.
Mr. Biden is still using a pandemic emergency rule to rapidly turn away most single adults and families that cross without providing them the chance to ask for asylum, although an increasing number of those families have been released into communities in the United States.
Some Mexican officials along the South Texas border have refused to accept families that the Biden administration has tried to turn away, citing a lack of shelter capacity in Mexico and a recent change in Mexican law that prohibits the detention of small immigrant children.
Mr. Biden said on Thursday his administration was negotiating with the president of Mexico to take back more of the migrant families.
“I think we’re going to see that change,” he said. “They should all be going back. All be going back. The only people we’re not going to let sitting there on the other side of the Rio Grande by themselves with no help are children.”
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging the pandemic emergency rule but the legal action was put on hold to negotiate with the administration.
Lee Gelernt, a lead attorney in the case, said on Twitter that Biden’s comments at the news conference on expelling migrant adults and families may leave litigation as the “only choice.”
The administration has welcomed children and teenagers into the United States and has struggled to quickly process them. The number of children and teenagers stuck in border detention facilities that were originally set up to temporary hold adults increased to more than 5,150, according to data released on Thursday by the Department of Homeland Security.
The largest number of minors held this way under the Trump administration was about 2,600 in June 2019, according to current and former Customs and Border Protection officials.
The Biden administration is scrambling to build more emergency shelters at military sites and convention centers around the United States. Mr. Biden said he expected to move 1,000 young migrants “out of the border patrol into safe, secure beds and facilities.”
“We’re going to significantly ramp up,” he said.
President Biden made it clear in his first news conference since taking office that being successful in passing any gun safety legislation is far from his next priority.
“The successful presidents, better than me, have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they’re doing,” Mr. Biden said, when asked about what actions he planned to take in the wake of back-to-back mass shootings that killed 18 people.
“Order it,” he said. “Decide priorities. What needs to be done. The next major initiative is, and I’ll be announcing it Friday in Pittsburgh in detail, is to rebuild the infrastructure both physical and technological infrastructure of this country.”
Responding to a mass shooting at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., earlier this week, Mr. Biden called on the Senate to pass a ban on assault weapons and to close background check loopholes. But so far, his administration has done nothing to indicate it plans to spend much political capital on a proposals that were immediately met with a blockade of opposition by Republicans.
The White House is expected to roll out three executive actions in the coming weeks. One would classify some firearms as so-called ghost guns — kits that allow a gun to be assembled from pieces. Another would fund community violence intervention programs, and the third would strengthen the background checks system, according to congressional aides familiar with the conversations.
But that may be the extent of Mr. Biden’s efforts on the issue for now, as he confronts crises on multiple fronts.
“The fundamental problem is getting people some peace of mind so they can go to bed at night and not stare at the ceiling wondering whether they lost their health insurance, whether they’re going to lose a family member, whether they’re going to be in a position where they’re going to lose their home because they can’t pay their mortgage,” the president said.
Lawmakers grilled the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter on Thursday about the connection between online disinformation and the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, causing Twitter’s chief executive to publicly admit for the first time that his product had played a role in the events that left five people dead.
When a Democratic lawmaker asked the executives to answer with a “yes” or a “no” whether the platforms bore some responsibility for the misinformation that had contributed to the riot, Jack Dorsey of Twitter said “yes” but then qualified that by saying lawmakers “also have to take into consideration a broader ecosystem.”
“It’s not just about the technology platforms we use,” he said.
Neither Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook nor Sundar Pichai of Google would answer the question directly.
The roughly five-hour hearing before a House committee marked the first time lawmakers directly questioned the chief executives regarding social media’s role in the January riot. The tech bosses were also peppered with questions about how their companies helped spread falsehoods around Covid-19 vaccines, enable racism and hurt children’s mental health.
Tough questioning from lawmakers signaled that scrutiny of Silicon Valley’s business practices would not let up, and could even intensify, with Democrats in the White House and leading both chambers of Congress.
The chief executives have become Capitol Hill regulars in recent years. Mr. Zuckerberg has testified seven times since 2018. Mr. Dorsey has appeared five times and Mr. Pichai has testified four times since then. But these hearings, regarding disinformation, antitrust and data privacy, have not led to regulations. Though there is bipartisan animus toward the companies, there is still little agreement on how specifically to hold the internet giants to account.
At the heart of the hearing were questions about whether the companies had a financial incentive to keep users engaged — and clicking on ads — by feeding them divisive, extreme and hateful content. Lawmakers from both parties said Congress should reconsider a law that shields the platforms from lawsuits over content posted by their users.
“You’re not passive bystanders,” said Representative Frank Pallone, the New Jersey Democrat who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “You’re making money.”
Lawmakers also criticized the platforms for the way they have enabled the spread of misinformation about the coronavirus pandemic and the vaccines for Covid-19. Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat who represents part of Silicon Valley, told Mr. Dorsey that Twitter should “eliminate all Covid misinformation — and not label or reduce its spread, but remove it.”
President Biden, who said when he was inaugurated that he would have “100 million shots in the arms” of Americans by his 100th day in office, announced Thursday at his news conference that he is doubling that goal.
The moving target is in keeping with the president’s pattern: aim low, and when it is clear the initial target will be exceeded, adjust upward to another attainable goal.
The nation is on track to meet the 200 million figure already. As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a total of 130 million shots had been administered, and that 14 percent of the American population is fully vaccinated.
The White House is counting shots administered since January 20, when Mr. Biden took office; the nation hit that milestone last week, on his 58th day in office, the president said Thursday.
“We will by my 100th day in office have administered 200 million shots in people’s arms,” Mr. Biden said, announcing his new goal at the outset of his news conference. “That’s right — 200 million shots in 100 days. I know it’s ambitious, twice our original goal but no other country in the world has even come close.”
Vaccine makers are also hitting their stride. Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson have promised enough doses to inoculate all the nation’s roughly 260 million adults by the end of May, as Mr. Biden promised. In June, the first vaccine producers, Pfizer and Moderna, are expected to deliver another 100 million doses — enough to cover another 50 million people.
The United States has been averaging about 2.5 million doses a day during the last week. If that pace continues, the nation would surpass the 200 million shots goal before Mr. Biden’s 100th day, April 30. The new goal was reported earlier by MSNBC and CNN.
Officials say the nation will soon reach a point where the supply of vaccine outpaces demand; when that happens, the chief concern will not be a shortage of vaccine, but convincing those who are skeptical of the vaccine to get the shots and deciding what to do with a growing stockpile. Vaccine hesitancy is particularly prominent among minorities, and also Republicans, who spent months last year listening to former President Donald J. Trump suggest that the risk of the virus was being exaggerated.
Earlier Thursday, White House officials said the administration would spend $10 billion of congressionally appropriated money to expand access to Covid-19 vaccines and build vaccine confidence in the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities. The C.D.C. also announced Thursday that dialysis clinics would now offer vaccines to chronic kidney disease patients at dialysis centers, and the centers’ health care personnel, as part of a federal partnership.
President Biden used the opening remarks of his first formal news conference on Thursday to celebrate what he cast as encouraging signs for the American economy since the passage of his $1.9 trillion economic rescue bill, citing new forecasts that show economic growth for the year could reach 6 percent.
“Since we passed the American Rescue Plan, we have started to see new signs of hope in our economy,” Mr. Biden said. He pointed to economic forecasters raising their estimates for growth this year after the passage of the bill.
Mr. Biden also told reporters that his administration had now delivered 100 million direct payments of $1,400 per individual to low- and middle-income Americans, which were funded by the relief bill that he signed into law this month. The bill also included extended and expanded unemployment benefits, new tax credits for parents that are meant to fight poverty and money for vaccine deployment, school reopenings and Covid testing, among other provisions.
He cited news from the Labor Department on Thursday that initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell last week to 657,000, a decline of 100,000 from the previous week.
“That’s the first time in a year the number’s fallen below the prepandemic high,” he said.
The president stressed that the economy still had a long road of recovery ahead of it, and that there were “still too many Americans out of work, too many families hurting.”
But, he said, “I can say to you, the American people: Help is here and hope is on the way.”
Mr. Biden is set to travel to Pittsburgh next week to unveil the next phase of his economic agenda, a pair of infrastructure packages that could cost between $3 trillion and $4 trillion. Its details have not been finalized, but administration officials have settled on a strategy that breaks the effort into two proposals.
Mr. Biden said near the end of the news conference that his next major effort would be “to rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure in this country, so that we can compete and create good-paying jobs.” He mentioned capping oil wells, repairing roads and bridges, replacing aging pipes that leach lead into water and helping the United States close an infrastructure-spending gap with China.
The planned first package will spend as much as $2 trillion on physical infrastructure development, according to documents and people familiar with the plans. It will center on the construction of roads, bridges, rail lines, ports, electric vehicle charging stations, and improvements to the electric grid and other parts of the power sector. It will also boost the development of clean-energy projects and projects in other “high-growth industries of the future” like 5G telecommunications, and it includes money for rural broadband, advanced training for millions of workers, and one million affordable and energy-efficient housing units.
The second package includes investments in what progressive groups call the nation’s human infrastructure, including education and caregiving. It would make community college free, create universal prekindergarten, seek to reduce the cost of child care, establish a national paid leave program and include home-based care assistance for older adults.
Mr. Biden’s aides have drawn up plans to offset the first package, at least in part, with corporate tax increases, including raising the corporate income tax rates and pursuing a variety of efforts to increase taxes on the income that multinational companies earn and book outside the United States. The plans to offset the second package include Mr. Biden’s proposals to raise the top marginal federal income tax rate from 37 percent to 39.6 percent, and other measures meant to increase taxes on people and households earning more than $400,000 a year.
Democrats racing to enact the most significant federal election overhaul in a generation, including a major expansion of voting rights, ran into a familiar roadblock on Thursday: Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
A day after Democratic leaders used the first Senate hearing on the overhaul to propel the nearly 900-page behemoth to the top of their legislative agenda, Mr. Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, called for the proposal to be sharply pared back and renegotiated with Republicans. He said there were “legitimate” concerns over some of its provisions.
“Pushing through legislation of this magnitude on a partisan basis may garner short-term benefits, but will inevitably only exacerbate the distrust that millions of Americans harbor against the U.S. government,” Mr. Manchin said in a lengthy statement. “We can and we must reform our federal elections together — not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans to restore the faith and trust in our democracy.”
With Republicans uniformly opposed to the bill — which would end partisan gerrymandering, restructure the Federal Election Commission, neuter state voter identification laws, expand early and mail-in voting, and curb the influence of dark money in politics — Mr. Manchin’s statement spelled considerable peril for its advocates.
The bill, called the For the People Act, already passed the House on party lines. Activists who have spent spending tens of millions of dollars lobbying Mr. Manchin and others for its adoption insist it cannot be broken up. One such group, Common Cause, said on Thursday that it would continue working with Mr. Manchin to address his concerns and that it was confident the bill’s backers would win his support.
To pass it in the Senate, the bill’s proponents have increasingly concluded they must persuade all 50 Democrats in the chamber to set aside earlier opposition and jettison the legislative filibuster to overcome Republican opposition. With Republican statehouses across the country moving swiftly to clamp down on ballot access after the 2020 election, they argue the stakes for American democracy and Democrats’ ability to win future elections are simply too high.
Mr. Manchin appeared to reject that thinking for now. A former West Virginia secretary of state, he indicated he shared concerns raised by state election administrators and Republicans in Washington that the bill’s requirements and changes would be too onerous to carry out and represented a misguided federal takeover of the election system currently overseen by states.
“I know firsthand the importance of local decision-making around voter accessibility and election security,” he said.
Mr. Manchin singled out several areas where he believed the two parties could find common ground, including ballot access, election security and campaign finance disclosure. He called for a national requirement that states hold at least 15 days of early voting to ease access to the ballot, said Congress should allocate more resources to make it easier for Native American and Alaska Natives to vote and mentioned a handful of modest election infrastructure and advertising transparency bills.
But those proposals are a far cry from the scope of the plans Democrats have spent significant political capital selling as a necessary tonic for a badly ailing democracy. Mr. Manchin’s suggestions would do little to blunt restrictions put in place by Republican states, stop the drawing of partisan congressional districts or meaningfully cut back the influence of dark money.
Nor was it clear, a day after a stinging partisan hearing over the For the People Act, that there was much room for the meaningful compromise he wants. Republicans flatly reject Democrats’ view of the election system, and their strategists have openly said their candidates suffer when more people vote.
Congress gave final approval on Thursday to a two-month extension of the Paycheck Protection Program, a popular federal loan program for small businesses, as well as giving the Small Business Administration an additional 30 days to process loans submitted before the new May 31 deadline.
The House approved the extension on a 415-to-3 vote earlier this month, and the Senate on Thursday cleared the legislation on a 92-7 margin. The program was set to expire on March 31 without congressional action.
“It’s clear that the most vulnerable small businesses will need help beyond March 31, so we must pass this extension as quickly as possible,” said Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat of Maryland and one of the lawmakers who introduced the legislation. “This common sense, bipartisan bill will meet the continued demand for P.P.P. loans.”
By extending the program, which was first established in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law passed last March, through May 31, lawmakers gave both lenders and small businesses additional time to adjust to an abrupt overhaul to the program announced by the Biden administration in late February. The changes led to gridlock and uncertainty as self-employed people and the smallest of businesses raced to take advantage of more generous aid freed up by the overhaul.
“The Paycheck Protection Program has been instrumental in helping small businesses keep their doors open and continue paying their employees during the pandemic, but many small businesses need additional time to access this lifeline and have their loans processed,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said in a statement urging her colleagues to support the legislation earlier this week. “The nearly 100 groups that support our legislation agree that we need to extend this vital program. I urge our colleagues to support this bipartisan bill.”
President Biden on Thursday offered blistering criticism of attempts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to impose new voting restrictions around the country, calling their efforts “un-American.”
“I’m convinced that we’ll be able to stop this, because it is the most pernicious thing,” Mr. Biden said at his first formal news conference. “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic, what they’re trying to do. And it cannot be sustained.”
He vowed to “do everything in my power, along with my friends in the House and the Senate, to keep that from becoming the law.”
At the news conference, Mr. Biden was asked whether he worried that Democrats could lose control of the House and Senate in the 2022 midterm elections if they were unable to pass voting rights legislation.
“What I’m worried about is how un-American this whole initiative is,” he responded. “It’s sick. It’s sick.”
Earlier this month, the House passed a sweeping elections overhaul that would expand access to the ballot, and House Democrats are also expected to advance legislation strengthening the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Both efforts face dim prospects in the 50-50 Senate, where it takes 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, unless Democrats agree to change the rules.
Mr. Biden said at the news conference that the filibuster was being “abused in a gigantic way” and signaled that he could ultimately support more aggressive changes to the Senate’s rules in order to clear the way for passing key parts of his agenda.
His comments about voting came on the same day that the Georgia General Assembly passed a bill that would restrict access to voting in the state, and Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, signed it into law.
The gun control organization backed by Michael R. Bloomberg will soon begin a national advertising campaign aimed at pressuring Republican senators to support measures that would strengthen and expand background checks for gun buyers.
The campaign by the group, Everytown for Gun Safety, comes after two mass shootings in less than a week killed eight people at spas in Georgia and 10 at a supermarket in Boulder, Colo.
The organization’s political arm plans to kick off the campaign in April with $1 million to $1.5 million in television and digital advertisements.
John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president, said the ads would target Republican senators including Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine, who backed the failed 2013 effort to expand background checks, along with “a number of retiring senators” who have opposed new gun control measures in the past.
Mr. Feinblatt said the campaign was aimed at securing the 60 votes needed for the Senate to pass gun control proposals that have already passed the House, which include expanding federal background checks for new gun purchases. It will not ask Democratic senators to alter the filibuster rules to pass any measure with a simple majority vote.
“Every senator needs to know how urgent this matter is, and every senator needs to know we mean business about seizing the moment and getting the bills passed,” Mr. Feinblatt said on Wednesday. “This is about getting 60 votes, which we think is entirely possible because the political calculus has changed.”
Everytown has become the biggest player in gun control politics in recent years. The organization spent about $55 million backing Democratic candidates in 2020.
Mr. Feinblatt said the campaign would continue until the Senate sent the measures to President Biden, who called on Tuesday not only for background checks but also for an assault weapons ban. Such a ban has not received a serious debate in Congress, and Mr. Bloomberg’s organization is not pushing it at the moment.
“We will stick with this until there’s a vote,” Mr. Feinblatt said. “I don’t know when that vote will take place, but I know that we will spend what it takes for as long as it takes.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to advance the nomination of Lisa Monaco to serve as the No. 2 Justice Department official, but was deadlocked on Vanita Gupta, President Biden’s nominee to serve as the agency’s third highest-ranking official, leaving it to Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, to bring her vote to the full Senate.
A bipartisan group of senators on the panel supported Ms. Monaco’s nomination to serve as deputy attorney general on a voice vote. Ms. Monaco, a longtime Justice Department veteran and respected national security expert, is expected to receive bipartisan support during her confirmation vote, and if approved she will run the department’s day-to-day operations and oversee the nation’s federal prosecutors.
But after nearly two hours of debate, the committee voted along party lines, 11-11, on Ms. Gupta’s nomination.
Senator Charles E. Grassley, the committee’s ranking Republican, expressed a desire from his party members for a second hearing to further question her about legal immunities for police officers, drug decriminalization, defunding the police and the death penalty.
Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and the committee’s chairman, had denied on Wednesday the request for a second hearing, calling it a stall tactic to slow her confirmation.
Mr. Durbin said in a letter to Republicans that three of them had not shown up to her first hearing, and that of the eight who did attend, only five took the opportunity to ask a second round of questions. He also said that only two Republicans had been willing to meet with her.
He charged that Republicans repeatedly misrepresented Ms. Gupta’s views, particularly on policing, and he noted that a broad coalition of police and sheriffs groups had supported her nomination, recommending her to the committee.
Several Republicans gave lengthy comments opposing Ms. Gupta, including Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who called Ms. Gupta a liar for saying that she has never advocated for the decriminalization of all drugs. He pointed to a 2012 editorial in which she said that simple possession of drugs should be decriminalized.
Mr. Cornyn has a long history with Ms. Gupta, who rose to prominence in 2003 when she proved that dozens of men, almost all of them Black, had been arrested on fabricated drug charges in Tulia, Tex. The narcotics agent behind those arrests, Tom Coleman, was found guilty of perjury and Rick Perry, then the governor of Texas, pardoned 35 people as a result of Ms. Gupta’s work.
In 1999, Mr. Cornyn had presented Mr. Coleman with the Texas Lawman of the Year award for his work in Tulia.
Even though Ms. Gupta does not have the support of a majority of the committee, Mr. Schumer, as majority leader, has the right to bring any nominee he sees fit to the floor. In that case, Ms. Gupta will need the support all Senate Democrats and at least one Republican, or Vice President Kamala Harris, to be confirmed.
While President Biden considers a gamut of executive and legislative actions on gun control in the wake of two mass shootings, the federal agency tasked with enforcing existing gun laws remains without a permanent leader and hobbled by restrictions on its enforcement power.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or A.T.F., has long been the target of a campaign by the National Rifle Association and its legislative allies to weaken oversight of gun purchases.
“It is hard to think of any federal agency that has been so completely handcuffed as the A.T.F. has been by the N.R.A. and its friends in Congress,” said Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law specializing in gun statutes at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Mr. Biden, who made an emotional appeal on Tuesday for Congress to enact gun control legislation, has not yet picked a nominee to lead the agency.
White House officials said they had no timetable for doing so, but two administration officials with knowledge of the situation said that several potential candidates were being interviewed — although no names have yet been floated on Capitol Hill or among advocacy groups, according to the officials.
“The administration is going to revitalize A.T.F. and ensure that our guns laws are vigorously enforced,” said Michael Gwin, a Biden spokesman.
One high-profile figure under early consideration, the former Houston police chief Art Acevedo, recently accepted an offer to run Miami’s police department.
One of the main problems in picking a director, according to two gun control activists in close touch with the administration, is that potential candidates are reluctant to sign on for a nomination likely to go down in defeat.
The delay is emblematic of the enormous practical and political challenges that come with efforts to make any significant changes at the agency.
Over the last two decades, Republicans, with the support of conservative Democrats, have embedded into spending bills riders intended to constrain the bureau, including limits on unannounced inspections of gun dealers, prohibitions on documenting the inventories of gun shops and an especially damaging provision that bars the agency from digitizing its records.
Gun rights groups say such steps are necessary to keep the A.T.F. from mounting an “assault” on the rights of gun owners. But critics consider it part of an effort to shield gun companies and owners from oversight and responsibility.
“What’s been done to the A.T.F. is systemic, it’s intentional, and it’s a huge problem,” said T. Christian Heyne of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a gun-control group that has proposed a plan for executive action on the issue centered on stepped-up enforcement by the agency.
Mr. Biden is expected to roll out a series of executive orders related to gun violence in the coming weeks. Almost all of the orders require a significant expansion of A.T.F. enforcement. But even naming someone to lead the agency is a headache.
In 2006, N.R.A.-allied lawmakers enacted a provision making the position of A.T.F. director, which had previously been a political appointment, subject to Senate confirmation.
As a result, only one director has been confirmed over the last 15 years: the Obama nominee B. Todd Jones. Regina Lombardo, a well-regarded agency veteran who helped direct the federal response to the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in 2016, has served as acting director since early 2019.
She got the job after former President Donald J. Trump, who ran on a defiantly pro-gun platform, withdrew the nomination of a former top police union official, Chuck Canterbury, after the nominee refused to entirely rule out expanding background checks and other safeguards.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Thursday defended the Biden administration’s policy of suspending new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters as a chance to rethink policies that she said enriched the industry but hurt some communities and the climate.
Speaking at the agency’s first public forum to discuss the pause, Ms. Haaland said fossil fuels “will continue to play a major role in America for years to come.”
But the Trump administration “offered vast swaths of our public lands and waters for drilling, prioritizing fossil fuel development above all other uses on public lands and waters,” Ms. Haaland said. “The potential impacts to people, water, wildlife and climate were deliberately ignored.”
The burning of coal, oil and gas extracted from public lands and waters accounts for almost a quarter of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, and President Biden campaigned on a promise to end new drilling permits as a key to tackling climate change. The suspension of new leases for 60 days, announced on Inauguration Day, represents a first step toward enacting that promise.
It has met with fierce opposition from Republicans and the oil and gas industry. This week, 13 states led by Louisiana filed suit to overturn the moratorium. Wyoming filed a separate legal challenge calling the lease suspension “a nice headline about fighting climate change” that will hurt the economy as well as the environment.
“We’re not in a position to simply flip the switch to renewables from fossil fuels,” Jeff Landry, the attorney general of Louisiana, said in an interview. He said Mr. Biden’s drilling moratorium and other executive orders on climate change were hurting his state and driving up energy prices.
Oil industry leaders on Thursday said that they were committed to reducing emissions, but argued that stopping new leases would lead to more imports from countries with weaker environmental standards.
That will ultimately lead to higher emissions, “the opposite effect of the administration’s stated goals,” said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, the country’s largest oil and gas trade group.
In a major policy shift on Thursday, A.P.I. announced it will support a price on carbon emissions. While it opposes Mr. Biden’s leasing plan and other decisions like canceling permits for the Keystone XL pipeline, the group said it will lobby Congress for “sensible legislation that prices carbon across all economic sectors while avoiding regulatory duplication.”
Indigenous and environmental experts said on Thursday that pollution from oil and gas wells not only hurts the climate but is actively harming communities.
“For far too long the people in the Eastern Navajo agency have been living an environmentally racist horror show,” said Mario Atencio, a legislative district assistant with the Navajo Nation Council in New Mexico.
Feedback from Thursday’s hearing and other comments to the Interior Department will inform a sweeping report it is conducting later this year.