Live Updates: Republicans Push for Biden to Shrink Infrastructure Plans

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Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden will engage Senate Republicans in further discussions this week as both sides seek a bipartisan compromise on infrastructure, but he appears unlikely to scale back his $4 trillion economic ambitions in the talks.

Mr. Biden and Jill Biden, the first lady, are scheduled to visit an elementary school and a community college in Virginia on Monday to promote his administration’s plans, which include significant investment in education.

Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the president would host a group of Republican senators, including Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia.

But Mr. Klain cautioned that the scale of spending that Mr. Biden had proposed — including a $2.3 trillion package centered on physical infrastructure like roads and water pipes and a $1.8 trillion plan to invest in “human infrastructure” like education and child care — was popular among American voters and that the president would be looking for Republicans to match that enthusiasm.

“I think what we have to see is whether or not Republicans in Washington join the rest of America in broadly supporting these common-sense ideas to grow our economy and to make our families better,” Mr. Klain said.

Several Republican senators said on Sunday that there was an opportunity for compromise if Mr. Biden scaled back his spending plans and dropped his proposals to pay for them with tax increases on high earners and corporations.


“Democrats and Republicans alike are meeting,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’ve got some phone calls scheduled this week. I met with the White House late last week. There’s a way forward here if the White House is willing to work with us.”

Republicans last month offered a more narrowly focused plan to pay for infrastructure, including roads and bridges, with funding from user fees and repurposed money from the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that Mr. Biden signed in March. They are now calling on the president to make a counteroffer.

Mr. Biden, though, appears unlikely to do so. White House aides say privately that they do not see the Republican plan as commensurate to Mr. Biden’s. Much of the spending in the Republicans’ $568 billion proposal would simply continue existing infrastructure spending, like on highways, at expected levels. The “new” spending could be as low as about $200 billion, or less than one-tenth of what Mr. Biden is proposing.

Still, administration officials see a path to compromise, potentially by breaking off some smaller parts of Mr. Biden’s plans as stand-alone bills. Mr. Klain on Sunday noted one such effort, a bipartisan bill to increase spending on water infrastructure that passed the Senate on an 89-to-2 vote last week.

“We’re going to work with Republicans,” Mr. Klain said. “We’re going to find common ground. You know, the Senate last week passed by an overwhelming margin a part of a water infrastructure bill that’s part of — related to our jobs plan. So I think you’re starting to see some progress here.”

The stock market remains near record highs after tech giants reported first-quarter profits.
Credit…Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Investors have largely shrugged off President Biden’s proposal to raise taxes on investment income for wealthy Americans, as the stock market hovers near record highs after news of a strong economic rebound and blockbuster earnings reports from technology giants such as Apple and Amazon.

The indifference is well founded, analysts say.

Mr. Biden wants to raise taxes on the income that the country’s richest households make from investments — called capital gains — to fund his plans for economic-recovery and infrastructure projects. The increase would apply to people with annual income of a million dollars or more.

In theory, higher taxes on investments like stocks should make them less appealing. But the outlook for economic growth and corporate profits is often a much bigger factor in the decision to buy, sell or hold on to a stock. And in a resilient market — when politicians typically propose them — higher taxes are even less of a deterrent.

“Markets can grow, and grow above trend, even if you’re taking the capital gains tax rate up,” said Lori Calvasina, head of U.S. equity strategy at RBC Capital Markets in New York. “That’s not the silver bullet that will kill the bull market.”

Ms. Calvasina’s team looked at what happens to the stock market when the capital gains tax rises. When the rate increased in past years, the team found, the S&P 500 index rose roughly 11 percent.

Proposed increases to the capital gains tax can cause momentary wobbles as investors try to lock in the appreciation on current investments, but the market usually regains its footing and shares climb higher.

“Any potential equity selling will be short lived and reversed in subsequent quarters,” Goldman Sachs analysts wrote late last year about the prospect of a capital-gains tax increase under Democratic control in Washington.

That seems to be how the market is behaving. The news on April 22 that the Biden administration was considering lifting the tax sent stocks into the red, but the selling was limited. Stocks dropped just 0.9 percent for the day and bounced back a day later.

Even after Friday’s 0.7 percent decline, the market sat on a comfortable gain of more than 11 percent this year. The S&P 500 was up 5.2 percent in April, its best month in 2021.

Investor stoicism may also reflect the fact that Mr. Biden’s plan requires congressional approval, a tall order given the slim Democratic control of both chambers. That reduces the likelihood that the proposed increase — which would tax ordinary income and capital gains income in the richest households at the same 39.6 percent rate — is enacted in its entirety.

The National Firearms Collection, a library of guns maintained by the A.T.F.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

The long-suffering Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — the federal agency tasked with enforcing the country’s gun laws — is at the center of President Biden’s plans to combat gun violence in America, as hope of quick Congressional action fades.

First, though, the bureau will have to overcome its past. In the 48 years since its mission shifted primarily to firearms enforcement, it has been weakened by relentless assaults from the National Rifle Association that have, in the view of many, made the A.T.F. look like an agency engineered to fail.

The gun lobby, led by the N.R.A., has for years systematically blocked funding and plans to modernize the bureau’s operations — such as the paper-based weapons-tracing system, which is barred by law from using a searchable electronic database.

In a good year, the agency inspects only about 15 percent of the country’s 75,000 gun shops, pawn brokers, manufacturers and importers that sell weapons. In 2020, it dramatically reduced its annual inspections by more than 50 percent, as a result of the pandemic and related issues, from 13,000 in the 2019 fiscal year to about 5,800, according to new A.T.F. data.

“We knew it was going to be bad, but it was far worse than we could have imagined,” said Joshua Scharff, legal counsel for Brady, a gun safety group that has tracked inspections.

At the N.R.A.’s instigation, Congress has imposed crippling restrictions on the collection and use of gun-ownership data, including a ban on the creation of a searchable national database of firearms.

As a result, records of gun sales going back decades are stored in boxes stacked seven high, waiting to be processed, against every wall of the agency’s gun-tracing facility in Martinsburg, W.Va. The floor buckled under the weight a couple of years ago.

“We had a lady pushing a cart, and the floor just gave way,” recalled Tyson J. Arnold, who runs the tracing center, tapping the new, steel-braced deck with his shoe.

Mr. Biden has ordered a ban on the homemade firearm kits known as “ghost guns,” and he has charged the A.T.F. with undertaking the first comprehensive federal survey of weapons trafficking patterns since 2000. To lead the bureau into the future, Mr. Biden has nominated a fiery former A.T.F. agent and gun-control activist, David Chipman.

Mr. Chipman’s confirmation — the Senate hearing is expected to take place in late May — is anything but certain, with one West Wing official saying his “absolute ceiling” in the Senate was 51 or 52 yes votes.

“A.T.F. has all this potential, and they do a lot of good things, but it’s time somebody asked, ‘What is it going to take for us to succeed rather than just treading water?’” said Thomas Brandon, who served as the bureau’s interim director from 2015 to 2019.

Migrants being deported from the United States along a bridge that connects El Paso and Mexico, in March.
Credit…Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

Four parents from Mexico and Central America who were among thousands of migrants deported without their children under the Trump administration’s family separation policy will be allowed to join their children in the United States this week, U.S. officials said on Sunday.

The parents, who are from Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, will be the first families to reunite in the United States since the Biden administration began taking steps to unravel the 2018 policy that attempted to deter families from trying to enter the country by separating children and parents.

Another 30 migrants are expected to be allowed into the country in 30 to 60 days to reunite with their children, who like most others have been living with relatives in the United States, according to two sources familiar with the administration’s plans.

The announcement of such an incremental move reflects the high political stakes for Mr. Biden, who is under pressure to swiftly fulfill his campaign promise to make reuniting migrant families a top priority.

Within weeks of taking office, Mr. Biden created an interagency task force, led by Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of homeland security, to identify and reunite all migrant families separated at the border by the previous administration.

“They are children who were 3 years old at the time of separation. They are teenagers who have had to live without their parent during their most formative years,” Mr. Mayorkas said in announcing the impending arrivals on Sunday.

The four women scheduled to cross the border in Texas and California this week are among parents of some 5,500 children known to have been separated under the zero-tolerance policy officially introduced by former President Donald J. Trump in spring 2018. While most families have been reunited in recent years, more than 1,000 remain apart, mainly because a parent was removed from the United States.

Mr. Mayorkas said that he could not provide details about the families, saying only that two of the mothers had been separated from their sons in late 2017, before the Trump administration had extended the policy across the entire southwestern border.

“We are pleased the Biden administration has now taken its first steps to address the harm caused by the Trump administration’s barbaric family separation practice,” said Lee Gelernt, lead counsel in an ongoing class-action lawsuit that the American Civil Liberties Union brought against the policy in 2018.

“But we certainly do not intend to take a victory lap at this point. It is not enough for these families to be reunited,” he said.

Brian D. Miller, the special inspector general for pandemic recovery, at his confirmation hearing last May.
Credit…Pool photo by Salwan Georges

A breakdown in the oversight of trillions of dollars of economic relief money spilled into public view on Friday night when the Treasury Department’s special inspector general for pandemic recovery said in a report that his powers to scrutinize funds had been curtailed this week after a decision by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

The inspector general, Brian D. Miller, said in his quarterly report to Congress that he had been engaged in a monthslong dispute with another inspector general in the Treasury Department over who had access to information about and oversight of the Payroll Support Program and the Coronavirus Relief Fund. The programs were created in the $2.2 trillion stimulus legislation that passed in 2020 and provided money to airline employees and states and cities.

The clash comes as the Biden administration is overseeing another $1.9 trillion in relief money and calling for $4 trillion in new spending on jobs and infrastructure programs. The vast array of government outlays is currently being tracked by a patchwork of oversight bodies and committees.

Mr. Miller’s office has been tracking fraud and “double dipping” in the relief programs, but his access to certain databases started to be curtailed last year in the final months of the Trump administration as the turf war between the inspectors general ensued. Mr. Miller, who was appointed by President Donald J. Trump, referred the matter to the Justice Department in early January, before President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. took office, to get a final ruling on the scope of his powers.

In the report, Mr. Miller suggested that the “temperature has cooled on oversight” and said flatly that “things are not working well.” He warned that there would be negative consequences as a result and called on Congress to give his office greater authority.

The Treasury Department said that aside from the special inspector general, the department’s programs under the 2020 stimulus law were tracked by multiple, overlapping oversight bodies, including the Treasury inspector general, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Oversight Commission, as well as through traditional congressional oversight.

Some of the other bodies defended their oversight efforts following Mr. Miller’s report.

“The public can rest assured that the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee and the Treasury Inspector General will continue to conduct robust, aggressive, and independent oversight over all pandemic-related spending, including the two programs covered by the D.O.J. Office of Legal Counsel opinion,” Michael E. Horowitz, chairman of the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, said in a statement on Saturday.

Richard Delmar, the acting inspector general at the Treasury Department who was part of the internal power struggle that Mr. Miller detailed in his report, said on Sunday that his work would continue unimpeded.

“Treasury O.I.G. continues its oversight and enforcement of the Payroll Support Program and Coronavirus Relief Fund program, as it has done since these programs’ inception in 2020, without interruption or reduction of the scope of our work,” Mr. Delmar said.

The chemicals used in air-conditioning systems are far more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet.
Credit…Al Bello/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday will take its first significant step under President Biden to curb climate change when it moves to sharply reduce a class of chemicals that is thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide at warming the planet, an agency spokesman has confirmed.

The proposed regulation aims to reduce the production and importation of hydrofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration and air-conditioning, in the United States by 85 percent over the next 15 years. It’s a goal shared by environmental groups and the business community, which jointly championed bipartisan legislation passed by Congress in December to tackle the pollutant.

The move is important because it will be the first time the federal government has set national limits on HFCs, which were used to replace ozone hole-depleting chlorofluorocarbons in the 1980s but have turned out to be a significant driver of global warming. More than a dozen states have either banned HFCs or are formulating some restrictions.

The speed with which the E.P.A. is proposing the regulation underscores the level of attention the Biden administration is giving to climate change, said Francis Dietz, vice president for public affairs at the Air-Conditioning, Heating and Refrigeration Institute, a trade group.

“They’re really moving swiftly,” he said. “It says they’re very serious about this.”

The effort is part of President Biden’s ambitious strategy to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions roughly in half by 2030. It also puts the United States in line with an international goal to reduce HFCs, which the Biden administration has said it will honor.

Justice Clarence Thomas has been an active participant in the arguments for every case this term.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Justice Clarence Thomas, who once went a decade without asking a question from the Supreme Court bench, is about to complete a term in which he was an active participant in every single argument.

Justice Thomas’s switch from monkish silence to gregarious engagement is a byproduct of the pandemic, during which the court has heard arguments by telephone. The justices now ask questions one at a time, in order of seniority.

Justice Thomas, who joined the court in 1991, goes second, right after Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., asking probing questions in his distinctive baritone.

“It’s been a lemonade out of lemons situation,” said Helgi C. Walker, a lawyer with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher who served as a law clerk to the justice. “I’m just thrilled that more people get to hear the Justice Thomas that we all know.”

“He can be one of the most loquacious people you’ve ever met,” she said. “He is extremely chatty.”

In the telephone arguments, he asked tough questions of both sides and almost always used his allotted few minutes. The idiosyncratic legal views that characterize his frequent concurring and dissenting opinions were largely absent from his questioning, which was measured and straightforward.

If Justice Thomas’s questions differed from those of his colleagues, it was in their courtesy. He almost never interrupted lawyers, though he asked pointed follow-up questions if there was time left.

Some of his most memorable comments were colorful asides.

Over the course of the last term, Justice Thomas mused about the ballooning salaries of college football coaches, said a police officer’s supposed “hot pursuit” struck him as a “meandering pursuit,” commented on the “sordid roots” of a Louisiana law enacted to advance white supremacy and wondered how public schools should address students’ comments “about current controversies, like protests or Black Lives Matter, antifa or Proud Boys.”

When a lawyer mistakenly called him “Mr. Chief Justice,” he responded, in a light, joking tone, “Thank you for the promotion.”

Hansjörg Wyss, who was born in Switzerland, first visited the United States as an exchange student in 1958, and became enchanted with America’s national parks and public lands. After becoming wealthy, he began donating his fortune primarily to conservation and environmental causes.
Credit…Pete Muller

The Swiss billionaire Hansjörg Wyss has quietly become one of the most important donors to left-leaning advocacy groups and an increasingly influential force among Democrats.

Newly obtained tax filings show that Mr. Wyss’s foundations donated $208 million from 2016 through early last year to three nonprofit funds that doled out money to a wide array of groups that backed progressive causes and helped Democrats in their efforts to win the White House and control of Congress last year.

Mr. Wyss’s representatives say his foundations’ money is not being spent on political campaigning. But documents and interviews show that his foundations have come to play a prominent role in financing the political infrastructure that supports Democrats and their issues.

Mr. Wyss’s foundations also directly donated tens of millions of dollars since 2016 to groups that opposed former President Donald J. Trump and promoted Democrats and their causes.

Beneficiaries of his direct giving included prominent groups such as the Center for American Progress and Priorities USA, as well as organizations that ran voter registration and mobilization campaigns to increase Democratic turnout, built media outlets accused of slanting the news to favor Democrats and sought to block Mr. Trump’s nominees, prove he colluded with Russia and push for his impeachment.

Mr. Wyss’s growing political influence attracted attention after he emerged last month as a leading bidder for the Tribune Publishing newspaper chain. Mr. Wyss later dropped out of the bidding for the papers.

Born in Switzerland and living in Wyoming, he has not disclosed publicly whether he holds citizenship or permanent residency in the United States. Foreign nationals without permanent residency are barred from donating directly to federal political candidates or political action committees, but not from giving to groups that seek to influence public policy — a legal distinction often lost on voters targeted by such groups.

Mr. Wyss’s role as a donor is coming to light even as congressional Democrats, with support from Mr. Biden, are pushing legislation intended to rein in so-called dark money spending that could restrict some of the groups financed by Mr. Wyss’s organizations.

Over a thousand people gathered to watch the Stockyards Championship Rodeo in Fort Worth, Tex., last month.
Credit…Shelby Tauber for The New York Times

Early in the pandemic, when vaccines were still just a glimmer on the horizon, the term “herd immunity” came to signify the endgame: the point when enough Americans would be protected from the virus that we could be rid of it.

Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been vaccinated with at least one dose. But rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among public health experts that herd immunity is not attainable — not in the foreseeable future, perhaps not ever.

Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.

How much smaller depends in part on how much of the nation, and the world, becomes vaccinated and how the coronavirus evolves.

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