Stimulus Bill, Merrick Garland and Biden News: Live Updates

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House Vote Clears Pandemic Relief Bill for Biden’s Signature

House Democrats prevailed over Republican opposition to give final approval on Wednesday to President Biden’s nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package in a 220-to-211 vote, clearing the legislation for his signature.

“Every day, constituents in my district are asking when the $1,400 survival checks are coming, and when they can get help with their rent so that they don’t become homeless. They are suffering and they need help now. The American Rescue Plan is a real plan to crush the virus by speeding vaccine distribution and increasing access to health care. This will not only mean safer families, but also safer classrooms for teachers and students. It means a continuation of $300 a week checks in unemployment insurance. And it supports our businesses so they don’t close. With over half a million dead, we need a way to end this crisis and help our people. That is exactly what today’s bill will do.” “At $1.9 trillion in new spending, the so-called American Rescue Plan is the most expensive single bill in American history. This isn’t a rescue bill. It isn’t a relief bill. It’s a laundry list of left-wing priorities that pre-date the pandemic, and do not meet the needs of the American families.” “Today, we have a decision to make of tremendous, tremendous consequence, a decision that will make a difference for millions of Americans, saving lives and livelihoods. And with all the decisions, it is a decision that we will have to answer for. We will give the American Rescue Plan a resounding and hopefully bipartisan vote to reflect the bipartisan support that it has in the country. And we will get to work immediately to deliver lifesaving resources springing from this bill as soon as it is passed and signed. On this vote, the ‘yeas’ are 220, the ‘nays’ are 211. The motion is adopted. [applause] Without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.”

House Democrats prevailed over Republican opposition to give final approval on Wednesday to President Biden’s nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package in a 220-to-211 vote, clearing the legislation for his signature.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Congress gave final approval on Wednesday to President Biden’s sweeping, nearly $1.9 trillion stimulus package, as Democrats acted over unified Republican opposition to push through an emergency pandemic aid plan that carries out a vast expansion of the country’s social safety net.

By a vote of 220 to 211, the House sent the measure to Mr. Biden for his signature, cementing one of the largest injections of federal aid since the Great Depression. It would provide another round of direct payments for Americans, an extension of federal jobless benefits and billions of dollars to distribute coronavirus vaccines and provide relief for schools, states, tribal governments and small businesses struggling during the pandemic.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation — the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going — a fighting chance,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. He said he looked forward to signing what he called a “historic piece of legislation” on Friday at the White House.

The vote capped off a swift push by Mr. Biden and Democrats to address the toll of the coronavirus pandemic and begin putting in place their broader economic agenda. The bill is estimated to slash poverty by a third this year and potentially cut child poverty in half, with expansions of tax credits, food aid and rental and mortgage assistance.

Mr. Biden and congressional Democrats planned an elaborate effort to promote it throughout the country, seeking to highlight an array of measures including tax credits for children and enhanced unemployment aid through Labor Day. The effort will begin on Thursday with a prime-time address by Mr. Biden.

The campaign is intended to build support for provisions they hope to make permanent in the years to come, and to punish Republicans politically for failing to support it.

Rather than haggle with Republicans who wanted to scale back the package, Democrats fast-tracked their own measure through the House and Senate without pausing to court Republican support. They stayed remarkably united in doing so, with just one Democrat, Representative Jared Golden of Maine, voting against the final measure.

“This is the most consequential legislation that many of us will ever be a party to,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said at a news conference after the bill’s passage.

Earlier, she had dismissed the lack of Republican support and said opponents would not hesitate to claim credit for the popular elements of the plan, saying, “It’s typical that they vote no and take the dough.”

As if to make her point, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, tweeted approvingly just hours after the bill passed about the $28.6 billion included for “targeted relief” for restaurants. His post did not mention that he had voted no.

“I’m not going to vote for $1.9 trillion just because it has a couple of good provisions,” he later told reporters.

The measure will provide $350 billion for state, local and tribal governments; $10 billion for critical state infrastructure projects; $14 billion for the distribution of vaccines; and $130 billion to primary and secondary schools. The bill also includes $30 billion for transit agencies’ $45 billion in rental, utility and mortgage assistance; and billions more for small businesses and live performance venues.

It provides another round of direct payments to American taxpayers, sending checks of up to $1,400 to individuals making up to $80,000, single parents earning $120,000 or less and couples with household incomes of no more than $160,000.

The American Rescue Plan, which was passed by the Senate over the weekend and is now back before the House of Representatives, would pump $1.9 trillion into the economy.

The New York Times’s personal finance experts, Ron Lieber and Tara Siegel Bernard, combed through the bill to explain what it means in real terms to real people. Here are some of the questions they answer:





Senate Confirms Garland as Attorney General

The Senate confirmed the veteran judge Merrick B. Garland by a 70-30 vote, placing him at the helm of the Justice Department as threats of domestic extremism are on the rise.

Senate will come to order. The question is on the Garland nomination. Is there a sufficient second? There appears to be. The clerk will call the roll. Ms. Baldwin, Mr. Barrasso, Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Blackburn, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Blunt, Mr. Booker, Mr. Boozman, Mr. Brown, Mr. Brown, Mr. Burr, Ms. Cantwell, Mrs. Capito, Mr. Cardin. Anyone, any senators wishing to change their vote or vote? If not, the yeas are 70, the nays are 30, and the nomination is confirmed.

Video player loadingThe Senate confirmed the veteran judge Merrick B. Garland by a 70-30 vote, placing him at the helm of the Justice Department as threats of domestic extremism are on the rise.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Senate voted to confirm Merrick B. Garland on Wednesday to serve as attorney general, giving the former prosecutor and widely respected federal judge the task of leading the Justice Department at a time when the nation faces domestic extremist threats and a reckoning over civil rights.

Mr. Garland was confirmed 70-30 by senators, with 20 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in supporting him. He is expected to be sworn in at the Justice Department on Thursday.

Judge Garland has vowed to restore public faith in a department embroiled in political controversy under former President Donald J. Trump, who sought both to undermine federal law enforcement when it scrutinized him and his associates and to wield its power to benefit him personally and politically.

At his confirmation hearing, Judge Garland, 68, said that becoming attorney general would “be the culmination of a career I have dedicated to ensuring that the laws of our country are fairly and faithfully enforced and the rights of all Americans are protected.”

Judge Garland has amassed decades of credentials in the law. He clerked for the Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., worked for years as a federal prosecutor and led major investigations into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and others before being confirmed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in 1997. He was chosen by President Barack Obama in 2016 to join the Supreme Court only to see his nomination held up for eight months in an audacious political maneuver by Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader at the time. The move ultimately allowed Mr. Trump to choose his own nominee to fill the seat.

Department employees have said that Mr. Garland’s performance at his confirmation hearing, a largely amicable affair, made them hopeful that he would restore honor to the agency and lift up its 115,000-person work force demoralized by the Trump-era rancor.

Restoring trust inside and outside the Justice Department will be key, as Judge Garland will immediately oversee politically charged investigations, including a federal tax fraud inquiry into President Biden’s son Hunter and a special counsel inquiry into the Russia investigation.

The department will also be involved in civil and criminal cases related to issues that have bitterly divided the country, including systemic racism, policing, regulation of big technology companies, L.G.B.T.Q. rights and other civil liberties matters.

Judge Garland will also confront the rise of domestic extremism as law enforcement officials continue investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol. His first briefings this week were expected to be with the F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, to discuss the threat and with Michael R. Sherwin, the outgoing top prosecutor in Washington who has led the Justice Department inquiry.

After a grudging four-year partnership, the relationship between Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and former President Donald J. Trump has rapidly deteriorated.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, boasted privately to fellow Republicans on Wednesday that their fund-raising efforts had outperformed Donald J. Trump’s, after the former president took aim at the party’s committees in a bid to control its financial future.

The comments from Mr. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, at a weekly party lunch, which were described on condition of anonymity by three people briefed on the meeting, represented a response of sorts to Mr. Trump trying to throw down the gauntlet on fund-raising. The former president has recently suggested that he would be a better steward of the Republican Party’s money, and that he would use the resources to target incumbent Republicans he finds insufficiently loyal.

Mr. McConnell weighed in after Senator Rick Scott of Florida, the head of the party’s Senate campaign committee, gave Republicans a presentation on the efforts of the committee, which typically backs incumbent senators in their races.

Mr. McConnell said several times that the Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC that backs the Republicans’ Senate efforts, had out-raised Mr. Trump’s super PAC in 2020, the people said.

To underscore his point, the usually taciturn minority leader shared data he had prepared on small cards — headlined “Super PAC money raised” — that he distributed to Republican senators.

It showed the totals raised by the Senate Republican super PAC and for the two Georgia Senate races that cost the party its majority. “Total: $612+ million.”

“In 3 cycles: nearly $1 billion,” the card said. Below that were the former president’s statistics: “Trump: $148+ million,” referring to America First, the outside group that was formed to support Mr. Trump in 2020.

David Popp, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell, declined to comment.

Jason Miller, an adviser to Mr. Trump, rejected the clear implication that Mr. Trump was responsible for the Republican losses in a pair of Senate runoff elections in Georgia, instead implying Mr. McConnell was to blame for his refusal to support a more generous stimulus bill.

“A better side-by-side comparison would be the $2,000 stimulus checks that the Democrat candidates promised in Georgia versus the $600 stimulus checks that the Republicans offered, which led to us losing both seats,” Mr. Miller said. “Just think, if we had done that one thing differently, Republicans would be in control of the Senate right now.”

The flap began when Mr. Trump sent out on Monday a statement saying that he was opposed to “RINOs” — a derisive acronym for “Republican in Name Only” — and urging people to donate to his new entity, Save America. After a day of consternation, he walked it back somewhat, saying he supported Republican committees — but still opposed “RINOs.”

One person familiar with the events said that Mr. McConnell’s goal in responding appeared to be less about escalating a fight with Mr. Trump, who loves to brawl, than reassuring senators that they would have ample support should the former president try to target them.

Still, after a grudging four-year partnership, the relationship between Mr. McConnell and Mr. Trump has rapidly deteriorated in the aftermath of Mr. Trump’s election loss. The two men are no longer speaking.

Mr. McConnell angrily denounced Mr. Trump’s claims of widespread election fraud, excoriated him for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Republicans’ loss of the Senate, and has tried — so far unsuccessfully — to steer the party away from its former leader. Mr. Trump, in turn, savaged Mr. McConnell last month as a “dour, sullen and unsmiling political hack.”

The Senate Leadership Fund typically accepts money from wealthy Republican donors with close ties to Mr. McConnell and is run by his allies.

Mr. Scott was set to meet with Mr. Trump at his private club, Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Fla. later this week during a fund-raising swing, a person familiar with his plans said.

He is the latest senior Republican official to go to the president’s club for a face-to-face meeting in recent weeks. The top two House Republicans, Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, have both paid visits. So did Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, who was re-elected to another two-year term in January with Mr. Trump support.

Michael S. Regan will be the first Black man to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.Credit…Brandon Bell/Reuters

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Michael S. Regan to serve as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, putting a former top environmental regulator for North Carolina in charge of driving some of the Biden administration’s biggest proposals to combat climate change.

Mr. Regan, who began his career at the E.P.A. and then worked in environmental advocacy before becoming secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, will be tasked with rebuilding an agency that lost thousands of employees and rolled back dozens of clean air and water protections during the Trump administration. He will be the first Black man to serve as E.P.A. administrator.

The final vote was 66 to 34, with 16 Republicans joining Democrats in supporting Mr. Regan’s nomination.

Central to Mr. Regan’s mission will be putting forward aggressive new regulations to meet President Biden’s pledge of eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the electric power sector by 2035 and significantly reducing emissions from automobiles.

Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, said it was “high time the Senate confirm someone like Michael Regan, who has made environmental protection the cause of his career.”

At 44, Mr. Regan will be one of Mr. Biden’s youngest cabinet secretaries and will have to navigate a crowded field of older, more seasoned Washington veterans already installed in key environmental positions — particularly Gina McCarthy, who formerly led the E.P.A. and is now the head of a new White House climate policy office.

Those potentially overlapping authorities have already provoked criticism from Republicans, some of whom voted against Mr. Regan’s confirmation because they said they did not know who was truly in charge of the administration’s climate and environment policy.

But most of the opposition centered on Democratic policy. Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, called Mr. Biden’s agenda a “left-wing war on American energy.”

“Mr. Regan has plenty of experience,” Mr. McConnell said. “The problem is what he’s poised to do with it.”

Representative Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio in December. She is the first Black woman in decades to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Marcia Fudge was confirmed as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday, becoming the first Black woman in decades to run an agency that will be at the forefront of the administration’s efforts to fight racial inequity and poverty.

Ms. Fudge, a Democratic member of Congress representing the Cleveland area and the former mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, earned the support of all the chamber’s Democrats and many top Republicans, including that of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader. The final vote was 66 to 34.

For a fleeting moment on Wednesday, her two jobs, in two branches, overlapped: Ms. Fudge voted by proxy in favor of the administration’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Ms. Fudge was confirmed by the Senate’s banking committee last month by a 17-to-7 vote, with two key Republicans — Tim Scott of South Carolina and Rob Portman, from her home state — supporting her nomination despite their misgivings about her progressive agenda.

Ms. Fudge, 68, inherits an agency with big plans and big problems.

Her predecessor, Ben Carson, oversaw a massive exodus of career staff, gutted fair housing enforcement and did little to address a nationwide crisis in affordable housing exacerbated by the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Carson, a former surgeon with no prior housing experience, did “silly things” at the department, Ms. Fudge said in an interview last December.

If the agency was not at the forefront of Mr. Trump’s policy initiatives, it became a focal point of his political messaging. The former president attacked an Obama-era effort to eliminate local zoning regulations that discriminated against Black people and other groups that have faced prejudice, in a blatant pitch to white suburbanites. Proponents of the program criticized Mr. Trump’s actions as racist.

President Biden and Ms. Fudge have suggested they would push ahead with the program.

Ms. Fudge has said she would use her time at HUD to address long-term issues, including racism, the affordability crisis in major cities and homelessness. But her immediate priority is preventing evictions caused by the loss of income during the pandemic.

The administration’s pandemic bill includes $21.5 billion for emergency rental assistance, $5 billion in emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion for anti-homelessness programs and $850 million for tribal and rural housing.

In the past, Ms. Fudge, who is Black, has complained that the top position at HUD was too often used to project the false impression of diversity rather than to drive policy.

“You know, it’s always ‘we want to put the Black person in Labor or HUD,’” she told Politico shortly after the election last year.

“When you look at what African-American women did in particular in this election, you will see that a major part of the reason that this Biden-Harris team won was because of African-American women,” she added.

HUD was, in fact, not her first choice.

After Mr. Biden was elected, she lobbied publicly to be named agriculture secretary, an agency that oversees food relief initiatives, as well as farm subsidy programs. But that job was offered to Biden’s ally Tom Vilsack. Ms. Fudge was a surprise, late add to his list of nominees, supplanting Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, who had been an early favorite to lead HUD.





Blinken to Meet Senior Chinese Officials in Alaska Next Week

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday that he and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, would lay out concerns about Beijing’s actions and explore possible areas for cooperation.

This is an important opportunity for us to lay out, in very frank terms, the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behavior that are challenging the security, the prosperity and the values of the United States and our partners and allies. So we intend to raise, and we will raise the host of issues, some of which have already been touched on today that concern us. We’ll also explore whether there are avenues for cooperation. And we’ll talk about the competition that we have in China, with China to make sure that the United States has a level playing field, and that our companies and workers benefit from that. This is not a strategic dialogue. There’s no intent at this point for a series of follow on engagements. Those engagements, if they are to follow, really have to be based on the proposition that we’re seeing tangible progress and tangible outcomes on the issues of concern to us with China.

Video player loadingSecretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Wednesday that he and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, would lay out concerns about Beijing’s actions and explore possible areas for cooperation.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, will meet next week with two senior Chinese government officials, the Biden administration’s first in-person diplomatic encounter with its chief foreign rival.

In a statement on Wednesday, a State Department spokesman said that Mr. Blinken and Mr. Sullivan would meet in Anchorage on March 18 with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, and its top diplomat, Yang Jiechi. The announcement comes days after a speech by Mr. Blinken and a White House national security strategy document identified China as a top threat to the United States.

In his speech, Mr. Blinken called China the one country able “to seriously challenge the stable and open international system.” U.S. officials expect to compete with Beijing in areas ranging from technology to trade to political influence — but also aim to cooperate on matters like climate change, the coronavirus and the global economy.

Testifying on Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Blinken said the meeting would be an opportunity “to lay out in very frank terms the many concerns that we have with Beijing’s actions and behavior,” including economic effects on American workers.

But he said that he and Mr. Sullivan would also “explore whether there are other avenues for cooperation.”

Mr. Blinken added that the meeting was not the start of a strategic dialogue, and that follow-up meetings would depend on “tangible progress and outcomes” on Washington’s concerns.

U.S. officials did not describe a specific agenda for the meeting. Mr. Blinken said on Twitter that he looked forward to engaging the Chinese officials “on a range of issues, including those where we have deep disagreements.”

Mr. Blinken will be on the return leg of his first foreign trip, to Asia, which the State Department also announced on Wednesday. He will depart on March 15 with planned stops in Tokyo and Seoul, and return to Washington from Anchorage on March 19.

In a statement about the Asia trip, Ned Price, a State Department spokesman, said that Mr. Blinken would “reaffirm the United States’ commitment to strengthening our alliances” and to “highlight cooperation” with allies in the region.





Biden Orders 100 Million More Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Doses

President Biden announced on Wednesday that the government would secure another 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and touted a joint production deal between the company and the pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Today, we’re seeing two health companies, competitors, each with over 130 years of experience, coming together to help write a more hopeful chapter in our battle against Covid-19. During World War II, one of the country’s slogans was, “We are all in this together.” We are all in this together. And the companies took that slogan to heart. For example, one automaker didn’t have the capacity to build enough Jeeps. The competitors stepped in to help. The result is that we’re now on track to have enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May, months earlier than anyone expected. And today, I’m directing Jeff and my H.H.S. team to produce another 100 million doses and purchase another 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. On Saturday, we hit a record of 2.9 million vaccinations in one day in America. And beyond the numbers are the stories. A father says he no longer fears for his daughter when she leaves to go to work at the hospital. The children are now able to hug their grandparents. The vaccines bring hope and healing in so many ways. There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of the past year, but we cannot let our guard down now or assume the victory is inevitable. Together, we’re going to get through this pandemic, and usher in a healthier and more hopeful future.”

Video player loadingPresident Biden announced on Wednesday that the government would secure another 100 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and touted a joint production deal between the company and the pharmaceutical giant Merck.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden said on Wednesday that he was directing the federal government to secure an additional 100 million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 single-shot vaccine, a move the White House said could help the country vaccinate children and, if necessary, administer booster doses or reformulate the vaccine to combat emerging variants of the virus.

Mr. Biden made the announcement during an afternoon event at the White House with executives from Johnson & Johnson and the pharmaceutical giant Merck, where he praised them for partnering to ramp up production of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — a deal brokered by the White House.

“During World War II, one of the country’s slogans was, ‘We are all in this together,’” Mr. Biden said. “And the companies took that slogan to heart.”

In announcing the agreement between Merck and Johnson & Johnson last week, Mr. Biden said that the United States would now have enough vaccine available by the end of May to vaccinate every American adult — roughly 260 million people. But Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday that the administration was trying to prepare for unpredictable challenges, from the emergence of dangerous virus variants to manufacturing breakdowns that could disrupt vaccine production.

“We still don’t know which vaccine will be most effective on kids,” she said at the White House’s daily briefing. “We still don’t know the impact of variants, the need for booster shots and these doses can be used for booster shots, as well.” She said the decision to purchase a surplus of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was driven by a desire for “maximum flexibility.”

“It’s a one-shot vaccine,” she said. “It can be stored in the fridge and not a freezer. It’s highly effective as the others are as well against hospitalization and death.”

Mr. Biden said on Wednesday he was directing the White House’s pandemic response team and the Department of Health and Human Services to finalize the supply increase.

The White House had initially intended to hold Wednesday’s event at the Baltimore manufacturing facility of Emergent BioSolutions, another company that partners with Johnson & Johnson to make coronavirus vaccine. But Mr. Biden canceled his trip after The New York Times published an investigation into how Emergent used its Washington connections to gain outsize influence over the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency repository of drugs and medical supplies.

Ms. Psaki has since said that the administration will conduct a comprehensive audit of the stockpile.

Emergent officials did not attend Wednesday’s session. In explaining the change in plans, Ms. Psaki said that the administration thought the White House was a “more appropriate place to have the meeting,” which it is billing as a celebration of what Mr. Biden has called the “historic” partnership between Johnson & Johnson and Merck.

Last August, Johnson & Johnson signed an agreement with the government to deliver 100 million doses of its coronavirus, and in an emailed statement on Wednesday the company said it is “on track to meet that commitment.” The government has the option to purchase additional doses under a subsequent agreement.

The administration says the collaboration with Merck will increase manufacture of the vaccine itself, and will also bolster Johnson & Johnson’s packaging capacity, known in the vaccine industry as “fill-finish” — two big manufacturing bottlenecks that had put the company behind schedule.

Wednesday’s announcement is in keeping with Mr. Biden’s aggressive efforts to acquire as much vaccine supply as possible, as quickly as possible. Before Mr. Biden took office, he pledged to get “100 million shots into the arms” of the American people by his 100th day in office — a timetable that seemed aggressive at the time, but more recently has looked tame. He has been trying to speed it up ever since.

At the time, two vaccines — one made by Moderna and the other by Pfizer-BioNTech — had been authorized by the Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. In January, Mr. Biden said the administration would have enough vaccine to cover every American by the end of summer. Last month, the president announced his administration had secured enough doses from those two companies to have enough to cover every American by the end of July.

The recent addition of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which received emergency authorization in late February, opened a path for the administration to move up the timetable yet again. But Johnson & Johnson and its other partners, including Emergent, were behind schedule, which prompted the administration to reach out to Merck.

Noah Weiland and Annie Karni contributed reporting.





U.S. Aims to Deter Dangerous Travel by Central American Children

The Biden administration on Wednesday restarted a program allowing children in Central America to apply to join parents in the U.S., offering a path for them to reunite without making the dangerous journey north.

Today, we are announcing the restarting of the Central American Minors Program for children to be reunited with a parent who is legally in the United States. This program was ended abruptly by the previous administration, leaving around 3,000 children already approved for travel stranded. In Phase 2, we’ll be working to improve the CAM program to expand safe and legal avenues for — to the United States. I want to be clear, neither in this, neither this announcement nor any of the other measures suggest that anyone, especially children and families with young children, should make the dangerous trip to try and to enter the U.S. in an irregular fashion. The border is not open. Going forward, we will continue to look for ways to provide legal avenues in the region for people needing protection, while we continue to enforce our laws. The president has committed to seeking $4 billion over four years to address the root causes of migration, including corruption, violence and economic devastation exacerbated by climate change. As part of that plan, we will address the causes that compel individuals to migrate, including improving governance and providing a foundation for investment and economic opportunity, strengthening civilian security and the rule of law. Working across the whole of government, we will look at access to international protection and refugee resettlement. And rethinking asylum processing to ensure fair and faster consideration. Only by addressing those root causes can we break the cycle of desperation, and provide hope for families who clearly would prefer to stay in their countries and provide a better future for their children.

Video player loadingThe Biden administration on Wednesday restarted a program allowing children in Central America to apply to join parents in the U.S., offering a path for them to reunite without making the dangerous journey north.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The Biden administration took steps on Wednesday to address surging migration to the border, restoring a program allowing some Central American children to apply from their home country for admission to the United States and searching for additional housing for the increasing number of young migrants who have been detained after crossing from Mexico.

Facing intensifying pressure over the prolonged detention of migrant children, Roberta S. Jacobson, a special assistant to President Biden overseeing border issues, announced the restart of an Obama-era program that allowed children in Central America to apply for protection remotely and avoid making the dangerous journey north to join parents already in the United States.

That program and a $4 billion investment in Central America have been framed by the administration as crucial tools to addressing the poverty, persecution and corruption that have for years pushed vulnerable families to seek sanctuary in the United States. But the long-term strategy to deter illegal migration is running up against the immediate challenge of how to process thousands of migrant children at the U.S. border — a situation that has drawn swift backlash from Republicans and Democrats.

Troy Miller, the acting commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, said on Wednesday that 9,457 children were detained at the border without a parent in February, up from more than 5,800 in January. Detentions of unaccompanied minors in February more than doubled compared with the same period in 2020.

Mr. Biden now faces the challenge of processing migrant children quickly out of border jails and into shelters.

By Monday, the number of children stuck in border detention facilities had tripled to more than 3,250, according to federal immigration agency documents obtained by The New York Times. More than 1,300 of those children were held longer than the three days allowed by law before they are required to be moved to shelters managed by the Health and Human Services Department.

“We continue to struggle with the number of individuals in our custody, especially in a pandemic,” said Mr. Miller, who declined to provide the latest number of migrants stuck in border facilities.

Most of those migrants continue to be rapidly turned away under a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule, but Mr. Biden has broken from the previous administration in letting unaccompanied children into the United States.

Mr. Biden was briefed on Wednesday by top administration officials who had visited the border this past weekend, according to Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary.

Stewart Rhodes, the founder of the citizen militia group known as the Oath Keepers, speaks during a 2017 rally outside the White House in Washington.Credit…Susan Walsh/Associated Press

F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors are investigating Stewart Rhodes, the founder and leader of the Oath Keepers militia, for any role he might have played in the storming of the Capitol two months ago, according to court documents and a law enforcement official with knowledge of the matter.

While the inquiry is in its nascent stages, the official said, its existence shows that investigators appear to be targeting the senior leadership of the paramilitary group that Mr. Rhodes has run for more than a decade. If he were ultimately charged, it could amount to a crippling blow to the militia.

The Oath Keepers, who largely draw their members from the ranks of former military and law enforcement personnel, have from the start been a central focus of the sprawling investigation into the Capitol riot, which has led to charges against nearly 300 people. Eleven members of the group stand accused of a variety of crimes stemming from the siege, most prominently an alleged conspiracy reaching back to shortly after Election Day to break into the Capitol and interfere with Congress’s Jan. 6 certification of the Electoral College vote.

As three cases against his subordinates have moved through the courts, Mr. Rhodes, a former Army paratrooper, has been mentioned at least six times in legal filings as Person One, effectively putting him on notice that investigators are examining his conduct. Prosecutors have noted, for example, that two days before the Capitol attack, he issued a “call for action” on the Oath Keepers’ website, urging “all patriots who can be in D.C.” to “stand tall in support of President Trump’s fight to defeat the enemies foreign and domestic who are attempting a coup.”

In the same communiqué, Mr. Rhodes announced that the Oath Keepers would be sending “multiple volunteer security teams” to provide protection to “V.I.P.s” at events surrounding Mr. Trump’s speech and rally in Washington earlier on the day of the riot. The New York Times has identified a group of Oath Keepers who worked as security guards for Mr. Trump’s close ally and adviser Roger J. Stone Jr. at such events, and this week two of them — Roberto Minuta and Joshua A. James — were arrested in connection with the Capitol attack.

In court papers filed on Monday night, prosecutors significantly raised the stakes against Mr. Rhodes, saying that they now have evidence that he was in direct communication with some of the plot suspects before, during and after the assault on the Capitol.

Mr. Rhodes did not respond on Wednesday to messages seeking comment; he told The Washington Post that his group had “no plan to enter the Capitol.” A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did an F.B.I. spokeswoman.

“I know he’s a baseball fan. I hope he remembers three strikes and you’re out,” Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said of Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader.Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

A long-simmering feud between Senator Susan Collins and Senator Chuck Schumer flared in public on Wednesday, as the moderate Maine Republican accused the New York Democrat and majority leader of standing in the way of bipartisanship.

In remarks to reporters on Capitol Hill, Ms. Collins lashed out at Mr. Schumer for comments he made about her on CNN Tuesday night, in which he said Ms. Collins deserved some of the blame for an insufficiently large economic rescue package Democrats pushed through in 2009 amid the Great Recession.

“We made a big mistake in 2009 and ’10 — Susan Collins was a big part of that mistake,” Mr. Schumer said. “We cut back on the stimulus dramatically and we stayed in recession for five years.”

His remarks were then shared on Twitter by Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff.

Ms. Collins, one of only three Republicans who supported the 2009 stimulus after insisting that its size be pared back, unloaded on Mr. Schumer for the comments, suggesting that he held a political grudge against her.

“President Obama urged me to vote for a stimulus bill that passed that year, and indeed called me afterwards to thank me for my vote,” Ms. Collins recalled. “For Chuck Schumer, who was intimately involved in the negotiations as the assistant leader, to somehow criticize me for taking the same position that he did is simply bizarre.”

“I think it reflects, regrettably, his inability to accept the fact that despite pouring $100 million into defeating me, the people of Maine, said ‘no,’ and re-elected me to a historic term,” she added.

The bitter back-and-forth reflected the anger among moderate Republicans at being cut out of the stimulus negotiations, and how difficult it will be for Mr. Schumer to persuade them to cross party lines and join him on other proposals that will need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

It also highlighted a nasty rivalry between the two senators that has persisted for years, as Mr. Schumer has sought her vote on crucial legislation while repeatedly — and unsuccessfully — trying to recruit a candidate who could unseat her in what has become an increasingly blue state. It grew particularly toxic this past year after Mr. Schumer attacked her during her latest re-election race. She rarely misses a chance to remind him of her victories.

“Chuck Schumer has tried to take me out three times now,” Ms. Collins said in a recent interview with The New York Times, in which she called ads he ran against her in 2020 “deceptive” and “shameful.” “I know he’s a baseball fan. I hope he remembers three strikes and you’re out.”

She also noted that she has a close relationship with President Biden, whom she served with in the Senate and regards as open to bipartisan compromise, but sees Mr. Schumer as an impediment.

“I am going to continue to work with President Biden and his administration,” she said on Wednesday, naming a major infrastructure initiative as a common goal. “I just hope that Senator Schumer does not continue to be an obstacle to bipartisanship.”

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Senate Republican, said Mr. Biden should speak out against what Mr. Schumer had said about Ms. Collins.

“It doesn’t help bipartisanship when Chuck Schumer goes on Anderson Cooper, as he did last night, and attacks the most bipartisan member of the U.S. Senate, who is Susan Collins,” he said. “That’s not a way to work together with people or find common-ground solutions.”

The issue of Britney Spears’ treatment is not an especially partisan one.Credit…Valerie Macon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Two Republicans who rose to prominence by defending President Trump have seized on a new issue — the battle over the legal guardianship of Britney Spears, the former teen pop star who has suffered a succession of personal, professional and financial crises.

Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida sent a request to the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, asking for an investigation into the role of Ms. Spears’s father, Jamie Spears, in controlling her assets.

“Given the constitutional freedoms at stake and opaqueness of these arrangements, it is incumbent upon our committee to convene a hearing to examine whether Americans are trapped unjustly in conservatorships,” wrote the pair in a letter to Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York.

Mr. Gaetz later told Fox News he thought Ms. Spears would make a “great witness” at such a hearing.

Ms. Spears’s situation points to bigger issues involving guardianship, the pair wrote, referencing concerns about their use for older people and those with disabilities raised by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mr. Gaetz even posted a tweet using the #FreeBritney hashtag that has been employed by her supporters. The issue has gained renewed attention after the release of a New York Times documentary about the case.

The issue of Ms. Spears’s treatment is not an especially partisan one. A wide range of critics — including Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Kardashian — have called for the removal of the legal constraints on Ms. Spears, 39, that were imposed by a court in 2008, when she was in her mid-20s.

A spokesman for the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

But Democrats have accused House Republicans, who have been bitterly divided over Mr. Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riots and sidelined by the Democratic majority, of desperately trying to stay in the news by grabbing whatever issue can get them airtime or allow them to earn points with Trump supporters.

Mr. Gaetz himself has said in the past that he needs to constantly “reinvent” his image to fit a public attention span he compared to that of a “goldfish.”

On Tuesday, Representative Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, blasted House Republican leaders for latching onto another pop culture issue — the “cancellation” of Dr. Seuss, over writing that contained racist themes and imagery — instead of helping to pass a majority bill geared at helping unions.

“Heaven forbid we pass something that’s going to help the damn workers in the United States of America!” Mr. Ryan thundered on the House floor, in a video that quickly went viral. “Stop talking about Dr. Seuss, and start working with us on behalf of the American workers!”

Figures from the Treasury Department show a $1.04 trillion shortfall from October of last year through February. Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The federal budget deficit topped $1 trillion for the first five months of the fiscal year, as the United States recorded red ink at a record clip while trying to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Treasury Department figures released on Wednesday showed a shortfall of $1.04 trillion from October of last year through February. That was far higher than the $624 billion deficit the United States notched in the first part of 2020, before the pandemic set in.

The monthly deficit in February was $311 billion and reflected outlays associated with the $900 billion relief bill that Congress passed last December, which included $600 stimulus payments, expanded jobless benefits and small-business loan money. In February, the government spent $559 billion and took in $248 billion in tax revenue.

The Congressional Budget Office projected in February that the federal budget deficit will hit $2.3 trillion this year. Those numbers do not account for the $1.9 trillion relief package that Congress passed on Wednesday, which the C.B.O. estimates will add that amount to the deficit over the next 10 years.

Republicans in Congress have been expressing growing concern about the nation’s debt burden as they look to resist the Democrats’ policy agenda.

Once the stimulus package is enacted, the White House is expected to push a costly infrastructure bill that it hopes will pass later this year.

The United States recorded a record $3.1 trillion deficit in 2020 and is on pace to top that in 2021.

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