Stimulus Check Up | Apr 8, 2022 | 0
President Biden: Live Updates on Stimulus, Vaccinations and Neera Tanden
President Biden has signed off on a Democratic plan to place stricter income caps on the next round of stimulus payments, a crucial concession to moderates whose votes he needs to push through his $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package.
The proposal would disqualify individuals earning more than $80,000 — and households whose incomes exceed $160,000 — from receiving stimulus checks of up to $1,400, lowering the individual income cap by $20,000 from the last round of direct payments and from the version of the aid plan passed over the weekend by the House.
The tentative agreement was detailed on Wednesday by a Democrat familiar with the details, who disclosed them on the condition of anonymity. It was under discussion as Democratic leaders pressed to find the 50 votes they will need to push through the stimulus measure in the face of unified Republican opposition.
Like the House bill, the proposal under discussion would send $1,400 checks to people earning up to $75,000 and households earning up to $150,000, with those earning more receiving smaller payments. But the Senate proposal would end the checks altogether for those making $80,000 or couples earning $160,000, while the House measure had a higher cap of $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for households.
Mr. Biden had previously signaled that the income levels were negotiable, and Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Wednesday that he had prioritized preserving the $75,000 limit for those receiving the full $1,400 stimulus payment.
“He is certainly familiar with the journey that it takes from a proposal to a bill being signed,” Ms. Psaki said. “He has also been open from the beginning for that being more targeted.”
The change in the upper limit being discussed in the Senate, if adopted, would mean that some people who got a check during the Trump administration would not get one under Mr. Biden. Nearly nine million households that received at least some amount in the last round of stimulus checks authorized in December would not receive any this time, according to calculations by Kyle Pomerleau, a tax modeling specialist at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. It would shave $15 billion to $20 billion off the cost of the bill, Mr. Pomerleau estimated.
The private haggling between over the details of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan underscored the challenge of steering it through the evenly divided Senate, where Democratic leaders cannot afford a single defection. With unemployment benefits set to begin lapsing on March 14, Senate Democrats are working to pass the legislation by the weekend, with the first votes to advance it coming as early as Wednesday.
Liberal lawmakers are frustrated over the decision to drop a minimum-wage increase from the package, after a key Senate official ruled it out of bounds and moderates in the chamber said they would not support it. The centrists, who spoke privately with Mr. Biden earlier this week, have also been pushing to narrow other elements of the stimulus plan, including reducing a $400 weekly federal unemployment payment in the measure to $300 a week, the level currently being provided.
Senate Democrats appear to have rejected that effort, agreeing to the House-passed proposal to increase the benefit and extend it through the end of August.
Mr. Biden sought to rally Democratic senators around the package on Tuesday, joining their weekly lunchtime meeting by phone and urging them to stick together to reject attempts by Republicans to make changes when the Senate considers the bill that could kill its chances of passage.
The Capitol Police force is preparing for another assault on the Capitol building on Thursday after obtaining intelligence of a potential plot by a militia group, just two months after a mob of Trump loyalists and extremists attacked the building, leaving five dead and hundreds injured.
Leaving nothing to chance, House leaders on Wednesday abruptly moved a vote on policing legislation from Thursday to Wednesday night, so lawmakers could leave town, according to a senior Democratic aide familiar with the planning.
The “possible” plot, as described by the Capitol Police, appeared to be inspired by the pro-Trump conspiracy theory known as QAnon, according to a senior administration official who reviewed the intelligence warning. Intelligence analysts had spent weeks tracking online chatter by some QAnon adherents who have latched on to March 4 — the original inauguration date set in the Constitution — as the day Donald J. Trump would be restored to the presidency and renew his crusade against America’s enemies.
Some federal officials described the threats as more “aspirational” than operational. The militia group was not named, and even many influential QAnon followers, who believe the United States is dominated by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, have cast March 4 as a “deep state” plot to incite the movement’s adherents and provoke a nationwide crackdown.
But after being caught flat-footed by rioters on Jan. 6, the Capitol Police and members of Congress appeared to be taking no chances.
“We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group on Thursday, March 4,” the force said in a statement. “We are taking the intelligence seriously.”
Skittish lawmakers, many still rattled by the January attack that sent them fleeing, were given plenty of warning this time. Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, told lawmakers on Wednesday that the agency had received “concerning” intelligence about possible threats against the Capitol on March 4, adding that threats against lawmakers were “through the roof.” The Capitol Police later sent an alert to lawmakers warning that the force was “monitoring various reports referencing potential First Amendment activities from March 4 to March 6.”
Melissa Smislova, the acting under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence branch, told senators on Wednesday that the department and the F.B.I. had the night before issued an intelligence bulletin about “extremists discussing March 4 and March 6.”
While the warning did not definitively say militia groups planned to come to Washington, the analysts said that continued false statements of election fraud and narratives elevated by QAnon “may contribute” to extremists turning to violence. Those extremists were inspired to target March 4 by QAnon conspiracists who said Mr. Trump would be inaugurated on that date and eventually “return to power,” according to an official who requested anonymity to discuss the warning.
Two federal law enforcement officials said broad concerns about potential violence were warranted, given the online chatter around the QAnon conspiracy and talk of an attack. But they said they had not seen or been briefed on any specific, credible threat of an attack on politicians, the Capitol or other symbols of government.
While they felt it was unlikely that an organized militia group would be able to execute the kind of attack on the Capitol described in the Capitol Police bulletin, particularly given the fortifications around Washington, they did not rule out the possibility that “lone wolf” attackers could try to wreak havoc.
QAnon’s central tenet is that Mr. Trump was elected to take on a cabal of Democrats, international financiers and deep-state bureaucrats who worship Satan, abuse children and seek to dominate the world. When that did not come to pass while Mr. Trump was in office, some QAnon adherents began spinning elaborate conspiracy theories around March 4.
The theory, like much associated with QAnon, is convoluted and takes on various forms. A number of the movement’s most influential voices have cast the March 4 theory as a conspiracy within a conspiracy, insisting it was trap set by the movement’s enemies.
“March 4 is the media’s baby. Nothing will happen,” one QAnon influencer wrote Tuesday on the messaging app Telegram.
But in a sign that at least some people believe there is a reason to be in Washington on Thursday, rates at the Trump International Hotel for March 3 and 4 have spiked to three or four times their usual prices, much as they did before Jan. 6.
The Department of Defense inspector general concluded in an unreleased report that Representative Ronny Jackson, Republican of Texas, “disparaged” his subordinates, including pounding on the door of a woman who worked for him in the middle of the night during a presidential trip, and engaged in problematic drinking while working as the top White House physician.
The report, which was obtained by The New York Times, shed light on a number of rumors that had dogged Dr. Jackson beginning in 2018, after former President Donald J. Trump nominated him to lead the Veterans Affairs Department. After allegations emerged that Dr. Jackson had improperly distributed prescription drugs, created a hostile work environment, and had problems with drinking, the White House withdrew his nomination.
Dr. Jackson went on to win a crowded Republican primary race to represent a district in northern Texas and was elected to Congress in 2020.
The 37-page report, first described by CNN, painted a picture of a physician who engaged in reckless and sometimes threatening behavior, creating an uncomfortable environment for subordinates. A majority of the 60 witnesses interviewed by investigators said that Dr. Jackson had created a negative work environment, and nearly all of them said they had either personally witnessed, experienced or heard from colleagues about Dr. Jackson “screaming, cursing or belittling subordinates.”
Investigators also found that Dr. Jackson had engaged in inappropriate behavior on trips abroad with Mr. Trump and former President Barack Obama, whom he also served.
In 2014, before a trip to Manila, witnesses said Dr. Jackson told a male subordinate that he thought a female medical professional they were working with had a nice figure, using colorful language, and that he would “like to see more of her tattoos.”
While in Manila, witnesses said that Dr. Jackson went out on the town for a night of drinking, came back to the hotel where the medical team was staying and began yelling and pounding on the female subordinate’s hotel room door between 1 and 2 a.m. while “visibly intoxicated.” Witnesses said he created so much noise they worried it would wake Mr. Obama.
“He had kind of bloodshot eyes,” the woman recalled to investigators. “You could smell the alcohol on his breath, and he leaned into my room and he said, ‘I need you.’ I felt really uncomfortable.”
On a separate trip to Argentina with Mr. Trump, a witness recalled that Dr. Jackson “smelled of alcohol” as he assumed his duties as the primary physician on the trip, and that the doctor had a beer a few hours before going on duty, in defiance of a policy prohibiting White House medical personnel from drinking on presidential trips. Dr. Jackson had previously recounted to witnesses that he found that rule to be “stupid,” investigators found.
Former subordinates interviewed by investigators additionally raised the concern that Dr. Jackson took Ambien, a powerful sleep-aid medication, to help him sleep during long overseas travel. Though it appears Dr. Jackson was never called upon to provide medical care after he had taken the drug, his subordinates worried that it could have left him incapacitated and unable to perform his duties.
In a lengthy statement, Dr. Jackson accused the inspector general of resurrecting “false allegations” because “I have refused to turn my back on President Trump.”
“I flat out reject any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty,” Dr. Jackson said. “I also categorically deny any implication that I was in any way sexually inappropriate at work, outside of work, or anywhere with any member of my staff or anyone else. That is not me and what is alleged did not happen.”
In a fact sheet also provided to reporters, Dr. Jackson’s office noted that Mr. Obama had promoted him to rear admiral “after the alleged events” outlined in the report, and that the then-president had profusely praised him for his work.
Military and federal security officials detailed on Wednesday further security breakdowns that failed to stop the Jan. 6 pro-Trump mob attack on the Capitol, including that the head of the D.C. National Guard did not receive approval to mobilize troops until more than three hours after he requested it, outlining a longer delay than previously known and emphasizing bureaucratic restrictions that hindered efforts to quell the violence.
The Guard commander, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, got word that Pentagon officials had authorized his request at 5:08 p.m. — more than three hours after he received a desperate plea for help from the then-chief of the Capitol Police, General Walker said.
“We already had Guardsmen on buses ready to move to the Capitol,” he said, testifying alongside officials from the F.B.I. and departments of Homeland Security and Defense about security and intelligence failures ahead of the deadly rampage.
The Pentagon had removed his own authority to quickly deploy his troops, which also slowed the response to the riot, he said. He said that he was unable to even move troops from one traffic stop to another without permission from the secretary of the Army. Once he had the approval, the Guard arrived at the building in less than 20 minutes and helped re-establish the security perimeter on the east side of the Capitol.
Military officials had authorized Guard troop deployment at 3:04 p.m. that afternoon, according to the Pentagon, an approval that was itself delayed as officials there debated concerns about the optics of sending troops into the Capitol.
The reason for the delay in conveying the message of eventual approval to General Walker was not immediately clear. But during those hours, video and interviews have shown, the Capitol Police and supporting forces were overwhelmed in trying to fight off the pro-Trump mob.
“That number could have made a difference,” General Walker said of the possibility of deploying his troops earlier. He said he could have had 150 troops at the Capitol in 20 minutes.
He also said that he believed that Pentagon officials’ concerns about optics were misguided and that forces needed to be quickly sent to the Capitol to help repel the rioters.
“Seconds mattered,” General Walker added. “Minutes mattered. They made a difference.”
General Walker said that Pentagon officials placed restrictions before Jan. 6 on his ability to deploy troops and called it “unusual.” He noted that military officials had not raised concerns about optics last summer when the National Guard was deployed in Washington to help quell violence that erupted as racial justice protests were underway across the country.
The restrictions on the Guard on Jan. 6 were put in place because of aggressive tactics by the Guard during the June deployment that drew criticism, said Robert Salesses, a senior Defense Department official testifying at the hearing. He said that the secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, and other military officials delayed making a decision on Jan. 6 about whether to deploy forces because they wanted to know more about what they would be doing.
Their testimony came at the latest bipartisan investigative hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee.
“We must get to the bottom of why that very day it took the Defense Department so long to deploy the guard,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairwoman of the rules committee, adding that the insurrectionists “came prepared for war.”
After hearing General Walker’s testimony, Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the top Republican on the committee, told reporters he wanted to hear from higher-ranking officials in the military.
“Certainly we’ll have questions for Secretary McCarthy and for acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller,” Mr. Blunt said. “It’s definitely going to require an opportunity to ask them questions about their view from their perspective of why this decision-making process went so horribly wrong.”
At the first joint oversight meeting of the two committees last week, three former top Capitol security officials deflected responsibility for security failures that contributed to the riot, blaming the other agencies, each other and at one point even a subordinate for the breakdowns that allowed hundreds of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol.
The officials testified that the F.B.I. and the intelligence community had failed to provide adequate warnings that rioters planned to seize the Capitol and that the Pentagon was too slow to authorize Guard troops to help overwhelmed police after the attack began.
In addition to General Walker and Mr. Salesses, the officials testifying are Melissa Smislova, a senior official from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and Jill Sanborn, the F.B.I.’s assistant director of its Counterterrorism Division.
For the first time in U.S. history, the office of the Senate sergeant-at-arms will be led entirely by women.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, announced the new leadership team on Wednesday, about two months after the previous sergeant-at-arms, Michael C. Stenger, resigned in the wake of the Capitol riot. The House and Senate sergeant-at-arms are responsible for security in the chambers and related office buildings.
Lt. Gen. Karen Gibson will be the new sergeant-at-arms, Kelly Fado will be deputy sergeant-at-arms, and Jennifer A. Hemingway — who had been the acting sergeant-at-arms for the past two months — will be the office’s chief of staff.
General Gibson retired last year after 33 years in the Army. Her most recent position was deputy director of national intelligence for national security partnerships in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. She is also a former director of intelligence for U.S. Central Command. Since the riot on Jan. 6, she has been working “to identify actions or decisions that could be taken immediately to improve the near-term security of the Capitol and its members,” Mr. Schumer’s statement said.
Ms. Fado is a longtime Senate staffer working for Democrats, and Ms. Hemingway is a former House staffer working for Republicans.
The new team is the latest in a series of firsts for women since President Biden took office and Democrats took full control of Congress. Janet Yellen is the first woman to be treasury secretary and, of course, Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman to hold that role.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken delivered his first major address on Wednesday, rallying a domestic constituency for President Biden’s foreign policy at a time when Americans are focused on the pandemic, the economy and other problems at home.
The 28-minute speech, delivered to a mostly empty reception room at the State Department, sought to show that the most urgent issues of diplomacy had a direct impact on Americans.
From defending democracy to protecting the environment to navigating relations with China, which he called “the biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century,” Mr. Blinken outlined eight top priorities of the Biden administration’s foreign policy. He said those issues must be confronted both at home and abroad, “or we fall short.”
“I know that foreign policy can sometimes feel disconnected from our daily lives,” Mr. Blinken said. “It’s either all about major threats like pandemics, terrorism, or it fades from view.”
As a result, he said, “Americans have been asking tough but fair questions about what we’re doing, how we’re leading — indeed, whether we should be leading at all.”
There were no new policy announcements in the address, which, before the pandemic, might have been delivered to an audience far beyond the Beltway. (Mr. Blinken’s immediate predecessor, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, frequently traveled across the United States to talk to college students, factory workers and religious organizations about foreign policy, although critics were quick to note that his comments also seemed directed at potential voters as he weighed his political future.)
Mr. Blinken acknowledged that past administrations — including the Obama White House, in which he served — had made substantial errors in foreign policy that had affected ordinary Americans in negative ways.
The White House is expected later today to give departments and agencies “interim strategic guidance” on foreign policy and national security, providing what Mr. Blinken called “initial direction” as the administration devises more detailed plans.
President Biden lashed out on Wednesday at the governor of Texas and others who have relaxed Covid-19 restrictions, describing their actions as “Neanderthal thinking” and insisting that it was a “big mistake” for people to stop wearing masks.
The president, who has urged Americans to remain vigilant in the fight against the coronavirus, said it was critical for public officials to follow the guidance of medical doctors and public health leaders as the U.S. vaccination campaign progresses.
“The last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking that in the meantime, everything’s fine, take off your mask and forget it,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House. “It’s critical, critical, critical, critical that they follow the science. Wash your hands, hot water. Do it frequently, wear a mask and stay socially distanced. And I know you all know that. I wish the heck some of our elected officials knew it.”
Earlier in the day, the White House press secretary, Jennifer Psaki, called on Texans and others to follow the guidance of the country’s top medical officials, who have warned mayors and governors not to recklessly abandon restrictions.
“This entire country has paid the price for political leaders who ignored the science when it comes to the pandemic,” Ms. Psaki said.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned governors and mayors again on Wednesday not to lift Covid-19 restrictions prematurely.
Her latest warning, the third in less than a week, came after officials in several states, including Texas and Mississippi, announced on Tuesday that they are easing rules like mask mandates and capacity limits in businesses.
“Now is not the time to release all restrictions,” Dr. Walensky said at the White House briefing. She said the United States is at a pivotal moment when it could either quell the spread of the coronavirus through precautions and vaccinations, or stoke a new surge of infections.
“So much can turn on the next few weeks,” she said. Andy Slavitt, a senior White House adviser, said health officials in every state agree that “now is the wrong time to lift the mask mandate.”
New cases, deaths and hospitalizations have been decreasing over the past week, according to a New York Times database. Compared with two weeks ago, cases were down 19 percent, and hospitalizations were down 29 percent. Deaths were down 9 percent. As of Tuesday, the C.D.C. estimated that 15 percent of the population had received at least one dose of a virus vaccine, while nearly 8 percent had received both.
Mr. Biden said Tuesday that the nation was expected to have enough doses of vaccine available by the end of May to inoculate the whole adult population. He acknowledged it would take longer to get everyone vaccinated.
With new virus variants spreading, Dr. Walensky urged people to wear masks, to avoid crowds and travel, and to “do the right thing to protect their own health,” regardless of what their state officials dictate.
“Fatigue is winning, and the exact measures we’ve taken to stop the pandemic are now too often being flagrantly ignored,” she said.
The World Health Organization issued its own warning on Monday against easing virus restrictions too soon, particularly with the circulation of new variants.
The C.D.C. has issued detailed guidance about reopening schools and workplaces. Dr. Walensky is most concerned about lifting mask mandates and fully reopening businesses without regard to the need for social distancing, according to one federal official familiar with her thinking.
While many states have eased some restrictions in recent weeks, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, a Republican, made the most expansive move.
Not all Texas businesses are on board. Even as it filed for bankruptcy on Wednesday, a Texas-based movie theater chain, Alamo Drafthouse, pushed back against the relaxation, saying in a message to patrons that masks and social distancing would still be required at its theaters across the state.
Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi, another Republican, lifted his state’s mask order on Tuesday, though he said he still recommended that people wear them and practice social distancing.
Democrats are slowly easing restrictions now as well. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan said her state would relax limits on nursing homes and allow restaurants, shops and other businesses to accept more customers, starting on Friday. Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana said that bars in his state could reopen and live music could resume indoors, though the state’s mask mandate would continue. And in San Francisco, Mayor London Breed said indoor dining, museums and movie theaters will be allowed to reopen on Wednesday at limited capacity.
The top trio of House Democratic leaders on Wednesday recommended Shalanda Young to be President Biden’s budget office director after the White House withdrew its nomination for Neera Tanden to serve in the role in the face of bipartisan opposition.
The formal endorsement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Representatives Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, and James Clyburn of South Carolina, the majority whip, is a significant boost to Ms. Young, who is currently the nominee to serve as the deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget. The three leaders worked closely with Ms. Young, who was the first Black woman to serve as the staff director for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.
“Her legislative prowess, extensive knowledge of federal agencies, incisive strategic mind and proven track record will be a tremendous asset to the Biden-Harris administration,” the three leaders said in a statement. “Her leadership at the O.M.B. would be historic and would send a strong message that this administration is eager to work in close coordination with members of Congress to craft budgets that meet the challenges of our time and can secure broad, bipartisan support.”
Fallback nominees for the position also include Gene Sperling, a former National Economic Council director, and Ann O’Leary, the former chief of staff to Gov. Gavin Newsom of California. But the statement Wednesday morning underscored how Ms. Young has earned the support of lawmakers across Capitol Hill, ranging from Democratic leaders in both chambers to the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Long before Ms. Tanden’s decision to withdraw her nomination on Tuesday, Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, went so far as to issue a statement preemptively announcing that Ms. Young “would have my support, and I suspect many of my Republican colleagues would support her as well.”
At her confirmation hearing for the No. 2 spot at the budget agency, multiple Republicans also signaled their support for Ms. Young, who helped negotiate in 2019 the end to the nation’s longest government shutdown in her role on the House Appropriations Committee and the series of pandemic relief bills in 2020.
“Everybody that deals with you on our side has nothing but good things to say,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the budget panel. “You might talk me out of voting for you, but I doubt it.”
“You’ll get my support, maybe for both jobs,” he noted.
The Transportation Department’s inspector general asked the Justice Department in December to consider a criminal investigation into what it said was Elaine Chao’s misuse of her office as transportation secretary in the Trump administration to help promote her family’s shipbuilding business, which is run by her sister and has extensive business ties with China.
In a report made public on Wednesday, the inspector general said the Justice Department’s criminal and public integrity divisions both declined to take up the matter, even after the inspector general found repeated examples of Ms. Chao using her staff and her office to help benefit her family and their business operations and revealed that staff members at the agency had raised ethics concerns.
“A formal investigation into potential misuses of position was warranted,” Mitch Behm, the department’s deputy inspector general, said on Tuesday in a letter to House lawmakers, accompanying a 44-page report detailing the investigation and the findings of wrongdoing.
Ms. Chao, the wife of Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, announced her resignation on Jan. 7, the day after the Capitol riot. At the time of her departure, an aide to Ms. Chao said her resignation was unrelated to the coming release of the investigation.
The investigation began after a 2019 report in The New York Times detailed Ms. Chao’s interactions with her family while she was transportation secretary, including a trip she had planned to take to China in 2017 with her father and sister. The inspector general’s report confirmed that planning for the trip, which was canceled, raised ethics concerns among other government officials.
Ms. Chao declined to respond to questions from the inspector general and instead provided a memo from September 2020 that described the importance of promoting her family as part of her official duties.
“Asian audiences welcome and respond positively to actions by the secretary that include her father in activities when appropriate,” the memo said.
The inspector general’s investigation detailed a series of instances where Ms. Chao directed her staff to spend federal government time and resources to help with matters related to the shipbuilding company and her father.
It found that Ms. Chao had used her staff to make extensive arrangements in 2017 for the planned trip to China, which had been scheduled to include stops at locations that had received financial support from her family’s company.
The investigators also found that she had repeatedly asked staff members to do tasks like editing her father’s Wikipedia page and promoting his biography.
MERIDEN, Conn. — Following President Biden’s call on Tuesday to have every school employee receive at least one vaccine shot by the end of March, the White House began a campaign to drum up support for the quick reopening of the nation’s schools by sending the first lady, Jill Biden, and the newly confirmed education secretary, Miguel Cardona, on a two-state tour of reopened schools on Wednesday.
Mr. Biden’s promise to vaccinate teachers elevated his push to reopen schools even before the nation is fully inoculated. At the White House’s direction, vaccinations will be available at local pharmacies through a federal program. With the states setting priorities for eligibility otherwise, there remains a limit on actually getting shots in arms.
At their first stop in Meriden, Conn. — Dr. Cardona’s hometown — the secretary said that quickly vaccinating teachers would be his “top priority.”
“We must continue to reopen America’s schools for in person learning as quickly and as safely as possible,” he said at an elementary school where students were learning in masks and behind plexiglass dividers. “The president recognizes this, which is why he took bold action yesterday to get teachers and school staff vaccinated quickly.”
As the state education commissioner in Connecticut, he pushed to reopen the state’s schools during the coronavirus pandemic. The White House now expects Dr. Cardona to do the same on a national scale, as teacher’s unions around the country raise concerns about the safety of resuming in-person instruction.
Dr. Biden, who has a doctorate in educational leadership and teaches full-time at Northern Virginia Community College, said that while the White House would be following Dr. Cardona’s lead, both she and her students were impatient to return safely to classrooms.
“Teachers want to be back,” she said. “We want to be back. Last week I said to my students, ‘Hey, guys, how’re you doing?’ And they said ‘Dr. B, we’re doing OK, but we can’t wait to be back to the classroom.’”
Parents across the country are frustrated with the pace of reopening, and in some cases are starting to rebel. Nationally, fewer than half of students are attending public schools that offer traditional in-person instruction full time. And many teachers have rejected plans to return to the classroom without being vaccinated.
Even so, most schools are already operating at least partially in person, and evidence suggests that they are doing so relatively safely. Research shows in-school virus spread can be mitigated with simple safety measures like masking, distancing, hand-washing and open windows.
“Let’s treat in-person learning like an essential service that it is,” Mr. Biden said on Tuesday, even as he noted that not every school employee would be able to get a vaccine next week. “And that means getting essential workers who provide that service — educators, school staff, child care workers — get them vaccinated immediately.”
Educators will be able to sign up to receive a vaccine through a local drugstore as part of a federal program in which shots are delivered directly to pharmacies, Mr. Biden said. White House officials said Mr. Biden’s move to speed up vaccination of teachers is based on the president’s view that they are critical to getting the country back to normal.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that inoculating teachers is “not a prerequisite,” but that Mr. Biden believes they should be “prioritized.”
At least 34 states and the District of Columbia are already vaccinating school workers to some extent, according to a New York Times database. Others were quick to fall in line after Mr. Biden announced his plan. On Tuesday, Washington State added educators and licensed child care workers to its top tier for priority, accelerating its plan by a few weeks.
In guidelines issued last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged that elementary and secondary schools be reopened as soon as possible, and offered a step-by-step plan to get students back in classrooms. While the agency recommended giving teachers priority, it said that vaccination should “nevertheless not be considered a condition for reopening schools for in-person instruction.”
Many schools are already fully open in areas with substantial or high community transmission, where the agency suggests schools be open only in hybrid mode or in distance-learning mode. The agency says those schools can remain open if mitigation strategies are consistently implemented, students and staff are masked, and monitoring of cases in school suggests limited transmission.
The agency’s guidelines say that six feet of distancing between individuals is required at substantial and high levels of community transmission. Many school buildings cannot accommodate that, which may lead some districts to stick with a hybrid instruction model when they might otherwise have gone to full in-person instruction.
Many local teachers’ unions remain adamantly opposed to restarting in-person learning now, saying that school districts do not have the resources or the inclination to follow C.D.C. guidance on coronavirus safety. Without vaccinations, the unions say, adults in schools would remain vulnerable to serious illness or death from Covid-19 because children, while much less prone to illness, can nevertheless readily carry the virus. Studies suggest that children under 10 transmit the virus about half as efficiently as adults do, but older children may be much like adults.
The unions have a ready ear in the White House. Dr. Biden, a community college professor, is a member of the National Education Association, and the president has a long history with the unions. Dr. Biden and Mr. Cardona were scheduled to meet with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, in Connecticut, and with Becky Pringle, the N.E.A. president, in Pennsylvania.
On Dr. Biden’s tour, Ms. Weingarten jumped in at points to speak about the need for flexibility with different teaching styles.
Epidemiological models have shown that vaccinating teachers could greatly reduce infections in schools. “It should be an absolute priority,” said Carl Bergstrom, an infectious diseases expert at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Still, requiring that teachers be vaccinated could greatly slow the pace of school reopenings, he and other experts acknowledged.
Teachers’ unions want not just vaccination, but also that districts improve ventilation and ensure six feet of distancing — two measures that have been shown to reduce the spread of the virus. (The C.D.C. guidelines emphasize six feet of distance only when prevalence of the virus is high, and nodded only briefly to the need for ventilation.) The unions have also insisted that schools not open until the infection rates in their communities are very low.
Apoorva Mandavilli and Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.
The N.B.A. is partnering with a group founded by LeBron James to promote voting rights during the All-Star Game this weekend in Atlanta, just as the U.S. House prepares to vote on a sweeping voting rights bill.
More Than a Vote, which was founded by the Los Angeles Lakers star last year, will join with the N.B.A.’s National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, the National Basketball Players Association and the Georgia chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. to protest efforts by the Republican-controlled State Legislature to end automatic voter registration, ban drop boxes and eliminate the broad availability of absentee voting. Democrats say the changes would have an outsize impact on Black voters.
“We all need to continue to use our platform,” Mr. James wrote to his 49 million followers on Twitter on Tuesday, sharing a link to a report about the campaign in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This last election won’t change anything if we don’t keep working.”
The group’s plans include a social media campaign and interviews with league stars promoting expanded voting rights, according to a statement.
The All-Star Game campaign comes as House Democrats in Washington prepared on Wednesday to pass omnibus federal voting legislation that would blunt attempts by Republican-led states to impose new restrictions to the ballot box. In addition to Georgia, new voting restrictions have passed in Iowa, and many other states are lining up similar efforts.
Among the provisions in the House bill, designated H.R. 1 by Democrats to reflect its importance to their agenda, are strict national requirements that would disallow restrictive voter identification laws enacted by states, mandate automatic voter registration, vastly expand early and mail-in voting, and restore voting rights to former felons. Proponents expect the changes to increase voting in Black and Latino communities.
The bill would also eliminate partisan gerrymandering, impose new transparency on dark money in the campaign finance system and tighten government ethics standards.
Democrats expected to pass the bill through the House in the face of unified Republican opposition. Its fate in the Senate, where Democrats have only narrow control, appeared uncertain; unless Democrats agree to significantly alter the bill or eliminate the legislative filibuster that requires them to win at least 10 Republican votes, it has little chance of becoming law.
House Democrats intend to hold a separate vote in the coming months on legislation to restore key enforcement provisions to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. But that effort also faces an exceedingly narrow path in the Senate.
Facebook said on Wednesday that it planned to lift its ban on political advertising across its network, resuming a form of digital promotion that has been criticized for spreading misinformation, falsehoods and inflaming voters.
The social network said it would allow advertisers to buy new ads about “social issues, elections or politics” beginning on Thursday, according to a copy of an email sent to political advertisers and viewed by The New York Times.
Those advertisers must complete a series of identity checks before being authorized to place the ads, the company said.
“We put this temporary ban in place after the November 2020 election to avoid confusion or abuse following Election Day,” Facebook said in a blog post. “We’ve heard a lot of feedback about this and learned more about political and electoral ads during this election cycle. As a result, we plan to use the coming months to take a closer look at how these ads work on our service to see where further changes may be merited.”
Political advertising on Facebook has long faced questions. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has said he wished to maintain a largely hands-off stance toward speech on the site — including political ads — unless it posed an immediate harm to the public or individuals, saying that he “does not want to be the arbiter of truth.”
But after the 2016 presidential election, the company and intelligence officials discovered that Russians had used Facebook ads to sow discontent among Americans. Former President Donald J. Trump also used Facebook’s political ads to amplify claims about an “invasion” on the Mexican border in 2019, among other incidents.
Facebook had banned political ads late last year as a way to choke off misinformation and threats of violence around the November presidential election. In September, the company said it planned to forbid new political ads for the week before Election Day and would act swiftly against posts that tried to dissuade people from voting. Then in October, Facebook expanded that action by declaring it would prohibit all political and issue-based advertising after the polls closed on Nov. 3 for an undetermined length of time.
In December, the company lifted the ban to allow some advertisers to run political issue and candidacy ads in Georgia for the January runoff election in the state. But the ban otherwise remained in effect for the remaining 49 states.
A barrage of rockets was fired on Wednesday at the Ayn al Asad air base in Iraq’s western Anbar Province — one of the last remaining Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed.
An Iraqi security statement and one released by the Pentagon said that 10 missiles were launched at the sprawling base.
A senior Defense Department official said that a U.S. contractor had died of an apparent heart attack during the rocket barrage. Officials in Washington did not identify the group responsible for the attack.
The Pentagon said in a statement that the missile defense system at Ayn Al Asad “engaged in defense of our forces” and added, “We extend our deepest condolences to the loved ones of the individual who died.”
The Sabareen news outlet, which is affiliated with Iran-backed militias, said three U.S. soldiers had been killed in the attack — a report completely at odds with the official Defense Department account.
The assault came just under a week after the United States attacked Iran-backed militia targets at the Syria-Iraq border. Those airstrikes, ordered by the Biden administration, hit a collection of buildings on the Syrian side of a border crossing. President Biden had originally approved two targets inside Syria, administration officials said.
The Iran-backed militia Kataib Hezbollah said one of its fighters had been killed in those airstrikes. It identified him as a member of the Popular Mobilization Forces that are officially part of Iraqi security forces helping prevent infiltration by the Islamic State.
The second strike that Mr. Biden approved was aborted at the last minute after American forces learned that there were women and children at that site, also in Syria, administration officials said.
At the first site, at Abu Kamal, two F-15E Strike Eagles dropped seven 500-pound satellite-guided bombs on nine buildings, the officials said.
Mr. Biden chose targets in Syria to avoid political blowback on the Iraqi government, officials said.
The assault on the base on Wednesday came just days before a visit by Pope Francis to Iraq beginning on Friday — the first ever papal visit to the war-ravaged country.
The attackers who targeted the base on Wednesday used BM-21 “Grad” missiles, fired from about five miles from the base, officials said.
A local paramilitary leader near the base said he had heard the impact of the rockets and then gone to investigate. The leader, Sheikh Qutri Kahlan al-Obeidi, said he had found “a burned vehicle — a Mitsubishi pickup,” rigged with missile launchers.