White House Steps Up Campaign to Build Support for Infrastructure Bill

It comes as Republicans argue the $2 trillion proposal is really a social welfare initiative and tax increase. Here’s the latest from Washington.,

LiveUpdated April 5, 2021, 9:35 a.m. ETApril 5, 2021, 9:35 a.m. ET

Republicans argue the $2 trillion proposal is really a giant social welfare initiative and tax increase masquerading as infrastructure. At the border, migrant arrivals hit a 15-year high in March.

Work on an interstate bridge in Troy, Mich. President Biden's plan would include hundreds of billions of dollars for such traditional infrastructure projects.
Work on an interstate bridge in Troy, Mich. President Biden’s plan would include hundreds of billions of dollars for such traditional infrastructure projects.Credit…Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

Amid increasing opposition from Republicans over his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, President Biden is dispatching five administration officials this week to sell a plan the administration says will not only rebuild roads and bridges but also reverse long-running racial disparities.

Mr. Biden is hoping the five secretaries can build support both in Congress and throughout the country for the first piece of a two-part plan to rebuild the American economy. The officials — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg; Marcia L. Fudge, the housing secretary; Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm; and Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh — will work to court the bipartisan backing Mr. Biden has said he seeks for the package.

Also Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris will highlight the benefits of the American Jobs Plan by traveling to California to meet with state leaders and a small business owner in Oakland.

But the public relations campaign comes as Republicans appear to be coalescing around a message of their own: Mr. Biden’s plan is really a giant social welfare initiative and tax increase masquerading as infrastructure.

On Sunday, leading Republican senators said the proposal fell far short of a serious attempt to work across the aisle and previewed arguments they will deploy in the weeks ahead in a bid to undercut its popular support.

“If the president wants a bipartisan plan, how can he possibly try to get something passed that every single — that repeals a bill that every single Republican in the Senate voted for?” Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” referring to Mr. Biden’s proposal to reverse some of the Republicans’ 2017 tax cuts to pay for the infrastructure bill.

“To me, I don’t see the bipartisan gesture there,” he added.

Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, said he had pitched the White House on a smaller package, around $600 billion, more narrowly focused on traditional infrastructure projects like roads, bridges, airports and ports and funded by user fees and other revenue streams that would not require raising corporate taxes. While Mr. Biden’s plan includes hundreds of billions of dollars for such projects, there are also hundreds of billions in spending for things like in-home care. Republicans argue that is not infrastructure.

“My advice to the White House has been, take that bipartisan win, do this in a more traditional infrastructure way, and then if you want to force the rest of the package on Republicans in the Congress and the country, you can certainly do that,” Mr. Blunt said on “Fox News Sunday.”

At least 10 Republican votes would be needed in the Senate to overcome a filibuster and pass the infrastructure bill under normal procedures, though Democrats have not ruled out using a parliamentary budget tool known as reconciliation to skirt the filibuster and approve the package with only Democratic votes.

To change any minds, Biden officials will hope to stay more on message than when Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris traveled the country last month to highlight the benefits of their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

Instead of being able to focus on the stimulus law, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris faced questions on how to handle rising hate crimes against Asian-Americans, mass shootings and increasing crossings of minors at the border.

“The simple fact is victory laps are always cut short or subject to serious detour and that’s what happened to Joe Biden,” said Ari Fleischer, a former White House press secretary for the George W. Bush administration.

Two unaccompanied child immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande river from Mexico were detained by border patrol agents in Roma, Texas.
Two unaccompanied child immigrants who crossed the Rio Grande river from Mexico were detained by border patrol agents in Roma, Texas.Credit…Ed Jones/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The Biden administration apprehended more than 170,000 migrants at the southwest border in March, the most in any month for at least 15 years and up nearly 70 percent from February, government documents obtained by The New York Times show.

Thousands of children remained backed up in detention facilities and border agents released an increasing number of migrant families into the United States.

More than 18,700 unaccompanied children and teenagers were taken into custody last month after crossing the border, including at port entries, nearly double the roughly 9,450 minors detained in February and more than four times the 4,635 unaccompanied minors who crossed in March of last year, the documents show.

The sharp increases underscored the political and logistical challenges to the administration of managing the flow of people coming from Central America, including the need to more quickly move unaccompanied children and teenagers into emergency shelters at military sites and conventions centers throughout the United States. Many of the children are seeking to join parents, relatives or other people they know who are already in the country

The biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions, a contract manufacturer of coronavirus vaccine.
The biopharmaceutical company Emergent BioSolutions, a contract manufacturer of coronavirus vaccine.Credit…Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Biden administration on Saturday put Johnson & Johnson in charge of a Baltimore contract plant that ruined 15 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, and moved to stop the facility from making another vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca, senior federal health officials said.

The extraordinary move by the Department of Health and Human Services will leave the Emergent BioSolutions facility solely devoted to making the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine and is meant to avoid future mix-ups, according to two senior federal health officials. Johnson & Johnson confirmed the changes, saying it was “assuming full responsibility” for the vaccine made by Emergent.

The change came in response to the recent disclosure that Emergent, a manufacturing partner to both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, accidentally mixed up the ingredients from the two different vaccines, which forced regulators to delay authorization of the plant’s production lines.

Federal officials are worried that the mix-up will erode public confidence in the vaccines, just as President Biden is making an aggressive push to have enough vaccine doses to cover every American adult by the end of May. At the same time, there is deep concern about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, amid a health scare that has prompted some European countries to restrict its use.

AstraZeneca said in a statement that it would work with the Biden administration to find an alternative site.

The ingredient mix-up, and Saturday’s move by the administration, is a significant setback and public relations debacle for Emergent, a Maryland biotech company that has built a profitable business by teaming up with the federal government, primarily by selling its anthrax vaccines to the Strategic National Stockpile.

A spokesman for Emergent declined to comment, except to say that the company would continue making AstraZeneca doses until it received a contract modification from the federal government.

Experts in vaccine manufacturing said that in the past, the Food and Drug Administration had a rule to prevent such mishaps by not allowing a facility to make two live viral vector vaccines, because of the potential for mix-ups and contamination.

Unlike Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca does not yet have emergency F.D.A. authorization for its vaccine. With three federally authorized vaccines (the other two are by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna), it is unclear whether the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has had a troubled history with regulators, could even be cleared in time to meet U.S. needs.

However, one of the federal officials said the Health and Human Services Department was discussing working with AstraZeneca to adapt its vaccine to combat new coronavirus variants.

None of the Johnson & Johnson doses made by Emergent have been released by the F.D.A. for distribution. The agency’s acting commissioner, Dr. Janet Woodcock, said in a statement that the agency “takes its responsibility for helping to ensure the quality of manufacturing of vaccines and other medical products for use during this pandemic very seriously.”

But she made clear that the ultimate responsibility rested with Johnson & Johnson. “It is important to note that even when companies use contract manufacturing organizations, it is ultimately the responsibility of the company that holds the emergency use authorization to ensure that the quality standards of the F.D.A. are met.”

Emergent’s Baltimore facility is one of two facilities that were built with taxpayer support and are federally designated as “Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing.” Last June, the government paid Emergent $628 million to reserve space there as part of Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s fast-track initiative to develop coronavirus vaccines.

Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca both contracted with Emergent to use the space. Both companies’ vaccines are so-called live viral-vector vaccines, meaning they use a modified, harmless version of a different virus as a vector, or carrier, to deliver instructions to the body’s immune system. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one dose; AstraZeneca’s vaccine is two doses.

Last month, Mr. Biden canceled a visit to the Emergent Baltimore plant, and his spokeswoman announced that the administration would conduct an audit of the Strategic National Stockpile, the nation’s emergency medical reserve. Both actions came after a New York Times investigation into how the company gained outsize influence over the repository.

With the U.S. Capitol in the background, flags fly at half staff at the base of the Washington Monument to honor Capitol Police Officer William Evans. Noah Green drove his car into a checkpoint Friday, killing Evans.
With the U.S. Capitol in the background, flags fly at half staff at the base of the Washington Monument to honor Capitol Police Officer William Evans. Noah Green drove his car into a checkpoint Friday, killing Evans.Credit…Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

Noah Green, the knife-wielding man killed after ramming his car into a checkpoint at the U.S. Capitol on Friday, was a troubled former college athlete whose life was disintegrating in the months leading up to a violent outburst that left one officer dead and another injured.

On the football field at Christopher Newport University in Virginia, Noah R. Green was No. 21, a dependable and good-natured, if soft-spoken, presence in the defensive backfield. Off the field, he was focused on Black economic empowerment and planned a career to help close the racial wealth gap.

By late March, after a bruising pandemic year that friends and family said left him isolated and mentally unmoored, Mr. Green’s life appeared increasingly to revolve around the Nation of Islam and its leader Louis Farrakhan, who has repeatedly promoted anti-Semitism.

On Friday afternoon, law enforcement officials said, Mr. Green, 25, drove a dark blue Nissan sedan from the Virginia suburbs and plowed into two police officers protecting the Capitol grounds. He then got out of the car brandishing a knife and lunged at officers.

Police shot and killed him.

Without a clear motive, investigators were combing through social media posts and a trail of woes to understand what happened and why.

Investigators believed that Mr. Green was influenced by a combination of underlying mental health issues and a connection to an ideological cause that, he believed, provided justification to commit violence.

Brendan Green told The Washington Post on Friday that his brother had been plagued by mental health problems and possibly drugs. Noah Green had briefly moved to Botswana this year, he said, and tried to jump in front of a car.

Brendan Green said his brother had become violently ill on Thursday night and left the apartment, declaring that he was ready to become homeless.

Noah Green seemed destined for a more promising future. At Alleghany High School in Covington, Va., he was voted the most valuable player of the football team, and later played at Christopher Newport University, a small public school in Newport News, Va., where he studied business.

“I was able to graduate with distinction, earn a well-paying job straight out of college, and pursue my graduate degree, despite not growing up in the best of circumstances,” he wrote on Facebook on March 17.

In his final Facebook post on March 21, Mr. Green wrote about a “divine warning” that these were the “last days of our world as we know it.”

Miguel Leonardo and David Serrano helped to distribute food boxes through the New Life Centers of Chicagoland in Chicago last month.
Miguel Leonardo and David Serrano helped to distribute food boxes through the New Life Centers of Chicagoland in Chicago last month.Credit…Lucy Hewett for The New York Times

With more than one in 10 households reporting that they lack enough to eat, the Biden administration is accelerating a vast campaign of hunger relief that will temporarily increase assistance by tens of billions of dollars and set the stage for what officials envision as lasting expansions of aid.

The effort to rush more food assistance to more people is notable both for the scale of its ambition and the variety of its legislative and administrative actions. The campaign has increased food stamps by more than $1 billion a month, provided needy children a dollar a day for snacks, expanded a produce allowance for pregnant women and children, and authorized the largest children’s summer feeding program in history.

“We haven’t seen an expansion of food assistance of this magnitude since the founding of the modern food stamp program in 1977,” said James P. Ziliak, an economist at the University of Kentucky who studies nutrition programs. “It’s a profound change.”

While dollars and decisions are flowing from the Agriculture Department, the tone has been set by President Biden, who issued an executive order in January telling aides to “address the growing hunger crisis” and later lamented the car lines “half a mile each, just to get a box of food.”

The push reflects an extraordinary shift in the politics of poverty — driven, paradoxically, both by the spread of hardship to more working-class and white families and the growing recognition of poverty’s disproportionate toll on minorities. With hunger especially pronounced among Black and Latino households, vital to the Democrats’ coalition, the administration is framing its efforts not just as a response to pandemic needs but as part of a campaign for racial justice.

“This crisis has revealed how fragile many Americans’ economic lives are and also the inequities of who is struggling the most,” said Stacy Dean, who is leading the effort as a senior official at the Agriculture Department after a prominent career as an anti-hunger advocate. “It’s an incredibly painful picture, and it is even more so for communities of color.”

Like other policies being pursued by the White House — including a temporary child allowance that is expected to cut child poverty nearly in half — the effort to reduce hunger reflects a new willingness among Democrats to embrace an identity as poverty fighters that they once feared would alienate the middle class.

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