‘America is rising anew’: Biden lays out ambitious, expensive plan to emerge from pandemic

President Joe Biden on Wednesday night outlined an optimistic vision after a year wracked by a deadly virus and incalculable struggles in America and abroad.

Biden said he “inherited a nation in crisis,” one that is now "on the move again,” and “turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.”

"America is rising anew, choosing hope over fear, truth over lies and light over darkness," Biden continued.

The speech marked an early victory lap for a White House fashioning itself as having one of the most consequential starts to a presidency in American history. It is also an opportunity to build momentum for two proposals — the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan — that, if enacted, would alter the course of the country for decades to come.

Biden is framing the spending blueprints, which carry a combined price tag of about $4 trillion over the next decade, as a necessary corrective in order to rebuild the foundation of the middle class and society writ large at a time when trust in government is on the wane.

“We have to prove democracy still works — that our government still works and can deliver for the people,” he said.

The president’s speech focused on his first 100 days in office, including the progress the country has made in vaccinating residents against the coronavirus, and it will outline his multitrillion-dollar infrastructure and social welfare proposals.

Biden is attempting to enact a generation-defining agenda at a time when Democrats hold all the levers of power in Washington, albeit by the narrowest of margins.

"In our first 100 days together, we have acted to restore the people’s faith in our democracy to deliver," Biden said.

Biden has courted bipartisan support from congressional Republicans, but has also shown a willingness to push ahead with solely Democratic votes if need be as part of a gamble, with the House and Senate majorities on the line next year, that flies in the face of Washington orthodoxy.

Wednesday night’s speech, which is not technically considered a State of the Union address, was a departure from the typical pomp associated with the event due to pandemic-related restrictions. Biden spoke before just a fraction of the congressional representatives, government dignitaries and guests who typically attend such an address, due to the restrictions imposed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed roughly 575,000 Americans to date.

"While the setting tonight is familiar, this gathering is just a little bit different, and it’s a reminder of the extraordinary times were in,” he said.

Only about 200 tickets were parceled out, and even mainstays like most of the Supreme Court and the president’s Cabinet were not in attendance. (As such, it obviated the need for an off-site “designated survivor” in the event of a disaster at the event.)

The clapping, standing ovations and — most notably — jeering were somewhat subdued, an inevitable consequence of the limited in-person audience. And the event stood in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s final State of the Union address in February 2020, which was remembered for Trump’s not shaking Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand and the Democratic leader performatively ripping up a printed copy of his speech.

That event took place at a time when few — in America and on Capitol Hill — understood the true gravity of the threat posed by Covid-19, and Washington's attention was on Trump's first impeachment trial.

The public health crisis has defined Biden’s first 100 days in office and will continue to be a concern for the foreseeable future, though the White House has begun to look over the horizon as it contemplates the next leg of the president’s term.

More than 200 million vaccines have been administered since Biden took office, twice the number he and his team set at the outset of their arrival for the administration’s first 100 days.

However, tens of millions of people across the country still have yet to receive a dose, and many Americans either remain ineligible — as all but the oldest children are — or are among those averse to taking the vaccine.

The Biden administration is also grappling with the growing issue of how and when to share the nation’s vaccine supply with other countries, a decision that global health experts say will be crucial to bringing the pandemic to a close and warding off the risk of additional viral variants.

The issue has become one of the first major fissures within the White House, in part because of ongoing snafus that have bedeviled the single-shot vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

And while Biden has largely steered clear of major pitfalls early in his term, his administration continues to grapple with an influx of migrants arriving along the country’s border with Mexico, a situation that is taxing valuable energy and attention at several agencies.

In his speech  Biden also focused on adversaries China and Russia and called out their leaders — Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, respectively — by naming them multiple times and linking his domestic policy agenda to the United States' ability to counter them.

"We're in competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century," Biden said. "That's why I proposed the American Jobs Plan, a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself."

Biden’s approval rating to date has steadily hovered a notch above 50 percent in public surveys, besting Trump’s numbers in his first months, though lower than those of Biden’s Democratic predecessor, President Barack Obama, at the beginning of his eight years in office.

Biden had attended dozens of these joint addresses, first as a senator and then as vice president, but Wednesday’s speech was the first time he was at the lectern emblazoned with the presidential seal he long envisioned himself behind.

“It’s good to be almost home,” he said after walking down the aisle and fist-bumping the scattered members of Congress lining the way to greet him.

It was also the first time that a president giving a joint address to Congress has shared the dais with two women: Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Madam Speaker. Madam Vice President. No president has ever said those words from this podium. No president has ever said those words, and it's about time," he said.

After Wednesday night, the focus will again shift back to Congress as it mulls what, if anything, in Biden’s sweeping infrastructure and social welfare proposals will make it into law.

Republicans have already balked at several of the items in Biden’s Jobs Plan, and a band of prospective dealmakers has offered an alternative that totals about one-third of Biden’s more than $2 trillion infrastructure package.

The American Families Plan also includes hundreds of billions for things likely to raise conservative hackles, such as free universal preschool, Obamacare premium subsidies and an extension of the enhanced child tax credit enacted as part of this year’s coronavirus relief package. All of it will be paid for by raising taxes on high earners and capital gains, as well as bolstering tax enforcement.

The Biden administration has been stepping up outreach to GOP members of Congress in hopes of garnering some support for the efforts. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the president was planning to invite some Republicans to the White House next week to discuss his proposals.

The White House made similar entreaties earlier this year during negotiations over the $1.9 trillion relief package, which ultimately passed under budget reconciliation rules along partisan lines.

But Biden’s designs also face headwinds from members of his own party for what was left out — big-ticket health care reforms such as drug-pricing controls or expansions of programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Doing so allows Biden to sidestep surefire opposition from the powerful pharmaceutical and health insurance industries, but risks infuriating progressives who remain key to his agenda, given Democrats’ hair-thin congressional majorities.

And while it's not a part of his two wide-ranging proposals, Biden did raise the issue during his address. And it garnered the only reference to Trump in the more than 6,000-word speech as a way to signal the widespread support for lowering drug prices, though Biden did not mention the former president by name and the line was not in his prepared remarks.

"Let's lower prescription drug costs," he said. "The last president has this as an objective. We all know how outrageously expensive drugs are in America."

Biden also reiterated his support for major policing reform and enhanced gun control legislation, two issues that have long been bottled up in Congress in large part due to Republican opposition.

"We have a giant opportunity to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice, real justice," Biden said of a bill named in honor of George Floyd, the Black Minnesota man who was murdered last year by a Minneapolis police officer. "And with the plans outlined tonight, we have a real chance to root out systemic racism that plagues America."

During his speech, which lasted a little over an hour, Biden was careful to not demonize Republicans and rarely even criticized them, with gun control being the major exception. And the president offered occasional glimpses of humility, a noticeable stylistic departure from his braggadocios predecessor, including closing with an acknowledgment of the length of his address.

"Thank you for your patience."

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Impeachment managers invoke words of John Kelly knocking Trump

House impeachment managers on Wednesday used former White House chief of staff John Kelly’s words in the aftermath of the Capitol as they pressed their case against former President Donald Trump.

The day after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection, Kelly said in a CNN interview that he believed Trump willfully riled up the mob that stormed into the Capitol.

“The president knows who he's talking to when he tweets or when he makes statements,” Kelly told CNN. “He knows who he's talking to. He knows what he wants them to do.”

At the time Kelly said it was “no surprise” that the deadly events took place after Trump and others fed the president’s supporters a steady stream of falsehoods about the results of the November election.

Rep. Joe Neguse, one of the Democratic impeachment managers, seized on Kelly’s turn-of-phrase.

“No surprise. Think about that — no surprise,” he said. “The president had every reason to know that this would happen because he assembled the mob, he summoned the mob, and he incited the mob.

“He knew when he took that podium on that fateful morning, that those in attendance had heeded his words, and they were waiting for his orders to begin fighting,” Neguse continued.

In that same interview, Kelly — who left the White House in 2019 — said he would have supported an effort to oust Trump from office if he were still in the administration.

He also laid blame on the president’s advisers whom Kelly believed did little to push back on Trump’s impulses.

“Toward the end of my time there, all I ever heard from these devotees in the White House is, you have to let Trump be Trump,” Kelly said. “Well, let me just say, this is what happens.”

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Trump’s second impeachment opens with haunting video of Jan. 6 riots

Democratic impeachment managers opened their case against former President Donald Trump with an approximately 13-minute video graphically depicting the Jan. 6 insurrection that overtook the U.S. Capitol.

The video stitched together footage from an array of sources inside and outside of the building during the deadly assault, and featured some of the most infamous images captured that day, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer with blood streaming down his face pleading for backup as he was being crushed inside a doorway.

“If that's not an impeachable offense, then there is no such thing,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the lead House impeachment manager, said at the conclusion of the video. "There can be no doubt that this is a valid and legitimate impeachment. And there can be no doubt that the Senate has the power to try this impeachment."

The compilation also included the sound of a gun being shot within the Capitol, apparently capturing the moment that Capitol Police holding off rioters shot and killed Ashli Babbitt, a Trump supporter among the mob that breached the Capitol.

The footage was left uncensored as the people present during the riots screamed epithets and labeled elected officials — including former Vice President Mike Pence — as traitors for not supporting Trump’s lie that the election was stolen from him.

Several other deaths have been linked to the insurrection, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick — who last Tuesday laid in honor in the Capitol, one month after dying from injuries sustained during the riot.

Footage from Jan. 6 is expected to play a central role in the Senate impeachment trial, the entirety of which is expected to be held this month.

Trump is the first president to have been impeached twice, though it appears unlikely that the Senate will vote to convict him of the single article of impeachment passed by the House.

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McConnell says he hasn’t ruled out convicting Trump in Senate trial

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Republican colleagues on Wednesday that he had yet to make up his mind on the fate of President Donald Trump, ahead of a House vote to impeach the president later in the day.

“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” McConnell wrote in a letter.

Though McConnell’s statement gives no indication which way he will eventually decide, the fact that the top Republican in the Senate would not rule out convicting a president of his own party is a striking indication of the tumult within the GOP and its relationship to Trump. In 2019, during Trump’s first brush with impeachment, McConnell was far more direct that Trump would be acquitted of the charges against him — which he ultimately was in early 2020.

The New York Times reported on Tuesday that McConnell was fed up with the president after the storming of the U.S. Capitol a week ago and was content to stand by as Democrats launched proceedings to levy the stiffest sanctions possible against a sitting president.

McConnell’s Republican counterpart in the House, Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, on Wednesday said that Trump needed to “accept his share of responsibility” for fomenting the Capitol assault, while rejecting impeaching him for the second time in his nearly concluded four years in office.

The House is voting on an article of impeachment Wednesday, which will then subject Trump to a trial in the Senate at some point in the near future. McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, resigned as Trump’s Transportation secretary in protest of the deadly insurrection on Jan. 6, which was led by a horde of the president’s supporters.

McConnell is set to be relegated to the status of minority leader later this month after Georgia Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are sworn in following their Senate runoff victories last week.

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McCarthy says Trump ‘bears responsibility’ for Capitol riot

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy called on President Donald Trump to “accept his share of responsibility” for the violence that overtook the U.S. Capitol last week and urged Republicans to accept that Joe Biden is the next leader of the nation.

“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters,” McCarthy said on the House floor. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding. These facts require immediate action by President Trump."

McCarthy’s public comments, which echo what he told his caucus earlier this week, came as he denounced the effort to impeach Trump for the second time.

McCarthy instead argued for Trump to be censured for his actions in the lead-up to and in the aftermath of the riot led by a pro-Trump mob. Democrats have dismissed such a move as insufficient given the gravity of the insurrection.

McCarthy said that the outgoing president needs to “accept his share of responsibility, quell the brewing unrest and ensure President-Elect Joe Biden is able to successfully begin his term.”

The top House Republican also took members of his own party to task for baselessly speculating that the mob was driven by antifa or other leftist agitators rather than grapple with the reality that it was Trump supporters who laid siege to the Capitol and killed at least one police officer.

“Some say the riots were caused by antifa. There is absolutely no evidence of that,” McCarthy said. “Conservatives should be the first to say so.”

McCarthy’s floor speech came just minutes after Rep. Matt Gaetz, who promoted the theory shortly after the rioters were removed from the Capitol building last week, condemned Democrats’ impeachment campaign.

McCarthy also made clear that Biden is the rightful next president, distancing himself from the continued effort by Trump and others to delegitimize the president-elect’s electoral victory, and he added that it is “not the American way.”

“Let's be clear, Joe Biden will be sworn in as president of the United States in one week because he won the election,” he said.

The Republican leader is facing a deeply divided caucus that has begun to lash out at one another over the president's imminent impeachment, with top Trump defenders like Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) attempting to remove Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) — the highest-ranking House Republican backing the effort — from her leadership post as a result of reprimanding Trump in his waning days in office.

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National Guard presence in D.C. swells to 20,000 ahead of inauguration

More than 20,000 members of the National Guard could be stationed throughout Washington D.C. after federal officials authorized a 5,000 member increase, the city’s police chief said Wednesday.

"I think you can expect to see somewhere upwards beyond 20,000 members of the National Guard that will be here in the footprint of the District of Columbia,” acting Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said at a news conference.

Contee cautioned that the final headcount is still under deliberation and will be determined in conjunction with the Secret Service. Still, the number is expected to be an order of magnitude beyond what was deployed prior to last week’s riots, which have led to dozens of arrests across the country after participants returned home.

Law enforcement and defense officials have been scrambling to respond to the enhanced security concerns surrounding next week’s presidential inauguration in light of the Jan. 6 riot that took over the U.S. Capitol and left a number of people dead or injured.

Earlier this week the Pentagon allowed National Guardsmen protecting the Capitol to carry lethal weapons in response to the credible threats of violence from militia and extremist groups. Prior to the riot, city and federal officials had deliberately sought to limit the military’s role in response to the protests.

An array of additional security measures have been installed both inside and outside of the Capitol building in response to the violent insurrection, and the new features come as Congress is in the process of impeaching outgoing President Donald Trump for his actions that day.

Scores of uniformed National Guard members filled the halls of the Capitol on Wednesday, adding a layer of surrealness to the day's unprecedented proceedings. The House is on the verge of passing an article of impeachment against Trump later Wednesday, setting him up either for a Senate trial in the days before he is set to leave office or — more likely — shortly thereafter.

The security apparatus in the lead-up to Wednesday’s assault has come under heavy criticism from lawmakers and outside observers, as the police force charged with protecting the Capitol and other federal buildings failed to stop the large mob from storming the building and endangering hundreds of people — including Vice President Mike Pence.

At least two U.S. Capitol Police officers have been suspended, and several others are under investigation for their conduct during the riot. One officer was killed as a result of the insurrection, another died by suicide following the attack, and some other officers have reportedly threatened to harm themselves.

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Congress sees signs of Covid-19 spike following Capitol riots

At least three Democratic members of Congress have tested positive for Covid-19 since sheltering with GOP colleagues who refused to wear masks as the U.S. Capitol was overrun with a Trump-supporting mob last week.

Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) announced this week they have tested positive, joining Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, who announced her positive test on Monday.

Democratic lawmakers and staffers have been bracing for a rash of new positive cases in Congress — which has scores of older members and people with underlying medical conditions that put them at greater risk of serious Covid-19 complications — and are furious at Republicans who have repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by the virus. Watson Coleman, for example, is a 75-year-old cancer survivor.

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” Schneider wrote Tuesday on Twitter after announcing his diagnosis.

The growing case count threatens to further escalate partisan tensions amid a breakneck impeachment push led by Democrats to deliver a final blow to President Donald Trump over his role in the riot, which left five people dead and imperiled Vice President Mike Pence as he presided over a joint session of Congress that afternoon.

Jayapal said she supports a burgeoning effort to impose stricter penalties on those who do not wear masks while working in the capitol, including fines and prohibiting them from being on the congressional floor.

“This is not a joke. Our lives and our livelihoods are at risk, and anyone who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable for endangering our lives because of their selfish idiocy,” she said in a statement.

Schneider similarly called for stiffened enforcement against those who refuse to wear masks.

Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Anthony Brown (D-Md.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to impose a $1,000 per day fine on members of Congress who refuse to wear masks on Capitol grounds for the duration of the pandemic, and later Tuesday Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that there will be fines levied against members who don’t wear masks on the floor. They will be fined $500 for first offense and $2,500 for second.

Several Republicans were seen, in a video first published by Punchbowl News, not wearing masks in the secure room and rejecting an entreaty by Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) to cover their faces. The mask-less contingent "absolutely" put lives at risk, Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) said Tuesday.

"Even if there wasn't a domestic terror attack underway, it's more than clear at this point that you have to wear a mask to protect people around you," he said on CNN. "So, of course they did, and they chose to do it anyway."

Over the weekend, all House members and their staff were instructed to get tested following possible exposure to the virus as they shielded themselves from the mob of rioters who stormed the Capitol on Wednesday.

Several members, including Jayapal, had preemptively sequestered themselves following the event.

Members of Congress and their staff had access to Covid-19 vaccinations, a much-criticized allocation that arrived as doses remain in short supply, but it is unclear how many have gotten the second shot in the two-dose regimen.

President-elect Joe Biden received his second dose on Monday after receiving the first shot in the days leading up to Christmas.

An incoming member of Congress, Luke Letlow, died of coronavirus complications in late December before he took his oath of office, and dozens of sitting members of Congress have tested positive since the pandemic started last year.

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Biden eyeing ways to prevent impeachment from derailing Senate confirmations

President-elect Joe Biden said Monday he was hopeful that a looming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump would not impede the confirmation of his Cabinet selections.

The president-elect said he had a discussion earlier in the day with people in both the House and Senate about ways to potentially “bifurcate” Senate proceedings along dual tracks to allow multiple things to unfold without interfering with one another.

“Can you go [a] half-day on dealing with the impeachment, and a half-day getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate?” Biden told reporters after receiving the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Biden also said he was awaiting word from the Senate parliamentarian about whether such an idea was doable.

Biden's suggestion has the blessing of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) , who is due to become the Senate majority leader later this month once Georgia Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock are seated.

“We‘re going to have to do several things at once, but we got to move the agenda as well,“ Schumer told The Buffalo News on Sunday. “Yes, we‘ve got to do both.“

During Trump‘s first impeachment trial, the Senate‘s proceedings began early in the afternoon each day and lasted nearly three weeks before the president was acquitted.

The House is racing to a vote on impeaching Trump for the second time during his final days in office, though a Senate trial would probably spill into the beginning of Biden’s term. That would, in turn, throw a wrench into both confirmation battles and work on a potential coronavirus relief package that the president-elect says is one of his top priorities.

Biden has been cautious not to wade into the impeachment fight — and risk poisoning his relationships with Republicans as he takes office — that exploded after the outgoing president’s response to a riotous mob of Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol and left a handful of people dead.

“I’ve been clear that President Trump should not be in office. Period,” the president-elect said Monday, echoing similar sentiments of his from recent days.

House Democrats, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, introduced an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday and signaled that it has the votes necessary to pass. Pelosi has indicated the House will vote to do so if the president refuses to resign or is not removed from office by members of his Cabinet, neither of which appear in the offing.

Some Democrats have mused about impeaching Trump but holding off on sending the paperwork to the Senate in an effort to hold off on the impeachment trial until after Biden gets key members of his Cabinet confirmed, but others are eager to move more expeditiously.

“We should try the case as soon as possible,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a leading Pelosi ally, said Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

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Democrats demand Trump officials preserve records amid transition

Nearly two dozen House committee chairs sent letters to Trump administration officials Tuesday demanding they adhere to records preservation rules ahead of the transfer of power next year.

The Democrats’ push targeted over 50 federal agencies and departments, including the Executive Office of the President at the White House, and directed recipients to comply with the applicable federal law and regulations, as well as preserve records that may be subject to congressional subpoenas or investigations.

“Over the last four years, the Administration obstructed numerous congressional investigations by refusing to provide responsive information,” lawmakers wrote. “You are obligated to ensure that any information previously requested by Congress—and any other information that is required by law to be preserved—is saved and appropriately archived in a manner that is easily retrievable.”

The federal government has stretched the limits of recordkeeping rules under President Donald Trump — whose personal habit of tearing up documents that cross his desk led to staffers taping them back up to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

In other instances, top officials have used personal email accounts or encrypted messaging apps to conduct government business, complicating the archival effort and potentially impeding the incoming administration’s ability to take the helm of the vast federal apparatus.

The Trump administration has also stymied Democrats on a number of oversight fronts since they took the House in 2018, particularly during the impeachment process when the White House rebuffed a series of congressional requests for testimony and documents.

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