If he bills it, will they come?
During the four years of Donald Trump's presidency, "Infrastructure Week" was often imminent but never arrived. It became a running joke about grand-sounding plans sidetracked by assorted distractions usually of Trump's own making, including when he refused to discuss infrastructure with House Democrats as punishment, he said, for investigating him.
Now it's President Joe Biden's turn, with a speech planned in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. That's March 31, a day before April Fools' Day — so presumably no joke, folks. Biden will unspool his proposal for federal investments in roads, bridges, railways, water systems and other physical infrastructure as part of a multitrillion-dollar economic recovery package.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed on "Fox News Sunday" that the administration plans to split the package into two legislative proposals, part of an effort to get support from congressional Republicans. But she said "we’ll work with the Senate and House to see how it should move forward." She added: "Roads, railways, rebuilding them, that’s not a partisan issue."
It's true that Republicans support a narrow bill focused on roads and bridges, but the administration expects resistance to the size and scope of Biden’s overall plan as well as to his Green New Deal-ish focus on the environment. During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged $2 trillion in "accelerated" investments to shift to cleaner energy and such steps as building half a million charging stations for electric vehicles.
Psaki said Biden is "going to introduce some ways to pay for that, and he’s eager to hear ideas from both parties as well." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell last week warned that the White House plan would lead only to tax hikes and "left-wing policies." At his news conference last week, Biden called it "frustrating" that so much U.S. infrastructure has deteriorated and said his plan will create jobs, which he said "used to be a great Republican goal and initiative."
Democrats used a fast-track budget process known as reconciliation to approve Biden’s COVID-19 relief and stimulus plan without Republican support. But work on passing broad infrastructure legislation — in a Senate split 50-50 with Vice President Kamala Harris providing a tiebreaking vote — could prove more difficult, The Associated Press wrote.
Moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) recently said he will block infrastructure legislation if Republicans aren’t included in reaching an agreement. But Manchin is open to higher taxes on those who got a windfall from the 2017 Trump tax cuts.
Pushing on gun laws
Psaki said Biden will continue to "push for" gun control measures in the wake of recent mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia.
Asked about Biden’s remarks at a news conference last week that passing new gun-control legislation was a "matter of timing," Psaki said the proposal is "something the Senate should be able to move forward on, and the president will continue to push for. He knows that as president, you've got to walk and chew gum, you've got to do multiple things at the same time and he's ready to do that."
Psaki’s comments came as the Senate Democrat taking the lead on gun control issues, Connecticut's Chris Murphy, and Pennsylvania's Pat Toomey, a moderate Senate Republican who has worked with Democrats on gun control proposals, both signaled the possibility of reaching bipartisan compromise on increased background checks for gun purchases, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez and Michael O'Keeffe.
Biden, speaking to reporters in Delaware before flying back to Washington, predicted a win. "The only gun control legislation ever passed was mine. It’s going to happen again," he said. That's not true. CNN's fact-checker said that while Biden was a key player in advancing gun legislation during his Senate days, federal legislation on the issue dates to the 1920s.
Fauci: Not time to relax
Dr. Anthony Fauci said a loosening of coronavirus restrictions in many states is driving a rise in COVID-19 cases after a leveling off, explaining why transmission rates remain stubbornly high, reports Newsday's Scott Eidler. The growing caseload cannot be explained solely by the exposure of more Americans to coronavirus variants, Fauci said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"What we're likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you've seen. Now, several states have done that. I believe it's premature," he said.
But Fauci — Biden's chief medical adviser and the government's top infectious disease expert — said the rates should drop "to a much, much lower level" as the U.S. accelerates its vaccination effort and inoculates Americans at a fast daily clip.
As Americans yearn for moves toward normalcy this summer, Fauci called it "conceivable" that children could be sent to camps or playgrounds without getting vaccinations. He also said there could be a partial easing of crowd limits at Major League Baseball games.
Janison: What else could he say?
Did anyone expect a different answer from Biden when he was asked on Thursday — barely nine weeks into his term — if he'll seek reelection in 2024? If, at 78, he harbors reasonable doubts, Biden would have no incentive to say so, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Had his answer created real news, any of his messages of the day would have been eclipsed.
The reporters persisted, noting that Trump had set up a reelection campaign by this point in his term. Biden laughed and said, "My predecessor. Oh, God, I miss him." Prodded again, Biden replied: "My plan is to run for reelection. That’s my expectation."
Everyone in the East Room had reason to know the limits of guessing years ahead of an event. But the 2024 question had cause to be asked. After all, Trump did declare his bid for reelection nearly the moment he arrived and began sucking up campaign contributions. Three years later, the election was Trump's to lose — and that's just what he proceeded to do.
Scandal strains Cuomo-Biden ties
In a 2017 memoir, Biden paid Andrew M. Cuomo perhaps the highest compliment possible — that New York's governor "reminded me of Beau," his son who died of brain cancer two years earlier.
Biden used Cuomo as a sounding board while weighing a run for president in 2016. When Cuomo faced a primary challenge from progressive activist and actress Cynthia Nixon, it was Biden who delivered a more than 45-minute speech endorsing Cuomo at the state’s 2018 Democratic convention.
That relationship is now under strain as Cuomo faces multiple scandals, including allegations of sexual harassment. The president has always cast himself as a champion of abuse victims, and while not passing judgment, he said recently, "I start with the presumption it takes a lot of courage for a woman to come forward … so the presumption is it should be taken seriously, and it should be investigated, and that's what's underway now."
If the harassment accusations are substantiated by investigators, "there’s going to be more pressure on Biden to take a strong stance" against the governor, said Brad Bannon, a Democratic campaign strategist based in Washington. See Newsday's story by Figueroa.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Lisa L. Colangelo. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Here's a "witch hunt" that isn't bothering Trump: At a local Republican meeting in Michigan last week, state GOP chairman Ron Weiser referred to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and two other top elected Democratic women as "witches" that the party wants to "soften up" for a "burning at the stake" in the 2022 election. He also joked about "assassination" as a way to remove two GOP congressmen who voted to impeach Trump.
- The Biden administration and private companies are working to develop a standard for "vaccine passports" that would allow Americans to prove they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 as businesses try to reopen, The Washington Post reported. The passports are expected to be free and available through applications for smartphones, which could display a scannable code similar to an airline boarding pass, or printable for people without smartphones.
- Amid the rush get thousands of migrant children out of unsuitable Border Patrol facilities, the Biden administration is not requiring FBI fingerprint background checks of caregivers at its rapidly expanding network of emergency housing sites, The Associated Press reports. That alarms child welfare experts who say the waiver compromises safety.
- An ABC News poll finds that while Biden gets 72% approval for his handling of the pandemic and 60% on the economy, only 41% look favorably on his response to the migrant flow at the Mexican border.
- Former White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Saturday it was "manifestly false" of Trump to suggest last week in a Fox News interview that a mob of his supporters who breached the Capitol building on Jan. 6 posed "zero threat" and were "hugging and kissing" police officers.
- Biden told reporters as he was heading back to Washington on Sunday that he "gave up all sweets for Lent. You have no idea how hard it is for me," singling out ice cream in particular.