President Joe Biden speaks about U.S. progress a year into...

President Joe Biden speaks about U.S. progress a year into the coronavirus pandemic Thursday in his first prime-time speech on the job. Credit: AP / Andrew Harnik

'America is coming back'

With the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus bill he signed Thursday afternoon at his back, President Joe Biden told a prime-time audience "the fight is far from over" but that the nation is on a path — so long as Americans stay careful — to put the "collective suffering, a collective sacrifice, a year filled with the loss of life" behind us.

"Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do," the president said. In an evening address from the White House East Room, he laid out near-term goals: vowing to double the number of federal vaccination centers and to launch a federal vaccination website and hotline — all with the aim of vaccinating more Americans. (See key takeaways from ABC and CNN.)

Biden directed states to open vaccine eligibility to all adults by May 1 and pledged enough supply for everyone by the end of that month. He declared the U.S. is on track to return to a "more normal" state by a July Fourth that could be celebrated with backyard barbecues in small groups.

"America is coming back," Biden said. In his first prime-time address as president, he pleaded with Americans to "stick with the rules" to curb the virus's spread so the nation's recovery doesn’t stall. "I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part. That's not hyperbole. I need you. I need you to get vaccinated when it's your turn and when you can find an opportunity," Biden said.

Biden’s speech coincided with the midpoint of his first 100 days in office — and a year to the day that the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic and former President Donald Trump delivered an Oval Office address downplaying the risks of the virus that causes COVID-19. Biden, without naming his predecessor, took aim at Trump’s response to the coronavirus as "denials for days, weeks, and months that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness."

Expressing grief for the staggering U.S. death toll that is above 530,000 — more than the combined total from the two world wars, the Vietnam War and the 9/11 attacks, as he described it — Biden said of the pandemic: "While it was different for everyone, we all lost something."

For more on Biden's speech, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. See a transcript or video of the full speech.

Hate called out

Biden condemned the rise in hate crimes that Asian Americans have endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump has treated the phenomenon largely with indifference, while calling the disease the "China virus" and other terms in an appeal to xenophobia and racism.

Taking note in his speech of how the prolonged crisis had served to divide people in a range of ways, Biden called out "vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who've been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated."

"At this very moment, so many of them, our fellow Americans, are on the front lines of this pandemic trying to save lives," Biden said. "And still, still they are forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America. It's wrong, it's un-American and it must stop."

Where's the money?

The next batch of stimulus payments will be direct-deposited into some bank accounts as soon as this weekend, the White House said Thursday.

Press secretary Jen Psaki said those payments are "the first wave" of the third stimulus, which will continue to flow in over "the next several weeks."

The majority of the eligible individual recipients will get a direct payment of up to $1,400. Married couples who make under $150,000 will receive $2,800. Some families who meet income requirements with two parents and two children could see a payment for $5,600. Higher earners will see payments phase out and then cut off above certain incomes. (See what's in the American Rescue Plan Act for Long Island and the nation.)

Long division

While three new polls show that about two-thirds of Americans are confident in how Biden is handling the coronavirus pandemic, a Pew Research Center survey also finds there is less conviction that he can achieve the goal of unifying the country.

About half of Americans (48%) have confidence in Biden to bring the country closer together, while slightly more (52%) have little or no confidence that he can foster greater unity in the United States, Pew said.

Majorities in the Pew survey express confidence in Biden to make good decisions on foreign policy and economic policy; effectively handle issues around race, law enforcement and criminal justice; and make wise decisions about immigration policy.

Janison: Deficit disorders ahead?

Money will spray out of the U.S. Treasury again in many directions from the $1.9 trillion relief and stimulus package, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Even those who supported Biden's "go-big" strategy for the package and expect important help for the working class and an adrenaline shot for the private sector acknowledge that the results should be carefully tracked.

Lawrence Summers, the widely quoted mainstream economist, has weighed in on the general risks. "In many ways, an overheated economy in which employers are desperate to find workers and push up wages and benefits would be a very positive thing," wrote Summers, who served in Clinton and Obama administrations. But he warned that "policymakers need to ensure that they have plans in place to address two possible, and quite serious, problems."

For one, he said, the spending could "set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability." For another, the scale of COVID-19 spending could crowd out needed investments in infrastructure, energy and schools.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said already that tax hikes would be needed to pay for at least part of a big infrastructure, climate and education investment package that Biden plans to unveil later this year.

Ex-defense chief: Trump sparked riot

Trump's last Pentagon chief puts the blame on his former boss for inciting the deadly Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection with his speech at a rally earlier that day.

Christopher Miller, who was acting secretary of defense, told Vice on Showtime: "Would anybody have marched on the Capitol, and tried to overrun the Capitol, without the president’s speech? I think it’s pretty much definitive that wouldn’t have happened."

Trump told the crowd: "If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore." Miller said he wasn’t sure whether Trump was aware that his speech might have such extreme consequences, but Miller was certain the attack wouldn’t have happened without it.

Meanwhile, the Daily Beast reports that prosecutors are seeking to revoke the bail of two accused Capitol rioters who also were arrested in November for allegedly bringing an AR-15 rifle and a samurai sword to a Philadelphia vote-count center.

The ex-presidents' odd man out

Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter and their first ladies participated in a series of public service ads that show them receiving COVID-19 vaccines and encouraging Americans to do so. The only living former president missing: Trump.

Trump recently revealed he has been vaccinated and dropped a line in his Feb. 28 speech to a conservative group, encouraging people to get the shots. But CNN reported that no official photographers or videographers were present when he got his first COVID-19 inoculation at the White House in January.

Obama, Clinton and Bush discussed the ad effort on Inauguration Day. They didn't invite Trump, who left Washington that morning. The 45th president "has made no signals of wanting to be included in these types of moments," a Trump aide told CNN.

An NPR/PBS/Marist poll found Trump's supporters are among the subgroups least interested in getting vaccinated. In descending order, the vaccine resisters were 49% of Republican men, 47% of Trump supporters, 40% of white men without college degrees, 38% of white evangelical Christians, 37% of Americans under 45, 37% of Latinos, 36% of rural residents, 36% of male independent voters, 28% of whites and 25% of Blacks. On the most-accepting scale, only 11% of Democrats shun the shots.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • Biden is sticking with an Americans-first policy on distributing U.S.-ordered COVID-19 vaccines, even as the administration comes under growing pressure from other countries, The Washington Post reported. Russia and China have mounted aggressive "vaccine diplomacy" with their products, with less worry about domestic political blowback.
  • Many White House staff members are still working remotely 50 days into Biden's term because of strict coronavirus protocols, and dozens of administration officials have not yet moved to Washington at all, The New York Times reported. The work-from-home outposts include California, Puerto Rico and Texas.
  • A commentary by Fox News' Tucker Carlson, in which he called the rise of women in the U.S. military "out of control" and a "mockery" of its war-fighting mission, drew a strong rebuke from the Pentagon on Thursday. Carlson "essentially demeaned the entire US military and how we defend and how we serve this country," spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
  • Four Republican senators joined Democrats in voting to allow the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) as interior secretary to move forward, signaling that she is on track for confirmation. The Senate advanced Xavier Becerra's nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after swing Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia said he would support him.
  • Newly confirmed Attorney General Merrick Garland went to work at the Justice Department on Thursday. His first internal briefing was expected to focus on the Capitol insurrection and the ongoing investigations by federal prosecutors.
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