Volunteers with Island Harvest Food Bank prepare groceries for distribution...

Volunteers with Island Harvest Food Bank prepare groceries for distribution to people affected by the pandemic on Long Island. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Hit the road, Joe

A year after the erupting pandemic forced him off the campaign trail, President Joe Biden is getting a road show ready to showcase the public benefits of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief and stimulus bill that received final congressional approval on Wednesday.

"He will be hitting the road, the vice president will be hitting the road, the first lady will be hitting the road," said White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

"It will really take a sustained drumbeat to make sure everyone understands what’s in that package," Ben LaBolt, a Democratic strategist close to the White House, told The Washington Post. "The important thing is the communication campaign and that it’s sustained over time, like a presidential campaign. Everyone has to hear the message seven times to remember it."

Biden has recalled that when he was vice president in 2009, then-President Barack Obama "was so modest, he didn’t want to take, as he said, a ‘victory lap’ " for the recovery plan run through Congress after the previous year's economic collapse. "We paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility," Biden said last week.

Celebrating the House's 220-211 passage of the bill on a near-party line vote, Biden on Wednesday said he’ll use his first prime-time address as president at 8 p.m. Thursday to lay out the "next phase" of the federal government’s COVID-19 response, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. "There is light at the end of this dark tunnel of the past year," he said. He'll sign the measure on Friday.

The upcoming sales job will require Biden to assume a new posture: fewer scripted events and private dealings with lawmakers, more interactions with the media and appearances before the public, Politico wrote. That will give the president opportunities to make more emotional appeals, such as highlighting older family members finally being able to get together with their grandchildren.

A secondary aim of the PR push will be to build momentum for the next items on Biden's agenda. The White House believes that Republicans may not be able to organize opposition to other measures that poll well with the public, and it plans to stay on the offensive, The Associated Press reported.

Awash in cash

The coronavirus aid bill will channel a flood of federal money to Long Island, including an estimated $1 billion to county, town and municipal governments, writes Newsday's Tom Brune. They also will have much wider latitude than in the previous relief packages on how it's spent to cover needs arising from the pandemic, such as closing revenue gaps.

Rep. Lee Zeldin — who like Long Island's other Republican House member, Rep. Andrew Garbarino, voted against the bill — asserted a share of credit for the local community funding formula.

Hundreds of millions of dollars more will arrive in $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals and families by the end of March; extended $300 unemployment bonuses; and aid to families with children through tax credits, child care funding and money for reopening schools.

In a dramatic example of the boost for business, American Airlines told 13,000 employees to disregard notices of furloughs taking effect April 1. "Happily canceled — you can tear them up!" company executives told them — the package included an extension of the payroll support program.

Here's an expanded summary of the bill's features.

Janison: Serenity? Not now

As the Biden administration passes its 50-day mark, leaders and stalwarts in both the nation's major parties can find ample reason to fret for the future, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

The Republicans' freshly defeated president is demanding that he control the fundraising. Donald Trump may be the biggest of all Republicans in Name Only. Actual goals and programs never seem to make it into his pronouncements from Mar-a-Lago any more than when he was tweeting from the White House.

But so far, the Trump-era party bosses endorse his "me-first" approach to the post-presidency, even if nobody has explained how settling scores — targeting Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) or Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) for supporting Trump's impeachment — will serve the people or help the GOP rebound in 2022.

Meanwhile, Democrats who won power in a backlash against Trump worry about maintaining their tenuous hold in Washington. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) leads a razor-thin Senate majority that depends on keeping Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in the same tent as Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Outside the Beltway, Sanders allies over the weekend won control of the Nevada Democratic Party in leadership elections, defeating a centrist faction headed by former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. This local leftward lurch, backed by the Democratic Socialists of America's Las Vegas chapter, comes as GOP strategists are working to flip enough purple-state districts to recapture the House next year.

Trading shots

Both the Biden and Trump administrations deserve credit for the buildup of the COVID-19 vaccine supply, although neither wants to grant much to the other, The New York Times writes.

Biden benefited hugely from the waves of vaccine production that his predecessor's administration had set in motion. The Biden administration has taken two major steps that helped further accelerate production in the near term — invoking the Defense Production Act to help Pfizer obtain more manufacturing equipment and pushing Johnson & Johnson to lean on a rival as a subcontractor to boost its output.

Corporate, state and federal officials agree that Biden’s White House has been more active than Trump’s in trying to build up the nation’s vaccine stock, the report said.

Biden announced a deal Wednesday to purchase 100 million additional doses of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine. While he said last week that the U.S. will have enough vaccine supply for every American adult by the end of May, he added that the extra doses will provide the federal government with "flexibility" to address challenges that may arise later in the year.

Trump's self-pity party

Trump sent out a statement expressing hurt that he's not getting more appreciation for vaccine development and claiming it wouldn't have happened for years without him.

"I hope everyone remembers when they're getting the COVID-19 … vaccine, that if I wasn't President, you wouldn't be getting that beautiful 'shot' for 5 years, at best, and probably wouldn't be getting it at all. I hope everyone remembers!"

The assertion seems dubious because the development effort was international, including formulas now in use abroad, such as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Trump's tweet-style news release also referred to the coronavirus with a racially loaded term that's been parroted by bigots in an upsurge of hate assaults on Asian Americans.

Justice no longer delayed for Garland

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Merrick Garland to be the next U.S. attorney general. Biden's nominee has vowed to restore the Justice Department’s reputation for independence after it was battered during the Trump era.

The vote was 70-30. Twenty Republicans joined all the Senate Democrats in voting to confirm, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who five years ago blocked then-President Barack Obama's nomination to elevate Garland from the D.C. Court of Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Garland said at his confirmation hearings last month that his first priority would be to combat extremist violence, with an initial focus on the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

He also will inherit politically charged investigations that began before the election — an ongoing criminal tax probe of Biden’s son Hunter; a federal probe into the overseas and business dealings of former Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani; and a special counsel investigation into the genesis of the Russia probe of Trump.

The DOJ’s priorities and messaging are expected to shift drastically under Garland, with a focus more on civil rights issues, criminal justice overhauls and policing policies. One of the Republicans who opposed his confirmation, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, said he believed the judge would be too soft on criminals and immigrants and "empower left wing radicals embedded inside the department."

Fudge at HUD; Regan makes EPA history

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Marcia Fudge, a longtime Ohio congresswoman, to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development. She takes charge of the agency just as Congress passed new benefits for renters and homeowners who have suffered economic losses amid the pandemic.

Shortly after she won approval in a 66-34 vote — and minutes before she resigned her seat — Fudge took the last vote of her House career in support of the COVID-19 relief bill.

Fudge is the first Black woman to lead the agency in more than four decades, since President Jimmy Carter chose Patricia Harris as HUD secretary in 1977.

The Senate also voted 66-34 to confirm Michael Regan to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, where he'll join an administration that has pledged aggressive action on tackling the climate crisis. Regan, who has been the top environmental official in North Carolina, will become the first Black man to lead the EPA in the federal agency's 50-year history.

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:

  • McConnell said Wednesday the COVID-19 relief bill is "finally some good news for Gov. Cuomo." McConnell didn't think that's a good thing, calling the aid to states and cities "a classic example of big-government Democratic overreach."
  • Nearly a dozen allies and former aides of Sen. Warren have joined the Biden administration, a sign of her influence on behalf of Democratic progressives, Bloomberg News reported. But Biden hasn't bitten at Warren's proposed wealth tax.
  • Thousands of migrant children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border unaccompanied are being held in Border Patrol custody for more than four days on average in facilities unfit for minors, a dramatic increase from a week ago, CNN reported, citing internal documents it reviewed. Roberta Jacobson, the Biden administration's coordinator for the southern border, said at a White House briefing Wednesday that migrants now should "not make the dangerous journey in the first place."
  • Mexican officials say in internal reports that since Biden took office, migrant-smuggling gangs have been diversifying methods of eluding border patrols and winning clients who believe their chances are improved, according to Reuters.
  • Manhattan prosecutors investigating Trump are digging deeper into finances involving his 213-acre Seven Springs property in Westchester County, The Wall Street Journal reported. Questions concern whether the claimed value was inflated amid efforts to secure loans.
  • Washington-based federal prosecutors are stretched so thin processing the hundreds of Capitol riot cases that the Justice Department has called in reinforcements for Zoom hearings from as far away as Alaska, San Francisco and Florida, Politico reports.