'We have to move heaven and earth'
In a speech to the nation, President-elect Joe Biden outlined plans on Thursday night for an expanded federal role to directly confront the coronavirus pandemic, "a crisis of deep human suffering." Breaking with the Trump administration's approach of largely letting states figure it out, Biden is preparing for a robust federal role in everything from testing to vaccine delivery.
Biden blasted the first month of the vaccine rollout under the Trump administration as "a dismal failure thus far" and vowed to "move heaven and earth to get people vaccinated," with an initial goal of 100 million shots provided in his first 100 days in office. His plan would allocate about $20 billion for a more disciplined focus on vaccination, on top of some $8 billion already approved by Congress. Biden has called for setting up mass vaccination centers and sending mobile units to hard-to-reach areas.
More broadly, Biden called for a $1.9 trillion plan to "invest now boldly, smartly" and pump out financial help to those struggling with the prolonged economic fallout. "I know what I just described does not come cheaply, but we simply can’t afford not to do what I’m proposing," he said in Wilmington, Delaware. His plan includes $1,400 checks for most Americans, on top of the $600 stimulus provided in the most recent COVID-19 bill.
It also would extend a temporary boost in unemployment benefits and a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures through September. The plan provides $50 billion to expand testing to help get schools open by spring.
The political outlook for the legislation remained unclear, The Associated Press reported. By next week, Democrats will have narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer praised Biden for including liberal priorities.
But Republicans will push back on issues that range from increasing the minimum wage — to $15 per hour nationwide under Biden's plan — to providing more money for states, while demanding inclusion of their priorities, such as liability protection for businesses.
Beyond his coronavirus package, Biden promised another major bill next month, focused on rebuilding the economy. Click here for video of Biden's speech. (His remarks begin at the 1:30 mark.)
Schumer: Big break for New York
New York State could get as much as $2 billion more in FEMA emergency money for the coronavirus pandemic under the incoming Biden administration, which has agreed to waive the state’s share of that funding, Schumer said Thursday.
Biden announced all states will get that waiver that the Trump administration had refused to grant.
"This is good news to New York. This is sort of an indication of better things to come," Schumer said in a phone interview with Newsday's Tom Brune. "This will mean $2 billion to New York between the state and local governments, and a significant amount should find its way to Long Island."
Security net for inauguration tightens
The National Mall, where inauguration crowds usually gather, will be closed to the public for Biden's swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. It is the latest in a series of security measures to harden Washington against the type of violence that rocked the Capitol on Jan. 6.
All through downtown Washington on Thursday, the primary sound for several blocks was the beeping of forklifts unloading more fencing, The Associated Press reported. The Capitol was visible only through lines of tall, black fencing. The number of National Guard troops coming to Washington to bolster security has so far grown to about 21,000, but that could increase as law enforcement agencies review the ongoing threats, officials said.
Vice President Mike Pence headed a Federal Emergency Management Agency briefing and said "we are committed to an orderly transition and to a safe inauguration." Pence, who plans to attend Biden's ceremony, later visited with some of the Guard troops deployed to the Capitol.
FBI Director Chris Wray on Thursday told Pence the bureau has identified more than 200 suspects from the deadly Capitol riot.
Janison: Trump's disintegration
We are witnessing the U.S. version of a collapsing regime, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. President Donald Trump subverted what should have been a working transition for Biden. The almost-gone president is turning on his own team and has checked out from carrying out his responsibilities.
Trump is departing shrouded by scandals much darker than the ones that ushered him in. The nation's capital has been turned by necessity into a fortification with armed security. We have never quite seen this in America. The Biden team will speak of setting things back to normal, but that will require a clear idea of what normal is supposed to resemble.
By last week, the leadership vacuum grew so obvious that Michael Chertoff, who served as homeland security secretary from 2005 to 2009, told The Washington Post that Trump needed to leave right away. "He’s not functioning as president now," Chertoff said. "We’ve got a vacancy at the top of the U.S. executive branch."
Word that Trump does not wish to pay lawyer Rudy Giuliani for his failed services hints at the larger picture. Fewer people are on hand to contain Trump's lack of focus and composure, which has always been an issue. "Everybody feels like they’re doing the best job they can to hold it all together until Biden takes over," one Trump adviser told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
Impeachment trial may start Jan. 20
Trump’s second impeachment could go to trial in the Senate as soon as one hour after Biden is sworn in as president, whether Democrats and Biden favor that timetable or not, Politico reports.
If Pelosi sends the impeachment article to the Senate by Jan. 19, the consent of all 100 senators will be needed to put the start on pause. The same consent from the entire Senate would allow the chamber to create two tracks: one to confirm Biden’s Cabinet nominees and pass his legislative agenda, and another for Trump’s impeachment trial on charges of inciting an insurrection.
"We are working with Republicans to try to find a path forward," said a spokesperson for Schumer, who will become majority leader later this month once two new Democratic senators from Georgia are sworn in and Kamala Harris becomes vice president to break ties in Senate voting.
Whenever the trial does start, the conviction of Trump by two-thirds of the Senate is not out of the realm of possibility, especially as corporations and wealthy political donors distance themselves from his brand of politics and shun the Republicans who stood by his attempt to overturn the election, The Associated Press reports.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said Thursday: "Such unlawful actions cannot go without consequence." She said in a statement that the House responded "appropriately" with impeachment, and she will consider the trial arguments.
Family separations: 'Cruelty was the intent'
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and top Justice Department officials who launched a "zero tolerance" immigration policy in 2018 were aware that it would forcibly split up migrant families, and they didn't prepare for the inevitable impact, according to a new report by the department’s Office of Inspector General.
The policy, which lasted from April to June 2018, caused the separations of more than 5,000 families. Hundreds have yet to be reunited.
Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a statement of regret Thursday, and current DOJ official Gene Hamilton blamed Trump for the policy. "It was a failed policy that never should have been proposed or implemented. I wish we all had done better," Rosenstein said.
A former DOJ official, speaking to NBC News on the condition of anonymity, said "cruelty was the intent" of the separations policy that was adopted, "regardless of known harm that would come to parents and children."
No relief for Javanka's Secret Service
Secret Service agents guarding Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner's 5,000-square-foot Washington residence weren't allowed to use any of its six bathrooms after the couple moved in four years ago, forcing them to seek relief at former President Barack Obama's home nearby or drive to Pence's residence a mile away, The Washington Post reported.
The agents protecting the couple, both senior advisers to Trump, also relied on the kindness of nearby businesses before the federal government in September 2017 rented a basement studio with a bathroom from a neighbor for $3,000 a month.
A White House spokesperson denied that the couple restricted agents from their home, asserting it was the Secret Service's decision. That account is disputed by a law enforcement official who is familiar with the situation and said the agents were kept out at the family’s request.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- Trump, a short-tempered short-timer in his final days in the White House, isn't expected to leave until the morning of Jan. 20, CNN reported. Aides who haven't already departed are packing up mementos and personal possessions. Debbie Meadows, the wife of chief of staff Mark Meadows, was spotted carrying out a stuffed pheasant from her husband's office and loading it into her car.
- More members of Trump's extended family are planning to pull up stakes from New York and join him in Florida, ABC News reports. Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle have been on a house hunt in the Palm Beach area and are expecting to sell their home in Bridgehampton. Ivanka Trump and Kushner plan to relocate to the Sunshine State in the coming weeks, having recently purchased a plot of land to develop a home in the Miami area.
- Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan, one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, said Thursday that he and some of his colleagues are buying body armor and altering their daily routines due to fear of violence.
- A retired Air Force officer who was part of the mob that stormed the Capitol last week carried plastic zip-tie handcuffs because he intended "to take hostages" and "perhaps execute members of the U.S. government," a prosecutor said in a Texas court on Thursday.
- Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez will be among the performers at Biden's inauguration.
- Trump took steps Thursday to erase any public chatter about a rift with Giuliani. It's still in question whether Trump will pay his fees, The New York Times reported.
- Dr. Harold Bornstein, an eccentric Manhattan doctor who was Trump’s personal physician for 37 years, died last week at age 73. When Trump first ran, Bornstein issued a statement he later said was dictated by Trump that the business mogul would be "the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency." They had a falling out when Bornstein told an interviewer that Trump took a hair-growth medication, and a Trump team came to his office to haul away the president's medical records.
- "Home Alone" star Macaulay Culkin has endorsed social media comments demanding Trump’s cameo in the film’s 1992 sequel, "Home Alone 2," be digitally removed and replaced with one of an older version of Culkin himself. The onetime child star is now 40.
- The D.C. Attorney General’s Office said Thursday it wants to interview Donald Trump Jr. as part of a lawsuit alleging that Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee improperly funneled money to the president’s business, The Washington Post reported
- Biden on Thursday named Jaime Harrison, a former South Carolina Democratic Party chair and 2020 Senate candidate, as his choice to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee. Harrison unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), raising a record $131 million for his bid.