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Biden won big on the COVID bill, but it could be last hurrah for agenda on Hill

President Joe Biden answers reporters' questions at the

President Joe Biden answers reporters' questions at the White House after Saturday's Senate passage of the COVID-19 relief bill. Credit: Getty Images / Samuel Corum

Now comes the even harder parts

Even with the advantage of a rule on budget-related legislation that says a simple majority is enough, President Joe Biden won Senate passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus and relief bill without a single vote to spare. There was no help from Republicans, and at times it wasn't certain he could hold the Democrats together.

Biden hailed Saturday's Senate passage as "a giant step forward," with final House approval expected on Tuesday. "The president proposed a $1.9 trillion plan and the Senate just passed a $1.9 trillion plan." said Kate Bedingfield, the White House communications director. "Were there some tweaks through the process? Yes. But this is a 50-50 Senate …"

The odds are almost certain to grow longer when the president and Democrats move on to an ambitious agenda on voting rights, climate change, immigration and other issues. There's no sign that Republicans under Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are willing to validate Biden's campaign claims that he would be able to foster bipartisan cooperation.

Even as he lost the relief bill battle, McConnell delighted in the Democrats' struggles. "Well, my goodness, that’s been quite a start — quite a start — to this fast-track process," he said. "A little tougher than they thought it was going to be, isn’t it? Turned out to be a little bit tougher."

Just as moderate Democrats led by Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia forced Biden and their more liberal colleagues to give up on including a $15-hourly federal minimum wage, a higher income cap for the $1,400 stimulus checks and more generous unemployment benefits, they appear unwilling to give them a power tool — an end or weakening of the filibuster rule. If the filibuster stands, Democrats will need 60 votes — not 50 — to pass bills that Republicans are determined to stop.

"Looking at the behavior of the Republican Party here in Washington, it’s fair to conclude that it is going to be very difficult, particularly the way leadership has positioned itself, to get meaningful cooperation from that side of the aisle on things that matter," said Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), according to The New York Times.

Manchin, on NBC's "Meet the Press," voiced openness to one idea to make the filibuster tactic "a little bit more painful" — make the objecting senator "stand there and talk" for the entire time. But finding senators willing to talk and talk and talk hasn’t been all that difficult over the years. For more on Manchin's emergence as the Democrat who can make or break Biden's legislative wishes or nominations, as in the case of failed Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

A quietly revolutionary step

A provision of Biden's bill that drew less open contentiousness may prove revolutionary, according to The New York Times — providing most parents a monthly check of up to $300 per child.

Though framed as an expansion of an existing tax credit, it is essentially a guaranteed income for families with children, akin to children’s allowances that are common in some other developed countries. The plan establishes the benefit for a single year, but Democrats want to make it permanent.

"This plan is historic. Taken all together, this plan is going to make it possible to cut child poverty in half," Biden asserted Saturday.

Click here for a rundown of what else is in the bill.

Relief close to home

The relief and stimulus bill passed in the Senate would send nearly $685 million in combined aid to Nassau and Suffolk county governments, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday.

Nassau would receive $397.7 million while Suffolk would get $286.38 million, Schumer said. Other Long Island local governments, including towns and villages, and school districts also would receive a slice of the funding, although details were not available Sunday.

In total, $23.8 billion would go toward governments in the state, including $6.141 billion for New York City and $12 billion for New York State, Schumer's office said. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority would get $6.5 billion, they said.

Overall, the New York slice of the $1.9 trillion stimulus package would be about $100 billion, including aid for workers, restaurants, small businesses and vaccine programs, according to Schumer.

"The robust basket of aid that we have been able to put together and pass yesterday will affect just about every aspect of New York life where there has been trouble," Schumer said at a news conference in Manhattan. "I say to beleaguered New Yorkers, help is on the way." For more, see Newsday's story by Tom Brune, Rachelle Blidner and Jesse Coburn.

Janison: Deep sedition at State

Biden last month spoke of a need for a "course correction" at the State Department to "better unite our democratic values with our diplomatic leadership." He was speaking about foreign policy, but under his Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ejection and replacement of those considered unprofessional, extremist or even subversive can be expected, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Last Thursday, the FBI announced the arrest of Federico Guillermo Klein, who was installed at the State Department in 2017 as a political appointee of former President Donald Trump after serving in his campaign. Klein was charged with taking part in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, including assaults on officers with a riot shield, according to an official complaint.

Also last week, CNN revealed that the top State Department diplomatic security official in Afghanistan, Nick Sabruno, was removed from his role for declaring Trump's defeat by Biden the "death of America" and for making racial comments about Vice President Kamala Harris on Facebook.

The case of Fritz Berggren, a midranking Foreign Service officer, has even deeper roots in far-right fringe belief. Politico reported on Feb. 26 that Berggren, whose time on the job preceded Trump, for years has openly called for the creation of Christian nation-states, warned that white people face "elimination" and railed against Jews as well as Black Lives Matter and other social movements.

Biden pushes voting rights

Biden issued an executive order Sunday directing federal agencies to take a series of steps to promote voting access — a move that comes as congressional Democrats press for a sweeping federal voting and elections bill to counter efforts by Republican-led state legislatures that would create more hurdles.

Biden announced his plan during a recorded address that marked 56 years since "Bloody Sunday," when 600 civil rights activists were viciously beaten by state troopers as they tried to march for voting rights in Selma, Alabama. The clash proved to be a turning point in the civil rights movement that led to passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The scope of Biden’s order under his executive authority is modest. It directs federal agencies to expand access to voter registration and election information, pushes an overhaul of the government’s Vote.gov website and calls on the heads of agencies to come up with plans to give federal employees time off to vote or volunteer as nonpartisan poll workers.

Trump: Don't say my name

Trump has sent a cease-and-desist letter to at least three official Republican committees, demanding that they stop using his name and likeness for fundraising, two Trump advisers confirmed to The Washington Post.

The former president has assumed a posture as the party's leader and has spoken of helping Republicans win elections. But Trump is angry that the Republican National Committee and the House and Senate fundraising arms could use his name to support Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him. Trump has called on donors to support his own political action committees.

"President Trump remains committed to the Republican Party and electing America First conservatives, but that doesn’t give anyone — friend or foe — permission to use his likeness without explicit approval," a Trump adviser told Politico. Trump isn't known to have sought approvals from Biden, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton to use their images in ads attacking them.

In the same vengeance-driven vein as his new demand, Trump vowed he will campaign in 2022 against Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski, "a disloyal and very bad Senator." She was one of seven GOP senators who voted to convict Trump on charges of inciting the Capitol insurrection.

Masked and answered

Biden last week went after the governors of Texas and Mississippi for lifting their states' mask mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions, but the Republican governors of Ohio and West Virginia on Sunday seemed to share the Democratic president's non-"Neanderthal thinking."

On ABC's "This Week," Ohio's Mike DeWine said, "You know with the vaccine, we're now on the offense, that's the great thing. But in Ohio, we can't give up the defense. We have found that these masks work exceedingly well."

Gov. Jim Justice of West Virginia blasted as "ridiculous" the stances of Texas' Greg Abbott and Mississippi's Tate Reeves.

"Nobody likes a mask. But, for crying out loud, we could be a little more prudent for 30 more days or 45 more days or whatever it took for us to get on rock-solid ground," Justice said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Also urging patience on the same show, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, said: "Every day that goes by that we keep the lid on, things will get better and better because we're putting now at least two million vaccinations into the arms of individuals each day." Fauci said guidelines for how vaccinated people should interact with unvaccinated people will be announced in the "next couple of days." See Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.

More coronavirus news

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

What else is happening:

  • More than two-thirds of Americans — 68% — approve of Biden's approach to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll. That includes 35% of Republicans, 67% of independents and 98% of Democrats in the poll.
  • Biden has nominated two female generals to elite, four-star commands, the Defense Department announced, months after their Pentagon bosses delayed the promotions out of fears that Trump would reject the officers because they were women, The New York Times reported.
  • White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt said the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine shouldn't be spurned because of some studies that suggested a lower efficacy rate than Pfizer and Moderna in blocking lesser symptoms. "There’s a few more people that may get a runny nose … We’re trying to save lives," Slavitt said on MSNBC.
  • The FBI is still seeking public help in identifying alleged Capitol rioters. Here's the latest tweet.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said perhaps more plainly than other Biden administration officials why there will be no U.S. sanctions against Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman even though he was found responsible for ordering the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi. "We're going to lead with our values, but we're going to protect our interests," Austin said on ABC's "This Week."

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