In Address to Congress, Biden to Call for Broad Reshaping of U.S. Society

Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden will call for a broad reshaping of American society Wednesday night, using his first formal address to Congress to urge a vast expansion of safety net and educational programs while promising to harness the government to create jobs and opportunity for those often left behind.

On Wednesday evening, Mr. Biden will return to Capitol Hill, where he served for more than three decades as a senator, to seek greater spending to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure by imposing new taxes on businesses and corporations. And he will urge lawmakers from both parties to embrace a sweeping new vision for public benefits, financed by higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

“We have to prove democracy still works. That our government still works — and can deliver for the people,” Mr. Biden will declare Wednesday night, according to brief excerpts from the prepared remarks released by the White House.

If he succeeds, Mr. Biden could usher in a new era that fundamentally expands the size and role of the federal government, powered in part by the government’s efforts combating the health and economic crises caused by a pandemic that has killed more than 573,000 people and upended work, recreation and schooling across the country.

According to the excerpts, the president will offer optimism in the face of the pandemic, saying that “America is on the move again. Turning peril into possibility. Crisis into opportunity. Setback into strength.” He will also describe his spending proposals as “a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”

But the president faces a Congress — and a country — that remains deeply divided about how much to increase government spending and who should pay for it. In his speech, Mr. Biden will say that the moment of crisis demands a sufficiently bold response from both sides of the political aisle, according to aides. But he will make clear that he is prepared to act without Republican support if necessary.

Mr. Biden’s address will take place against a backdrop that is both familiar and new. Like his predecessors, he will deliver it in the House chamber, standing before lawmakers and in front of the House speaker and the vice president. But it will be the first time in American history that the two officials behind the president are both women.

Because of the pandemic, Mr. Biden will be speaking to no more than 200 socially-distanced lawmakers and officials, a fraction of the packed audience that is typically on hand to witness the president’s use of the ultimate bully pulpit. There will be no guests of the first lady sitting in the House gallery, though the White House announced five “virtual guests” who officials said “personify some of the issues or policies that will be addressed by the president in his speech.”

Mr. Biden will give his address in the same building where supporters of former President Donald J. Trump staged a deadly riot more than three months ago in the hopes of stopping lawmakers from certifying the election results. Security at the Capitol will be extraordinarily tight as the president faces lawmakers who hid for their lives during the siege on January 6.

Aides said that Mr. Biden would use his speech to lay out his broader foreign policy and domestic agenda, describing his decision to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11 as a way to make good on his promise to end America’s “forever wars” even as he warns that the United States still faces a range of other threats.

Advisers previewing Mr. Biden’s speech said he would renew his call for Congress to pass a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system that would provide a pathway to citizenship for about 11 million undocumented people and urge Congress to pass a federal policing overhaul named after George Floyd, who was killed last year by a police officer in Minneapolis. He will repeat his call for Congress to pass new laws to tighten background checks on gun purchases and will say global warming demands that the United States take action to prevent climate change.

But Mr. Biden’s focus will be on selling his plans for spending that would total more than $6 trillion over the next decade. His proposals include spending $1.8 trillion on universal prekindergarten, federal paid leave, more affordable child care, free community college, and new spending on health care and poverty.

President Biden at the White House on Tuesday. He is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.
Erin Scott for The New York Times

President Biden is a man with a plan. Three plans, actually.

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden announced the third blockbuster domestic funding proposal of his presidency, hours before his first speech before a joint session of Congress. Mr. Biden’s plans add up to about $6 trillion and reflect an ambition to restore the federal government to the role it played during the New Deal and Great Society.

Here is what the plans — one passed and two pending — would do.

Mr. Biden’s coronavirus relief bill, passed in the Senate by a 50-to-49, party-line vote in March, was a sequel to the $2.2 trillion pandemic relief bill enacted during the Trump administration a year ago.

The centerpiece of the bill was a one-time direct payment of up to $1,400 for hundreds of millions of Americans, along with a $300 weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits through the summer, and money for distributing vaccines.

It included $350 billion in emergency funding for localities — $195 billion for states, $130 billion for local governments, $20 billion for tribal governments and $4.5 billion for territories.

But it was also aimed at reducing long-term poverty. The plan provides $21.6 billion for federally subsidized housing, an enormous infusion of cash into a long-stagnant sector, with billions in emergency rental assistance and longer-term capital projects.

Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan, unveiled on March 31, includes $621 billion for transportation projects, including bridges, roads, mass transit, ports, airports and electric vehicle development.

It would also funnel $111 billion into improving drinking-water infrastructure, and provide billions more for expanding broadband access and upgrading electric grids.

It adds $20 billion worth of tax credits for the construction and renovation of 500,000 units of affordable housing, an additional $40 billion for public housing capital improvements, and $100 billion for building and upgrading public schools.

About $300 billion is slated for assisting manufacturers and small businesses, and improving access to capital and investment in clean energy, along with $100 billion for work force development.

The most transformational and polarizing element of the plan is a $400 billion for “home- or community-based care for aging relatives and people with disabilities” — an attempt by Mr. Biden to expand the definition of infrastructure to include the fast-growing network of workers responsible for caring for the country’s aging population.

How he would pay for it: raising the corporate tax rate, which Republicans have cut in recent years, to 28 percent from 21 percent and forcing multinational corporations to pay significantly more in taxes.

The Biden administration on Wednesday detailed a collection of spending increases and tax cuts that seeks to expand access to education, reduce the cost of child care and support women in the work force.

While some details remain vague, the plan includes $1 trillion in new spending and $800 billion in tax credits.

It includes a $225 billion investment in federally subsidized child care and a paid family and medical leave program that will cost about $225 billion over the next decade as well as a $200 billion reduction in premiums for people enrolled in the Affordable Care Act.

It would also provide $200 billion in new education funding that would include free universal preschool for 5 million children in low-income and working-class families. In addition, Mr. Biden is also requesting funding for two free years of community college education to all Americans, including young immigrants known as the Dreamers.

How he would pay for it: The plan includes $80 billion in enhancements to the I.R.S., which the administration estimates could raise $700 billion from high earners and corporations that evade taxes.

Mr. Biden also wants to increase the marginal income tax rate for the top 1 percent of American income earners, to 39.6 percent from 37 percent and raise capital gains and dividend tax rates for those who earn more than $1 million a year.

Senator Tim Scott has endeared himself to conservative groups with a strong small-government philosophy.
Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

After President Biden delivers his first joint address to Congress Wednesday evening, the task of pushing back against the president’s vision will fall to Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

Mr. Scott, 55, offers a brand of unapologetic conservatism that has helped him rise from a seat on the Charleston County Council to national prominence in the Republican Party. He said on Wednesday that he planned to present an “optimistic” rebuttal to Mr. Biden’s address, one that will underscore the importance of getting children back into classrooms after months of remote learning and attribute a successful vaccination campaign to the Trump administration, according to excerpts from the prepared remarks released ahead of delivery.

“This administration inherited a tide that had already turned,” Mr. Scott plans to say. “The coronavirus is on the run! Thanks to Operation Warp Speed and the Trump administration, our country is flooded with safe and effective vaccines.”

Mr. Scott will also highlight one of his signature policy initiatives, opportunity zones, which are intended to use tax incentives to draw long-term investment to parts of the nation that continue to struggle with high poverty rates. The zones were part of the $1.5 trillion tax cut that President Trump signed into law in 2017.

More than a decade ago, Mr. Scott raised his profile as a vocal critic of the Obama administration and rode a wave of Tea Party support into Washington, winning a House seat in 2010, and endearing himself to conservative groups with a strong small-government philosophy.

As the sole Black Republican in the Senate, Mr. Scott has also become a pioneering figure within his party, breaking through a number of historical barriers and ascending in an environment that has often been hostile to Black politicians.

In the primary for his first House campaign, Mr. Scott handily defeated Paul Thurmond, son of former Senator Strom Thurmond, who for years helped lead the Republican Party’s resistance to racial integration. And in 2013, when then-Gov. Nikki Haley appointed Mr. Scott to fill a vacancy left by former Senator James DeMint, he entered the Senate as the first Black politician since Reconstruction to represent a Southern state.

Mr. Scott was tapped to deliver the rebuttal by the Republican leaders — Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California — at a time when the G.O.P. has been eager to bolster its support with people of color. And during his years in the Senate, Mr. Scott has often provided guidance for his colleagues on matters of race.

Most recently, as the debate about police brutality has intensified, Mr. Scott has offered his own candid experiences on the Senate floor of being racially profiled by police. He has also positioned himself as an informed voice on the challenges facing working families, invoking his early years growing up poor with a single working mother.

While many of the policy proposals Mr. Biden is expected to discuss on Wednesday have drawn sharp opposition from Republicans, Mr. Scott has said he does not intend his rebuttal to be an excoriation of the president’s agenda akin to the highly charged rhetoric that has become common on Capitol Hill.

“We face serious challenges on multiple fronts, but I am as confident as I have ever been in the promise and potential of America,” Mr. Scott said in a statement previewing his remarks. “I look forward to having an honest conversation with the American people and sharing Republicans’ optimistic vision for expanding opportunity and empowering working families.”

Members of the National Guard outside the Capitol in Washington this month. The building is under strict security measures and pandemic safety protocols.
Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Congressional officials have ramped up security and drastically limited the number of attendees for President Biden’s first joint address to Congress on Wednesday, preparing the Capitol for the long-awaited speech under the strictures of a pandemic and a heightened threat level after the deadly Jan. 6 riot.

Inside the cavernous House chamber, Mr. Biden will address only 200 people instead of the usual 1,600. Only a fraction of members of the House and the Senate — some chosen by lottery, others on a first-come, first-served basis — have received invitations, and just a small group of the usual dignitaries from the other branches of government will attend.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will be the lone member of the Supreme Court on hand, according to a court spokeswoman. Instead of the full complement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman, will attend, along with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III.

Denied their traditional privilege of inviting a guest to sit in the House gallery for the speech, some lawmakers have resorted to remote invitations. Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s virtual guest is a doctor who runs a community health center for Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders in her hometown, San Francisco; Representative Sara Jacobs, a California freshman, invited a child-care worker.

But the Capitol itself will be emptier than it has ever been for the speech. The House sergeant-at-arms has asked anyone who does not have a ticket to attend — including lawmakers — to leave the building by 5 p.m. Wednesday, hours before Mr. Biden is to arrive.

The unusual preparations promise to lend a surreal mood to what is usually an elaborate and tradition-bound ritual in Washington — a State of the Union-style address delivered by a newly sworn-in president. They are the latest reminder of the challenges facing Mr. Biden, who took office during one of the more difficult and traumatic stretches in modern American history.

Senator Marsha Blackburn, Republican of Tennessee, said the American Families Plan would “incentivize women to rely on the federal government.”
Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

As President Biden rolls out his far-reaching $1.8 trillion plan to expand access to education and child care, Republicans are not expected to present their own alternative package, instead arguing that such an ambitious expansion of the social safety net is unnecessary and harmful to the economy.

Republicans have tapped Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina to deliver their rebuttal to Mr. Biden’s joint address to Congress on Wednesday night, spotlighting the party’s sole Black senator who often leans heavily on his extraordinary biography to argue against large government assistance programs.

Even before the president had outlined his proposal or Mr. Scott had responded, Republicans rejected Mr. Biden’s plan, which is to be financed largely by tax increases on high earners and corporations, protesting the notion of reversing a sweeping collection of tax cuts they pushed through in 2017 under former President Donald J. Trump.

“What this would do is incentivize women to rely on the federal government to organize their lives,” Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said in an appearance on Fox Business on Wednesday, calling the president’s proposal an “anti-family plan” that would lead to higher taxes. “It takes away from them the ability to organize their family life as they would like to organize it.”

While Republicans last week introduced their own, significantly slimmed down answer to Mr. Biden’s sprawling infrastructure package, offering a $568 billion counterproposal that Democrats dismissed as inadequate, they have not offered their own version of an education and child care bill. Some individual senators have introduced significantly narrower pieces of legislation designed to aid families.

Senators Joni Ernst of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah in 2019 introduced a paid parental leave plan. Senators Mitt Romney of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri have both argued in favor of expanding the child tax credit to provide all but the wealthiest families with regular monthly checks. But those efforts have been largely driven by individual senators and have faced resistance from other Republicans, some of whom have chafed at any measures that might resemble “welfare assistance.” They have yet to win the imprimatur of the party’s leaders.

Mr. Romney expressed skepticism on Wednesday about the total cost of Mr. Biden’s package of economic proposals, calling it “a massive amount of spending.”

“Maybe if he were younger, I’d say his dad needs to take away the credit card,” Mr. Romney said to reporters.

Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, took to the Senate floor to accuse Mr. Biden of pushing unnecessary “partisan policies.”

“When you think about infrastructure, you think about roads, you think about bridges, you think about broadband,” Mr. Tillis said. “You don’t think about human infrastructure, but that’s what’s being pitched today. And it’s being pitched on a partisan basis, without even attempting to get a single Republican vote.”

A prompt counterproposal is unlikely to come from the House either. Top Republicans in that chamber selected members earlier this week to begin drafting a broad array of legislation on jobs and the economy, “the future of American freedoms” and other issues that are expected to shape their agenda leading up to the midterm elections.

Samantha Power, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, during her confirmation hearing.
Pool photo by Greg Nash

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Samantha Power, a human-rights activist and President Barack Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development.

By a vote of 68-26, the Senate confirmed Ms. Power to lead an agency that is one of the world’s largest distributors of humanitarian aid. Ms. Power is expected to have a seat on the National Security Council, which she also held during the Obama administration.

Pooja Jhunjhunwala, the acting spokeswoman for U.S.A.I.D., said that Ms. Power will be sworn in on Monday.

Ms. Power arrives at a time when the agency will be focused on combating poverty and disease across the world in places that have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In nominating Ms. Power, the Biden administration has signaled that U.S. foreign aid will serve as a pillar of soft-power diplomacy.

During her confirmation hearing in March, Ms. Power said she would use the agency to combat China’s influence in regions including Africa, Eastern Europe and South America, warning that Beijing is using its prominence on the global stage in a “predatory way” that flouts diplomatic norms.

Ms. Power, a former war correspondent, rose to prominence as an academic focused on genocide prevention. She has been viewed as an unabashed humanitarian, one who has advocated for military intervention to reduce civilian suffering, most notably in Libya and Syria.

Human rights activists said that Ms. Power will face a tough road ahead, as the pandemic lays bare disparities across the world.

“Administrator Power arrives at U.S.A.I.D. at a challenging time,” said Tom Hart, acting chief executive of the ONE Campaign, an anti-poverty group. “We’re at risk of seeing one pandemic with two futures: one for wealthy countries who can get vaccines and can afford economic stimulus and those who can’t.”

The Democratic leaders, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer, and the Republican leaders, Senator Mitch McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy, have been invited to meet with President Biden in May.
Pool photo by Jabin Botsford

President Biden on Wednesday invited the top Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress to meet with him at the White House for the first time next month as he seeks to move his ambitious plans though Congress, according two officials familiar with the matter.

While Mr. Biden has met regularly with Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the majority leader, the May 12 meeting would mark the first time he has hosted their Republican counterparts, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California.

The invitation, which became public hours before Mr. Biden was scheduled to deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress, comes at a crucial moment in Mr. Biden’s presidency, as he tries to build support for $4 trillion in new spending to boost the economy, close racial disparities and rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. But Republicans are increasingly portraying him to voters as a radical liberal who despite campaign promises, is unwilling to compromise across the aisle.

The White House did not immediately make clear its agenda for the meeting.

Mr. Biden and Mr. McConnell, an old friend, have spoken multiple times by phone since he became president. Mr. McCarthy has repeatedly requested to meet with Mr. Biden to discuss the influx of migrants at the southwestern border, but the two have not spoken.

Mr. Biden has been more free with invitations to rank-and-file Republicans — especially moderates who he had hoped might support his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan or his upcoming jobs package. So far, none have given him their support.

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Using security footage, cellphone video, 911 calls and police reports, The Times has reconstructed the 12 minutes before Ahmaud Arbery was shot dead in Georgia on Feb. 23.

Three Georgia men were indicted on federal hate crime and attempted kidnapping charges in connection with the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man who was shot to death while jogging through a South Georgia neighborhood last year, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday.

The deadly encounter helped fuel nationwide racial justice protests last year, and the charges are the most significant hate crimes prosecution so far by the Biden administration, which has made civil rights protections a major priority.

The suspects — Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and William “Roddie” Bryan, 51 — were each charged with one count of interference with Mr. Arbery’s right to use a public street because of his race and with one count of attempted kidnapping.

Travis and Gregory McMichael were also charged with one count each of using, carrying, and brandishing a firearm. Travis McMichael is accused of shooting Mr. Arbery.

“As Arbery was running on a public street in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of Brunswick, Georgia, Travis and Gregory McMichael armed themselves with firearms, got into a truck, and chased Arbery through the public streets of the neighborhood while yelling at him, using their truck to cut off his route, and threatening him with firearms,” the Justice Department said in a statement.

Mr. Bryan joined the chase and used his truck to cut off Mr. Arbery, the Justice Department said. The three men were accused of chasing after Mr. Arbery in their trucks in an attempt to restrain and detain him against his will.

The case also prompted an outcry after news reports and video footage indicated that a local prosecutor had wrongly determined that the pursuers had acted within bounds of Georgia’s citizen’s arrest statute, and that Mr. McMichael shot Mr. Arbery in self-defense.

Months after the February shooting, video surfaced that seemed to undercut the idea that Mr. McMichael acted in self-defense. The video showed Mr. Arbery jogging, then coming upon a man standing beside a truck and another man in the pickup bed. After Mr. Arbery runs around the truck, shouting is heard and then he reappears, tussling with the man outside of the truck. Three shotgun blasts are then fired.

The prosecutor, George E. Barnhill, the district attorney for Georgia’s Waycross Judicial Circuit, later recused himself from the case, and the state took over the investigation.

The three men also face state charges with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal attempt to commit a felony. No date has been set for a trial.

A woman dropped off her ballot at a drop box on the last day of early voting in West Palm Beach, Fla., in November.
Saul Martinez for The New York Times

A bill that would impose a raft of new restrictions on voting in Florida cleared the State House of Representatives on Wednesday after hours of contentious debate. Democrats denounced the legislation as overly stringent and unnecessary, and Republicans argued that it would install necessary “guardrails” for securing elections, despite their acknowledgment that the state’s election last year had been a “gold standard” without fraud.

The bill passed on a 78-to-42 vote, largely along party lines. Because the House added significant amendments to the bill, which had previously passed the State Senate, the legislation now faces a final vote in the full Senate before it heads to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who is expected to sign it.

The House revisions, which were made by Blaise Ingoglia, a Republican representative from Hernando County, north of Tampa, added new restrictions for the use of drop boxes, including an identification requirement for anyone who wants to drop a ballot into one. The revisions would also bar outside groups from providing funding or grants for the administration of local elections, and would further restrict who can collect and drop off absentee ballots.

The bill would also bar outside groups from giving water to voters within 150 feet of a voting location; add more identification requirements for absentee ballots; require voters to request an absentee ballot every election, rather than join an absentee voting list that would allow ballots to be sent out automatically for two consecutive cycles; and empower partisan observers during the ballot tabulating process.

Democrats in the Legislature repeatedly pressed Republican supporters of the bill for evidence of fraud in Florida that would bolster the G.O.P.’s case for the bill, but no examples were provided. Several Democrats noted that provisions of the bill, particularly the new identification requirements and ballot collection limitations, would have an outsize impact on communities of color.

“We know that it will have a disparate impact on folks like me, but it’s of no surprise because that’s our history,” said Christopher Benjamin, a Democratic representative from Miami-Dade County who is a Black man. “Our history has been to systematically, through subtleties that seem uninvasive, exclude our most vulnerable.”

“This bill doesn’t make elections better,” Mr. Benjamin said. “It doesn’t make elections easier. It continues a system that we have historically used to exclude.”

Republicans defended the bill, saying it was necessary to push forward with new rules for voting as a means of being proactive. They also noted that the current early voting laws in Florida, which allow for 45 days of in-person early balloting, are more expansive than those in other states.

“I take some issue with the fact that we’re trying to somehow restrict the vote,” said Ralph E. Massullo, a Republican representative from Hernando County. “There are more ways to vote in Florida, and a longer opportunity, than just about any state in the nation.”

But Democrats saw similarities to other states with Republican-controlled legislatures that have passed new restrictions on voting — most notably Florida’s neighbor Georgia, which recently passed a wide-ranging law.

“Please do not Georgia my Florida,” said Michael Grieco, a Democratic representative from Miami-Dade County.


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