The coronavirus pandemic forced Joe Biden to reshape his presidential campaign, drove Democrats to refashion their 2020 convention and brought forth a reimagined inauguration ceremony. It could now rob Biden of something his predecessors used to push their economic agendas at the dawn of their terms: A February speech to a joint meeting of Congress.
Presidents have other options, of course — they can do prime-time press conferences, speak to the public from the Oval Office, deploy any number of “bully pulpit” tactics. But a speech to Congress is something else, even in the era of declining television ratings and feverish competition for eyeballs.
“We will talk directly to more people than probably every politician of note in America will do in all their speeches combined this year,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, noted in a preview of the 2015 State of the Union.
The White House and congressional leadership offices declined to comment on the record about the prospects for Biden to give a State-of-the-Union-like address, which recent past presidents have given within weeks of taking the oath of office.
But with Biden conducting official visits remotely, as well as encouraging mask-wearing and social distancing to beat back the coronavirus, it’s hard to imagine the speech can take place as it would normally. That is, with the House chamber packed with all 535 lawmakers, all but one of the Cabinet members, some Supreme Court justices, diplomats and others on hand to hear the remarks in person.
If February doesn’t work, the remarks could simply be postponed.
Obama spoke to Congress in February and in September, as did George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Ronald Reagan followed his February address with another in April.
Biden could use the big address.
He has signaled he’s prepared to push a first wave of economic stimulus — a $1.9 trillion package that includes widely popular direct payments to millions of Americans — through Congress with or without Republican support. But he has also indicated that he’ll seek a second wave of assistance, and other aspects of his legislative agenda could benefit from high-profile presidential advocacy.
Because the economy reliably tops the list of issues on voters’ minds, it’s no surprise it’s been so frequently the top issue in these February speeches.
Trump heralded “a new chapter of American greatness” and promised “dying industries will come back to life” when he gave his remarks on February 28, 2017.
“I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so,” Obama said on Feb. 24, 2009. “Now is the time to act boldly and wisely — to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity.”
(A day earlier, Biden had opened a bipartisan “fiscal responsibility summit” at the White House highlighting “the nearly unprecedented economic challenges the country is facing today.”)
On Feb. 27, 2001, George W. Bush joked about the Florida recount and tried to turn his “compassionate conservative” campaign theme into a governing philosophy — while pushing the massive tax cuts at the core of his domestic agenda.
“Taxes are too high and government is charging more than it needs,” he said. “The people of America have been overcharged and, on their behalf, I am here asking for a refund.”
Clinton repeatedly talked about turning the country in a “new direction” when he spoke to lawmakers on Feb. 17, 1993. “More than anything else, our task tonight as Americans is to make our economy thrive again,” said the Arkansas Democrat, who made an impassioned plea to overhaul the health-care system.
George H. W. Bush declared “I do not propose to reverse direction. We are headed the right way” in his Feb. 9, 1989 speech. (He would later deliver one of the most memorable presidential reversals on economic policy, abandoning his “read my lips” pledge not to seek new taxes and with it his hopes for reelection).
And Reagan pointed to high inflation, interest rates, and unemployment on February 18, 1981, before asking “can we, who man the ship of state, deny it is somewhat out of control?” He outlined an aggressive plan to cut taxes, regulation, and federal spending.
Looking back through these speeches, it’s notable how often they included appeals to set aside ideological feuds — even if a cynic might dismiss them as an invitation from the president to abandon petty partisanship and unite behind his agenda.
“The people did not send us here to bicker,” the elder Bush said. “It is time to govern.”
Biden might benefit from the same opportunity.
Trump's impeachment trial
Former president Donald Trump's second impeachment trial begins today at 1 p.m. Follow our team's live coverage here.
Here's what to expect during Trump’s second impeachment trial:
- The trial will begin with a four-hour debate over the constitutionality of trying a former president, followed by a simple majority vote on that question. Opening arguments begin on Wednesday, with both sides having up to 16 hours of debate. There will also be a total of four hours for senators to question the two parties. At that point, the Senate could vote on calling witnesses or additional evidence. Finally, there will be a total of four hours, equally divided, for closing arguments. (Mike DeBonis and Felicia Sonmez)
- Senior aides to House impeachment managers say “Trump’s trial will unfold like a ‘violent crime trial’ and will include previously unseen evidence of his role in inciting the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol,” Tom Hamburger reports. “They said the case will also present a detailed account of his failure to act swiftly to stop the violence, which they said will be graphically revealed as more dangerous than has been generally known.”
- One of Trump’s two attorneys, David Schoen, withdrew his request for the trial to pause for the Jewish Sabbath, explaining that another lawyer will take his place on Trump’s defense team on Saturday. A Trump spokesman did not say who might take Schoen’s place. (Sonmez and Hamburger)
All but five Republican senators appear to back Trump’s defense: That he can't be convicted after leaving office.
- Ann Marimow and Tom Hamburger report that most legal scholars who have studied the issue think post-presidential impeachment and conviction are allowed based on history and past practice in Congress.
- Republican senators have cited the views of former federal judge J. Michael Luttig, who argued that only a sitting president can be impeached and tried. But on Monday, Luttig said Trump’s legal team has not addressed the particular constitutional question raised by a president being impeached before he left office — but tried after he departed.
- Trump’s lawyers also cited Michigan State University law professor Brian Kalt in their argument that it is unconstitutional to try a former president, but Kalt told Reuters that his work was “quite badly” misrepresented. Kalt is among the legal scholars who have argued that the trial is constitutional.
Trump is already planning his resurgence — and told aides he thinks he'll be acquitted.
- CNN reports that Trump is focused on retribution against the GOP House members who supported his impeachment. But those House Republicans are showing no signs of backing down. When CNN asked if he had any regrets, Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.) replied with a simple, “Hell, no.”
- The former president still thinks he will come out of this trial with an iron grip over the GOP, Politico reports. Trump has spent the last few days in Mar-a-Lago, keeping a low profile and playing golf, which a former aide suggested is his way of saying “Who cares?”
The investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia inquiry will continue.
- The Justice Department will allow John Durham to remain in the role of special counsel, even as the Biden administration pushes for mass resignations of U.S. attorneys, the NYT reports. Durham, however, will no longer be the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut.
- David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware who is overseeing a tax fraud investigation into Hunter Biden, will also remain on the case and in office.
Quote of the day
“He’s Teflon, right. It’s been a month since the Capitol riot and I would say, for the most part, the GOP has coalesced back behind him,” a former Trump campaign official told Politico.
What’s happening now
Jamie Dimon, chair of JP Morgan Chase, and other CEOs will meet with Biden at the White House to discuss the relief plan. Other CEOs at the meeting include Doug McMillon of Walmart and Sonia Syngal of Gap, Tom Hamburger and Jeff Stein report.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers is calling on Biden to let more physicians prescribe an opioid-treatment drug. The efforts center on the so-called “X-waiver," a two-decade-old requirement, first mandated by Congress, that physicians undergo training before being allowed to prescribe buprenorphine for opioid-use disorder. Doctors and public health groups say the rules are slowing the response to the nation’s worsening opioid crisis. (Dan Diamond)
During her confirmation hearing, Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Budget Management Neera Tanden apologized for language she used while criticizing Republicans. “I know there have been some concerns about some of my past language in social media, and I regret that language and take responsibility for it,” Tanden said in her opening statement. “I understand that the role of OMB director calls for bipartisan action as well as nonpartisan adherence to facts and evidence.” (Colby Itkowitz)
Michael Regan, whom Biden tapped to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, advanced Tuesday on a 14-to-6 vote of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, John Wagner reports.
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Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Coup allegations and rival claims to the presidency deepen Haiti’s crisis,” by Anthony Faiola: “Haiti plunged deeper into a constitutional crisis on Monday, with rival claims to the presidency, allegations of a coup attempt and police deployed to the Supreme Court. The political chaos in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country threatened to further undermine its teetering democracy, as fears mounted that the warring factions and their proxies … could push long-simmering violence to new levels.”
- “After St. Louis jail unrest, inmates’ advocates allege desperate conditions while officials defend pandemic response,” by Eric Berger and Mark Berman: “Some inmate advocates and attorneys said Monday that they are not surprised at a weekend uprising at the jail here during which inmates smashed windows and set fires and a corrections officer ended up hospitalized. … Advocates allege that inmates have been mistreated during the coronavirus pandemic, left in de facto solitary confinement and minded by jail staffers who do not maintain proper safety protocols.”
- “Countries must ramp up climate pledges by 80 percent to hit key Paris target, study finds,” by Brady Dennis: “[A study] found that even if countries were to meet their existing pledges, the world has only about a 5 percent chance to limit the Earth’s warming to 'well below’ 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels — a key aim of the international agreement.”
… and beyond
- “‘Its own domestic army’: How the G.O.P. allied itself with militants,” by the New York Times’s David Kirkpatrick and Mike McIntire: “Michigan’s Republican Party last year welcomed the support of newly emboldened paramilitary groups and other vigilantes. Prominent party members formed bonds with militias or gave tacit approval to armed activists using intimidation in a series of rallies and confrontations around the state. [The April 2020] intrusion into the Statehouse now looks like a portent of the assault halfway across the country months later at the United States Capitol.”
- “White House eyes ways to speed up visas for foreign interpreters stranded in war zones,” by the Military Times’s Leo Shane III: “At least 7,000 visas meant to be available to Afghan allies went unused last year, according to State Department figures. Advocates blame that not on a lack of interest from foreign allies but on inefficient or intentionally troublesome bureaucracy.”
- “The secret, essential geography of the office,” by Wired’s Paul Ford: “The office doesn’t so much give meaning to my work as it is the meaning of my work. It’d be hard to give that up.”
The first 100 days
House Democrats rejected a plan to sharply curtail the $1,400 stimulus payments.
- “House Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) released legislation that would send the full stimulus payment to individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 per year,” Jeff Stein and Erica Werner report. Democrats had explored curtailing that benefit to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples, a position embraced by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).
- The move to reject that is a further sign that Democrats are moving ahead without Republican support on Biden’s relief package. It is unclear whether Manchin or other conservative Senate Democrats will object to the proposal.
- More new details include a child income tax credit and an extension of federal unemployment benefits through the end of August. The plan would increase the benefit account from $300 a week to $400.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is quarantining after a member of his security detail tested positive.
- Buttigieg, 39, will now quarantine for 14 days less than a week after being sworn in, Michael Laris reports. He tested negative Monday and has had no symptoms, his chief of staff said, and has already received the first dose of the vaccine.
Trump’s troubled postmaster general wants to stay on the job.
- General Louis DeJoy has told allies that he wants to remain at the helm of USPS, despite his support for Trump and the critical slowdown of service that hurt the agency at the end of last year, CNN reports. He is actively working on releasing a new 10-year plan for the agency in the next few days and will meet with the Postal Board of Governors today, which is assembling publicly for the first time since Biden took office.
- Biden, however, is facing mounting pressure from Democrats to remove DeJoy amid months of complaints over mail delays, but he does not have the power to do so. Only the Board of Governors — which is made up of presidential appointees confirmed in the Senate — can rid the agency of DeJoy. Currently, DeJoy has the support of the Trump-appointed board, but Biden has the power to nominate members to it.
Share of USPS mail delivered on time, visualized
The Postal Service is one of most logistically complex operations in government, ferrying billions of letters and packages a year. The chart below shows how the nation’s mail service is slower than it’s been in generations. Jacob Bogage and Kevin Schaul report on how Democrats want to fix it.
Hot on the left
Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump made between $172 million and $640 million from outside income while working in the White House. A new report by government watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ran the numbers, which found that a major factor in their outside profits came from Ivanka Trump’s ownership stake in her father’s hotel in D.C., Vanity Fair reports.
Hot on the right
Former Fox News host Lou Dobbs lashed out against the network on Twitter following his show’s cancelation. “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” the most-watched show on Fox Business Network, was canceled Friday night, with no reason given. Dobbs, one of the network’s most outspoken Trump allies, has since retweeted dozens of messages supporting him, including one suggesting that Fox News viewers “ditch Fox” for the One America Network, the far-right network. Dobbs Twitter fury is the more surprising considering that he remains under contract with Fox even as his show has been dropped, Jeremy Barr reports.
This week in Washington
Vice President Harris is expected to swear in Denis McDonough as VA secretary today.
Later today, Biden, Harris, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will meet with business leaders to discuss the administration’s relief plan.
Biden will visit Wisconsin next week in one of his first official trips since taking office. He will visit Milwaukee on Tuesday, the Journal Sentinel reports.
Trevor Noah poked fun at Biden’s “scandalous” first few days: