President Biden, in his first prime-time address, mourned a year of Americans’ “collective suffering, a collective sacrifice” because of the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed the lives of nearly 530,000 and vowed that the nation will recover.

“America is coming back,” the president said in his 24-minute address in which he said he would direct states to make all U.S. adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine no later than May 1, aimed for small-group celebrations by July 4 and urged millions to get vaccinated.

The address was delivered hours after Biden signed into law a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill during a brief Oval Office event.

Here’s what to know:
  • The Senate voted to allow floor debate on the nomination of Xavier Becerra to lead the Department of Health and Human Services after the Finance Committee deadlocked last week on advancing it. The tied committee vote prompted Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) to offer a motion to force the nomination of Becerra, California’s attorney general, to the full Senate.
  • The House passed a pair of bills largely along partisan lines to strengthen background checks on firearm purchases, sending them to the Senate, where the legislation faces longer odds.
  • The GOP’s national push to enact hundreds of new election restrictions could strain every available method of voting for tens of millions of Americans, potentially amounting to the most significant contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction, a Post analysis has found.
2:54 a.m.
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Biden, 17 Democrats to tout passage of relief bill at Rose Garden event

President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on March 11. (The Washington Post)

President Biden on Friday will mark the passage of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill with remarks in the Rose Garden. Seventeen members of Congress have been invited to the event — all Democrats, since the bill received no GOP support.

According to a list released by the White House, attendees at the Rose Garden event will include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.), House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.).

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Democratic Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Ben Cardin (Md.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio) have also been invited. On the House side, Democratic Reps. John Yarmuth (Ky.), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (Va.), Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), Maxine Waters (Calif.), Carolyn B. Maloney (N.Y.), Nydia M. Velázquez (N.Y.), Mark Takano (Calif.), Richard E. Neal (Mass.), Rosa L. DeLauro (Conn.) and Gregory W. Meeks (N.Y.) are expected to attend.

Biden, who signed the “American Rescue Plan” into law Thursday, is set to embark on a tour across the country next week touting the package.

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation — working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance. That’s what the essence of it is,” Biden said at the signing, vowing there would be “plenty of opportunities where we’re going to be on the road” to talk about various elements of the bill.

1:52 a.m.
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Biden pitches newly signed coronavirus relief bill: ‘The American Rescue Plan meets the moment’

Roughly 20 minutes into his address, Biden touted the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package he signed into law earlier that day, pitching his first major legislative accomplishment to a prime-time audience.

Biden called the bill, known as the American Rescue Plan, a “historic piece of legislation that delivers immediate relief to millions of people.” He ticked off a list of what it includes: thousands of dollars in direct checks, extended unemployment benefits, lowered health care premiums, aid for small businesses, and payments that will slash the rate of child poverty.

“And it funds all the steps I’ve just described to beat the virus and create millions of jobs,” he added.

Biden said he and members of the administration would be traveling the country in the coming weeks and months to sell Americans on the plan — “to speak directly to you. To tell you the truth about how the American Rescue Plan meets the moment. And if it fails in any place, I will acknowledge that it failed, but it will not.”

The president’s remarks mark the beginning of the White House’s effort to promote the relief package, which Democrats have promoted as one of the most significant anti-poverty measures in recent history and the Biden team regards as a major win.

1:42 a.m.
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Biden says he will direct opening up of vaccinations to all adults

President Biden on March 11 said he's directing states to make all adult Americans eligible for the coronavirus vaccines by no later than May 1. (The Washington Post)

President Biden said Thursday that he will direct all states, tribes and territories in the country to make every person 18 and older eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus by May 1.

Promising more guidance “in the coming weeks” on what people can do once they are fully vaccinated, he recalled the goal set earlier in his term: 100 million shots in Americans’ arms in his first 100 days in office.

“Tonight, I can say we’re not going to meet that goal,” he said. “We’re going to beat that goal, because we’re actually on track to reach this goal of 100 hundred million shots in arms on my 60th day in office.”

Projecting hope for a return to more normalcy in the not-too-distant future, the president said that when he took office, 8 percent of those over age 65 had gotten their first vaccine dose. Now, 65 percent of that group have, he said.

If Americans get vaccinated, he said, there is a “good chance” that family and friends can celebrate the Fourth of July together in small groups. He anticipated an Independence Day on which “we begin to mark our independence from this virus.”

More guidance is coming, he said, on travel and what people can do at work, in places of worship and with their friends.

Biden said his administration is working with leaders “in red states and blue states” to establish nearly 600 federally supported vaccination centers.

“I will not relent until we beat this virus,” the president said. “But I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part.”

1:35 a.m.
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‘Listen to Dr. Fauci’: Biden emphasizes vaccine safety, says ‘national unity’ is way out of pandemic

In his prime-time address Thursday, Biden emphasized the safety of three coronavirus vaccines that had been approved for use in the United States and urged people to listen to Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert.

“He’s assured us the vaccines are safe. They underwent rigorous scientific review. I know they’re safe,” Biden said.

The president noted that he and Vice President Harris, along with their spouses, have all received the vaccine, most of them publicly “in front of cameras for the world to see so you could see us do it.”

“Talk to your family, friends, your neighbors. The people you know best have gotten the vaccine. We need everyone to get vaccinated,” Biden said.

He also urged people — in the name of “national unity” — to continue washing their hands, stay socially distanced and wear masks, per CDC recommendations, lest the country slide backward because of complacency.

“Because even if we devote every resource we have, beating this virus and getting back to normal depends on national unity,” Biden said. “If we don’t stay vigilant and the conditions change and we may have to reinstate restrictions to get back on track. And please, we don’t want to do that again. We’ve made so much progress. This is not the time to let up, just as we were emerging from a dark winter into a hopeful spring.”

1:21 a.m.
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Biden calls out rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans in prime-time address

President Biden said hate crimes against the Asian American community are "un-American" during his prime-time address on March 11. (The Washington Post)

In his prime-time address Thursday, Biden denounced the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans since the start of the pandemic, saying that members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community have been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”

“So many of them are fellow Americans. They’re on the front lines of this pandemic, trying to save lives," Biden said. "And still, still, they’re forced to live in fear for their lives, just walking down streets in America. It’s wrong. It’s un-American, and it must stop.”

Activists and civil-rights groups sounded the alarm last year over an increasing number of hate crimes against Asian Americans, blaming some of it on former president Donald Trump, who frequently described the coronavirus with phrases like “China plague” and “kung flu.”

In January, Biden signed a presidential memorandum banning the federal government from using such “inflammatory and xenophobic” to describe the coronavirus.

1:19 a.m.
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Biden laments divisiveness of masks, ‘the easiest thing to do to save lives’

Addressing Americans on Thursday night, Biden lamented that “too often, we’ve turned against on another,” referencing the divisiveness of face masks in particular — “the easiest thing to do to save lives.”

“States, pitted against one another, instead of working with each other,” Biden said, reflecting a year after the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. “Vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans who’ve been attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated.”

Biden’s embrace of universal masking contrasted sharply with his predecessor, who for months resisted experts’ calls to wear face coverings. Absent nationwide rules, states took varied approaches to mask mandates, which some Americans fiercely opposed as restrictions on their liberties despite extensive evidence that mask-wearing could slow the coronavirus’s spread.

1:12 a.m.
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Biden mourns year of ‘collective suffering, a collective sacrifice’ in prime-time address

Marking one year of the coronavirus shutdown on March 11, President Biden said that “finding light in the darkness is the most American thing to do.” (The Washington Post)

Opening up his first prime-time address since being inaugurated, President Biden on Thursday mourned the year of “collective suffering, a collective sacrifice” that has passed since the pandemic-related shutdowns began in the United States.

Biden also knocked the previous administration’s response to the pandemic, without naming former president Donald Trump.

“A year ago, we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress and more loneliness,” Biden said Thursday night.

Biden lamented that photos and videos from 2019 — of last vacations, last birthdays with friends, last holidays with extended family — felt like “they were taken in another era.”

“While it was different for everyone, we all lost something: a collective suffering, a collective sacrifice, a year filled with the loss of life and the loss of living for all of us,” Biden said. “But in the loss, we saw how much there was to gain: an appreciation, respect and gratitude. Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do. In fact, it may be the most American thing we do, and that’s what we’ve done.”

12:04 a.m.
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New York Assembly authorizes new probe of Cuomo sexual misconduct allegations

The New York State Assembly on Thursday authorized an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), a potential first step toward impeachment.

The decision to authorize a probe by the Judiciary Committee came after more than three dozen Democrats in the lower house called on Cuomo to resign.

“The reports of accusations concerning the governor are serious,” Assembly Speaker Carl E. Heastie said in a statement authorizing the investigation. “The committee will have the authority to interview witnesses, subpoena documents and evaluate evidence, as is allowed by the New York State Constitution.”

The decision, after a hastily called meeting among Assembly Democrats, marked a rapid shift of fortunes for the governor, who already had been struggling to hold back calls for him to leave office as the number of women accusing him of improper conduct has grown.

11:52 p.m.
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Coronavirus testing may be coming to a school near you, White House says

As part of the White House push to reopen school buildings, the Biden administration plans a new program to screen teachers, staffers and students for the coronavirus.

This month, the Department of Health and Human Services will award grants to implement testing programs in elementary and middle schools, as well as other congregate settings. The hope is that testing of asymptomatic people will help identify people who are sick before they know it, and before they can spread the virus to others.

The funding is set at $650 million, which the White House described as an “initial investment.” Earlier discussion of the idea pegged the cost at several billion dollars, and it was unclear whether the administration planned to spend that much.

Testing in schools has been important to teachers, and teachers unions in many cities have demanded programs before returning to classrooms. Several large cities, including New York and D.C., have programs in place. Data has generally shown low levels of infection inside schools.

The White House, marking the first anniversary of the pandemic, announced the testing plan as part of its overall school strategy, which also includes prioritizing teachers for vaccination. The White House also plans a “Safe School Reopening Summit” later this month.

11:30 p.m.
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All U.S. adults to be eligible for vaccine by May 1, Biden to announce in prime-time address

President Biden will direct states to make all U.S. adults eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine no later than May 1, senior administration officials said Thursday, in a preview of Biden’s prime-time address Thursday night.

The Biden administration is also aiming for families and friends to be able to gather in small groups by July 4 — in time to celebrate Independence Day, said senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the speech.

“The fight is far from over. We still have a lot of work to do. But together, unified, we can defeat this pandemic and we can all celebrate a more normal Fourth of July with families and friends,” Biden is expected to say in his first prime-time address as president, where he will also touch on how his administration plans to increase access to the vaccine and steps being taken to reopen schools.

Biden will use his authority via the Department of Health and Human Services to direct states to make all adult Americans eligible for the vaccine by the May 1 deadline, officials said. The administration is confident it will make the goal because of a push to increase the vaccine supply, the number of vaccinators and the number of places people can receive the vaccine, they said.

To help on those fronts, the administration will double the number of pharmacies where the vaccine is available and also double the number of federally run mass vaccination centers. Biden is also expected to announce in his speech the deployment of more than 4,000 active-duty National Guard troops to help with vaccine administration, bringing the total to 6,000.

Dentists, physician assistants, veterinarians and medical school students will also be added to the list of eligible vaccinators, officials said.

Biden will make clear that Americans will need to continue to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautions as recommended by the CDC — and that he will not be recommending “large events” for the Fourth of July, officials said.

“But it does mean that we can once again have an Independence Day with small gatherings and celebrations, and that’s a big step in the right direction,” one senior administration official said. “We believe that, if we do our part, we will be in a much better place by Independence Day, and we can start to resume more of our normal activities.”

10:46 p.m.
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Geraldo Rivera will not run for Senate seat in Ohio after all

Conservative news commentator Geraldo Rivera said he will not run for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio after all, after tweeting Wednesday that he was “pondering” the idea. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) has said he will not seek reelection in 2022.

“After a 36-hour pondering whirlwind I’ve decided not to seek public office. Erica and I deeply appreciate the good wishes of those cheering the idea,” Rivera tweeted Thursday in reply to a news story about his potential campaign.

Rivera, a friend of former president Donald Trump, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday that he planned to go on a listening tour of the state before officially deciding whether to get in the race. Although Rivera has defended Trump in his role as a pundit on Fox News, he also has been critical of the former president’s behavior after the 2020 election.

Rivera, a native New Yorker who has a home in Ohio, said he’d be a Republican who would “scare the bejesus out of the Democrats and the far-right wing of the Republican Party.”

10:44 p.m.
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Harris swears in Merrick Garland as attorney general in ceremony at Justice Department building

Vice President Harris swore in Merrick Garland as attorney general Thursday night at the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building in a ceremony that marked a return to tradition — and a departure from the practice during the Trump administration of attorneys general being sworn in at the White House.

Several recent attorneys general — including Eric H. Holder Jr. and Loretta E. Lynch during the Obama administration and Michael B. Mukasey and Alberto R. Gonzales during the George W. Bush administration — were sworn in at the Justice Department building.

But under Trump, the ceremony took a different direction.

Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, was sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House. Trump’s second attorney general, William P. Barr, was sworn in at the White House, as well, by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.

During his time in office, Trump frequently emphasized that he wanted an attorney general who would be his loyal, personal protector. President Biden, by contrast, has emphasized the importance of maintaining the Justice Department’s independence.

“I want to be clear to those who lead this department who you will serve — you won’t work for me,” Biden said in January at an event where he introduced Garland as his choice for attorney general. “You are not the president or the vice president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation.”

9:42 p.m.
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Recording reveals details of Trump call to Georgia’s chief elections investigator

President Donald Trump encouraged Georgia’s chief elections investigator in a December phone call to uncover “dishonesty” in her investigation of absentee ballot signatures in an effort to reverse his defeat against Joe Biden in the state, according to a recording of the call released this week by the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

“The people of Georgia are so angry at what happened to me,” Trump told Frances Watson, the chief investigator for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, according to the recording. “They know I won, won by hundreds of thousands of votes. It wasn’t close.”

He added, “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.” Later on the call, he said, “You have the most important job in the country right now.”

The Washington Post reported on the substance of Trump’s Dec. 23 call in January, describing him saying that Watson should “find the fraud” and that she would be a “national hero,” based on an account from Jordan Fuchs, the deputy secretary of state, whom Watson briefed on his comments.

In fact, he did not use those precise words.

Rather, Trump urged the investigator to scrutinize Fulton County, where she would find “dishonesty,” he said.

He also said, “whatever you can do, Frances, it would be — it’s a great thing. It’s an important thing for the country. So important. You’ve no idea. So important. And I very much appreciate it.”

9:41 p.m.
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Former defense secretary says Trump caused riot with Jan. 6 speech, Vice News reports

Christopher C. Miller, who was the acting secretary of defense under former president Donald Trump, told Vice News that he believes Trump’s speech on Jan. 6 prompted the mob of his supporters to march on and overrun the U.S. Capitol in a violent insurrection that resulted in five deaths.

“I don’t know but it seems cause-and-effect, yeah,” Miller told Vice. “Would anybody have marched on the Capitol, and tried to overrun the Capitol, without the president’s speech? I think it’s pretty much definitive that wouldn’t have happened. So, yes. The question is, did he know he was enraging people to do that? I don’t know.”

In previews of the interview, which will air in full on March 14, Miller said he did not speak to Trump that day. Miller described Trump’s speech on the morning of Jan. 6 as “concerning,” but noted “there had been a lot of rhetoric spewed over the previous bunch of years.”

Miller has been criticized for the Defense Department’s delayed deployment of the National Guard after the riots began. However, Miller defended the department’s actions in the Vice News interview.

“It comes back to understanding how the military works. This isn’t a video game,” Miller said.

When pressed about broader concerns that Trump could have orchestrated a military coup, Miller brushed off the scenario as “speculative” and “complete hyperbole.” He said that he would have resigned before crossing “any of those lines.”

“I can’t imagine any situation where the armed forces of the United States would abide by an illegal order,” Miller said, adding that he believed that would have been the case even if the order had come from the president. “If it’s antithetical to the Constitution or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, it’s an illegal order and you don’t follow it.”