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Power Up: Save the date: Biden sets July 4 as return to some normal life after pandemic year

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with Tobi Raji

Good morning. It's Friday. We made it. We miss Major and Champ. This is the Power Up newsletter.

At the White House

FULL CIRCLE: After a year of somber milestones, holiday traditions upended, and life as we know it indefinitely altered, President Biden presented the American public with a date to look forward to.

Speaking from the East Room of the White House in his first prime-time address, Biden said that Americans may be able to safely gather together in small groups to celebrate the Fourth of July. He dangled the possibility of family and friends celebrating at backyard cookouts — if they get their coronavirus vaccinations, and follow steps now to keep cases trending down despite the new variants. 

  • He directed states to ensure that all adults are eligible for a vaccine by May 1 and announced a new goal to maintain the current pace of 2 million vaccinations a day, instead of his more modest initial goal of 1 million per day.
  • Biden also announced the federal government would create a centralized website for all Americans to find vaccine appointments, and offer technical support in states that already have scheduling websites. “No more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones,” he said. 

The sliver of good news came hours after an early victory of his presidency: Biden signed a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package into law on Thursday afternoon, sending direct payments to Americans as soon as this weekend

Biden also mourned a year of “collective suffering” and “collective sacrifice,” with Biden noting that he keeps the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. written on a card he carries in his pocket every day.

The speech, halfway through Biden's first 100 days, also marked a little over a year since Biden's remarkable campaign revival. It was Super Tuesday in March of last year when Biden defied expectations to win big and put himself on the path to become the party's nominee. 

At the time, Biden's establishment credentials and decades of political experience were seen as a liability — and viewed with skepticism by the progressive wing of the party. Last night, Biden made the case for good government from the podium, highlighting the White House's work to marshal resources across the federal government to ramp up vaccine distribution, provide economic relief, and define ways for Americans to “get our lives back.”

  • Put trust and faith in the government to protect its people. Government isn't a foreign force in a distant capital. It's us; it's all of us, he said.
  • Biden also touted the expansion of the social safety net through American Rescue Plan — one of the largest stimulus measures in U.S. history. He cited the package's $1,400 checks for struggling Americans, extended unemployment benefits, an extension of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the child tax credit he said will “cut child poverty in half.”
  • “When properly organized, the same government that mobilized for World War II and landed men on the moon can in fact save lives on a mass scale,” the New York Times's David Sanger writes. “To the Biden administration, that meant taking the vaccines developed in record time and devising a vital distribution system.”
  • “After years in which government was denigrated as more of an impediment to national greatness than a vehicle of progress, when conspiracy theories about a pernicious 'deep state' still abound, [Biden] made the case on Thursday night that a simple show of government competence was itself a turning point, Sanger added. 

Looking directly at the camera, Biden did not mention Trump by name but blamed the previous administration for allowing the virus to spread “unchecked” due to “denials for days, weeks, then months that led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness.” 

  • Worth noting: Biden officials are building on some of former president Trump's ideas — like the collaboration between longtime rivals that jointly produced a coronavirus vaccine. Senior leaders at Merck and Johnson & Johnson told our colleagues Dan Diamond and Isaac Stanley-Becker that the breakthrough touted by Biden last night was conceived of by the Trump administration.
  • “Pharmaceutical executives credited Biden’s team for critical work to forge the alliance but acknowledged the deliberations began during the Trump administration,” they write.

Republicans, who did not support the widely popular relief bill, were already playing down Biden's role: 

  • “President Biden and this Democratic government inherited a tide that had already begun to turn toward decisive victory,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor yesterday, per our colleague Sean Sullivan, conveniently “sidestepping the widespread dysfunction and disinformation that characterized Trump’s handling of the virus.”

NOT SO FAST: Biden's aides are “wary of overpromising that a full recovery is around the corner,” Sean reports

  • Variants could prove a complicating factor: “The administration on Thursday touted money in the recently enacted pandemic relief bill dedicated to genomic sequencing to track variations.”
  • Biden himself also pleaded with Americans to “do their part — and that's not a hyperbole” by continuing to “keep washing their hands, stay socially distanced, and keep wearing the masks as recommended by the CDC.”

NEXT WEEK: The White House will hit the road to pitch the American Rescue package on what it has dubbed the “Help is Here” tour.

  • “Biden plans to begin traveling Tuesday with a trip to Delaware County, Pennsylvania,” per CBS News's Tim Perry. “First lady Jill Biden is also expected to stay east, making a trip to Burlington, New Jersey, on Monday. Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel back to the West Coast, stopping in Las Vegas on Monday and Denver on Tuesday. Emhoff will remain out west and make a stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Wednesday.”
  • “Finally at the end of next week, the president and vice president will travel together to Atlanta.”

The policies

STIMULUS BREAKDOWN: “In contrast with the emergency bills passed last year, the Democratic bill focuses the vast majority of aid on households, states and cities, and vaccine distribution,our colleagues Alyssa Fowers, Heather Long and Kevin Schaul report. (Use our calculator to find out how much you might receive directly.) 

THE ROAD AHEAD: “Fresh off a major legislative victory on the coronavirus relief package, Biden is facing a new round of battles on the next pieces of his agenda,” our colleague Seung Min Kim reports

  • On immigration: Biden has proposed an immigration overhaul that “would be a potential panacea to the growing crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, considering its focus on addressing the root causes of migration from Central America.”
  • Infrastructure: “Infrastructure may be the more immediate priority [but] the White House has declined to say whether Biden would be open to reconciliation, with officials noting that the president hasn't even proposed a bill.”
  • Big picture: “[C]orralling near-unanimous support will be key considering few Democratic lawmakers are showing much appetite for negotiating with Republicans, particularly if it means watering down their ambitious priorities ahead of the 2022 midterms.”

On the Hill

GOP EFFORTS COULD IMPERIL VOTING RIGHTS: “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 sweeping contraction of ballot access in the United States since the end of Reconstruction, when Southern states curtailed the voting rights of formerly enslaved Black men,” our colleagues Amy Gardner, Kate Rabinowitz and Harry Stevens report

  • “In 43 states across the country, Republican lawmakers have proposed at least 250 laws that would limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting with such constraints as stricter ID requirements, limited hours or narrower eligibility to vote absentee.”
  • “Proponents say the provisions are necessary to shore up public confidence in the integrity of elections … But in most cases, Republicans are proposing solutions in states where elections ran smoothly, including in many with results that [former president] Trump and his allies did not contest or allege to be tainted by fraud.”
  • “The measures are likely to disproportionately affect those in cities and Black voters in particular, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic — laying bare, critics say, the GOP’s true intent: gaining electoral advantage.”

Also: The House voted to expand background checks for gun sales. 

Outside the Beltway

SORROW AND STAMINA, DEFIANCE AND DESPAIR: Our colleagues Reis Thebault, Tim Meko and Junne Alcantara tell the story of the year of coronavirus.

  • “Weeks before American life ground to a halt, the coronavirus was blazing a mostly silent path across the country, burrowing deep into people’s lungs and launching an attack that would expose nationwide vulnerabilities, scar a generation and reshape the world.”
  • “For most people, March 11 was when the covid-19 crisis first became real. It was the day of a high-profile diagnosis, major event cancellations and an official designation: pandemic. Schools closed, streets emptied and commuters stayed home. We didn’t know it then, but the virus already had infected thousands of Americans.”

The investigations

N.Y. DEMOCRATS LAUNCH IMPEACHMENT PROBE: “The New York State Assembly on Thursday authorized an investigation of sexual harassment allegations against New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a potential first step toward impeachment,” our colleague Michael Scherer reports

  • “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.”
  • Forty Democratic Assembly members, 19 Democratic state senators and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio have called for Cuomo’s resignation. The lawmakers said Cuomo had “lost the confidence of the public and the state legislature, rendering him ineffective in this time of most urgent need,” per Scherer.

Important: “If the Assembly Democrats voted with the Assembly’s 43 Republicans for impeachment, Cuomo would be referred for a trial in the state Senate, where the Democratic majority leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, has also called for Cuomo to resign,” per Scherer.

TRUMP ASKED A GEORGIA OFFICIAL TO UNCOVER ‘DISHONESTY’: Trump “encouraged [Frances Watson, the chief investigator for Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger] in a December phone call to uncover ‘dishonesty’ in her investigation of absentee ballot signatures in an effort to reverse his defeat against Biden in the state,” our colleague Amy Gardner reports

  • Trump: “The people of Georgia are so angry at what happened to me. They know I won. It wasn’t close. When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised.”
  • “At the time Trump called her, Watson was leading an audit of mail ballot signatures in Cobb County, a suburb of Atlanta. Legal experts have said the president’s outreach — and another call he placed directly to Raffensperger on Jan. 2 — may have amounted to obstruction of a criminal investigation.”
  • “The Fulton County district attorney’s office has launched a probe into the efforts by Trump and his allies to subvert the results in Georgia.”
After falsely saying he won the election, then-President Donald Trump on Dec. 23 urged a top investigator in Georgia's mail-in ballot audit to find wrongdoing. (Video: The Washington Post)

From the courts

JUDGE REINSTATES THIRD DEGREE MURDER CHARGE: “The judge overseeing the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer [Derek Chauvin] charged in the death of George Floyd reinstated a third-degree murder charge in the case Thursday,” our colleague Holly Bailey reports

In the media



FROM ACTOR TO POLITICIAN? … alright, alright, alright!