The sales pitch — including a visit by Biden on Tuesday to Chester, Pa. — will feature a host of top administration and Cabinet officials and is expected to encompass Republican-leaning states, too. Biden could visit Ohio, for instance, as early as next week, according to two people familiar with the plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.
The early itinerary reflects a clear political calculation, with the first and second families visiting four states — Georgia, Nevada, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania — that could prove crucial to maintaining Democrats’ tenuous hold on the Senate in the 2022 midterms.
Biden is scheduled to visit the two states he wrested from Republican control last year that also have competitive Senate races — Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Georgia on Friday, where he will be accompanied by Harris.
First lady Jill Biden was in New Jersey on Monday and is heading to New Hampshire on Wednesday. Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff headed to Colorado on Tuesday after visiting Nevada on Monday. Emhoff is also scheduled to make a stop Wednesday in New Mexico.
Though public polls show that the relief package is popular with the majority of the country, administration officials — many of whom also worked in the Obama administration — say they learned lessons from Democrats’ failure to rally the public around former president Barack Obama’s stimulus package in 2009 and the Affordable Care Act in 2010. They are hoping to use the travel campaign to harness existing momentum and inform Americans how they can benefit from the relief package.
Speaking Tuesday at Smith Flooring — a Black-owned flooring business in a Philadelphia suburb — President Biden stressed the tangible specifics of the bill: “We’re going to get 100 million shots in people’s arms within the first 60 days of my administration and 100 million checks out,” Biden said. “100 million people are going to be getting, not a joke, a check for $1,400, which would change their lives.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Monday that the president’s focus is less on selling the package, and more on clearly explaining how to access its intended relief. Last week, she said, she and Biden were speaking about the $1,400 direct payments to most families when he asked her, “How do you explain to people how checks get out the door?”
“So this is what’s on his mind, right?” she said. “How do people know how this money will help their schools? You know, how do they know, you know, how this will help get vaccines in the arms of their friends and family members?”
Although Republicans were unified in voting against the package, the party has struggled to settle on a clear message in opposition. Some Republicans have publicly voiced support for aspects of the legislation, while defending their disapproval of the package overall.
Republicans have offered varying reasons to oppose the package, from decrying it as part of Democrats’ “socialist agenda” to arguing that it only narrowly addresses the coronavirus crisis and includes wasteful spending. Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), the chair of the Senate Republicans’ campaign arm, has warned about the impact of the stimulus on the federal debt.
Unlike with the Obama-era stimulus and health-care initiatives, Biden and his team may benefit from the fact that the effect of the coronavirus relief package should begin taking hold almost immediately for many voters.
“They understand that you have to ram it into people’s brains that the improvement they see is connected to the covid relief bill,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who served as communications director under Obama. “But of course that only works if things are actually getting better, and the good thing about this bill is the relief is immediate.”
Administration officials and outside allies said part of the Biden team’s strategy is to convince the public that government can be trusted to improve their lives. They also argued that unlike former president Donald Trump, Biden plans to work even for Americans who did not vote for him.
“You want to restore credibility in government, not just from the Trump years, but in general,” Palmieri said. “They want you to know that Democrats made this happen, but they’re also making the victory shared across the board with the American people.”
The travel and public relations push will continue over at least the next three weeks, with each day this week having a different theme, ranging from “Help for Small Business” (Tuesday) and “Help for Schools” (Wednesday) to “Help Immediately With Direct Checks” (Friday), according to administration officials.
On Tuesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough visited Purple Patch, a Filipino restaurant in the District’s diverse Mt. Pleasant neighborhood, whose owner and chef, Patrice Cleary, served in the Marine Corps for eight years. The community fixture has survived the pandemic, albeit with a 45 percent loss in revenue, Clearly told McDonough, explaining how she repurposed the first-floor dining room into a sari-sari — or convenience store — where the sizable local Filipino community buys favorites to go, such as pork rinds, empanadas, calamansi juice, papaya salad and a wide variety of rums.Political groups have also started to put money behind the effort. The Democratic National Committee is running a 60-second ad titled “Help Is Here” in battleground states and paid for billboards to call out Republicans who voted against the rescue package. American Bridge, a pro-Democratic super PAC, is also kicking off its $100 million nationwide campaign for the cycle with a six-figure advertising buy in Pennsylvania.
“Right now it’s about survival,” said Cleary, 47, whose mother helps with the business. The American Rescue Plan gives priority to veteran-owned businesses like Purple Patch, which can apply for a slice of $28.6 billion in restaurant revitalization grants that will be administered by the Small Business Administration.
“Your story is the story of women veterans throughout this country,” McDonough told Cleary as she gave him a tour of the restaurant’s newly opened butcher shop in the basement of a converted rowhouse.
“We’re going to level with the American people at every step of the way and communicate clearly about why this plan matters to them and their family, and how they can access the benefits afforded to them,” White House deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon wrote to senior staff last week in a memo obtained by The Washington Post.
O’Malley Dillon added that administration officials and surrogates would do local TV interviews and highlight the bipartisan support for the plan that exists outside Washington, particularly among mayors and other local elected officials.
“It’s a lot of money across a wide section of programs, and so they really do feel an obligation to have people understand where the money is going and how to access it, and that’s not just individual citizens but local governments and small businesses and lenders,” said Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist. “They believe if they do that part right, the politics will take care of itself.”
But the travel schedule also sends an unmistakable message that the White House is already working to avoid the disastrous showing in the midterms that historically has bedeviled the sitting president’s party.
Democrats say the overlap between the competitive 2022 Senate races and traditional battleground states helps the White House achieve its dual goals of working to hold the Senate and thanking voters who supported Biden.
“It’s a huge benefit that we’re going to have Democratic leaders going to these states, talking about all the positives in this legislation and making sure that voters understand what’s in it and making that case proactively instead of allowing Republicans to define it,” said Stewart Boss, the press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
That effort is no more apparent than in Georgia, where Biden is expected to be joined by Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael G. Warnock, who delivered Democrats the majority after winning runoff races there in January. Warnock is up for reelection in 2022, and Psaki told reporters Monday that the Georgia trip was to “underscore how they and congressional Democrats fulfilled their promise in delivering $1,400 checks to finish the job of $2,000 in direct relief to millions of Americans.”
Cabinet officials also plan to be heavily involved in the full-court press to sell the package, with some expected to start traveling next week. Lily Adams, a former top Harris aide, joined the Treasury Department on Monday and is expected to play a key role in coordinating various government agencies’ communication efforts.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, in particular, will play an outsize role with a frenzy of media appearances, officials said, while Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia L. Fudge will join Psaki in the White House briefing room this week to discuss the elements of the plan that fall under their purview.
Lisa Rein contributed to this report.