A pothole named McConnell
President Joe Biden has talked about seeking bipartisan buy-in for his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, but it’s already looking like Democrats will have to find a way to build it themselves and pave over emerging differences within their party.
“I’m going to fight them every step of the way,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who vowed to oppose the plan “every step of the way.” An advocacy organization representing major companies including AT&T, FedEx, Kimberly-Clark, Home Depot, Toyota and UPS blasted Biden’s plan to raise corporate taxes.
Biden, holding his first Cabinet meeting, tasked five of its members with leading the effort to sell his plan to the American public. “Working with my team here at the White House, each Cabinet member will represent me in dealings with Congress, engage the public in selling the plan and help organize the details as we refine it and move forward,” Biden said.
White House chief of staff Ron Klain left the door open to using the same tactic that put Biden’s coronavirus relief package over the top in the Senate — a budget reconciliation process that would only require holding together the Democrats’ 50-vote majority rather than attracting enough Republicans for a filibuster-proof 60 votes.
Democratic signoffs on Biden’s plan were no given. House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.), the top Democrat for tax policy in the chamber, said, “We will accept some of what he is proposing.” But Neal wants to see financing from other measures besides taxes, such as bonds and expanded tax credits in the legislation his panel will begin writing within four to six weeks.
On the party’s left, there are complaints Biden’s plan should be more ambitious. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-Bronx/Queens) said she has “serious concerns that it’s not enough” and it should go “go way higher” — $10 trillion over 10 years rather than $2 trillion over eight years. Some environmentalists said the plan’s shift away from fossil fuels that cause climate change was not substantial enough. But organized labor is mobilizing to get the package with its promise of new construction and manufacturing jobs passed.
Klain said he is willing to hear from a small coalition of moderate House Democrats, including Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), who have said they will not support any package that does not repeal the $10,000 state and local tax deduction cap enacted in 2017 under President Donald Trump. For more, see Newsday’s story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Built it up or tear it down?
Biden’s infrastructure blueprint acknowledges roadbuilding in the past has created inequities — highways bored through neighborhoods that were predominantly home to people of color.
It singled out as an example the elevated Claiborne Expressway, which cut through New Orleans’ Tremé section in 1969 and is the subject of a community campaign to tear it down and restore the avenue at street level, The Washington Post reported. Biden’s plan calls for a $20 billion fund to “reconnect” neighborhoods cut off by old transportation projects.
Already, Biden’s Department of Transportation is invoking the Civil Rights Act to pause a highway project near Houston, an early test of the administration’s willingness to wield federal power to address a long history of government-driven racial inequities, Politico writes.
The intervention follows complaints from local activists that the state’s proposed widening of Interstate 45 would displace an overwhelmingly Black and Hispanic community, including schools, places of worship and more than 1,000 homes and businesses.
Janison: Gaetz probe a MAGA peril
Lurid personal scandals involving Congress members of both parties come and go, but the storm surrounding Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) has special reach and implications for future leadership of the national GOP, writes Newsday’s Dan Janison.
If proved, the allegation under FBI review that Gaetz was involved in sex trafficking of a minor would make a mockery of the QAnon fiction that elite foes of the right wing run pedophilia rackets. So far, the “Q” crowd is sticking with Gaetz, who long ago made his MAGA bones with Trump and aided recent efforts to void by procedural trickery Trump’s election defeat.
Trump’s convicted-but-pardoned Republican operative Roger Stone, another Floridian, has stepped forward, offering one of his trademark contrivances — that Gaetz has been targeted for his conservatism, however one may define it. As House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy looks to recoup a majority next year, Gaetz presents an awkward problem.
Did he pay to play with campaign cash?
Federal investigators looking into Gaetz’s relationships with young women have examined whether any federal campaign money was involved in paying for travel and expenses for his female companions, CNN reported, citing a person briefed on the matter.
Investigators are reported to be examining whether the Florida Republican engaged in a relationship with a woman that began when she was 17 years old and whether his involvement with other young women broke federal sex trafficking and prostitution laws.
Investigators are also pursuing allegations from witnesses and other evidence that Gaetz may have used cash and drugs in his dealings with young women, CNN was told by sources. Gaetz has denied the allegations and portrayed himself as the victim of an extortion plot.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that Gaetz should at a minimum be removed from the House Judiciary Committee if the claims are true.
Another lurid allegation emerged in a separate CNN report. According to multiple sources, Gaetz — at times on the House floor — showed off to other lawmakers photos and videos of nude women he said he had slept with, the network reported.
There’s no indication these pictures are connected to the Justice Department investigation, CNN said.
Biden studies up on student debt write-off
Biden has asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to examine the president’s legal authority to cancel up to $50,000 in student college loan debt, White House chief of staff Ron Klain said Thursday.
Once Cardona reports back, Biden will “look at that legal authority, he’ll look at the policy issues around that, and then he’ll make a decision,” Klain said in an interview with Politico. “He hasn’t made a decision on that, either way, in fact, he hasn’t yet gotten the memos that he needs to start to focus on that decision.”
Klain’s comments come as Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and other Democrats are pressuring Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in student debt via executive action. Biden has voiced support for canceling up to $10,000.
Klain said Biden is hoping to see memos from Cardona and the Justice Department “in the next few weeks.”
Optimism on economy rises
Views of the nation’s economy are the rosiest they’ve been since the coronavirus pandemic began more than a year ago, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs.
The survey found 46% of Americans overall now view the economy as good, up from the 37% who felt that way last month. Views of the economy had tanked at the onset of the pandemic in April last year, when 29% said it was in good shape.
Democrats feel increasingly optimistic as Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package is distributed across the country. The poll found that 58% of Democrats now describe economic conditions as good, compared with 35% of Republicans.
More coronavirus news
See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday’s Bart Jones and David Reich-Hale. For a full list of Newsday’s coronavirus stories, click here.
What else is happening:
- In an ESPN interview on the eve of MLB’s Opening Day, Biden on Wednesday chided the Texas Rangers for admitting fans at full capacity while other teams are keeping crowds smaller for social distancing. Biden also supported calls to move the 2021 All-Star Game away from Atlanta in response to Georgia’s newly passed voting restrictions law.
- The infighting, backstabbing and chaos that exemplified Trump’s White House is being replicated in his post-presidency, Politico reports. Competing factions are seeking to capitalize on their time with Trump to score new business and political clients. arousing Trump’s usual ire about people making money off him. Trump recently brought in Florida-based GOP consultant Susie Wiles to bring order to fundraising and endorsements.
- The United States may not need AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine, even if it wins U.S. regulatory approval, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease official, told Reuters on Thursday. With three vaccines in the pipeline for the U.S., Fauci said he feels “we have enough vaccine to fulfill all of our needs without invoking AstraZeneca.”
- The State Department welcomed a European Union announcement that the six other participants in the Iran nuclear deal will meet this week to discuss a possible return of the United States to the 2015 accord. Iran already rejected an EU proposal for a meeting that included the United States, which demands it returns to compliance with the deal that Trump tossed out.
- Vice President Kamala Harris and her team are pushing back at attempts to make her the face of the Biden administration’s response to the crisis at the border, CNN reported. They contend Biden’s role for her centers on diplomatic efforts with Central American governments, and not dealing directly the migrant surge.
- Biden’s top national security and economic advisers plan to meet April 12 with semiconductor and auto companies to discuss the global shortage of microprocessors, Bloomberg News reported. The chips shortage is due to increased demand for microprocessors in the pandemic. Auto companies have been forced to idle production in plants around North America due to backlogs in supply chains.