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Biden Assails Republicans Over Voting Rights and Defends Record on Border

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WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Thursday that Republican efforts to limit voting rights were “sick” and “un-American,” vowing to prevent states from taking what he called “despicable” actions that undermine democracy by making it harder for people to cast ballots.

Speaking to reporters in the East Room of the White House for his first formal news conference, Mr. Biden said he would do “everything in my power” to pass voting rights legislation now under consideration in the Senate. But when asked about ending the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to approve most legislation — one of the biggest obstacles to the voting rights bill and much of the rest of his agenda — the president was more cautious, suggesting he was open to change but not committing himself to it.

The 60-vote threshold imposed by the filibuster was being “abused in a gigantic way,” Mr. Biden said, reiterating his support for a proposal that would require senators to keep talking in order to block legislation — a shift in practice that could deter routine use of the rule.

“I strongly support moving in that direction,” he said.

But he also signaled more directly than he has previously that he might eventually back more far-reaching proposals to limit or abolish the filibuster if doing so turned out to be essential for passage of a voting rights measure and other key elements of his agenda in a Senate that is currently divided 50 to 50.

“If there’s complete lockdown and chaos as a consequence of the filibuster,” the president said, “then we’ll have to go beyond what I’m talking about.”

During a question-and-answer session that lasted more than an hour, Mr. Biden said it was his “expectation” that he would run for re-election in 2024, with Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.

He said for the first time that he “can’t picture” American troops still in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year, though he repeated that it would be hard to have them out by the current deadline of May 1. And he promoted his administration’s progress in fighting the health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic, vowing to deliver 200 million vaccinations by the end of April — twice his previous pledge — even as the government also delivers a big new infusion of financial aid.

“As of yesterday, more than 100 million payments of $1,400 have gone into people’s bank accounts,” the president said, referring to the $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” that he pushed through Congress with no Republican support. “That’s real money in people’s pockets bringing relief instantly, almost. And millions more will be getting their money very soon.”

But even as he said that the pandemic remained the country’s “most urgent problem” and promised that “hope is on the way,” Mr. Biden was barraged with questions about his handling of the surge of migrants — especially children — at the U.S. border with Mexico.

He insisted, sometimes emotionally, that officials in his government were doing everything they could to treat migrant children humanely, and he repeatedly blamed former President Donald J. Trump for the overcrowding in border facilities.

“The idea that I’m going to say, which I would never do, ‘If an unaccompanied child ends up at the border, we’re just going to let him starve to death and stay on the other side’ — no previous administration did that either, except Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it.”

Former Trump administration officials accused the president of mischaracterizing his predecessor’s border policies, and said Mr. Biden’s efforts to embrace a more “humane” immigration policy had invited a surge in migrants. At the same time, they noted that the current administration was still relying on a Trump-era policy of expelling most migrants because of the pandemic.

Mr. Biden said his administration would intensify efforts to move migrant children out of crowded conditions at the border. He added that he had directed his top immigration officials this week to accelerate the pace at which migrant children are placed with relatives already living in the United States.

“They’ll get a whole hell of lot better real quick, or we’re going to hear of some people leaving,” he said. “We can get this done. We’re going to get it done.”

The news conference was Mr. Biden’s first extended grilling by journalists since taking office more than two months ago. Since then, his advisers have carefully controlled his interactions with the news media, which have included one-on-one interviews and some limited opportunities for reporters to ask questions during brief appearances.

A veteran politician with a long history of verbal gaffes during unscripted moments, Mr. Biden has entered the presidency with more than his usual amount of discipline about his message. But his decision to finally face reporters in a more formal way — a White House tradition for decades — was a test of his ability to maintain that discipline under pressure.

Standing in front of American flags in the stately East Room, the president offered detailed answers across a range of topics. He rambled through some of his answers — demonstrating a former senator’s ability to filibuster — and displayed annoyance with some of his inquisitors as well as flashes of humor, referring at one point to “when I came to the United States Senate 120 years ago.”

Mr. Biden said he remained committed to bipartisanship, but defined it more as winning the support of Republican voters for policies like the stimulus package, which polls show is popular across party lines, than in winning the votes of elected Republicans on issues like infrastructure, gun control, climate change, immigration and voting rights.

“My Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we want to work together, or they decide that the way in which they want to proceed is to — is to just decide to divide the country, continue the politics of division,” he said.

Advisers to the president had delayed Mr. Biden’s first news conference until after passage of the stimulus package, hoping to use the highly anticipated event as part of a victory lap as he promotes the benefits of the economic stimulus measure and tries to build support for even more spending.

He used his opening remarks to celebrate what he cast as encouraging signs for the economy, citing new forecasts that show economic growth for the year could reach 6 percent.

But Mr. Biden’s appearance came at a moment of national mourning over mass shootings in Colorado and Georgia, and just hours after North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast — both of which serve as reminders that a president’s agenda can often be derailed or shifted by national or global events.

Mr. Biden had previously signaled that it was unlikely that the United States would withdraw its 2,500 remaining troops from Afghanistan by the May 1 deadline mandated in an agreement that Mr. Trump reached with the Taliban. But he had left open the question of whether the troops would remain indefinitely, as many in the Pentagon have argued is necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions About the New Stimulus Package

The stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

“If we leave, we’re going to do so in a safe and orderly way,” he said, adding moments later that “it is not my intention to stay there for a long time.”

The president also said that North Korea’s decision to launch missiles violated United Nations resolutions and promised to “respond accordingly.” But he opened the door to negotiations, “conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization,” something that North Korean officials have previously said they would never agree to.

On the mass shootings over the past two weeks, the president played down the urgency of quickly passing gun safety legislation.

“Successful presidents, better than me, have been successful, in large part, because they know how to time what they’re doing,” Mr. Biden said when asked about what actions he planned to take after the back-to-back mass shootings that killed 18 people.

“Order it. Decide priorities,” he said before quickly shifting to a different topic: his desire to spend up to $3 trillion more to “rebuild the infrastructure — both physical and technological infrastructure — in this country.”

Responding to the mass shooting this week at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo., Mr. Biden had called on the Senate to pass a ban on assault weapons and to close background check loopholes. But so far, his administration has done nothing to indicate it plans to spend much political capital on proposals that were immediately met with a blockade of opposition by Republicans.

Mr. Biden’s criticism of attempts by Republican-controlled state legislatures to impose new voting restrictions were blistering. He compared the efforts — which include limits on early and absentee voting — to the Jim Crow-era laws that blocked Black Americans from voting in Southern states by imposing poll taxes, literacy tests and other restrictions.

“I am convinced that we’ll be able to stop this because it is the most pernicious thing,” Mr. Biden said at his first formal news conference. “This makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle. I mean, this is gigantic what they’re trying to do, and it cannot be sustained.”

But the political reality of a deeply divided Congress may make it difficult for the president to succeed. Even as Mr. Biden indicated his support for Democratic legislation aimed at blocking the Republican efforts, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia — a member of his own party — distanced himself from the current version of what would be the most significant federal election overhaul in a generation, including a major expansion of voting rights.

A day after Democratic leaders used the first Senate hearing on the overhaul to propel the nearly 900-page behemoth to the top of their legislative agenda, Mr. Manchin, the most conservative Democrat in the chamber, called for the proposal to be sharply pared back and renegotiated with Republicans. He said there were “legitimate” concerns over some of its provisions.

“We can and we must reform our federal elections together — not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans to restore the faith and trust in our democracy,” Mr. Manchin said in a statement.

Mr. Biden’s pledge to double the number of vaccinations during his first 100 days was in keeping with the president’s pattern: aim low, and when it is clear the initial target will be exceeded, adjust upward to another attainable goal.

The nation is already on track to meet the 200 million figure. As of Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a total of 130 million shots had been administered, and that 14 percent of the American population was fully vaccinated.

Reporting was contributed by Thomas Kaplan, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Annie Karni, Jim Tankersley, Nicholas Fandos and David E. Sanger

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In Washington, Policy Revolves Around Joe Manchin. He Likes It That Way.

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WASHINGTON — If Democrats eliminate the filibuster, there is one senator who would have an outsized impact in the 50-50 chamber on issues that could reshape the nation’s future: infrastructure, immigration, gun laws and voting rights. That senator is Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.

There is also a senator whose opposition to eliminating the filibuster is a significant reason it may never happen. That senator, too, is Mr. Manchin.

“He should want to get rid of the filibuster because he suddenly becomes the most powerful person in this place — he’s the 50th vote on everything,” said Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware, sketching out the argument.

Mr. Manchin, however, does not see it that way. To the exasperation of Democrats, delight of Republicans and bewilderment of politicians who can’t understand why he wouldn’t want to wield more power, Mr. Manchin, a former governor of the state, isn’t budging.

“Sixty votes,” he said in an interview last week in his office, referring to the threshold required to advance most legislation, adding that he would not consider suspending the filibuster for certain bills, as some of his colleagues have floated: “You’re either committed or not.”

But with 18 people dead after two mass shootings within a week, a worsening migrant challenge on the border and Republicans trying to restrict voting in almost every state where they hold power, liberals believe this moment cries out for a different sort of commitment. At a time when they have full control of Congress and are confronting overlapping crises, many Democrats feel a moral and political imperative to act, process be damned.

That puts Mr. Manchin, 73, at the center of the most important policy debates in Washington — and has set the stage for a collision between a party eager to use its majorities to pass sweeping legislation and a political throwback determined to restore bipartisanship to a chamber that’s as polarized as the country.

Mr. Manchin believes that ending the legislative filibuster would effectively destroy the Senate. He recalled his predecessor, Robert C. Byrd, telling him that the chamber had been designed to force consensus.

Mr. Manchin has expressed willingness to support a “talking filibuster,” in which lawmakers have to actually hold the floor, perhaps for many hours, to block a vote. But he has not yielded on getting rid of it altogether and on an array of issues, including voting rights and gun control, his admonition is less about any particular policy end and more about making sure the legislation has support from both parties.

More broadly, Mr. Manchin’s resistance to ending the filibuster has ripened fundamental questions about which version of Congress would be more dysfunctional: a body stymied by gridlock or one that can pass legislation only by scrapping longstanding guidelines so it can push through party-line votes?

“You can’t make the place work if nothing significant is getting passed,” said Representative Ro Khanna, a leading progressive from California.

Mr. Manchin worries that the short-term benefit of ditching the filibuster would backfire for Democrats over the long term.

“I’m concerned about the House pushing an agenda that would be hard for us to maintain the majority,” Mr. Manchin said about the progressive legislation that House Democrats are stacking up at the Senate door. As for pressure from the left, he said, tauntingly: “What are they going to do, they going to go into West Virginia and campaign against me? Please, that would help me more than anything.”

To a growing number of his Democratic colleagues — and not just liberals — it’s naïve to keep putting hope over history, and believe, as Mr. Manchin said about gun legislation, that Republicans may say, “Listen, it’s time for us to do the reasonable, sensible thing.”

Of course, few in a Senate that depends on Mr. Manchin for a 50th vote will say outright that their colleague is indulging in fantasy.

“Joe’s focus, I believe, is bipartisanship, and I agree with the starting point,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, before lowering the boom: “They weren’t going to give us a single vote,” he said about the stimulus bill.

A former high school quarterback who friends say still relishes being at the center of the action, Mr. Manchin is something of a unicorn in today’s Congress. As a pro-coal and anti-abortion Democrat, he reflects a less-homogenized era when regionalism was as significant as partisanship and senators were more individual actors than predictable votes for their caucus.

Twice elected governor before claiming Mr. Byrd’s seat, he’s the only lawmaker standing in the way of an all-Republican congressional delegation in West Virginia, a state that former President Donald J. Trump carried by nearly 40 points last year. And he is an unlikely majority-maker of the Democratic Senate.

“We really are the big tent,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, before knowingly adding: “Now it’s a lot of work when you have a big tent, right? But that’s the way we have a majority.”

While out of step with his national party on some issues, and written off by parts of the left as little better than a Republican, his politics are more complex, even confounding, than they appear at first glance.

He provided the deciding vote on two of the biggest liberal priorities of this era — blocking repeal of the Affordable Care Act in 2017 and on passage of the nearly $2 trillion stimulus bill this month — while also twice voting to convict an impeached president wildly popular in his home state.

And while he may admire Mr. Byrd’s dedication to Senate tradition, Mr. Manchin has not emulated his predecessor by leveraging his power to focus relentlessly on steering spending projects back to West Virginia.

When Mr. Manchin was holding out on a single amendment that was delaying passage of the stimulus bill, White House aides were perplexed because his price for supporting the measure was not additional money for his impoverished home state. His main request, West Wing officials said, was to pare back spending and consider Republican input that could have made the bill appear more moderate.

Mr. Manchin said President Biden warned him in a phone call that the progressive left in the House might balk if the bill were significantly trimmed. “I said, ‘Mr. President, all we’re trying to do is put some guard rails on this,’” he recalled.

He was less happy about Vice President Kamala Harris’s effort to nudge him on the legislation by making an appearance on a television affiliate in West Virginia to promote the bill without forewarning him. The clip went viral and, Mr. Manchin said, prompted cleanup conversations with Mr. Biden and the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain.

As for any pressure that he may feel on the filibuster, Mr. Manchin said he had reminded Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, of how essential he was to providing Democrats a majority.

He said he had told Mr. Schumer, “I know one thing, Chuck, you wouldn’t have this problem at all if I wasn’t here.”

He is not the only impediment to the sort of expansive liberal agenda preferred by many congressional Democrats or even the only one still defending the filibuster. Other Senate Democrats, including Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, also share his reluctance.

Yet none are as eager as Mr. Manchin to restore a bygone day of collegiality. And perhaps, more to the point, none are as happy as him to talk about the need to do so as he navigates representing a once-heavily Democratic state that had been shifting to the G.O.P. even before Mr. Trump arrived on the scene.

He crossed the aisle last year to endorse his closest Republican ally, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and is already co-hosting bipartisan lunches with her. He is plotting the post-pandemic restoration of his pizza-and-beer parties on the boat he calls home while in Washington. (It’s called “Almost Heaven,” the opening lyric to John Denver’s ode to West Virginia.)

Although some of his colleagues relish the ideologically-charged prime-time cable news programs, Mr. Manchin prefers another Washington institution that also flourished in less-polarized times: the Sunday morning show.

In the fashion of many former governors who grow exasperated with Washington’s glacial pace, at times he can barely contain his impatience. He’s repeatedly mused about leaving the Senate and trying to reclaim his old job in Charleston.

But those who know Mr. Manchin well believe he likes the attention that he receives in the capital, the same as he did as a signal-caller in Farmington, W.V., where he grew up near Nick Saban, the legendary football coach at the University of Alabama and a lifelong friend of Mr. Manchin.

“You’re in the hot seat when you’re a quarterback, but it’s pretty satisfying when you make progress,” said Nick Casey, a Manchin ally and former chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. Mr. Casey said the senator, who sustained an injury that cut short his playing days, was “the greatest QB who never got to start at West Virginia University — just ask him.”

Steve Williams, the mayor of Huntington, W.V., who served with Mr. Manchin in the state legislature, said: “This is the closest he has been to how he could be as governor, actually driving the agenda, pulling people together.’’

It’s the last part that most animates the senator. Happily bantering with reporters as he positions himself as a lonely, if well-covered, voice for comity, he shifts questions from policy to process.

“Why don’t you ask people when was the last time they took time to talk to some of the people on this side?” Mr. Manchin told a CNN reporter this week. “Try to convince them, or work with them. Have you had dinner with them? Have you had a lunch with them? Have you had a cup of coffee with them? Try something.”

A number of anti-filibuster Senate Democrats, though, are more focused on what Mr. Manchin’s support of the “talking filibuster” could portend.

“I think that gives us a lot of room for discussion,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, adopting a glass-is-half-full perspective.

What does seem clear is that Mr. Manchin is not going to switch parties.

“I don’t think that’s going to happen, although we’d welcome him with open arms,” said Ms. Collins, who has tried in the past to persuade her friend to join Republicans.

It’s not difficult to see why Mr. Manchin remains in his forefathers’ party. A Catholic of Italian descent, he sought John F. Kennedy’s desk when he arrived in the Senate, displays a picture of the slain president in his office lobby and can recall hearing that Massachusetts accent in his kitchen when Kennedy’s brothers came to his parents’ house during the West Virginia primary in 1960.

“Joe reminds me a lot of the old conservative Democrats in Texas,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “They were born Democrats. They’re going to die Democrats.”

As for the filibuster, Mr. Coons, who was sworn in alongside Mr. Manchin in 2010, said liberals shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Recalling a conversation with somebody who knows Mr. Manchin well, Mr. Coons said this person told him: “If the ghost of Robert Byrd came back to life and said the future of West Virginia itself is on the line he might … think about it.”

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C.D.C. Funding Gun Violence Research For First Time in Decades

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That was the argument he used to help persuade Congress to appropriate money for gun violence research in 2019. The research itself was never banned outright, and in 2013, weeks after the massacre that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Barack Obama directed the C.D.C. to reconsider funding studies on gun violence.

The agency commissioned a report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council outlining priorities, but little changed. By 2019, after Democrats reclaimed the House, liberal organizations like MoveOn.org were petitioning Congress to repeal the Dickey Amendment. Nearly every House Democrat signed on.

But Dr. Rosenberg argued it should remain intact, to “provide cover for Republicans and gun-loving Democrats who can put money into the science and tell their constituents, ‘This is not money for gun control.’ ”

Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat who chaired the House subcommittee that oversees the C.D.C.’s budget at the time, said she put $50 million into the appropriations bill that year, but the Senate, controlled by Republicans, eliminated it. The two chambers agreed on $25 million as a compromise, but she said she hoped to double the funding this year.

Dr. Naik-Mathuria, the Houston trauma surgeon, said she would like to see Washington address the problem of gun violence as a matter of injury prevention, not politics. She began researching methods to reduce gun violence about six years ago, she said, after seeing “kids come in dead because they shot themselves in the head when they found a gun at home.”

Her current study is aimed at determining risk factors for gun violence for children and adults, and her past work has led to some changes in medical practice, she said.

Pediatricians in Texas, she said, are hesitant to talk about gun safety out of concern that “it would anger parents or become political.” So she and her group made a broader safety video that tucked in messages about gun safety — like keeping guns locked and stored — with tips like how to keep children away from poison.

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Who Are Gavin Newsom’s Enemies?

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There’s still time for a lot to change: If the organizers of the recall effort reach the signature threshold, the vote to recall Mr. Newsom and to choose his successor — both would be done on a single ballot — probably wouldn’t occur until near the end of the year.

That recall effort is being led by Orrin Heatlie, a conservative and a former sergeant in the Yolo County Sheriff’s Department, who as recently as last year shared anti-vaccination and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. views online. But the endeavor has the backing of a number of deep-pocketed political action committees, most of them right-leaning.

Randy Economy, a political consultant and talk-radio host, serves as the lead adviser to Recall Gavin Newsom, the group organizing the effort. He said the governor’s behavior and demeanor had made the recall necessary. “It’s because of Gavin Newsom himself, and the way he conducts himself every day since he’s become governor,” Mr. Economy said in an interview. “It’s all been more about his image and self-aggrandizing, as opposed to fixing the problems.”

Mr. Newsom’s approval rating isn’t nearly as low as Gov. Gray Davis’s was in 2003, when voters ousted him in a recall. Arnold Schwarzenegger, running as a moderate Republican, was the beneficiary of that effort, winning the recall election and going on to serve as governor for more than seven years.

California politics are different — and decidedly more Democratic — than they were 18 years ago. Democrats now have a 2-to-1 advantage in terms of voter registration across the state. Just because there is a Republican-led effort does not mean that a Republican will be the one to ultimately benefit. Mr. Economy, who volunteered in 2016 for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign but has also worked for Democrats in the past, insisted that his team’s goal was not partisan in nature.

“Our job is not to pick the next governor; our job is to make sure that this governor’s recalled and removed from office,” he said.

The state is light on prominent (let alone popular) G.O.P. politicians, and some ambitious Democrats already appear ready to run through the open door. All of which points to a possible irony: Even if it were to become only the second successful recall effort in California history, the push — led by conservative interests — could ultimately lift up another Democrat, possibly one to the left of Mr. Newsom.

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