WASHINGTON — Democrats are betting they already have the key to success in the 2022 midterm elections: the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that President Joe Biden is poised to sign into law.
The House plans to give final passage to the Senate-approved legislation Wednesday, enabling Biden to start pushing money out the door. That includes $1,400 checks, $300-a-week federal jobless benefits, and funds for vaccine distribution.
It was a grueling task for Democrats to keep enough members in line to pass the bill. But the next part will be even harder: persuading voters to reward them, and beating back a determined Republican campaign to undermine it after they unified to vote against it.
History favors the GOP as the party in power usually loses congressional seats in midterm elections.
New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said selling the Covid-19 aid bill will be “a big piece of the puzzle” to hold the House majority.
“Anytime you’re delivering for the American people, you’re strengthening your position politically. So this is going to strengthen us because it’s good policy,” he said in an interview. “We should shout it from the rooftops that we are passing historic legislation that will reboot the economy and end the pandemic.”
The legislation includes a per-child cash payment of at least $3,000 for one year and an expansion of “Obamacare” subsidies for two years. The 2022 elections will directly affect the fate of those provisions: Democrats want to extend them, but Republicans may have other ideas if they seize control of Congress.
“They’re always ready to help a big corporation or a rich person, but when a working family needs help, the Republicans tell them to drop dead,” Maloney said, accusing the GOP of showing “a callous disregard for the urgency of this crisis.”
GOP operatives say they intend to highlight the bill’s flaws and turn voters against it, which could make it a defining issue as Democrats face major hurdles in passing other parts of their legislative agenda.
Republicans will accuse Democrats of using a virus emergency package to “pass a bunch of unrelated liberal spending,” said Chris Hartline, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which needs a net gain of one seat to win control.
“Nobody denies that there’s some stuff in the bill that’s popular,” he said. “But the cons of this bill have more staying power than the pros of this bill.”
Hartline said the party will run ads against vulnerable Democrats who voted down GOP amendments such as approving the Keystone pipeline, tightening restrictions on money going to anyone in the United States illegally — which Democrats say the bill already prohibits — and punishing schools that allow transgender athletes in girls sports.
A recent Monmouth University poll found that 62 percent of Americans generally support the $1.9 trillion plan, including 33 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents. But the messaging war has just begun: Fifty-two percent said they’ve heard “a lot” about the plan while 47 percent have heard “a little” or “nothing at all” about it.
An Associated Press poll showed 70 percent of U.S. adults approve of Biden’s handling of the pandemic.
“Who wouldn’t be in favor of the government depositing free money into their bank accounts?” said one Republican operative who works on campaigns and wasn’t authorized to concede that publicly.
The operative said Republicans will hit Democrats for failing to condition school money to reopenings, and criticize figures like Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., for voting for a $15 minimum wage, which was forced out of the package under Senate rules.
Privately, some Republican strategists downplay how decisive the relief bill will be in the 2022 election. Others lament that their party’s messaging has been incoherent — a far cry from the laser-focused attacks on the 2009 stimulus bill or Obamacare that fueled an avalanche of GOP midterm victories.
Still, Democrats have the ongoing task of justifying the $1.9 trillion price tag. Some strategists warn that it would be disastrous for the party if voters see the government spending heavily and don’t experience a meaningful improvement in their lives.
And the party knows it faces other challenges, too.
“With redistricting stacked against Democrats and decades of history showing voters delivering divided government during a president’s first midterm, we need to pitch a near perfect game,” said Tyler Law, a consultant and former aide to the Democratic House election arm.
The price of humility
The financial benefits in the Covid-19 relief bill are more immediate and tangible than the 2009 stimulus package. And now, unlike 2009, there is little grassroots enthusiasm against the Democratic push, with many conservatives more fired up over cultural issues. Some Republican lawmakers and activists are highlighting controversies over racist imagery in Dr. Seuss books to rally a disaffected base.
“We help people, they complain about irrelevant s—,” Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, countered.
In a March 6 memo to senior staff that was obtained by NBC News, top White House advisers Anita Dunn and Brian Deese called the Covid-19 relief bill “one of the most consequential — and most progressive — pieces of legislation in American history.”
“There’s still much more to be done, and absolutely no room for complacency,” they wrote, telling staffers that “the real work will begin” after Biden signs it into law and implements it.
The memo came days after Biden conceded that Democrats blew it in 2009, the last time they had power and had to deal with a crisis. He said then-President Barack Obama, his boss at the time, should’ve bragged more about his stimulus package.
“We didn’t adequately explain what we had done. Barack was so modest,” Biden told House Democrats. “I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.’ He said, ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.’ And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility.”
But Biden is forgoing one means of self-promotion his predecessor used: The White House said his name won’t appear on the $1,400 stimulus checks to be sent by mail.
Green Party in turmoil, leader resists calls to step down
Canada‘s Green Party was increasingly mired in an internal dispute over its position on Israel on Tuesday, and a news report said the bloc would hold a vote next month on whether to oust its leader, Annamie Paul, who was elected just eight months ago.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corp (CBC) reported that the Greens had triggered a process that could remove Paul, the first black person to head a mainstream Canadian party, beginning with a vote next month.
A Green Party spokesperson declined to comment on the report, but said the party’s “federal council” would meet later on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Paul, 48, rejected calls from the Quebec wing of the party for her to resign after a member of parliament left the Greens due to the Israel controversy.
“I believe that I have been given a strong mandate. I believe that I have been given the instructions to work on behalf of Canadians for a green recovery,” Paul said at a news conference in Ottawa.
Paul herself is not a member of parliament. The Greens – who champion the environment and the fight against climate change – had only three legislators in the 338-seat House of Commons and one, Jenica Atwin, abandoned the party last week to join the governing Liberals.
Atwin has said that her exit was in large part due to a dispute over the party’s stance on Israel. Atwin on Twitter has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, while a senior adviser to Paul, Noah Zatzman, has posted on Facebook that some unspecified Green members of parliament are anti-Semitic.
The party’s executive committee voted last week not to renew Zatzman’s contract, local media reported. Paul converted to Judaism some two decades ago after she married a Jewish man.
While the Greens are the smallest faction in parliament, they perform well in British Colombia and hold two seats there. The current turmoil may favor their rivals ahead of a national election that senior Liberals say could be just a few months away.
The Greens would win about 6.7% of the vote nationally if a vote were held now, according to an average of recent polls aggregated by the CBC.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
Hope, anger and defiance greet birth of Israel’s new government
Following are reactions to the new government in Israel, led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER
“We’ll be back, soon.”
JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES
“On behalf of the American people, I congratulate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, and all the members of the new Israeli cabinet. I look forward to working with Prime Minister Bennett to strengthen all aspects of the close and enduring relationship between our two nations.”
NABIL ABU RUDEINEH, SPOKESMAN FOR PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS
“This is an internal Israeli affair. Our position has always been clear, what we want is a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER VIA TWITTER
“On behalf of the UK, I offer my congratulations to
@naftalibennett and @yairlapid on forming a new government in Israel. As we emerge from COVID-19, this is an exciting time for the UK and Israel to continue working together to advance peace and prosperity for all.”
TOR WENNESLAND, U.N. MIDDLE EAST PEACE ENVOY VIA TWITTER
“I look forward to working with the Government to advance the ultimate goal of a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
CHARLES MICHEL, EUROPEAN COUNCIL PRESIDENT VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to Prime Minister @naftalibennett and to Alternate PM & MFA @yairlapid for the swearing in of the new Israeli government. Looking forward to strengthen the partnership for common prosperity and towards lasting regional peace & stability.”
FAWZI BARHOUM, HAMAS SPOKESMAN
“Regardless of the shape of the government in Israel, it will not alter the way we look at the Zionist entity. It is an occupation and a colonial entity, which we should resist by force to get our rights back.”
BENNY GANTZ, ISRAELI DEFENCE MINISTER
“With all due respect, Israel is not a widower. Israel’s security was never dependent on one man. And it will never be dependent on one man.”
CHUCK SCHUMER, U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER
“So, there’s a new Administration in Israel. And we are hopeful that we can now begin serious negotiations for a two-state solution. I am urging the Biden Administration to do all it can to bring the parties together and help achieve a two-state solution where each side can live side by side in peace.”
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, PRIME MINISTER OF CANADA
“Congratulations on the formation of a new Israeli government, Prime Minister @NaftaliBennett and Alternate Prime Minister @YairLapid. Together, let’s explore ways to further strengthen the relationship between Canada and Israel.”
MANSOUR ABBAS, ARAB MEMBER OF NEW ISRAELI GOVERNMENT
“We are aware that this step has a lot of risks and hardships that we cannot deny, but the opportunity for us is also big: to change the equation and the balance of power in the Knesset and in the upcoming government.”
DAPHNA KILION, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“I think it’s very exciting for Israel to have a new beginning and I’m hopeful that the new government will take them in the right direction.”
EREZ GOLDMAN, ISRAELI IN JERUSALEM
“It’s a sad day today, it’s not a legitimate government. It’s pretty sad that almost 86 (out of 120 seats) in the parliament, the Knesset, belong to the right-wing and they sold their soul and ideology and their beliefs to the extreme left-wing just for one purpose – hatred of Netanyahu and to become a prime minister.”
SEBASTIAN KURZ, CHANCELLOR OF AUSTRIA, VIA TWITTER
“Congratulations to PM @naftalibennett and alternate PM @yairlapid for forming a government. I look forward to working with you. Austria is committed to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and will continue to stand by Israel’s side.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Daniel Wallis and Lisa Shumaker)
Boris Johnson hails Biden as ‘a big breath of fresh air’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson hailed U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday as “a big breath of fresh air”, and praised his determination to work with allies on important global issues ranging from climate change and COVID-19 to security.
Johnson did not draw an explicit parallel between Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump after talks with the Democratic president in the English seaside resort of Carbis Bay on the eve of a summit of the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies.
But his comments made clear Biden had taken a much more multilateral approach to talks than Trump, whose vision of the world at times shocked, angered and bewildered many of Washington’s European allies.
“It’s a big breath of fresh air,” Johnson said of a meeting that lasted about an hour and 20 minutes.
“It was a long, long, good session. We covered a huge range of subjects,” he said. “It’s new, it’s interesting and we’re working very hard together.”
The two leaders appeared relaxed as they admired the view across the Atlantic alongside their wives, with Jill Biden wearing a jacket embroidered with the word “LOVE”.
“It’s a beautiful beginning,” she said.
Though Johnson said the talks were “great”, Biden brought grave concerns about a row between Britain and the European Union which he said could threaten peace in the British region of Northern Ireland, which following Britain’s departure from the EU is on the United Kingdom’s frontier with the bloc as it borders EU member state Ireland.
The two leaders did not have a joint briefing after the meeting: Johnson spoke to British media while Biden made a speech about a U.S. plan to donate half a billion vaccines to poorer countries.
Biden, who is proud of his Irish heritage, was keen to prevent difficult negotiations between Brussels and London undermining a 1998 U.S.-brokered peace deal known as the Good Friday Agreement that ended three decades of bloodshed in Northern Ireland.
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Britain that Biden had a “rock-solid belief” in the peace deal and that any steps that imperilled the accord would not be welcomed.
Yael Lempert, the top U.S. diplomat in Britain, issued London with a demarche – a formal diplomatic reprimand – for “inflaming” tensions, the Times newspaper reported.
Johnson sought to play down the differences with Washington.
“There’s complete harmony on the need to keep going, find solutions, and make sure we uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement,” said Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 campaign to leave the EU.
Asked if Biden had made his alarm about the situation in Northern Ireland very clear, he said: “No he didn’t.
“America, the United States, Washington, the UK, plus the European Union have one thing we absolutely all want to do,” Johnson said. “And that is to uphold the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, and make sure we keep the balance of the peace process going. That is absolutely common ground.”
The 1998 peace deal largely brought an end to the “Troubles” – three decades of conflict between Irish Catholic nationalist militants and pro-British Protestant “loyalist” paramilitaries in which 3,600 people were killed.
Britain’s exit from the EU has strained the peace in Northern Ireland. The 27-nation bloc wants to protect its markets but a border in the Irish Sea cuts off the British province from the rest of the United Kingdom.
Although Britain formally left the EU in 2020, the two sides are still trading threats over the Brexit deal after London unilaterally delayed the implementation of the Northern Irish clauses of the deal.
Johnson’s Downing Street office said he and Biden agreed that both Britain and the EU “had a responsibility to work together and to find pragmatic solutions to allow unencumbered trade” between Northern Ireland, Britain and Ireland.”
(Reporting by Steve Holland, Andrea Shalal, Padraic Halpin, John Chalmers; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Giles Elgood, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Mark Potter and Timothy Heritage)
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