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Stimulus Bill as a Political Weapon? Democrats Are Counting on It. – The New York Times

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The $1.9 trillion package is a big bet by the party that it will restore a sense of normalcy by the 2022 elections and that voters will defy history and reward Democrats with more seats in Congress.

WASHINGTON — Triumphant over the signing of their far-reaching $1.9 trillion stimulus package, Democrats are now starting to angle for a major political payoff that would defy history: Picking up House and Senate seats in the 2022 midterm elections, even though the party in power usually loses in the midterms.

Democratic leaders are making one of the biggest electoral bets in years — that the stimulus will be so transformational for Americans across party lines and demographic groups that Democrats will be able to wield it as a political weapon next year in elections against Republicans, who voted en masse against the package.

Republicans need to gain only one seat in the Senate and just five in the House in 2022 to take back control, a likely result in a normal midterm election, but perhaps a trickier one if voters credit their rivals for a strong American rebound.

Yet as Democrats prepare to start selling voters on the package, they remain haunted by what happened in 2010, the last time they were in control of the White House and both chambers of Congress and pursued an ambitious agenda: They lost 63 House seats, and the majority, and were unable to fulfill President Barack Obama’s goals on issues ranging from gun control to immigration.

It has become an article of faith in the party that Mr. Obama’s presidency was diminished because his two signature accomplishments, the stimulus bill and the Affordable Care Act, were not expansive enough and their pitch to the public on the benefits of both measures was lacking. By this logic, Democrats began losing elections and the full control of the government, until now, because of their initial compromises with Republicans and insufficient salesmanship.

“We didn’t adequately explain what we had done,” President Biden told House Democrats this month about the 2009 Recovery Act. “Barack was so modest, he didn’t want to take, as he said, a ‘victory lap.’”

Now they are determined to exorcise those old ghosts by aggressively promoting a measure they believe meets the moment and has broader appeal than the $787 billion bill they trimmed and laced with tax cuts to win a handful of Republican votes in Mr. Obama’s first months in office.

Republicans say the Democratic bet is a foolhardy one, both because of how little of the spending is directly related to the coronavirus pandemic and because of fleeting voter attention spans. But Democrats say they intend to run on the bill — and press Republicans over their opposition to it.

“This is absolutely something I will campaign on next year,” said Senator Raphael Warnock of Georgia, who may be the most vulnerable incumbent Senate Democrat in the country on the ballot in 2022. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, who heads the Democratic Senate campaign arm, said he would go on “offense” against Republicans who opposed the bill and sketched out their attack: “Every Republican said no in a time of need.”

Party lawmakers point out that the measure Mr. Biden signed on Thursday is more popular than the 2009 bill, according to polling; contains more tangible benefits, like the $1,400 direct payments and unemployment benefits; and comes at a time when the pandemic and former President Donald Trump’s continued appetite for big spending have blunted Republican attacks.

Doug Mills/The New York Times

“People are going to feel it right away, to me that’s the biggest thing,” said Representative Conor Lamb, a Pennsylvania Democrat whose 2018 special election victory presaged the party’s revival. “Politics is confusing, it’s image-based, everyone calls everyone else a liar — but people are going to get the money in their bank accounts.”

And, Representative Sara Jacobs of California said, Democrats have “learned the lessons from 2009, we made sure we went back to our districts this weekend to tell people how much help they were going to get from this bill.”

Mr. Obama’s aides are quick to note that they did promote their stimulus and the health care law but ran into much more fervent, and unified, opposition on the right as the Tea Party blossomed and portrayed the measures as wasteful and ill-conceived.

At the end of last week, with the House’s first extended recess looming at month’s end, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed House Democrats to seize the moment.

Ms. Pelosi’s office sent an email to colleagues, forwarded to The Times, brimming with talking points the speaker hopes they’ll use in town halls and news conferences. “During the upcoming district work period, members are encouraged to give visibility to how the American Rescue Plan meets the needs of their communities: putting vaccines in arms, money in pockets, workers back on the job and children back in the classroom safely,” it said.

For their part, White House officials said they would deploy “the whole of government,” as one aide put it, to market the plan, send cabinet officers on the road and focus on different components of the bill each day to highlight its expanse.

Democrats’ hopes for avoiding the losses typical in a president’s first midterm election will depend largely on whether Americans feel life is back to normal next year — and whether they credit the party in power for thwarting the disease, despair and dysfunction that characterized the end of Mr. Trump’s term.

If voters are to believe the Democrats are delivering on an American rebound, of course, it’s essential the country is roaring back to prepandemic strength in a way it was not at the end of 2009, when unemployment reached 10 percent.

“You could be looking at an extraordinary growth spurt in the third and fourth quarters, and that takes you into the year when candidates make their way,” said Representative Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, where much of the bill was crafted.

The politics of the legislation, in other words, will be clear enough by this time next year. “If all the sudden you got high inflation and things are hitting the fan, Republicans are going to run on it,” said Representative Filemon Vela, a Texas Democrat. “If things are going well they’re going to run on something else.”

For now, Republicans are expressing little appetite to contest a measure that has the support of 70 percent of voters, according to a Pew survey released last week.

Part of their challenge stems from Mr. Trump’s aggressive advocacy for $2,000 direct payments in the previous stimulus package late last year, a drumbeat he’s kept up in his political afterlife as he argues Republicans lost the two Georgia Senate runoffs because they did not embrace the proposal.

It’s difficult for congressional Republicans to portray one of the main elements of the Democrats’ bill as socialism when the de facto leader of their party is an enthusiastic supporter of wealth redistribution. Moreover, right-wing media outlets have been more focused on culture war issues that are more animating to many conservatives than size-of-government questions.

Asked if they would run against the bill next year, the House minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, said, “There’s going to be a lot of things we run against.”

Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

At the weekly news conference of House Republican leaders, Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming spoke about the stimulus for 45 seconds before changing the subject to the rising number of migrants at the Southern border.

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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.

And by the end of the week, Mr. McCarthy announced he and a group of House Republicans would travel to the border on Monday in a bid to highlight the problem there — and change the subject.

After spending the campaign vowing to find common ground with Republicans and make Washington work again, Mr. Biden, in his first major act as president, prioritized speed and scale over bipartisanship.

He and his top aides believe in legislative momentum, that success begets success and that they’ll be able to push through another pricey bill — this one to build roads, bridges and broadband — because of their early win on Covid-19 relief.

“The fact that we could do it without Republicans forces them to the table,” said a senior White House official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the nitty-gritty of lawmaking.

Yet to the G.O.P. lawmakers who have signaled a willingness to work with the new administration, Mr. Biden’s determination to push through the stimulus without G.O.P. votes will imperil the rest of his agenda.

“What I would be worried about if I were them is what does this do to jeopardize bipartisan cooperation on other things you want to do — you can’t do everything by reconciliation,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, alluding to the parliamentary procedure by which the Senate can approve legislation by a simple majority. “I’ve heard some of our members say that, ‘If you’re going to waste all this money on unrelated matters, I’m really not interested in spending a bunch more money on infrastructure.’”

To Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, who was one of the Senate Republicans who went to the White House last month pitching a slimmed-down stimulus, it’s downright bizarre to hear Democrats claiming their 2010 difficulties stemmed from not going big.

“I would argue it was too big, it was unfocused, it was wasted money,” Ms. Capito said.

To Democrats, though, they are avoiding, not repeating, their past mistakes.

“The public didn’t know about the Affordable Care Act and the administration was not exactly advertising,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters last week.

Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, was just as blunt, singling out the Maine moderate who was wooed by Mr. Obama to ensure bipartisan support for the 2009 Recovery Act but whose appeals for a far-smaller compromise bill were ignored last month.

“We made a big mistake in 2009 and ’10, Susan Collins was part of that mistake,” Mr. Schumer said on CNN. “We cut back on the stimulus dramatically and we stayed in recession for five years.”

And, he could have noted, his party would not have full control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue for another decade.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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