WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden plans to take a nationwide victory lap following the passage of his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package as he sells his first legislative achievement to the American public.
The measure was unanimously opposed by Republicans in Congress.
Biden, who is expected to sign the bill Friday, will travel Tuesday to Delaware County, a suburb of Philadelphia that was key to his victory in Pennsylvania, and Vice President Kamala Harris will travel Monday to Las Vegas; Nevada is another key swing state. The stops are expected to be the first in a string of trips for Biden and Harris in the coming weeks.
The road trip will follow Biden’s first prime-time address to the American people, scheduled for Thursday night.
A senior administration official said Biden, who worked on the speech overnight Tuesday, would take a tone that is in part “somber” as he addresses the crisis Americans have faced: the lives that have been lost, the jobs that have been lost and the broader impact over the past year.
But he will also try to show that “there is light,” the official said, and give an update on what his team has been doing to increase vaccines, vaccinators and vaccine doses.
And while Biden will mention the Covid-19 relief bill, the official did not expect it to take up a significant part of the address. Instead, Biden wants to keep the focus on the sacrifices Americans have made and the path forward.
The administration says others who have worked on the speech include chief of staff Ron Klain, senior adviser Mike Donilon and Vinay Reddy, the director of speechwriting, as well as the Covid-19 team.
The package of funding for programs from schools to public transit has widespread public approval, with 70 percent in a Pew survey saying they support the legislation, including 41 percent of Republicans. But Biden was unable to get bipartisan support in Congress with a fractured Republican Party uniting in opposition and accusing Democrats of out-of-control spending. Administration officials have said they plan to use Republicans’ opposition to the bill as a key talking point in the midterm elections next year.
“He wants to ensure that people have access to this information, so he will be hitting the road, the vice president will be hitting the road, the first lady will be hitting the road,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “We will have people out communicating directly in communities, but we’ll also use a range of tools at our disposal, including engaging and communicating through digital means, doing local interviews and also utilizing a number of members of our Cabinet who have key roles in the implementation.”
The White House plans to put surrogates and senior administration officials on television and to work with a group of 400 mayors and governors, both Democrats and Republicans, to tout passage of the bill, according to an internal White House memo.
Officials with the U.S. Conference of Mayors said they are working with the White House to connect mayors and members of the administration as they develop their travel schedule. The group is working with mayors so they “understand the full extent of the bill and its implementation, since it contains additional funds for cities beyond the state and local aid component.”
The White House had said it was limiting Biden’s domestic travel because of concerns over Covid-19. Harris’ visit to Las Vegas will be her first trip as vice president, and Biden has made just a handful of stops as president, including a visit to Texas after the state’s severe winter storms and a visit to a Pfizer vaccine plant in Michigan. Harris will also be in Denver on Tuesday.
Passage of the bill has been the top priority inside the White House; officials say much of Biden’s agenda depends on getting the money requested for vaccine distribution and school reopenings and carrying through on his campaign promise to get most Americans a total of $2,000 in direct payments.
Biden watched the passage of the bill Wednesday with Harris and a small group of White House officials in the Roosevelt Room, an administration official said. Because of Covid-19 restrictions, it was a much smaller group than might otherwise have gathered for such a significant early victory. Klain told senior staff members over Zoom on Wednesday morning that in ordinary circumstances they would all watch together.
The White House messaging strategy for Biden’s victory lap will center on giving the public tangible examples of how the law is helping them and their communities, like emphasizing the $1,400 direct payments and the child tax credit, the internal White House memo said.
“In total, each day we’ll talk about one of 10 key aspects of the plan that will benefit regular Americans: from additional money for veterans health, to lower health care premiums, support for small business, and money to reopen schools safely,” said the memo from deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon.
Biden already had a graphic up on Twitter and Instagram noting that “checks are on the way.”
The organized White House effort is a shift from the Trump administration, whose officials talked about doing a similar sales pitch after the passage of sweeping tax cuts but struggled to stay on message with a commander-in-chief who created his own string of daily controversies.
The legislation will direct $1,400 direct payments to individuals making under $75,000 and $2,800 to married couples who make less than $150,000. Individuals making up to $80,000 and joint filers up to $160,000 will get some money, but not the full amount. The direct cash includes up to $1,400 per dependent, including adult dependents.
In addition to direct payments and child tax credits, the bill will provide $14 billion to distribute vaccines and $49 billion for Covid-19 testing, contact tracing and personal protective equipment. It also includes $125 billion for K-12 schools and nearly $40 billion for higher education. It will provide $39 billion in child care grants, $25 billion in rental assistance and $30 billion for public transit, as well.
Implementation will be an “all-hands-on-deck effort across the administration,” the White House memo said.