Biden, in Pennsylvania, Details $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan




‘Rebuild the Backbone of America’: Biden Unveils Infrastructure Plan

President Biden on Wednesday outlined his $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would rebuild and upgrade America’s physical infrastructure, funded primarily by an increase in corporate taxes.

Two years ago, I began my campaign here in Pittsburgh, saying I was running to rebuild the backbone of America. And today, I return as your president to lay out the vision of how I believe we do that — rebuild the backbone of America. It’s time to build our economy from the bottom up, from the middle out, not the top down. It hadn’t worked very well. For the economy over all, it hadn’t worked. Because Wall Street didn’t build this country, you — great middle class — built this country, and unions built the middle class. The American jobs plan will modernize 20,000 miles of highways, roads and Main Streets that are in difficult, difficult shape right now. We’ll also repair 10,000 bridges, desperately needed upgrades to unclog traffic, keep people safe and connect our cities, towns and tribes across the country. It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America, unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, it’s the largest American jobs investment since World War II. It will create millions of jobs, good-paying jobs, will grow the economy, make us more competitive around the world, promote our national security interest and put us in a position to win. The global competition with China in the upcoming years. It’s big? Yes. It’s bold? Yes. And we can get it done.

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President Biden on Wednesday outlined his $2 trillion infrastructure plan that would rebuild and upgrade America’s physical infrastructure, funded primarily by an increase in corporate taxes.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden introduced what he called a transformational plan to overhaul and upgrade America’s physical infrastructure on Wednesday afternoon, promising it would create the “most resilient, innovative economy in the world.”

“It is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Mr. Biden said. “It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America. Unlike anything we have seen or done, since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago. In fact, the largest American jobs investment since World War II.”

Mr. Biden appeared at a carpenters training center outside Pittsburgh to unveil his $2 trillion infrastructure plan, a far-reaching proposal that he will seek to pay for with a substantial increase in corporate taxes.

The scale of the infrastructure program he is rolling out — one of the most ambitious attempts in generations to shore up the nation’s aging roads, bridges, rail lines and utilities — is so big that it will require 15 years of higher taxes on corporations to fully offset eight years of spending.

The measure, called the American Jobs Plan, is the first step in a two-part agenda to overhaul American capitalism, fight climate change and try to improve the productivity of the economy. He said the second step, the American Family Plan, would come in a matter of weeks.

Despite his ambitious programs, Mr. Biden had pledged that his long-term economic agenda would not add further to the growing national debt. But the fact that his proposed tax increases would not cover his spending over the same period shows the challenge he has in balancing his big goals and the deficit.

Mr. Biden pitched the first phase of his plan in a variety of terms, including global competitiveness, racial justice and the fight against climate change. But he also appealed to Americans’ daily routines, promising higher wages, less expensive internet service and new transit lines that would reduce commuting times.

“These are investments we have to make,” he said.

Mr. Biden’s proposals include raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent and efforts to force multinational corporations to pay significantly more in tax to the United States on profits they earn and book overseas. The corporate tax rate had been cut under President Donald J. Trump to 21 percent from 35 percent. Mr. Biden said on Wednesday that his proposed tax changes on global income alone would raise $1 trillion over the span of 15 years.

Republicans and business groups criticized those tax proposals, calling them non-starters for bipartisan negotiations. Mr. Biden acknowledged the criticism, even as he defended asking companies to pay more in taxes. And he said he would continue to work on winning Republican support for his proposal. He had already spoken with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, about the bill and planned to invite other Republicans to the White House.

Mr. Biden challenged critics to offer their own proposals to pay for the plan. “I’m open to other ideas,” he said, “so long as they do not impose any tax increase on people making less than $400,000.”

The new plans come on top of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan Mr. Biden signed into law this month, which was financed entirely by borrowing and was passed with no Republican support. The programs reflect Mr. Biden’s campaign promises and a leftward shift in his party in recent years.

If his full set of proposals become law, they would mark a new era of ambitious federal spending to address longstanding social and economic problems. Their odds of passing Congress have risen in the midst of a pandemic in which lawmakers have approved record amounts of government spending to rescue the economy from recession.

The spending in the first phase of Mr. Biden’s two-part agenda includes a wide range of investments in physical infrastructure, including highways, mass transit and electric vehicle charging systems and upgrades to water pipes, the electric grid and veterans’ hospitals. It also includes a big increase in federal research and development spending and efforts to provide home-based care to older and disabled Americans.

The second step will feature spending and tax credits meant to invest in what liberal economists call human infrastructure. It will include aid to the poor, paid leave for workers and measures meant to reduce the cost of child care and help women work and earn more.

Together, those two proposals could cost as much as $4 trillion between spending increases and tax incentives. The second phase of the proposals is expected to include tax increases on high-earning individuals.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised to move President Biden’s infrastructure legislation through the House as quickly as possible.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has signaled that she hopes to pass President Biden’s big infrastructure bill as early as July 4 — even as Republicans lined up on Wednesday in near-lock-step opposition to the tax hikes planned to fund the $2 trillion measure.

The ambitious timetable could slip as debate intensifies over aspects of the plan, particularly since Democrats hold such a slim majority and cannot afford to lose many votes in the House.

In a statement, Ms. Pelosi called Mr. Biden’s big proposal a “a visionary, once-in-a-century investment in the American people” and promised to move it through the House as quickly as possible. The potential timeline was reported earlier by Punchbowl News.

Even before the president unveiled the package during a speech outside Pittsburgh, Democrats began rallying around the plan with statements of effusive praise. The measure includes a large scale upgrade of the nation’s bridges, roads, water treatment facilities, green energy programs, housing initiatives and improvements to the power grid.

Republicans have begun weighing in, and mostly negatively, on Mr. Biden’s proposal to hike taxes on corporations.

Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, warned that the proposed tax increases “could be the biggest economic blunder in our lifetimes.”

“Despite a long history of bipartisan agreement on the economic benefits of infrastructure,” he added, “President Biden has chosen a partisan path that severely weakens America’s competitiveness overseas and has China, Europe and our other economic competitors cheering.”

At an event in Kentucky on Wednesday, Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said Mr. Biden had called him about the proposal on Tuesday, but suggested he was unlikely to support the package, calling it a “Trojan horse.”

“Inside the Trojan horse is going to be more borrowed money and massive tax increases on all the productive parts of our economy,” Mr. McConnell said at the eventWhite House officials hope to pick off a few moderate Republicans, in part to nominally assert that the bill has bipartisan support. But Republican operatives were already working Wednesday to keep their troops in line.

“When you are talking about tax hikes of this magnitude, I don’t see there being any Republican support on the Hill,” Marc Short, a longtime aide to former Vice President Mike Pence, said in an interview.

Mr. Short, a veteran of anti-tax campaigns who worked for the Koch Brothers’ political network, has launched a new group, the Coalition to Protect American Workers, that is planning to raise $25 million to $50 million from conservative donors to fight Mr. Biden’s plan.

He said that “if the White House succeeds in enlisting any Republican support for the bill,” his group “would be messaging in those districts.”

All of this foreshadows a partisan battle on an issue that Mr. Biden had long pointed to as an area for bipartisan work.

It now seems more likely that Democrats will have to resort to budget reconciliation, the tactic used to ram through Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief pandemic bill, which leaves party leaders no room for defections in the Senate.

Rita Hart during a debate in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Credit…Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette, via Associated Press

Rita Hart, a Democrat who ran for Congress in 2020 in southeastern Iowa and lost by only six votes, withdrew her request on Wednesday to have the House overturn the election results, ending a bitter dispute that had threatened to become a political liability for her party.

The decision cemented Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a Republican doctor, as the winner of one of the closest House contests in American history. It also spared Democratic leaders from having to weigh in on whether to throw out the results of a contested election, only months after former President Donald J. Trump’s false claims of a stolen election fueled a partisan clash and a deadly riot at the Capitol.

Republicans had signaled they were ready to turn the dispute into a political cudgel against the majority party, and some vulnerable Democrats who had come under attack on the issue in their districts were deeply uncomfortable with the prospect of intervening.

In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Hart repeated her claim that voters had been “silenced,” but acknowledged that the contest had become politically fraught.

“Despite our best efforts to have every vote counted, the reality is that the toxic campaign of political disinformation to attack this constitutional review of the closest congressional contest in 100 years has effectively silenced the voices of Iowans,” Ms. Hart said. “It is a stain on our democracy that the truth has not prevailed and my hope for the future is a return to decency and civility.”

Ms. Hart’s campaign had identified 22 ballots that they believed were legally cast but “wrongfully” uncounted by state election officials during a districtwide recount in the fall. Rather than taking her case to court in Iowa before the election was certified, Ms. Hart opted to wait and appeal the results to the House Administration Committee, invoking a 1960s law.

With Democrats in control of the chamber, they would have run the review and had the power to order their own recount and a vote by the full House on whether to unseat Ms. Miller-Meeks and seat their own candidate instead, which could have added to their 8-seat majority.

Democratic leaders had argued that they were obliged to take the appeal seriously, but Republicans mobilized, charging them with hypocrisy and attempting to steal an election that had been verified by state officials. To drive home the point, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, flew to Iowa on Wednesday before Ms. Hart’s announcement to rail against what he termed an attempted political power grab designed to pad their margin of control.

“Iowans made a decision,” Mr. McCarthy said. “And it’s their voice, and they have a right to have Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who they elected, to continue to serve them.”

The dispute became a particularly tricky issue for politically vulnerable House Democrats, who became the targets of a coordinated pressure campaign on the matter. Republicans’ campaign arm found that the issue polled overwhelmingly favorably for them in the competitive districts they hope to flip in 2022.

Ray LaHood with President Barack Obama at the White House in 2013.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Ray LaHood, who served as transportation secretary for President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2013, took $50,000 from an associate of a Lebanese-Nigerian billionaire in 2012 and failed to disclose it, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.

Mr. LaHood, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, paid a $40,000 fine, according to the announcement from the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles. He also repaid the $50,000 he had received.

The office said that Mr. LaHood, who was “suffering financial difficulties” at the time, admitted to accepting a $50,000 check from an associate of the billionaire, Gilbert Chagoury. The memo of the check said “Loan,” the office said.

Mr. LaHood did not disclose the check on two government ethics forms because he “did not want to be associated with Chagoury,” and he later “made misleading statements” to F.B.I. agents, the office said.

Efforts to reach Mr. LaHood or a representative Wednesday evening were not immediately successful.

In a separate matter, the office said Mr. Chagoury had paid $1.8 million to resolve allegations related to illegal foreign campaign contributions.

In a news conference, Stephanie Miller, the director of the Pentagon’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, said an estimated 1,000 to 8,000 service members identify as transgender.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The Pentagon on Wednesday erased a Trump-era ban on transgender people serving in the military, issuing new rules that would offer them access to gender transition care and medical services denied under the Trump administration.

The sweeping guidelines allow transgender people to enlist and serve openly as the gender they identify with and receive medically necessary care authorized by law. They also prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity.

The change follows an executive order signed by President Biden in January that restored protections put in place during the Obama administration that had opened the ranks of the armed services to transgender people. The order gave the Defense Department 60 days to evaluate the guidelines.

The Pentagon announced the shift on the same day that Mr. Biden proclaimed a transgender “day of visibility.” The president and top administration officials posted on Twitter that “transgender rights are human rights” and called for Americans to stamp out discrimination against transgender people.

Advocates for the reversal of the ban were elated.

“We have consistently said that restoring a policy of full inclusion for transgender troops would be straightforward,” Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, said in a statement. “This is a big step toward making our military stronger and fairer, and it recognizes years of research showing that a single standard for all service members improves readiness and allows for the widest possible pool of qualified personnel.”

John F. Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said during a news conference that the Defense Department would “lead by example” on the issue of transgender rights.

Peter Navarro speaking to reporters outside the White House in October 2020.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Trump administration was so slow to prepare for the coronavirus pandemic that a top aide to President Donald J. Trump took matters into his own hands.

That aide, Peter Navarro, Mr. Trump’s deputy assistant and trade adviser, personally steered hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for pandemic supplies to politically connected or novice companies, a preliminary investigation by House Democrats has found.

Mr. Navarro sounded an early alarm about supply shortages, according to emails and other documents released by a House committee overseeing the federal coronavirus response. In a memo dated March 1, 2020, he complained that “movement has been slow.”

After that, documents show, he prodded the Federal Emergency Management Agency to award a $96 million sole-source contract for respirators to AirBoss Defense Group, a defense industry supplier, telling a company executive “everything you requested is OK,” even though no contract had been signed.

The agency awarded the sole-source contract six days later. AirBoss was represented by a retired Army general, Jack Keane, who had been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Mr. Trump just days before the contract was issued.

In a statement, Mr. Navarro said he wanted to move aggressively to combat the threat of the virus.

“In a war, you need to move with warp speed,” he wrote. “My mission was to assist the president in saving lives, which we undeniably did. Given the same set of facts, I would do everything exactly the same. Full stop!”

But the Democrats, led by Representative James C. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 House Democrat, questioned Mr. Navarro’s efforts.

They noted that officials in Mr. Navarro’s office had coordinated with executives at the Eastman Kodak Company, best known for its photography business, which then entered into a letter of intent in June 2020 to collaborate on the domestic manufacture of pharmaceutical agents, even though the company had no experience in that field.

Mr. Navarro also pushed for the Trump administration to award a $354 million contract to Phlow, a brand-new company in Richmond, Va., to manufacture generic medicines and pharmaceutical ingredients — an effort aimed at building up an American manufacturing base for products that were needed to treat Covid-19 but were made overseas. The Democrats’ investigation found that Mr. Navarro had been introduced to Phlow’s chief executive in November 2019.

“My head is going to explode if this contract does not get immediately approved,” Mr. Navarro wrote to top federal health officials in March 2020. “This is a travesty. I need PHLOW noticed by Monday morning. This is being screwed up. Let’s move this now. We need to flip the switch and they can’t move until you do. FULL funding as we discussed.”

Jill Biden, the first lady, delivered remarks for César Chávez Day, a holiday honoring the labor organizer.
Credit…Pool photo by Anna Moneymaker

DELANO, Calif. — Jill Biden, the first lady, traveled to California on Wednesday to visit a pop-up vaccination site for farmworkers who have lobbied for priority access to shots amid the pandemic.

She told them that their work — and their health — had been essential to a nation crippled by the virus.

“We depended on those who kept going to work every single day,” Dr. Biden told a crowd of about 100 farm workers who had gathered to mark the birthday of César Chávez, the labor organizer who formed the country’s first successful farmworker’s union. “Without the farmworkers who kept harvesting our food, or the factory workers who packaged it, the grocery store clerks who stocked shelves, no one would have made it through this year.”

When she arrived at the “Forty Acres” property just west of Delano, a National Historic Landmark that became the headquarters of the United Farm Workers of America, the first lady was greeted by several members of Mr. Chávez’s family.

Dr. Biden heard from a group of women farmworkers who picked grapes and blueberries in nearby fields. They asked the Biden administration to provide pathways to citizenship, protection from discrimination, and stronger union representation. “We’re a union couple,” Dr. Biden replied.

At one point, the first lady heard from a 27-year-old mother of three that some women were forced to bring their babies and young children to the fields because they did not have access to child care. The first lady told the woman that she hoped some money from the $1.9 trillion stimulus package would reach those workers, but the woman replied that many were undocumented.

In a sign of the labor movement’s significance to the Biden administration, a member of the Chávez family had traveled with her from Washington: Julie C. Rodriguez, the White House’s director of intergovernmental affairs, is Mr. Chávez’s granddaughter.

During her remarks, Dr. Biden said that President Biden supported the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, a bill that would grant temporary legal status to seasonal farm workers, many of whom are undocumented, and offer a 10-year path to citizenship.

“As president, Joe is fighting for people who often go unseen,” Dr. Biden said. “And that’s exactly the kind of immigration policy he’s working to build — one that treats children and families with dignity and creates fair pathways to citizenship, including for essential workers.”

Thousands of Central Valley farmworkers are scheduled to receive the coronavirus vaccine at Forty Acres over six weekends in March and April. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a Democrat, and his partner, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, joined the first lady at the site.

Earlier this year, California kicked off a landmark effort to get vaccines to farmworkers, many of whom are undocumented and whose close-quarter working conditions have left them particularly vulnerable to the virus. Researchers from Purdue University estimate that about 500,000 agricultural workers have tested positive for the virus and at least 9,000 have died from it. The virus has killed over 550,000 people in the United States, according to a New York Times count.

Over the course of Mr. Biden’s first two months in office, union leaders have praised his administration as one of the most labor-friendly in modern history. One of Mr. Biden’s first official acts was to move a bust of Mr. Chávez into the Oval Office, a decision Dr. Biden pointed out to applause at the event. Dr. Biden also frequently repeated the farmworker union’s motto, “Sí, se puede,” (“Yes, we can”) several times during the course of her speech.

“César dared to believe that our country could change — that we could change it,” Dr. Biden said. “Now, it’s on us to live up to that promise.”

Kenneth Chenault, left, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck, organized a letter signed by 72 Black business leaders.
Credit…Left, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images; right, Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Companies that remained silent last week as Georgia Republicans rushed to pass a law to restrict voting access reversed course on Wednesday in the face of mounting outrage from activists, customers and a coalition of powerful Black executives.

Delta, Georgia’s largest employer, had made only general statements in support of voting rights last week and had declined to take a position on the legislation. That muted response drew fierce criticism, as well as protests at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and calls for a boycott.

But on Wednesday, Ed Bastian, Delta’s chief executive, made a stark reversal. “I need to make it crystal clear that the final bill is unacceptable and does not match Delta’s values,” he wrote in an internal memo that was reviewed by The New York Times.

Coca-Cola, another of Georgia’s largest companies that had also declined to take a position on the legislation before it passed, made similarly worded statement.

“I want to be crystal clear,” said James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s chief executive. “The Coca-Cola Company does not support this legislation, as it makes it harder for people to vote, not easier.”

The abrupt reversals came less than a day after 72 prominent Black executives called on companies to publicly oppose a wave of similarly restrictive voting bills that Republicans are advancing in almost every state in the country.

That effort was led by Kenneth Chenault, a former chief executive of American Express, and Kenneth Frazier, the chief executive of Merck.

“There is no middle ground here,” Mr. Chenault said. “You either are for more people voting, or you want to suppress the vote.”

The executives did not criticize specific companies, but instead called on all of corporate America to publicly and directly oppose new laws that would restrict the rights of Black voters, and to use their clout, money and lobbyists to sway the debate with lawmakers.

“This impacts all Americans, but we also need to acknowledge the history of voting rights for African-Americans,” Mr. Chenault said. “And as African-American executives in corporate America, what we were saying is we want corporate America to understand that, and we want them to work with us.”

In the days before the Georgia law was passed, almost no major companies spoke out against the legislation, which introduced stricter voter identification requirements for absentee balloting, limited drop boxes and expanded the legislature’s power over elections.

The executives are hoping that big companies will help prevent dozens of similar bills in other states from becoming law.

“The Georgia legislature was the first one,” Mr. Frazier said. “If corporate America doesn’t stand up, we’ll get these laws passed in many places in this country.”

Michael Regan, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, said he intends to “reconstitute, restore and create new committees to better address E.P.A. priorities.”
Credit…Pool photo by Caroline Brehman

Michael Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, on Wednesday fired dozens of independent scientific advisers, many of whom were installed under the Trump administration, in an effort to rebuild what he described as a “balanced group of experts” to inform clean air and water policy.

The scientists and experts sat on independent boards which play a critical role at the E.P.A., advising the agency on everything from air quality standards to pesticide use.

In a statement, Mr. Regan said “resetting” the Science Advisory Board and the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee “will ensure the agency receives the best possible scientific insight to support our work to protect human health and the environment.”

Mr. Regan added that he intends to “reconstitute, restore and create new committees to better address E.P.A. priorities.”

But the decision was criticized by the American Chemistry Council as “irregular,” and some former board members said the move was every bit as political as decisions made under the Trump administration.

John Graham, who was appointed during the Trump administration to lead the Science Advisory Board, said the move showed the “progression of Washington D.C. into the notion that everybody gets to pick their own scientists,” and called it “very sad.”

“Now for the first time in the agency’s 50-year history, we have an administrator interested in scientific advice only from those scientists he has personally appointed,” said Dr. Graham, who does not intend to seek reinstatement to the board.

Supporters of the ousting noted that President Donald J. Trump’s administrators transformed the advisory boards in ways that courts ultimately found to be illegal, and prevented many independent scientists from serving, instead packing the boards with industry-funded specialists.

Chris Zarba, who previously served as director of the E.P.A.’s Science Advisory Board, called Mr. Regan’s purge necessary.

“It has not ever been done before,” Mr. Zarba said. But, he argued, the advisory boards “have never been in this situation before, so I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do. I don’t see any other alternative.”

Mr. Trump’s first E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, barred anyone who had received grants from the agency from serving on its boards, leading to the firing of several academic researchers and shutting out others from applying. A court later ruled the policy was illegal, but the agency did not restore those scientists.

In recent weeks, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security have also cleared out advisory boards that had been filled with Mr. Trump’s appointees.

Windmills dot the landscape on a wind farm in Carbon County, Wyo.
Credit…Benjamin Rasmussen for The New York Times

In 2017, as President Donald J. Trump was announcing the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the largest global effort to attack planetary warming, he declared, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

On Wednesday, President Biden traveled to Pittsburgh to try to make the opposite case: that the workers Mr. Trump was appealing to have more to gain from combating climate change than to lose.

It is going to be a tough bet. To Mr. Biden, a $2 trillion infrastructure plan is about creating union jobs, hundreds of thousands of them, in wind and solar power, electric cars and road- and bridge-building. Even those more basic infrastructure projects would have a climate angle: the new roads and bridges would be built to withstand the high waters and brutal storms of a changing climate.

“I am a union guy. I support unions, unions built the middle class. It is about time you start to get a piece of the action,” Mr. Biden said in Pittsburgh.

He promised “good paying jobs” for “American workers” making “American products.”

That is not a new pitch. For decades, Democrats have insisted “jobs versus the environment” is a false choice. But in the scale of his proposal and the audacity of his promises, Mr. Biden may be laying his political future on that idea.

He faces a lot of skepticism.

In Pennsylvania, which put Mr. Biden over the top in November, and then hosted his speech on Wednesday, some union workers don’t see how skills honed over decades in fossil fuel industries would translate in a clean-energy future.

“They keep saying, ‘We’re going to transition you into solar jobs.’ That’s not how it works,” said Shawn Steffee, a leader of the Boilermakers Local 154 in Pittsburgh. “We build power plants, petrochemical plants and maintain steel mills.”

He asked, “Would you ask Tom Brady to play middle linebacker just because he’s a football player?”

Activists supporting recreational marijuana legalization protested at the New York State Capitol in 2019.
Credit…Hans Pennink/Associated Press

While the White House is cracking down on the use of marijuana by staff members, governors and lawmakers around the country are taking a very different approach: accelerating their efforts to legalize cannabis and purge the criminal records of people convicted of possessing the drug.

On Wednesday, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill passed in the Democratic-controlled legislature that decriminalizes the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana, imposes a 13 percent sales tax on the substance, and purges the state records of those previously convicted of minor possession infractions.

Forty percent of the tax revenue from pot sales will be steered to communities where Black and Latino people have been disproportionately arrested on marijuana charges.

“For too long the prohibition of cannabis disproportionately targeted communities of color with harsh prison sentences,” said Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, said in a statement Tuesday night, soon after the state legislature passed the bill. He added, “This landmark legislation provides justice for long-marginalized communities, embraces a new industry that will grow the economy, and establishes substantial safety guards for the public.”

Earlier Wednesday, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, also a Democrat, asked lawmakers to legalize marijuana beginning July 1, rather than at the start of 2024, by amending a bill passed last month by the Democrat-controlled legislature that made it legal for residents to carry up to one ounce. Mr. Northam also proposed speeding up the expunging and sealing of marijuana-related criminal records.

The new provisions are likely to be passed by lawmakers during an upcoming one-week special session in Richmond.

The accelerated timetable will “advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records immediately,” Mr. Northam said in a statement on Wednesday. “Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way.”

Mr. Biden, unlike most other Democratic candidates in 2020, did not support federal legalization of marijuana, but he has said he supports the efforts of individual states to take action if they see fit.

And they have seen fit.

In the fall, voters in Arizona approved a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana in November. In January, less than three months after the vote, the Arizona Department of Health Services, under Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, began approving applications for dispensaries — months faster than had been anticipated.

“It was kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off,” said Jennifer Matarese, the president of a management company that runs Local Joint in Phoenix.

Several other states — New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana — voted in favor of legalization in November. New Jersey is expected to move fairly quickly, but in South Dakota and Montana recreational cannabis legalization is on a slower track.

The trend has come to a notable halt at the gates of the White House, though.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said earlier this month that five employees had been fired during employee security checks, and reminded reporters that possession of the drug is “still illegal federally.”

An I.T. management consultant worked from New Delhi in June after President Donald J. Trump’s executive order suspending H-1B visas prevented him from returning to the United States.
Credit…Manish Swarup/Associated Press

President Biden will let a ban on certain temporary foreign work visas expire on Wednesday, according to two administration officials, reopening a labor pool that was cut off by his predecessor during the coronavirus pandemic.

Former President Donald J. Trump blocked visas for a variety of jobs in a sweeping order last June, including those for computer programmers and engineers who enter the United States on H-1B visas, students on work-study programs and seasonal workers in the hospitality industry.

The Trump administration said at the time that the ban on temporary work visas, as well as a separate block on green cards, was necessary to protect employment opportunities for Americans who lost their jobs because of the economic toll of the pandemic. But numerous studies have shown that immigrants benefit the economy. Business leaders openly criticized the orders as blocking critically needed employees willing to work jobs that Americans are not willing to do or capable of doing.

After business associations filed a lawsuit against the order on foreign workers, a federal judge in California in October lifted the ban on a large number of the work visas.

The ruling at the time only applied to members of organizations that sued the administration, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, Intrax Inc., which sponsors cultural exchanges, and TechNet, a technology industry group.

Mr. Biden had already revoked Mr. Trump’s ban on new green cards, saying it did not “advance the interests of the United States.” Even during the pandemic, Mr. Biden said the restrictions harmed the nation by “preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

Virginia’s bill protecting and expanding access to voting comes at a time when Republican legislatures across the country have been seeking to erect new barriers to the ballot box.
Credit…Alyssa Schukar for The New York Times

Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia cleared the way for a landmark voting rights bill to become law in his state on Thursday, announcing his approval of a sweeping proposal that recreates one of the core components of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that has since been hollowed out by the Supreme Court.

The bill, called the Virginia Voting Rights Act, would recreate a process known as “preclearance” for any changes to election administration and logistics that would impact voting. Any locality in Virginia wishing to make changes to precinct locations, move elections offices and other changes would have to either hold a public comment period or seek approval from the state attorney general.

“At a time when voting rights are under attack across our country, Virginia is expanding access to the ballot box, not restricting it,” Mr. Northam said in a statement. “With the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, our Commonwealth is creating a model for how states can provide comprehensive voter protections that strengthen democracy and the integrity of our elections. I am proud to support this historic legislation, and I urge Congress to follow Virginia’s example.”

The provision is very similar to section 5 of the original federal Voting Rights Act, which forced states with a history of segregation and racially targeted voter suppression laws to obtain approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes to voting laws, regulations or administration. Virginia was one of the states under preclearance.

But the Supreme Court hollowed out enforcement of section 5 in a landmark decision in 2013, Shelby v. Holder, effectively removing the protection across the country.

Virginia’s bill protecting and expanding access to voting comes at a time when Republican legislatures across the country have been seeking to erect new barriers to the ballot box. Georgia passed a law last week overhauling the state’s election process with a host of new restrictions, and Texas, Arizona, Florida and other states are continuing efforts to pass similar bills.

Mr. Northam, a Democrat, said that he made minor technical adjustments to the bill, which was sponsored by Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Marcia Price, two Black lawmakers who are also Democrats. It is expected to be ratified by the state legislature when they reconvene on April 7 for final passage.

Hunter Biden in his art studio in Los Angeles in late 2019.
Credit…Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

Hunter Biden doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to personal revelations in his new memoir, “Beautiful Things,” which comes out on April 6.

“I’m a 51-year-old father who helped raise three beautiful daughters,” writes President Biden’s younger son, who now has a year-old son of his own, in the prologue.

“I’ve bought crack cocaine on the streets of Washington, D.C., and cooked up my own inside a hotel bungalow in Los Angeles.” He added, “In the last five years alone, my two-decades-long marriage has dissolved, guns have been put in my face, and at one point I dropped clean off the grid, living in $59-a-night Super 8 motels off I-95 while scaring my family even more than myself.”

The book is equal parts family saga, grief narrative and addict’s howl. Here are some key takeaways:

  • In 2016, while his father was vice president, Mr. Biden spent a month in a Washington apartment bingeing on vodka. He had relapsed after the death of his brother Beau the previous year. He recalls his father’s words toward him at the time: “He never let me forget that all was not lost. He never abandoned me, never shunned me, never judged me, no matter how bad things got — and believe me, from there they would get much, much worse.”

  • When it comes to his board membership at the Ukrainian company Burisma Holdings, Mr. Biden’s account is as dry as toast. An 18-page chapter that reads like a research paper compiled by a reluctant student. “The episode that led to the impeachment of a president and landed me in the heart of the decade’s biggest political fable is most remarkable for its epic banality,” he writes.

  • He credits his wife, Melissa Cohen, for his sobriety. They met in early 2019, when he was at a low point. An hour into their first dinner, they declared their love to one another. An hour after that, Mr. Biden told Ms. Cohen that he was a crack addict. She said, “Not anymore. You’re finished with that.”

Representative Matt Gaetz said in an interview that he had no plans to resign his House seat and denied that he had romantic relationships with minors.
Credit…T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

The Justice Department is investigating whether Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican of Florida and a close ally of former President Donald J. Trump, had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him, according to three people briefed on the matter.

Investigators are examining whether Mr. Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, the people said. A variety of federal statutes make it illegal to induce someone under 18 to travel over state lines to engage in sex in exchange for money or something of value. The Justice Department regularly prosecutes such cases, and offenders often receive severe sentences.

It was not clear how Mr. Gaetz met the girl, believed to be 17 at the time of encounters about two years ago that investigators are scrutinizing, according to two of the people.

The investigation was opened in the final months of the Trump administration under Attorney General William P. Barr, the two people said. Given Mr. Gaetz’s national profile, senior Justice Department officials in Washington — including some appointed by Mr. Trump — were notified of the investigation, the people said.

The three people said that the examination of Mr. Gaetz, 38, is part of a broader investigation into a political ally of his, a local official in Florida named Joel Greenberg, who was indicted last summer on an array of charges, including sex trafficking of a child and financially supporting people in exchange for sex, at least one of whom was an underage girl.

Mr. Greenberg, who has since resigned his post as tax collector in Seminole County, north of Orlando, was at the White House with Mr. Gaetz in 2019, according to a photograph that Mr. Greenberg posted on Twitter.

No charges have been brought against Mr. Gaetz, and the extent of his criminal exposure is unclear.

Mr. Gaetz said in an interview that his lawyers had been in touch with the Justice Department and that they were told he was the subject, not the target, of an investigation. “I only know that it has to do with women,” Mr. Gaetz said. “I have a suspicion that someone is trying to recategorize my generosity to ex-girlfriends as something more untoward.”

Mr. Gaetz called the investigation part of an elaborate scheme involving “false sex allegations” to extort him and his family for $25 million that began this month. He said he and his father, Don Gaetz, had been cooperating with the F.B.I. and “wearing a wire” after they were approached by people saying they could make the investigation “go away.”

In a second interview later Tuesday, the congressman said he had no plans to resign his House seat and denied that he had romantic relationships with minors. “It is verifiably false that I have traveled with a 17-year-old woman,” he said.

Representatives for the Justice Department and the F.B.I. declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Central Florida.

Police officers attempt to push back a pro-Trump mob at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Credit…Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Two Capitol Police officers who were on duty during the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol sued former President Donald J. Trump on Tuesday, saying he was responsible for the physical and emotional injuries they had suffered as a result of the day’s events.

Supporters of Mr. Trump overran the Capitol as Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s victory over Mr. Trump in the November presidential election. Before the incursion, Mr. Trump spoke at a nearby rally, where he urged his supporters to “show strength” and “fight like hell.”

Five people, including a Capitol Police officer, died in the mayhem. Mr. Trump was later impeached by the House of Representatives on a single charge of “incitement of insurrection,” but was acquitted in February after a brief Senate trial in which few Republicans broke ranks to vote guilty.

The Capitol Police officers who sued Mr. Trump, James Blassingame and Sidney Hemby, filed their complaint in the Federal District Court in the District of Columbia, and are each seeking compensatory damages in excess of $75,000, plus punitive damages.

The lawsuit is the first to be brought against the former president by Capitol Police officers. The force has more than 2,000 officers.

Lawyers for the officers and for Mr. Trump could not be reached for comment early Wednesday. Mr. Trump has previously denied responsibility for the attack.

The complaint said the “insurrectionist mob” that stormed the Capitol was “spurred on by Trump’s conduct over many months in getting his followers to believe” his false assertions of widespread electoral fraud in November. The complaint also said that Mr. Trump’s supporters believed swarming the Capitol was their last chance to stop Mr. Trump from being unfairly forced out of the White House.

Mr. Trump “inflamed, encouraged, incited, directed, and aided and abetted” the mob that overran the building and attacked police personnel inside, the complaint said. It cited Mr. Trump’s Jan. 6 speech and other conduct, including what it said was his failure that day to “take timely action to stop his followers from continued violence.”

President Biden’s infrastructure plan is a mammoth public investment that amounts to about 1 percent of gross domestic product for each of the next eight years. 
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

It has been 40 years since President Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address that “government is not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.”

The infrastructure plan that President Biden described on Wednesday — $2 trillion in federal investment in poured concrete, electric car chargers, artificial intelligence and social engineering — is a bet that government can do colossal things that the private sector cannot.

In fact, when the long-awaited “infrastructure week” finally arrived in Washington, it turned out to be about a lot more than just new highways and the replacement of old lead pipes. Urged on by the left wing of his party, and reminded by historians that Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson went big, Mr. Biden is using the framework of rebuilding crumbling highways and bridges to try to reshape the American economy by focusing more on long-range problems like climate change and inequality that have been caught up in the culture wars.

It will take years to know whether Mr. Biden’s initiative will have the lasting power of the New Deal or the Great Society, or whether it can “change the paradigm,” as he argued a few weeks ago.

Yet it is already clear it is based on the gamble that the country is ready to dispose with one of the main tenets of the Reagan revolution, and show that for some tasks the government can jump-start the economy more efficiently than market forces. Mr. Biden has also made a bet that the trauma of the coronavirus pandemic and the social and racial inequities it underscored have changed the political center of gravity for the nation.

It is not the first time Reagan’s reliance on markets to fix the nation has been challenged, but no previous effort in recent decades was on the scale Mr. Biden presented on Wednesday.

Adam Bouhmad, second from right, has helped low-income families in Baltimore get affordable internet service through his Waves project.
Credit…Jared Soares for The New York Times

A year after the pandemic turned the nation’s digital divide into an education emergency, President Biden is making affordable broadband a top priority, comparing it to the effort to spread electricity across the country. His $2 trillion infrastructure plan, announced on Wednesday, includes $100 billion to extend fast internet access to every home.

The money is meant to improve the economy by enabling all Americans to work, get medical care and take classes from wherever they live. Although the government has spent billions on the digital divide in the past, the efforts have failed to close it partly because people in different areas have different problems. Affordability is the main culprit in urban and suburban areas. In many rural areas, internet service isn’t available at all because of the high costs of installation.

“We’ll make sure every single American has access to high-quality, affordable, high speed internet,” Mr. Biden said in a speech on Wednesday. “And when I say affordable, I mean it. Americans pay too much for internet. We will drive down the price for families who have service now.”

Longtime advocates of universal broadband say the plan, which requires congressional approval, may finally come close to fixing the digital divide, a stubborn problem first identified and named by regulators during the Clinton administration. The plight of unconnected students during the pandemic added urgency.

“This is a vision document that says every American needs access and should have access to affordable broadband,” said Blair Levin, who directed the 2010 National Broadband Plan at the Federal Communications Commission. “And I haven’t heard that before from a White House to date.”

Some advocates for expanded broadband access cautioned that Mr. Biden’s plan might not entirely solve the divide between the digital haves and have-nots.

The plan promises to give priority to municipal and nonprofit broadband providers but would still rely on private companies to install cables and erect cell towers to far reaches of the country. One concern is that the companies won’t consider the effort worth their time, even with all the money earmarked for those projects. During the electrification boom of the 1920s, private providers were reluctant to install poles and string lines hundreds of miles into sparsely populated areas.