2022-07-04

Biden Transition Updates: Congress Passed Short-Term Spending Bill as Stimulus Talks Continued

18 min read
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The House and Senate on Friday night passed a two-day temporary spending bill to stave off a weekend government shutdown and buy lawmakers more time to strike a sweeping year-end deal as negotiations over another stimulus package dragged on.

President Trump was expected to sign the short-term spending bill, punting the threat of a government shutdown until midnight on Sunday.

Negotiators in both chambers insisted they were still optimistic about reaching a stimulus deal in the coming days and talks are expected to continue through the weekend. But negotiations over the $900 billion proposal were snagged by a Republican attempt to curb the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending powers, and rank and file lawmakers began to grow antsy late Friday as their leaders continued to fight over details in the coronavirus package.

“We are hopeful that they will reach agreement in the near future,” Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, said after the vote, referring to stimulus talks. “They have not reached one yet. There are still some significant issues outstanding.”

In a sign of the growing discontent, Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, had threatened to object to the must-pass short-term government funding measure as leverage to secure an additional $600 in direct payments in the final stimulus package that lawmakers are haggling over, which would bring the total to $1,200.

The scramble came as President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. pushed back on a Republican effort to use the emerging stimulus deal to bar the Fed from restarting a series of pandemic relief programs, weighing in on a last-minute dispute that was hampering final agreement on the $900 billion package.

The proposal, which would bar the central bank from reviving emergency lending efforts that expire at year’s end and potentially limit its ability to fight future financial crises, emerged on Friday as perhaps the thorniest point of contention holding up the stimulus agreement. It could take away some of the Fed’s power as a “lender of last resort,” and curtail Mr. Biden’s latitude in dealing with the continuing economic fallout from the pandemic.

[Read more about the fight over the Fed’s programs.]

In a statement, Brian Deese, whom Mr. Biden has selected to chair the National Economic Council, argued that the measure “could put our future financial stability at risk.”

“The package should not include unnecessary provisions that would hamper the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve’s ability to fight economic crises,” Mr. Deese said. “As we navigate through an unprecedented economic crisis, it is in the interests of the American people to maintain the Fed’s ability to respond quickly and forcefully.”

Senator Patrick J. Toomey, the Pennsylvania Republican who was spearheading the effort to rein in the Fed, dismissed the Democrats’ criticism, arguing in a statement that his proposal “affects a very narrow universe of lending facilities and is emphatically not a broad overhaul of the Federal Reserve’s emergency lending authority.”

A senior Democratic aide said that an agreement had been in sight before Mr. Toomey moved to insert a measure to bar a future Treasury secretary from restarting Fed emergency loan programs. The programs have kept credit flowing to medium-sized businesses, state and local governments and corporations amid the pandemic. Concern centered on the breadth of Mr. Toomey’s proposal: It would prohibit both those programs and any “similar” one, which could curb the Fed’s future ability to keep credit flowing to states and businesses.

The plan under discussion would provide a dose of badly needed relief after months of stalled negotiations and amid a national public health crisis that has killed more than 307,000 people.

That includes a new round of stimulus payments, probably $600, to American adults; a temporary infusion of enhanced federal jobless aid of around $300 per week; and rental and food assistance. It would also revive a loan program for struggling small businesses and provide funding for schools, hospitals and the distribution of the vaccine.

Lara Trump at a news conference with President Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani in Philadelphia last month.
Credit…Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

Lara Trump, President Trump’s daughter-in-law and a senior campaign adviser, served on the board of a limited liability company through which the Trump political operation has spent more than $700 million since 2019, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times. She was also named on drafts of the company’s incorporation papers.

The arrangement has never been disclosed. One of the other board members and signatories in the draft papers of the L.L.C., American Made Media Consultants, was John Pence, the nephew of Vice President Mike Pence and a senior Trump adviser. The L.L.C. has been criticized for purposefully obscuring the ultimate destination of hundreds of millions of dollars of spending. Ms. Trump is married to Eric Trump, one of the president’s sons.

Ms. Trump was initially intended to be the president of the entity, and Mr. Pence the vice president of it, the documents show.

The president has spent millions of campaign dollars on his own family businesses in the last five years. But the newly disclosed records show an even more intricate intermingling of Mr. Trump’s political and familial interests than was previously known.

A spokesman for the president, Tim Murtaugh, said that neither Ms. Trump nor Mr. Pence were compensated by American Made Media Consultants for their service as board members.

“Lara Trump and John Pence resigned from the A.M.M.C. board in October 2019 to focus solely on their campaign activities. However, there was never any ethical or legal reason why they could not serve on the board in the first place,” he said.

Mr. Murtaugh also said they were not compensated for other positions they were listed as holding.

The documents show that Sean Dollman, the campaign’s chief financial officer, was also the treasurer of A.M.M.C.

By routing large campaign expenditures, such as television and digital ad buys, through an L.L.C., the Trump campaign and its joint committee with the national party, called the Trump Make America Great Again Committee, was able to effectively shield many details of its spending, such as who was being paid and how much.

Other past campaigns, including Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012, have set up similar structures. The arrangement with A.M.M.C. was part of a Federal Elections Commission complaint over the summer from a watchdog group that accused the Trump campaign of disguising the destination of spending.

The involvement of Mr. Trump’s daughter-in-law is significant, in part because questions have been raised over the last several months about how much money was spent by the campaign and who was aware of it. The first re-election campaign manager, Brad Parscale, was pushed out over the summer and officials who remained on the campaign described a cash crunch.

Mr. Parscale told The Times months ago that he made spending decisions in conjunction with the Trump family.

The president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, Jared Kushner, who handpicked Mr. Parscale for the role, positioned himself as the chief executive of Mr. Trump’s re-election endeavor.

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‘Didn’t Feel a Thing’: Pence Receives Coronavirus Vaccine

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, received a coronavirus vaccine on Friday.

I didn’t feel a thing. Well done, and we appreciate your service to the country. Today, Karen and I wanted to step forward and take this vaccine to assure the American people that while we cut red tape, we cut no corners.

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Vice President Mike Pence and his wife, Karen Pence, received a coronavirus vaccine on Friday.CreditCredit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Vice President Mike Pence, dressed casually in short sleeves, received a coronavirus vaccine on live television Friday morning at the White House, a measure that the Trump administration said was intended to “promote the safety and efficacy of the vaccine and build confidence among the American people.”

“I didn’t feel a thing — well done,” Mr. Pence said minutes after the vaccine was administered to him by a technician from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Promoting the vaccine and hailing the work of the Coronavirus Task Force that he leads, Mr. Pence called it a “truly inspiring day.”

He said, however, that “vigilance” was still necessary, and encouraged Americans to practice social distancing and wear face masks.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said the symbolic day should remind the rest of the country to “step to the plate.” He also tried to reassure people who are skeptical of a vaccine, noting that the decision to call the new vaccine safe and effective “was not in the hands of the company, nor was it in the hands of the administration,” but in the hands of independent scientists and vaccinologists.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his wife, Jill, are scheduled to receive an injection on camera on Monday, transition officials said on a conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon. Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the transition and the incoming White House press secretary, said Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband would receive the vaccine after Christmas.

Ms. Psaki said the vaccinations were staggered based on medical recommendations “that they should not do doses at the same time.”

Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, also received the vaccine at the White House on Friday morning, as did Mr. Pence’s wife, Karen Pence. As the three took their seats on high stools, a technician asked them whether any were “pregnant or breastfeeding” or immunocompromised. They laughed when they said they were not.

Dr. Adams flashed a thumbs-up to the cameras after receiving his vaccine dose. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, also attended the event, which was held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, were among the first on Capitol Hill to receive a vaccine on Friday. Ms. Pelosi, 80, is second in line to the presidency if the president or vice president were unable to serve.

Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

“Today, with confidence in science & at the direction of the Office of the Attending Physician, I received the Covid-19 vaccine,” she wrote in a post on Twitter accompanied by photos of her receiving the shot inside the Capitol.

Alluding to the ongoing negotiations over another stimulus package, Mr. McConnell wrote on Twitter that he had received the vaccine and added, “Now back to continue fighting for a rescue package including a lot more money for distribution so more Americans can receive it as fast as possible.”

Notably absent from any planned public proceedings has been President Trump, who is not currently scheduled to take a vaccine.

The president, who recovered from his own bout with the virus after being treated with experimental drugs at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, is described by aides and allies as preoccupied with the election results that he still refuses to accept.

Public health officials said they were pleased that the vice president was going to be vaccinated in public, along with Dr. Adams, despite the president’s own lack of interest in sending a similar public health message.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Dr. Vinay Gupta, an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Washington. “The question is why don’t they do it together, six feet apart? It would be really powerful for the president, who has gotten exceptional treatment, to say that even in spite of getting the best care, it’s important that I get this vaccine.”

Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will appear at rallies in Suwanee, in the Atlanta suburbs, and Columbus, a small city in western Georgia that was a focal point of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will campaign in Georgia next week ahead of twin January Senate runoff elections that promise to be as tight as — and possibly more unpredictable than — the pollster’s nightmare that was the 2020 election.

Ms. Harris will appear on Monday with the Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, a week after President-elect Joseph R. Biden made his own socially-distanced trip to the battleground, according to Democratic officials.

If Democrats win both seats on Jan. 5, they would seize a narrow edge in the upper chamber, with Ms. Harris casting tiebreaking votes for a new Democratic majority in her role as president of the Senate.

Ms. Harris will speak at rallies in Suwanee, in the Atlanta suburbs, and Columbus, a small city in western Georgia that was a focal point of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

It is her first political trip since becoming the country’s first woman elected vice president. Her presence was intended to further motivate Black voters, who have historically turned out in smaller numbers in runoffs and nonpresidential elections.

The importance of the state, which Mr. Biden narrowly flipped, could not be more clear. At the same time, predictions about the runoffs, which pit Mr. Ossoff against the Republican Senator David Perdue and Mr. Warnock against the Republican Senator Kelly Loeffler after neither incumbent won 50 percent of the vote in the Nov. 3 election, could hardly be muddier.

Polls of the state conducted before the November election were closer to the final results than in other battlegrounds, especially Wisconsin, but some predicted victories for the Democratic Senate candidates. Polls missed the mark across the country in November — just as they had four years earlier — and runoffs are historically difficult to poll, adding to the uncertainty.

As of Friday, more than 1.1 million Georgians have voted early for the runoffs, exceeding totals in earlier runoffs, but slightly shy of the early-voting turnout for the Nov. 3 election, according to state data.

Political strategists in Georgia are trying to pilot two of the most consequential Senate campaigns in recent memory at a time when the polling industry simply doesn’t have a clear sense of how trustworthy its product is.

“I don’t know what to recommend to anybody right now, because I still don’t know what the answer is to what happened in November,” said Patrick Murray, the director of surveys at Monmouth University.

So far, no public pollster has completed a live telephone survey in the Georgia runoffs, despite their being among the most heavily funded Senate races in history. The University of Georgia and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution are fielding a poll together this week.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr., future First Lady Jill Biden, Hunter Biden, his son, and wife Melissa Cohen, in Wilimington, Del., on election night.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Thursday defended his son, Hunter Biden, who is under federal investigation for tax fraud, saying that accusations of wrongdoing against him were “kind of foul play.”

Mr. Biden made the comments in an interview with the late-night talk show host Stephen Colbert.

“You know that the people who want to make hay here in Washington are going to try to use your adult son as a cudgel against you,” Mr. Colbert said to Mr. Biden. “How do you feel about that and what do you have to say to those people?”

Mr. Biden responded: “I’m not concerned about any accusations that have been made against him. It’s used to get to me.”

“I think it’s kind of foul play,” he continued, adding, “It is what it is.”

Last week, Hunter Biden disclosed that the U.S. attorney’s office in Delaware was investigating him for tax fraud. The two-year investigation began as an inquiry into potential money laundering crimes, according to multiple federal officials familiar with the investigation. F.B.I. agents were unable to gather enough evidence to move forward with the money laundering aspect of the case, they said.

“I am confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately, including with the benefit of professional tax advisers,” the younger Mr. Biden said in a statement.

The investigation has already resulted in political fallout. President Trump was furious to learn that Attorney General William P. Barr kept it secret in the run-up to the election — behavior that complies with Justice Department policies.

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that more people might have supported his party in the election had they known about the inquiry, and his fury over the lack of disclosure contributed to Mr. Barr’s announcement that he will step down as attorney general effective next week.

The inquiry has also complicated Mr. Biden’s pick for attorney general, who will need to oversee the investigation. It seemed this month that Doug Jones, the soon-to-be-former Democratic senator from Alabama, was a top pick for the job, based largely on his close relationship with Mr. Biden.

Now such close ties could make for a difficult confirmation process, as senators are sure to grill the nominee on his or her ability to prevent the White House from influencing the investigation. Republicans are already calling for the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the investigation and protect it from political interference.

The president-elect’s own comments could also complicate matters for whomever he chooses to run the department. Earlier this week, Mr. Biden told Fox News he was “confident” that his son had done nothing wrong.

Mr. Biden also spoke about the reluctance of some Republicans to recognize him as the president-elect, as Mr. Trump continues to refuse to concede. He said they were “in a tough spot.”

“How can I say this? A number of them sent messages to me four weeks ago. ‘Give me time, Joe. Give me some time.’”

Mr. Biden said, “It’s fine by me. We won.”

But Senator Lindsey Graham’s delay in acknowledging Mr. Biden’s victory was a different matter.

“Lindsey’s been a personal disappointment, because I was a personal friend of his,” Mr. Biden said of the South Carolina Republican who is a close ally of Mr. Trump’s. “But look, I think that I can work with Republican leadership in the House and the Senate. I think we can get things done.”

President Trump is surrounded by Naval Midshipmen during the 121st Army-Navy football game at West Point, N.Y., on Saturday.
Credit…Samuel Corum for The New York Times

Even in light of statements from federal officials that a recently-discovered hack by foreign agents penetrated deep into some of the most heavily guarded corners of government networks, President Trump on Thursday threatened to veto a military spending bill that contains provisions aimed at protecting against similar hacking operations.

Mr. Trump’s veto threat has focused on his demands that Congress roll back legal protections for social media companies.

The military bill contains two dozen provisions to strengthen cyberdefenses from a congressionally established bipartisan commission. It gives the federal government the ability to actively hunt for foreign hackers trying to penetrate computer networks and establishes a national cyberdirector who would coordinate the government’s defenses and responses to such attacks.

While the full extent of the breach is still being investigated, it already appears to have extended beyond critical government systems such as those of the Pentagon, Treasury and Commerce Department, and also affected dozens of companies and think tanks. The scope of the intrusion expands each day as investigators have learned more, but officials have revealed nothing about what information the Russian spies stole or what they were seeking.

Had the provisions in the bill been in place this year, the Trump administration might have had a better shot at detecting and stopping the breach more quickly, according to a number of lawmakers.

On Friday, six Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee, including a member of Republican leadership, released a joint statement in support of the bill, highlighting its cybersecurity provisions.

The statement does not address Mr. Trump’s planned veto, instead stressing that the bill is vital for national security, as American adversaries “will take advantage of any opportunity to attack vulnerabilities in our cyber infrastructure.” Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican leader in the House, and Representative Mac Thornberry, the ranking Republican on the armed services committee, were among the signatories of the statement.

“Our nation must respond to the reported cyber espionage operation targeting America’s nuclear infrastructure and federal government and hold the perpetrator accountable. This attack serves as a stark warning that our nation must bolster its cybersecurity posture and capabilities, and it must do so without delay,” the lawmakers said.

Other commission recommendations that might have also helped discover the recent Russian hack far sooner, including giving the government the power to search for threats on some private networks, did not make it into this year’s bill.

The commission announced its recommendations in March. Congress wrote 23 of them into the annual military bill that passed both houses with veto-proof margins this month. Representative Mike Gallagher, Republican of Wisconsin and chairman of the congressional commission, said that none guaranteed the hack would have been stopped but that giving the Department of Homeland Security more power to hunt for threats across the federal government would have provided “a shot” at detecting the intrusion earlier.

Mr. Trump has until next week to veto the bill, and the longer he waits, the more difficult it could be for Congress to override his decision, which could require bringing lawmakers to Washington after Christmas, or squeezing in a last vote on Jan. 3, just before the next Congress is seated.

Christopher Miller, the acting defense secretary, claimed that the Pentagon and the Biden transition agreed to halt meetings over the holidays. The transition team says otherwise.
Credit…Michael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

Biden transition officials on Friday afternoon said they had not agreed with Pentagon officials to take a holiday break from transition-related meetings, pushing back against acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller’s claim that a Pentagon-wide halt to cooperation with the transition was because of a “mutually-agreed upon holiday pause.”

“Let me be clear: there was no mutually-agreed upon holiday break,” Yohannes Abraham, the executive director of President-elect Joseph R. Biden, Jr.’s transition, told reporters Friday afternoon. In fact, he said, the Biden team wanted briefings to continue over the holidays because “there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay.”

The General Services Administration waited weeks after Mr. Biden’s victory to ascertain the results, delaying Mr. Biden’s ability to begin a formal transition. That delay held up the Biden team’s ability to conduct F.B.I. background checks, a key part of the vetting of cabinet secretaries.

Mr. Abraham on Friday said the Biden agency review teams were only informed on Thursday that the meetings with the Defense Department were being pulled down. The cancellation of the meetings by Mr. Miller was first reported by Axios.

Ted Kaufman, Mr. Biden’s former chief of staff in the Senate and co-chair of the Biden transition, said that leading the Biden transition team “has been the most difficult and intense workload that I’ve ever experienced” in a podcast interview with the Center for Presidential Transition published Friday, and alluded to “unconventional challenges” the Biden transition team faced while interacting with the Trump administration.

He did not, however, discuss any specific problems with specific agencies, and broadly praised the government officials that the Biden transition team had met with.

“The career officials working throughout the government are professional nonpartisan patriots,” Mr. Kaufman said.

Transition officials, however, went out of their way to thank career staff professionals across the government for helping to carry out an orderly and cooperative transition, and they tried to play down an overarching sense of foot-dragging from the Trump administration.

“There have been many agencies and departments that have facilitated the exchange of information and meetings,” Mr. Abraham said. “We have met isolated resistance in some quarters, including from political appointees in the Department of Defense.”

Jen Psaki, a transition spokeswoman and the incoming White House press secretary, added, “our preference is certainly for things to proceed as usual. That’s our hope.”

The Pentagon also sought to play down the tension, dismissing the canceled meetings as nothing more than a brief holiday delay and noting that they would be rescheduled.

“The Department of Defense will continue to provide all required support to the Agency Review Team to keep our nation and her citizens safe,” Mr. Miller said in a statement, adding, “At no time has the Department canceled or declined any interview.”

He also noted that the department had supported 139 interview sessions and 161 requests for information, and disclosed thousands of pages of nonpublic and classified documents.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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