The US economic recovery might have just peaked. The Biden administration has plans to keep the party alive, but it won’t be cheap.
Data published Thursday showed economic output growing at an annualized rate of 6.5% in the second quarter. It marks a complete recovery from the pandemic-era drop in output, with gross domestic product finally surpassing its end-of-2019 peak.
Yet economists expected growth of 8.5%, making the government report a considerable disappointment. The quarter also benefited from stimulus and the reversal of lockdown measures. It’s highly probable that growth will moderate in the following quarters.
And new obstacles are emerging. The Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing some cities to reinstate mask mandates, possibly discouraging people from dining out, heading back to their offices and hurting consumer spending. Americans are also staring down a so-called fiscal cliff, with support programs like the student-loan moratorium and enhanced unemployment benefits slated to expire in the fall.
Growth is still expected to trend well above its historical average through the rest of the year. But with nearly 10 million Americans still unemployed, the economy remains far from fully healed.
Enter President Joe Biden and his multi-trillion-dollar spending plans. As economic growth is set to slow, the White House is moving full-steam ahead on packages it argues will lead to a stronger expansion and years of permanently higher output. It’s pushing $4 trillion in new infrastructure spending that encompasses physical items like roads and bridges, and upgrading broadband connections.
That’s not all. Biden and Democratic lawmakers are also trying to advance plans for new spending on family care, free education, and clean energy. Senate Democrats struck a deal on a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, and it will embark on a party-line process known as reconciliation. That may face cuts in the weeks ahead, however.
The two proposals make up what Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen deemed “historic investments” that promise “a big return.” Instead of providing the kind of immediate boost yielded by the March stimulus package, the White House has billed the follow-up plans as drivers of permanently higher growth through the 2020s. Simply put, the Biden administration is looking to buy its way to a stronger rebound.
Yet conservatives argue it could cause a significant rise in inflation and set back the recovery.
“In the short-term, the economy is heading into its potential growth rate,” Brian Riedl, an economist at the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, told Insider. ” Any additional stimulus will likely lead to inflation rather than long-term growth.”
The White House isn’t dissuaded by these arguments.
“We still have work to do to build our economy back better,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement. “It’s why he’s working with Democrats to deliver on additional support for our middle class that will create a fairer, more sustainable, and stronger economy.”
In Washington, the Senate has made enormous progress on a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, but the legislation has not cleared the chamber yet, and Democrats also hope to push through a separate party-line $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill through the budget reconciliation process.
While Biden still enjoys overwhelming support among Democrats, at 90% approval, his approval rating among Independents dropped to 48% in the latest poll, the first time it has dropped below 50% with the latter group since taking office in January.
Despite the decline in support, Biden still remains in positive territory, and “it’s common for presidents to see about a 3-point decrease in their average job approval ratings between their first and second quarters,” according to a Gallup report.
Biden’s first quarter job approval rating averaged 56%.
His second quarter average approval rating was 53.3%, which is higher than both former President Bill Clinton (44%) and former President Donald Trump (38.8%), per Gallup data.
However, the president’s second quarter average was below that of former President Barack Obama (62%) and former President George W. Bush (55.8%).
From the 1950s to the 1980s, presidents often boasted higher approval ratings than what currently exists today, the result of less stringent political polarization – former Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy both averaged approval ratings exceeding 70% during their second quarters, according to Gallup.
Biden posted his highest Gallup job approval rating to date with 57% support in late January and early February, as well as in April.
President Joe Biden was heckled during a Virginia campaign appearance on Friday, brushing off the disturbance while rallying support for former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is seeking to reclaim his old job later this year.
Biden, who traveled a short distance from the White House to Arlington, Va., spoke before roughly 3,000 people for McAuliffe, a prodigious fundraiser and former Democratic National Committee chairman who served as governor of Virginia from 2014 to 2018.
It will be crucial for Democrats to hold the Virginia Governor’s Mansion as the party heads into the 2022 midterm election cycle. (New Jersey will also host a gubernatorial contest this year, with Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy favored to win that race, and California will hold a gubernatorial recall election on Sept. 14.)
For Republicans, the Virginia race provides an opportunity to potentially regain a foothold in a state that was once reliably conservative but has shifted to the left in recent cycles due to population growth and the increasing strength of the suburban vote.
The GOP has not won a statewide race in Virginia since 2009.
In Virginia, governors are barred from seeking a second consecutive term, so incumbent Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam cannot run for reelection.
Biden, in seeking to prop up McAuliffe and downballot Democrats, highlighted his stewardship of the country’s continued recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to earn him high marks relative to his overall approval rating.
The president also touted the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that issued a new set of stimulus checks and renewed enhanced unemployment insurance, among other measures.
But he then returned to his role as a party warrior, promoting McAuliffe and linking Youngkin to Trump.
“You got to elect him again, and I mean this, not just for Virginia, for the country,” Biden said. “The country is looking, these off-year elections, the country’s looking. This is a big deal. Terry and I share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump and so is Terry. And I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia and so will Terry.”
He added: “The guy Terry is running against is an acolyte of Donald Trump – for real, I mean it’s just like, I don’t know where these guys come from.”
The Biden administration is canceling two border wall contracts in the Laredo sector of the US-Mexico border that span roughly 31 miles, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said on Friday.
Shortly after taking office in January, President Joe Biden paused border wall construction projects that were initiated by former President Donald Trump, calling for “a review of all resources appropriated or redirected to construct” the barrier.
Friday’s announcement comes after the Biden administration last month returned to the military more than $2 billion in funding that the Trump administration had diverted for border wall construction.
The Biden administration’s handling of Trump’s border wall projects has unfolded at a slower pace due to funds having been allocated through different government agencies.
The contracts for the Laredo projects planned for 31 miles of border wall to be built along the Rio Grande, funded with DHS Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations.
However, construction on the projects had not yet started, nor had land acquisition been executed.
“DHS continues to review all other paused border barrier projects and is in the process of determining which projects may be necessary to address life, safety, environmental, or other remediation requirements and where to conduct environmental planning,” the DHS release said. “The Administration also continues to call on Congress to cancel remaining border wall funding and instead fund smarter border security measures, like border technology and modernization of land ports of entry, that are proven to be more effective at improving safety and security at the border.”
The Trump administration constructed roughly 450 miles of wall over four years, according to The Associated Press. However, only 52 miles of wall were built in areas where no barrier had previously existed.
The border between the US and Mexico stretches across more than 1,900 miles; some sections already had barriers prior to Trump taking office in 2017.
DHS is utilizing previously-appropriated funds to assess environmental issues that derived from previous wall construction, as well as reviewing land seizure cases to determine if those acquisitions are still necessary.
“Only Congress and the president can fix our broken border,” Abbott said at the time. “But in the meantime, Texas is going to do everything possible, including beginning to make arrests, to keep our community safe.”
On July 20, President Joe Biden will have been in office for six months.
Since their January inauguration, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been met with a host of challenges, most notably the coronavirus pandemic, which, since last year, has upended life as we know it.
However, on a range of issues, from steering a largely-reopened economy and facing immigration challenges at the US-Mexico border to reshaping the country’s standing on the world stage and putting an imprint on the federal judiciary, Biden has made a clear pivot from the administration of former President Donald Trump.
Biden, who represented Delaware in the US Senate for 36 years before serving as vice president for eight years, is certainly not new to Washington, DC. But that familiarity has so far helped Biden navigate a city that he’s intimately familiar with, despite being a place that has also become much more partisan in recent decades.
Here are five key figures that currently defining the trajectory of Biden’s young presidency:
In April 2020, during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the US unemployment rate sat at 14.8%, a dizzying number that reflected the economic pain caused by businesses forced to shut down because of the deadly virus.
The unemployment rate rose by 0.1% from May to June, but it was a reflection of an expanding job workforce.
Earlier in the spring, there were some concerns about job growth and the effectiveness of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package championed by Biden and congressional Democrats.
However, as COVID-related restrictions eased and vaccination rates increased since the beginning of the year, the economy has clearly benefited.
After nearly six months in office, FiveThirtyEight’s polling average has Biden’s overall approval rating at 52.4%, with 42.5% disapproving of his performance, reflective of his relatively stable numbers over the past few months.
While many people were fighting to find appointments earlier this year, many sites offer now walk-in appointments as vaccination rates lag in many parts of the country.
Vaccine hesitancy is a real thing, and Biden, who pledged to prioritize fighting the virus during his presidential campaign last year, is trying to find new ways to encourage people to get their shots, especially as the highly infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus takes hold across the country.
The administration missed its goal of 70% of the population having received at least one vaccine shot by July 4, but Biden recently outlined a strategy of a door-to-door effort to help protect the unvaccinated against the virus, along with getting vaccines to primary-care physicians and physicians.
Earlier this year, Democrats were thrilled to win back control of the Senate after sweeping the dual Georgia runoff elections, which gave them 50 Senate seats. However, with Republicans also possessing 50 seats, Democratic control is only a reality due to Harris’s ability to break ties in the evenly-divided chamber.
While Democrats have been able to get virtually all of their major Cabinet and administration nominees through the Senate, along with their ability to push through judicial nominees, they still have to contend with the legislative filibuster, which can be used when major legislation fails to meet the 60-vote threshold to cut off debate.
Party leaders desperately want to pass their marquee For the People Act, or S.1, the sweeping voting-rights bill that would end partisan gerrymandering, expand early and absentee voting, and establish national standards for voter registration, among other measures.
However, moderate Sens. Joe Manchin of Arizona and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have not relented from their longstanding pledges to keep the filibuster intact, which will continue to limit how much the administration can actually sign into law.
Senate Democrats last Wednesday reached a deal on a $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill that would feature infrastructure priorities focused on childcare, clean energy, and education. This legislation would be separate from the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure framework crafted by a small group of senators and the White House.
However, the bill will have to be passed through reconciliation, which Republicans have already rejected on the grounds of its cost and its reach into areas that they deem as unrelated to infrastructure.
By using the budget reconciliation process, Democrats can pass the bill with a simple majority and avoid a filibuster.
Democrats are determined to pass a larger party-line package, though, and with the filibuster still intact, now will likely be the party’s best chance to enact such a massive piece of legislation before the 2022 midterm elections.
Sen. Lindsey Graham on Sunday suggested that Senate Republicans could grind the upper chamber to halt to by denying Democrats a quorum to pass a possible $3.5 trillion infrastructure package through the budget reconciliation process.
During an interview with host Maria Bartiromo on the Fox News program “Sunday Morning Futures,” the South Carolina Republican floated the idea of skipping town to block a Democratic bill, making a reference to Texas House Democrats, who left the state to deny Republicans a quorum on a restrictive voting bill that they fervently oppose.
A bipartisan group of senators last month struck a tentative deal with the White House for a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure package that focuses on roads and bridges.
However, Democrats are also seeking to pass a separate infrastructure package, which would feature other infrastructure priorities focused on childcare, clean energy, and education.
Last Wednesday, Senate Democrats reached an agreement on a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, which, if passed and signed into law, would be a heralding achievement for Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the Budget Committee.
“This is the most significant piece of legislation passed since the Great Depression, and I’m delighted to be part of having helped to put it together,” he said at the time.
Passing a bill through the reconciliation process only requires a simple majority, and with Democrats holding 50 Senate seats, Vice President Kamala Harris would be the pivotal tiebreaking vote.
Graham scoffed at the Democratic party-line bill and vowed to block its passage.
“As for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package, designed to pass without a single Republican vote, [Sen.] Joe Manchin [of West Virginia] says that has to be paid for,” he said. “The only way you can do that is through a massive tax increase. The reconciliation package is not infrastructure. It’s big government. All kinds of new social programs unrelated to infrastructure. We’ll see if they can get Democratic support.”
He added: “If for some reason, they pass the budget resolution to bring that [$3.5 trillion] bill to the floor of the United States Senate … You gotta have a quorum to pass a bill in the Senate. I would leave before I’d let that happen. So, to my Republican colleagues, we may learn something from our Democratic friends in Texas when it comes to avoiding a $3.5 trillion tax-and-spend package. Leave town.”
“Hey Vice President Harris, if you think these people are heroes, well I expect you to come and pat us on the back,” he said. “Hell yeah, I would leave. I will use everything lawfully in my toolbox to prevent rampant inflation. If it takes me not showing up to stop that, I will do it because if we pass that bill, you’re going to have inflation through the roof.”
The Constitution mandates a a quorum of 51 senators to be present for the Senate to conduct official business. Since the chamber is split 50-50, all Republican senators would have to sign on to Graham’s proposal for the plan to work.
So far, no other Republicans have taken such a stance.
At a White House press briefing on Thursday, President Joe Biden said the situation in Hong Kong is “deteriorating” and said the administration is set to issue a business advisory – expected Friday – “as to what may happen” in Hong Kong.
“Let me talk about the business advisory,” Biden said. “The situation in Hong Kong is deteriorating. And the Chinese government is not keeping its commitment that it made, how it would deal with Hong Kong.”
“It’s as simple as that and as complicated as that,” Biden said at the press conference alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the advisory is expected to be aimed at US businesses, not sanctions against China.
The statement comes as China’s grip on Hong Kong tightens. In May 2020, China passed national security legislation under which the country is allowed to set up a police presence in Hong Kong. The legislation limits the freedoms Hong Kong has had since 1997.
In March, 47 pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong were charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion.” Days later, China announced that it plans to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system and install in leadership positions “patriots” loyal to Beijing.
The White House did not immediately reply to Insider’s request for comment.
But the new policy also offers an opportunity for parents and non-parents to receive pandemic stimulus payments they were eligible for but missed out. These individuals would be eligible for all three stimulus checks, amounting to $3,200 in federal relief. Senior administration officials confirmed it in a call with reporters on Wednesday evening.
The expanded child tax credit is significant in part because parents with no tax obligations are able to tap into the benefit. It previously excluded families who didn’t earn enough to file taxes, thus cutting out many of the country’s poorest parents. This is also the first time the government has delivered the child benefit through monthly checks, rather than a lump sum collected annually. The payments will stretch from July to December.
Most parents eligible for the child tax credit will automatically receive their monthly payments via direct deposit or a check in the mail. But non-tax filers must sign up for the payments through a new online portal specifically geared to enroll people generally outside the tax system.
Those who haven’t filed taxes for the last two years, but are eligible for the tax credit and stimulus checks could receive a windfall if they sign up for stimulus checks on a new online portal the government has created. Senior administration officials described it as another way to encourage people to sign up for federal aid they’re already eligible for.
In addition, for parents who sign up for the child tax credit before the end of the year, they’ll receive all of the monthly payments back to July.
“If you don’t sign up until September, October because you’re not aware, you’ll get those back-payments,” Christopher Wimer, the co-director of Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy, told Insider. “If you were eligible for those one-time stimulus payments in one of the prior recovery bills and you signed up for the child tax credit, you would get those back payments as well when you sign up.”
Kris Cox, deputy director of federal tax policy at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the additional checks for non-filers would further support some of the country’s most vulnerable kids.
“For families who have not claimed their [economic impact payments], that’s an additional, substantial amount of money that can really make a difference in the lives of their children,” Cox told Insider.
Still, some experts and community groups have raised concern that the sign-up portal for nonfilers has been inaccessible and overly complex. For example, it’s only available in English and it can’t be used on a smartphone. The poorest Americans are also less likely to own a desktop computer or laptop.
“The IRS’s special portal is designed pretty sh–ty,” Samuel Hammond, a welfare policy expert at the right-leaning Niskanen Center, said in an interview. “Over half the country doesn’t regularly file federal income taxes, especially at the very low income level. They may never have needed to file income taxes and there’s a huge knowledge gap.”
Experts say that between four and eight million children will miss out on the payments because their parents may struggle to use the portal or don’t know about the policy. Matt Bruenig, policy expert at the left-leaning People’s Policy Project, estimated around 6.6 million kids could be excluded from the benefit.
Senior administration officials told reporters they’ll continue trying to fix those issues and, along with enlisting advocates who can directly help people sign up for the child allowance. They argued while more accessible technology would be helpful, these individuals need direct help from advocates to walk them through the process.
Couples who earn $150,000 or less – and single, unmarried parents who make up to $112,500 – are eligible for the full $300 monthly checks for kids under 6 years old and $250 monthly checks for kids between 6-17 years old. The payments, which will benefit about 88% of American kids, begin to phase out for families with more than $150,000 in income.
The expanded child tax credit, part of Democrats’ $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan passed last March, is a major expansion of the social safety net that experts are comparing to Social Security in its scale and scope. Wimer and his colleagues at Columbia have estimated that the enhanced child tax credit could cut child poverty by more than half.
“If this were to remain permanent, the only sort of analogous policy or program that we have been able to compare it to would be Social Society for the aged,” Wimer said. “This would be equivalent to that for children, essentially saying that children in America should not be poor, and that would be a major change in social policy for families with children and something that we’ve not done before.”
But the impact of the child tax credit will be muted if millions of Americans who haven’t filed taxes don’t apply for the payments. Raising awareness about the new program and helping parents apply are major challenges for the government.
Pop star Olivia Rodrigo on Wednesday visited the White House to meet with President Joe Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, in a push for younger Americans to receive vaccinations to fight against COVID-19.
Speaking from the White House press briefing room podium, Rodrigo, who will record videos to promote the vaccine, expressed excitement at the opportunity to reach a younger audience.
“I am beyond honored and humbled to be here today to help spread the message about the importance of youth vaccination,” she said. “I’m in awe of the work President Biden and Dr. Fauci have done and was happy to help lend my support to this important initiative.”
She added: “It’s important to have conversations with friends and family members encouraging all communities to get vaccinated, and actually get to a vaccination site, which you can do more easily than ever before, given how many sites we have and how easy it is to find them at vaccines.gov.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was thrilled at Rodrigo’s visit, noting that the star herself offered to come to Washington, DC.
“We need to reach people, meet people where they are and speaking to young people – people who are under the age of 18, many of whom as we’ve seen across the country are huge Olivia Rodrigo fans – hearing from her that … getting vaccinated is a way to keep yourself safe, a way to ensure you can see your friends, a way you can ensure you can go to concerts, a way you can ensure that you can live a healthy life is an important part of what we’re trying to do here,” Psaki said.
She added: “I will say, not every 18-year-old uses their time to come do this so we appreciate her willingness to.”
Rodrigo’s trip to the White House was first announced on Instagram on Tuesday after Biden posted an old photo of himself on the social media platform.
“I know this young person would’ve gotten vaccinated, but we’ve got to get other young people protected as well,” the president wrote in the caption. “Who’s willing to help?”
Rodrigo responded: “i’m in! see you tomorrow at the white house!”
“You bet!” Biden replied.
This visit comes as the president has doubled down on efforts to vaccinate more Americans, but especially younger Americans, as the highly infectious Delta variant continues to spread across the country.
On election night last November, Sen. Mitt Romney watched the early returns and developed “a pit in his stomach” at then-President Donald Trump’s strong performance in early states, an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Washington Post reporters Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker said.
The Utah Republican, who was the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and has had a turbulent relationship with Trump over the years, was watching the returns with his wife, Ann, and other family members and saw that the early numbers were positive for the president.
In fact, the numbers were “surprisingly good” for Trump, with now-President Joe Biden underperforming in Florida’s Miami-Dade County, where Democratic presidential nominees need to perform strongly in order to capture the populous swing state.
“I think he’s going to win,” Romney said in the book. “Those polls were way off. I think he’s going to pull it out.”
At the White House, the mood was jovial early in the night, with Trump supporters thrilled with the initial results.
Trump data cruncher Matt Oczkowski saw positive signs in the president’s overperformance among minority groups in Florida, along with his success with turning out rural White voters in North Carolina, according to the excerpt.
However, Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien tried to keep the president’s expectations in check, telling him to “stay calm” as states continued to report their results, according to the excerpt.
Romney, who was less shocked at Trump’s 2016 victory than many others, had seen the GOP become more beholden to far-right figures over the years, but still sought to deny the president a second term in office.
As the night went on and states were called for Biden, along with the reality that several key states had many more ballots to count, the expectations of a Trump win became increasingly tempered.
Trump, who was anxious to declare victory on election night, instead gave an early morning speech where he challenged the validity of the remaining ballots and sought to involve the Supreme Court in the race.
Romney expressed that was “heartsick” after watching the president’s nationally-televised speech, according to the excerpt.
“We’re in a global battle for the survival of liberal democracy in the face of autocracy and autocratic regimes attempting to dominate the world,” he said. “So saying something and doing things that would suggest that in the free nation of the United States of America and the model of democracy for the world, that we can’t have a free and fair election would have a destructive effect on democracy around the world, not just to mention here.”