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Senate Action on Stimulus Stalls as Democrats Haggle Over Jobless Aid


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The Senate is set to debate President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion stimulus plan on Friday as Democrats prepare to barrel past widespread Republican opposition.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package ground to a standstill in the Senate on Friday, as Democrats haggled among themselves over the size and duration of federal unemployment payments that are a crucial piece of the plan.

Top Democrats, working to preserve moderate support for the package, had planned to drop their effort to increase those payments from $300 a week to $400 but extend them for an additional month, through Oct. 4, hoping that the concession would keep the pandemic aid plan on track.

But it appeared that Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist whose support they need to maneuver the plan through the 50-50 Senate with all Republicans opposed, remained unsatisfied.

The impasse halted the measure just as the Senate had begun voting on proposed changes. What was supposed to have been a 15-minute vote on a minimum-wage increase stretched for longer than six hours as Democrats stalled for time, huddling on the Senate floor in search of a solution.

The White House declined to say whether Mr. Biden had reached out to Mr. Manchin to try to secure his support. A White House official said that Mr. Biden “supports a compromise” and that he and his team were “staying in close contact with senators to find a resolution that will deliver for Americans who need help the most.”

Another wrinkle arose late Friday when Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, left the Capitol to catch a flight to Fairbanks and attend his father-in-law’s funeral. A spokesman, Nate Adams, confirmed the senator’s departure and said Mr. Sullivan “intended to vote against final passage of the bill and made his opposition clear” by voting against advancing the measure.

In an evenly divided Senate, Mr. Sullivan’s absence will give Democrats an extra vote of leeway as they haggle over a series of last-minute changes to the $1.9 trillion package. But it is unlikely to resolve the current impasse, given that Mr. Manchin appears to be contemplating supporting a Republican amendment that would curtail unemployment insurance benefits.

With the existing $300-a-week payments set to lapse on March 14, Mr. Biden’s stimulus proposal and the House bill that passed last weekend to implement it would increase the aid to $400 a week and extend it through the end of August.

Some moderate Senate Democrats are opposed to raising the amount, while others are concerned about the possibility that the benefits could lapse when the chamber is typically on recess. Democrats’ proposal would address both issues, as well as making a large portion of 2020 jobless benefits tax-free.

In a brief interview, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the change “avoids the August cliff, secures tax forgiveness — preventing what I call the unexpected unemployment tax surprise — and keeps the caucus together.”

The White House had signaled support, with Ron Klain, the chief of staff, tweeting, “This compromise is a great result.”

The proposal, introduced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, was one of dozens of amendments the Senate was set to consider on Friday in a marathon session of rapid-fire votes, now delayed by the impasse. The vote-a-rama, as it is known, could have stretched long past midnight and paved the way for a Senate vote to pass the stimulus plan as early as Saturday.

The unemployment provision would forgive up to $10,200 in taxes on benefits received in 2020. Mr. Wyden, who was among those pushing to increase the unemployment payment to $400, said on the Senate floor that he was “really hoping this brings all sides of the Senate together.”

Democrats are racing against the clock, as some Americans have already begun to file their taxes and unemployment benefits are set to begin lapsing next weekend. The agreement would also extend tax rules regarding excess business loss limitations for one additional year, through 2026.

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and several other Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the minimum wage provision.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The Senate was poised on Friday to reject a bid by Democrats to increase the federal minimum wage as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, with senators in both parties registering their opposition to the move.

As of late Friday afternoon, the vote on the proposal, which would raise the wage to $15 an hour by 2025, had stalled as Democrats haggled among themselves over a separate provision in the package related to the size and duration of federal unemployment payments.

But all signs pointed to the minimum wage increase provision being doomed, with a 42-58 vote hanging out in limbo, well short of the 60 votes it would need to be advanced. Seven Democrats and one independent aligned with them had joined all 50 Republicans in opposing the increase.

The Democrats voting against the proposal were Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, Tom Carper and Chris Coons of Delaware, and Jon Tester of Montana. Senator Angus King, the independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, also voted no.

The vote remained open for more than six hours as Democrats struggled to coalesce around an amendment that would keep a weekly federal supplement to unemployment benefits at $300 — rather than raising it to $400 as a bill passed by the House would do — but extend the payments for more weeks. Because the vote has not yet closed, senators could still change their votes, though it is unlikely they would choose to do so.

While Mr. Biden included the minimum wage increase in his stimulus proposal and the House passed it as part of its version of the package, a top Senate official, Elizabeth MacDonough, ruled that it could not be included in the bill under the strict rules governing the reconciliation process, which protects legislation from filibusters and allows it to pass with a simple majority. Democrats are using reconciliation to fast-track the bill through the Senate.

Liberal lawmakers and activists argued that Democrats should overrule Ms. MacDonough’s guidance and push through the proposal anyway over Republican opposition. But the margin of defeat showed that they would not have had the votes to pass it unilaterally even if they had tried to do so.

Instead, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the chairman of the Budget Committee, offered an amendment to add the provision during a marathon of rapid-fire proposals, known as a vote-a-rama, that began late Friday morning.

Moderate Democrats who rejected the increase signaled that they would be willing to negotiate once the stimulus package became law.

“Senators in both parties have shown support for raising the federal minimum wage, and the Senate should hold an open debate and amendment process on raising the minimum wage, separate from the Covid-focused reconciliation bill,” Ms. Sinema said in a statement.

Ms. Sinema became an immediate target of progressive ire after her vote, which she signified with a dramatic thumbs-down motion, evoking a similar gesture made by Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, in 2017 when he cast the decisive vote to kill a proposal by his party to repeal parts of the Affordable Care Act. Ms. Sinema has previously described Mr. McCain as one of her political idols.

Mr. Sanders, a longtime champion of raising the federal minimum wage, which has not been changed since 2009, vowed to keep pressing on the legislation.

“If anybody thinks that we’re giving up on this issue, they are sorely mistaken,” Mr. Sanders told reporters. “If we have to vote on it time and time again, we will — and we’re going to succeed.”

“All those empty storefronts are not just shattered dreams,” President Biden said on Friday. “They are warning lights going off in state and local budgets that are being stretched because of the lack of tax revenue.”
Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

President Biden warned on Friday that signs of strength in the labor market were temporary and that the economic recovery would stall without the $1.9 trillion relief package that Congress is considering.

Speaking at the White House before a briefing from his top economic advisers, Mr. Biden rejected concerns from Republicans and some on Wall Street that the giant stimulus package moving through Congress could overheat the economy and cause prices to skyrocket. He said there was still a long way to go to ensure that the benefits of the recovery flowed to workers hardest hit by the pandemic, who are predominantly women and people of color.

“Today’s jobs report shows that the American Rescue Plan is urgently needed,” the president told reporters. “We can’t go one step forward and two steps backward.”

He said the job gains in February were most likely due to a $900 billion relief bill Congress and former President Donald J. Trump approved in December, and he warned that without more assistance, further gains “are going to be slow.”

His comments came as the Labor Department reported that the United States had added 379,000 jobs last month and that the unemployment rate had ticked down to 6.2 percent. Gains in the leisure and hospitality industries — like bars and restaurants — offered hope that the sectors that have been hit hardest by the pandemic are finally starting to see improvement.

Mr. Biden’s Treasury secretary, Janet L. Yellen, said on Friday that while she was pleased that the unemployment figures were stronger than expected, she believed that the real jobless rate was about 10 percent when accounting for the millions of people who have dropped out of the labor force.

In an interview on PBS, Ms. Yellen made the case that more economic support was urgently needed to prevent the pandemic from doing permanent damage to workers’ livelihoods.

“I think it’s what the economy needs to get rapidly back on track,” she said of the relief legislation.

With the fate of his first big agenda item in the hands of an evenly divided Senate, Mr. Biden said it was too soon to say that things were better and that the economy did not need more help.

“The rescue plan is absolutely essential to turning this around, getting kids back to school safely, giving a lifeline to small businesses and getting the upper hand in Covid-19,” he said, adding that more than a million teachers were out of work and that hundreds of thousands of businesses had been shuttered. He pointed to the impact that business closures are having on local budgets.

“All those empty storefronts are not just shattered dreams,” Mr. Biden said. “They are warning lights going off in state and local budgets that are being stretched because of the lack of tax revenue.”

The $1.9 trillion relief legislation under consideration in the Senate is facing fierce opposition from Republicans who believe it is too costly and contains a wish list of Democratic policy items.

The Biden plan “risks overheating an already recovering economy,” Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said on the Senate floor this week, “leading to higher inflation, hurting middle-class families and threatening long-term growth.”

Ms. Yellen dismissed those concerns, saying that inflation had actually been running too low before the pandemic, when the jobless rate was 3.5 percent.

“The Senate needs to abolish the filibuster. It’s undemocratic,” Senator Tina Smith, Democrat of Minnesota, wrote on Twitter.
Credit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

A growing number of Senate Democrats are warming to the idea of eliminating the filibuster as they encounter Republican resistance to President Biden’s legislative agenda, forcing the White House to cut deals on issues like the minimum wage and pandemic relief payments.

Under Senate rules, 60 votes are required to end debate on major bills. Opponents want to do away with that preliminary hurdle, which has been used by both parties as a tactic to stymie contentious legislation, and allow proposals to pass with the simple majority of 51 votes required when all senators are present.

If the founders envisioned the upper chamber as a “cooling bowl” to moderate more extreme bills passed by the House, the filibuster has often been a deep freezer, infamously deployed by Southern racists to quash reforms during the civil rights era.

The filibuster has been deployed by both parties over the years, but to greater and more sustained effect by conservatives. Proponents say it necessitates negotiation and compromise.

Two Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — have said they will oppose any effort to do away with the rule, making any rollback a long shot. Mr. Biden and Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, have been noncommittal about eliminating the filibuster.

But the mood in the party is shifting quickly, as fears grow that Republicans will block Mr. Biden’s biggest plans, and as Republicans in Georgia and other states use their legislative power to redraw districts to favor conservatives and place new restrictions on voting access.

Midwestern Democrats are joining the progressive wing in calling for the filibuster’s abolition, or at least its strategic suspension.

On Thursday, Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota took to Twitter to declare her support for ending the filibuster. “The Senate needs to abolish the filibuster. It’s undemocratic,” she wrote, adding, “We need to move this country forward.”

A day earlier, Senator Amy Klobuchar, the state’s senior senator and a standard-bearer for her party’s moderate wing in 2020, said the likely demise in the Senate of a House voting rights bill had flipped her from a “maybe” to a “yes.”

“I would get rid of the filibuster,” Ms. Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Rules Committee, told Mother Jones magazine. “I have favored filibuster reform for a long time and now especially for this critical election bill.”

Another centrist, Jon Tester of Montana, has taken a wait-and-see approach, but signaled recently that he too might be open to killing the rule.

There are still no plans by the leader of the anti-filibuster faction, Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, to push for a vote on the issue, and no Republican is likely to join such an effort.

But Democratic lawmakers need to at least prove they are trying, as pressure increases from progressives and labor unions who see the rule as an obstacle, and as Democrats outside of Washington remind those on Capitol Hill what the base wants.

“While these Senators sit comfortably in Washington making $174,000 a year, millions of Americans are struggling every day to get by,” John Fetterman, the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania, who is running for Senate in 2022 and supports killing the filibuster, wrote in an email on Friday. (An earlier version of this post misstated Mr. Fetterman’s job title.)

Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, during a meeting of the House impeachment managers last month.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

A House Democrat who unsuccessfully prosecuted Donald J. Trump at his impeachment trial last month sued him in federal court on Friday for acts of terrorism and incitement to riot, attempting to use the justice system to punish the former president for his role in the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.

The suit brought by Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, accuses Mr. Trump and key allies of inciting the deadly attack and conspiring with rioters to try to prevent Congress from formalizing President Biden’s election victory. And like the case laid out in the Senate, which acquitted him, it meticulously traces a monthslong campaign by Mr. Trump to undermine confidence in the 2020 election and then overturn its results.

“The horrific events of January 6 were a direct and foreseeable consequence of the defendants’ unlawful actions,” asserts the civil suit, filed for Mr. Swalwell in Federal District Court in Washington. “As such, the defendants are responsible for the injury and destruction that followed.”

Though not a criminal case, the suit charges Mr. Trump and his allies with several counts including conspiracy to violate civil rights, negligence, incitement to riot, disorderly conduct, terrorism and inflicting serious emotional distress — findings that could severely tarnish his legacy and political standing. If found liable, Mr. Trump could be subject to compensatory and punitive damages; if the case proceeds, it might also lead to an open-ended discovery process that could turn up information about his conduct and communications that eluded impeachment prosecutors.

In addition to the former president, the suit also names as defendants his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., his lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and Representative Mo Brooks, Republican of Alabama, who led the effort to overturn Mr. Trump’s election defeat when Congress met on Jan. 6 to formalize the results. All three men joined Mr. Trump in promoting and speaking at a rally in Washington that day, which Mr. Swalwell says lit the match for the violence that followed.

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Read the Suit: Swalwell v. Trump

The suit from Representative Eric Swalwell accuses Mr. Trump and several allies of inciting the attack and conspiring with rioters to try to prevent Congress from formalizing President Biden’s victory.

Read Document

A majority of the Senate, including seven Republicans, voted to find Mr. Trump “guilty” based on the same factual record last month, but the vote fell short of the two-thirds needed to convict him. Even Republicans who voted to acquit him, like Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, concluded that Mr. Trump was culpable for the assault. Many Republicans argued that the Senate simply lacked jurisdiction to punish a president no longer in office, and said the courts were the proper venue for those seeking to hold him accountable.

The lawsuit adds to Mr. Trump’s mounting legal woes. Another Democratic congressman, Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, has already filed suit on similar grounds in recent weeks with the N.A.A.C.P. Prosecutors in New York have active investigations into his financial dealings, and in Georgia prosecutors are investigating his attempts to pressure election officials to reverse his loss.

In a statement, Jason Miller, an adviser to Mr. Trump, blasted Mr. Swalwell as a “a lowlife with no credibility” but did not comment on the merits of the case. Mr. Brooks rejected the claims, saying he would wear Mr. Swalwell’s “scurrilous and malicious lawsuit like a badge of courage.”

Mr. Giuliani and a lawyer for Donald Trump Jr. did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Both Mr. Thompson’s suit and Mr. Swalwell’s rely on civil rights law tracing to the 19th century Ku Klux Klan Act, but their aims appear to differ. The earlier suit targets Mr. Trump’s association with right-wing extremist groups, naming several groups as defendants and explicitly detailing racialized hate it claims figured in the attack. Mr. Swalwell focuses more narrowly on the alleged scheme by Mr. Trump and his inner circle.

During the Senate trial, Mr. Trump’s defense lawyers flatly denied that he was responsible for the assault and made broad assertions that he was protected by the First Amendment when he urged supporters gathered on Jan. 6 to “fight like hell” to “stop the steal” he said was underway at the Capitol.

Former President Donald J. Trump speaking at CPAC in Orlando, Fla. last month.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Friday’s positive jobs report might have been a day of exclamation points and all-caps self-congratulation for Donald J. Trump if he were A) still president, and B) still allowed to post on Twitter.

Instead, there was a somber tweet from the White House chief of staff, Ron Klain, who downplayed the 379,000 newly created jobs as not “good enough,” and Mr. Trump himself used a muted megaphone he once eschewed — email — to address an array of topics tailor-fit for social media.

“Despite being delayed by years of litigation and politics by the Democrats, the wall is almost finished and can be quickly completed. Doing so will save thousands of lives,” Mr. Trump wrote in an email on Friday, responding to recent White House moves to reverse his immigration and border wall policies.

“Keep illegal immigration, crime, and the China Virus out of our country!” he added in the email, sent by his post-presidential office.

It is “Trump’s Twitter feed, only now it’s my inbox,” Rob Tornoe, a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer, posted on Twitter after the email went out.

The old-is-new email format, which has no character count or content warnings, allows the former president to ramble and speak out as before, with all the same unedited idiosyncrasies of grammar and punctuation intact.

Until recently, he had sent only a handful of emails out, and several of them were endorsements. His pace, however, seems to be picking up, coinciding with Mr. Biden’s systematic dismantling of his legacy, and Mr. Trump’s speech at a CPAC gathering in Florida last weekend, his first public appearance since leaving office.

By Thursday, reporters’ inboxes were filling up with emails. His first mark was Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority, leader, who blasted Mr. Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riots and suggested the party needs to move on from his presidency.

“Mitch McConnell, the most unpopular politician in the country, who only won in Kentucky because President Trump endorsed him,” Mr. Trump wrote, referring to himself in the third person. “He would have lost badly without this endorsement.”

A few hours later, he targeted Karl Rove, a former adviser of President George W. Bush, for writing an op-ed piece calling Mr. Trump’s speech at CPAC “hollow.”

“He’s a pompous fool with bad advice,” Mr. Trump wrote.

But email does not possess the punch of the Twitter platform he once had, and some of his targets have only addressed his comments in passing.

“We don’t take our advice or counsel from former President Trump on immigration,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Friday in response to the former president’s latest email, before fielding the next question.

A server disinfected tables in New York on Friday, when the Labor Department reported that hiring at restaurants and bars was strong in February.
Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

Driven by unexpectedly large job gains at the nation’s restaurants and bars, the labor market picked up strength in February, raising hopes that the economic recovery was taking hold more firmly.

All told, employers added 379,000 jobs, the government reported Friday, the strongest showing since October. The increase, as vaccination efforts ramped up and restrictions on businesses eased, followed a deep loss in December and a modest rise in January.

Job growth shows improvement

Cumulative change in all jobs since before the pandemic

By Ella Koeze·Seasonally adjusted·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

But the February pace was still far short of the gains recorded from late spring to early fall as the pandemic’s sudden stranglehold loosened. There are roughly 9.5 million fewer jobs than a year ago, and a year’s worth of lost opportunities — as many as two million jobs that would most likely have been created if previous hiring trends had continued. Congress is considering a $1.9 trillion package of pandemic relief intended to carry struggling households and businesses through the coming months.

“Without a rescue plan, these gains are going to slow,” President Biden said Friday before a meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and other economic officials. “We can’t afford one step forward and two steps backwards. We need to beat the virus, provide essential relief and build an inclusive recovery.”

He noted that at the rate of February’s gains, “it would take two years to get us back on track.”

Leisure and hospitality saw gains, but state and local governments lost jobs

Cumulative change in jobs since before the pandemic, by industry

By Ella Koeze·Seasonally adjusted·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most of the increases came in the leisure and hospitality industries, which have been particularly hard hit by shutdown orders and employ 3.5 million fewer people than a year ago. The February gains included 286,000 jobs in food services and drinking establishments, along with 69,000 at businesses like hotels and gyms.

Some restaurant owners say the combination of falling coronavirus cases and warming weather in recent weeks is attracting more customers.

Last week Boathouse Group Restaurants, which operates eight restaurants in and around Richmond, Va., brought back 40 employees who had been furloughed late last year when dining restrictions again tightened in the state. Kevin Healy, the owner, expects 100 more hires in the next six weeks.

“Next Thursday, it’s supposed to be 73 degrees and sunny,” he noted. “We’re going to be very busy.”

Retail and manufacturing payrolls also showed some growth. Losses in employment by state and local governments — mostly in education — pared the overall increase, however. Harsh and unusually cold weather in February further held down gains.

Unemployment rate

By Ella Koeze·Seasonally adjusted·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The unemployment rate last month was 6.2 percent, down from 6.3 percent in January. But as the Federal Reserve and top administration officials have emphasized, that number understates the breadth of the damage.

More than four million people quit the labor force in the last year, including those sidelined because of child care and other family responsibilities or health concerns. They are not included in the official jobless count. With them and other misclassified workers, the jobless rate is close to 10 percent.

Labor force participation is plateauing

Share of the working-age population who are in the labor force (employed, unemployed but looking for work or on temporary layoff)

By Ella Koeze·Seasonally adjusted·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

“Even though we saw job gains pick up, it’s clear that many Americans don’t feel comfortable returning to work,” said Julia Pollak, an economist at the online job site ZipRecruiter. To her, the report’s most striking feature was the small number of workers — just 50,000 — who rejoined the work force last month.

The impact has been uneven. The jobless rate among Black workers climbed to 9.9 percent last month from 9.2 percent in January. In contrast, joblessness for white workers ticked down to 5.6 percent from 5.7 percent in January, and rates for workers who identify as Hispanic or Asian also fell.

The share of Black women who have left the labor force is also more than twice as high as the share of white men.

Black and Hispanic workers still have higher unemployment rates

Unemployment rates for Black, Hispanic, Asian and white men

Unemployment rates for Black, Hispanic, Asian and white women

By Ella Koeze·Rates are seasonally adjusted except those for Asian men and women.·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

“We’re still in a pandemic economy,” said Julia Coronado, founder of MacroPolicy Perspectives and a former Fed economist. “Millions of people are looking for work and willing to work, but they are constrained from working.”

Most economists, though, have offered increasingly optimistic forecasts for growth later in the year.

Recruiting sites have had an increase in job postings in recent weeks. Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a Chicago staffing firm, said the employers he spoke to were “absolutely ready to hire.”

Will Lopes, the chief executive of Catapult, which develops business technology for professional and university sports teams, said, “There’s a bit more optimism in the industry than there was before.”

Of the company’s 340 staff members, about 130 work in the United States. Mr. Lopes said he was ready to add 20 people — mostly ones highly skilled in technology — to Catapult’s American team.

Avant, an online lender that has its headquarters in Chicago and a call center in Oak Ridge, Tenn., is planning to step up hiring at both locations. The corporate staff, which numbers 257, is scheduled to grow about 30 percent over the next year, said Margaret Hermes, head of talent, while the Tennessee operation, which employs 169, is looking to hire more than 30 people.

As encouraging as the job gains are, millions of workers still rely on jobless benefits and other government assistance. First-time jobless claims rose last week. The ranks of the long-term unemployed — those out of work for six months or more — grew again last month, to 4.1 million.

The portion of the unemployed who have been jobless for at least 6 months grew

Share of unemployed who have been out of work 27 weeks or longer

By Ella Koeze·Seasonally adjusted·Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Moreover, many people who are working part time would prefer full-time jobs.

Jamie Pontia, 44, was a bar manager at a major hotel chain in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh when the pandemic shut down operations last spring. Recently, a friend offered her a few hours of work a week at a nearby club.

At the hotel, she had worked five or six days a week, earning as much as $300 a day in wages and tips in addition to full benefits and a basketful of discounts. Now, she is averaging 12 hours a week, earning $8 an hour plus free fish sandwiches.

“I got behind on my car payment because that one was just too big,” Ms. Pontia said. “I looked out the window every night worrying, ‘Are they going to come get the car?’”

She was still eligible for unemployment insurance, but in December an unexplained glitch left her with no benefits for two months. Using an auto-redialer, she tried to call Pennsylvania’s unemployment office 2,000 times to fix the problem, she said, but was never able to get through.

She mentioned her frustration to someone she met at work. “He called his friend, who called his stepdaughter, who called her boyfriend, who called his son, who works for the unemployment office,” she said, and he was finally able to clear up the mistake.

Ultimately, Ms. Pontia hopes to get her old position back. But “to get a job even close to what I was able to have before seems absolutely impossible until things are safer,” she said.

Fifteen hundred miles to the southwest, in San Antonio, Jordan Alaniz was hired as a bartender at a French restaurant and bar on Feb. 20. Ms. Alaniz, a 28-year-old mother of two infants, received her first Covid-19 vaccine this week. But even with the shot, she is worried about working at a bar in a state without a mask mandate after Gov. Greg Abbott rolled back the requirement.

“I’m definitely nervous about it,” said Ms. Alaniz, who previously worked at a different restaurant. “The last time they lifted our mask mandate, we actually had a Covid outbreak at the place I was working because they weren’t requiring masks there. That kind of traumatized me, and that’s why I was so adamant about getting the vaccine.”

Still, Ms. Alaniz feels lucky to have a job. She appreciates that her new workplace takes virus protocols seriously, requiring staff to wear gloves and clean the establishment regularly. The restaurant will continue to ask customers to wear masks, despite the governor’s lifting of restrictions.

The varying attitudes about risk of infection underscore why the shape of the post-pandemic economy remains uncertain even as more and more of the population is vaccinated.

Will people rush back out to restaurants, theaters, sports events and shopping malls or shift their behavior? Will workplaces crank back up to full capacity or shift to more remote work? Will business travel and conferences return to previous levels?

Over the past year, online retail and other e-commerce-related sectors saw explosive growth while the face-to-face economy went into a deep freeze.

Postings for warehouse and stocking jobs, for example, were 38 percent above February last year, said Nick Bunker, head of research for the job site Indeed. The question is whether that will continue.

“We’ve shifted consumption,” he said, “but how much of that snaps back once the pandemic is under control?”

Julie Creswell, Gillian Friedman and Jeanna Smialek contributed reporting.

President Biden visiting a Covid-19 vaccination center in Bethesda, Md. 
Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

President Biden is enjoying a level of popularity his poll-obsessed predecessor never came close to achieving — a 60 percent approval rating — with 70 percent of Americans expressing support for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll.

Despite enduring and stark partisan divisions, 44 percent of Republicans approve of Mr. Biden’s actions prioritizing the fight against the virus, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released early Friday.

As a temperature check of the current national mood, the poll suggests that Republican lawmakers in Washington, who have united to oppose Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, are not swaying public opinion, despite their efforts to alter or delay its passage.

In all, 22 percent of Republicans approve of Mr. Biden’s performance, suggesting small but substantial gains among his most hard-core opponents that could give him added political leverage, paving the way for the possibility of a big bipartisan deal on infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s overall approval among Democrats is a solid 94 percent, despite recent criticism from progressives.

Mr. Trump sustained a similar level of support from his base, but is the only president in the history of modern polling to never post an aggregate approval rating above 50 percent. His level of support has sunk, to an average of about 38 percent, after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Friday’s poll is a bit sunnier than other recent national surveys that show a slight decrease in support for Mr. Biden as the fight over his relief package heats up on Capitol Hill. A RealClearPolitics aggregation of polls put his approval rating at 53.4 percent, not factoring in the A.P. poll.

Mr. Biden’s grades on the economy were lower than his ratings on other issues, the poll found. His approval on pocketbook issues was 55 percent. Only 17 percent of Republicans, a group that gave former President Donald J. Trump high marks for his handling of the economy even during the pandemic-related downturn, approved of Mr. Biden’s approach to the economy.

The A.P. poll, unsurprisingly, found that the atmosphere of hyper partisanship exacerbated by Mr. Trump’s four years of provocation is not subsiding under Mr. Biden, and that people in both parties tend to interpret fact through the filter of ideology.

Americans’ views on the economy have shifted dramatically even though many basic economic statistics have budged little, if at all.

In December, 67 percent of Republicans and just 15 percent of Democrats described the economy as “good,” according to an A.P. poll taken at the time. Now, 35 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats describe the economy in positive terms.

The poll, which surveyed 1,434 adults between Feb. 23 and March 1, has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

“I’ve got more to do than I’ve got hours of the day,” said Susan E. Rice, the head of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council. “It’s new terrain, so it’s fun.”
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

When President Biden and his top advisers decided to bomb Iran-backed militias in Syria last week, Susan E. Rice was not in the room.

Ms. Rice, who was national security adviser in the Obama administration and now runs the Domestic Policy Council for Mr. Biden, acknowledges a sense of relief that she does not have to tackle the same national security problems she left behind four years ago. Instead of Syria and Saudi Arabia, she is focused on an array of issues like health care, immigration and gun safety, as well as instilling racial equity throughout the government.

That relief, however, is coupled with some fear of missing out.

“I kind of wish I had been in the room just to hear all the considerations,” Ms. Rice said Saturday during a Zoom interview, discussing the military action in Syria. “But I’ve got more to do than I’ve got hours of the day. It’s new terrain, so it’s fun.”

On paper, running the lesser-known Domestic Policy Council is a small role for someone who made the short list for vice president and later hoped for a top national security job.

But Ms. Rice, one of the few senior Black women in the West Wing, has been brought in with a mandate to elevate the council and to operate as part of a policy troika alongside Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, and Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council.

This was not where she originally thought she would end up. But during the transition, when it was unclear whether Democrats would win control of the Senate, Ms. Rice’s conversations with the Biden team switched from cabinet positions, like defense secretary and secretary of state, to White House roles that would not require Senate confirmation. The inevitable relitigation by Republicans of Ms. Rice’s role in responding to the 2012 terrorist attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, was not what anyone believed would be a ticket to confirmation.

The domestic policy job typically goes to someone who is not a household name but is steeped in domestic policy. It is also considered relatively lacking in visibility and prestige, operating as a distant third player behind the National Economic Council and the National Security Council.

Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, said that in accepting the position, Ms. Rice had told him she wanted the resources to make the Domestic Policy Council more of an internal force.

“We wanted her to have an N.S.C.-like process,” Mr. Klain said. “She’s like, ‘Well, then I need an N.S.C.-like like staff and budget.’ We weren’t quite able to match the N.S.C., but we did significantly plus up the number of staff she has.”

Now, Ms. Rice occupies the West Wing office that was previously inhabited by Stephen Miller, President Donald J. Trump’s top policy adviser. And instead of having a principal deputy serving under the director, she has appointed four senior deputies who are experts in their fields.

“I’m not a health care policy expert,” she said. “The single deputy structure means everything is a bottleneck. I’ve got these high-powered deputies, and that’s how we’re going to get stuff done.”

A Capitol Police officer in the Capitol on Thursday. The agency is overseen by a secretive panel that has been strongly criticized for its actions before and during the Jan. 6 attack.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

The congressional inquiry into the security failures surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol assault has barely begun, but one outcome already seems certain: The Capitol Police Board, the secretive three-member panel that oversees protection of the complex where Congress meets, is headed for major changes, if not outright elimination.

Lawmakers of both parties in the House and the Senate, some previously unfamiliar with the sweeping authority of the board, have expressed astonishment at its lack of accountability and its inability to rapidly respond to the riot at the Capitol.

“It seems nonfunctioning to me,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, which controls money for Capitol security. “Nobody is in charge. When something goes wrong, no one has the ultimate responsibility.”

New tension over the board’s power emerged on Thursday as Yogananda D. Pittman, the acting chief of the Capitol Police, appealed to House and Senate leaders to intercede to persuade the panel to grant her department’s emergency request to extend the deployment of National Guard troops at the Capitol. After her letter to the leaders became public, the board gave its approval. But the episode was reminiscent of events in the run-up to Jan. 6, when the panel rebuffed a request from the Capitol Police for National Guard reinforcements to counter a threat that had been identified by intelligence, with disastrous consequences.

Like many things on Capitol Hill, the board is a remnant of the past that has survived in large part because it suits those who hold power in Congress. A long line of House and Senate leaders in both parties have favored its existence because they handpick two of its three voting members, giving them tremendous influence over security operations with little public scrutiny.

At House and Senate hearings in recent days, lawmakers have been struck by the fact that two days before the attack, members of the board dismissed the Capitol Police request for troops to be on hand on Jan. 6. They acted with no vote, little discussion or consultation with other authorities, and no involvement by the architect of the Capitol. Then on the day of the riot, board members struggled to connect and agree to declare an emergency so that troops who were standing by to assist could be summoned to the Capitol.

Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri, the senior Republican on the Rules Committee, said the assault underscored longstanding problems with the police board that necessitate major changes.

“I don’t think it works well in the best of circumstances and I think it’s almost totally unworkable in crisis, and Jan. 6 was a great example of that,” Mr. Blunt said.

Federico G. Klein was included in a poster seeking information on several people seen in the crowd that stormed the Capitol.

The F.B.I. said on Thursday that it had arrested a former State Department aide on charges related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, including unlawful entry, violent and disorderly conduct, obstructing Congress and law enforcement, and assaulting an officer with a dangerous weapon.

The former midlevel aide, Federico G. Klein, who federal investigators said in court documents was seen in videos of the riot resisting officers and assaulting them with a stolen riot shield, is the first member of the Trump administration to face criminal charges in connection with the storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

He worked on Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and began working at the State Department just days after Mr. Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, according to a financial disclosure form he filed as an executive branch employee.

Mr. Klein’s arrest was reported earlier by Politico.

The F.B.I. said in a court document that it received a tip about Mr. Klein in January, on the day after it included his image in a poster seeking information about several people seen in the crowd that had stormed the Capitol. A tipster provided investigators with Mr. Klein’s Facebook account, and a different witness later contacted them to say that he knew the man in the poster as “Freddie Klein,” according to the document.

Based on this information, the F.B.I. determined that when Mr. Klein allegedly attacked Congress on Jan. 6 to help Mr. Trump unlawfully maintain power, he was still employed by the State Department and possessed a Top Secret security clearance, the bureau said in the document.

Mr. Klein can be seen in video footage and other images dressed in a red “Make America Great Again” hat, slacks and a dress shirt as he tries to break past a line of Metropolitan Police officers in a tunnel near the west terrace, according to the document. “Klein quickly pushed his way to the front-left side of the crowd and to the doorway to the Capitol building, where he physically and verbally engaged with the officers holding the line,” the F.B.I. said.

He was part of a mob that tried to push through the doors despite warnings by an officer to back up, the F.B.I. said, and used a “riot shield that apparently had been taken from an officer” to prevent the closing of the doors.

Mr. Klein was seen in other videos “calling back to the crowd behind him, ‘We need fresh people, we need fresh people’ multiple times,” the F.B.I. said.

The Justice Department’s aggressive and sprawling investigation into the attack on the Capitol has led to criminal charges against more than 300 people, including dozens of far-right extremists who have been accused of conspiring to attack Congress in order to stop the final certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory.

Many defendants have said that they acted at the behest of Mr. Trump, who had falsely asserted that he won the November election.

In recent weeks, the investigation has edged closer to Mr. Trump. Last month, investigators began examining the communications of some right-wing extremists who had breached the Capitol to determine whether Roger J. Stone Jr., a close associate of the former president, had played any role in their plans to attack Congress. Mr. Stone has denied any wrongdoing.

Thomas Donohue, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive, said President Donald J. Trump had undermined democracy.
Credit…Susan Walsh/Associated Press

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s largest business lobbying group, will not place a blanket ban on donations to Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn President Biden’s election win.

The group will instead evaluate individual members of Congress based on their position on “issues important to the Chamber, as well as their demonstrated commitment to governing and rebuilding our democratic institutions,” according to a memo sent to members on Friday.

“There is a meaningful difference between a member of Congress who voted no on the question of certifying the votes of certain states and those who engaged and continue to engage in repeated actions that undermine the legitimacy of our elections and institutions,” Ashlee Rich Stephenson, a senior political strategist, wrote in the memo.

The chamber, which operates a powerful political action committee that supports candidates across the country, announced that it would reconsider its donation policy after a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to overturn the presidential election results. The attack left five people dead, including a police officer.

After the riot, a growing number of businesses and institutions moved to cut ties with President Donald J. Trump and his allies. Major banks halted political donations, and social media companies stripped Mr. Trump of his posting abilities.

Neil Bradley, the Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, said in January that lawmakers who did not show respect for democracy would no longer receive financial support.

“The president’s conduct last week was absolutely unacceptable and completely inexcusable,” Thomas J. Donohue, chief executive of the Chamber of Commerce, said at the time. “By his words and actions, he has undermined our democratic institutions and ideals.”

Mr. Donohue’s 24-year tenure will end on March 11. The organization appointed Suzanne Clark as its next chief executive last month.

The chamber came to its decision after engaging with more than 100 members on the issue, according to the memo. Axios first reported the details of the announcement.


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