President Biden on Thursday evening directed states to make all adult Americans eligible to receive coronavirus vaccines no later than May 1, using a somber but hopeful prime-time address to the nation to say Americans may be able to “mark our independence from this virus” by the Fourth of July.
Mr. Biden offered a renewed sense of optimism as he recognized the one-year anniversary since the World Health Organization declared the spread of the virus a global pandemic, which plunged the nation and the world into health and economic crises. With continued vigilance, he said, families and friends may be able to gather to celebrate the nation’s independence.
“If we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” the president said.
Mr. Biden’s speech — solemn and short — was a stark contrast to the often rambling and defensive remarks by former President Donald J. Trump, who a year ago to the day had said “the risk is very, very low” for most Americans and predicted that the country would “ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus.”
Instead, Mr. Biden sought to balance empathy for more than 529,000 lives lost with the deep yearning among Americans for an end to the crisis. He declared that Americans are “owed nothing less than the truth,” no matter how grim.
“Here is the truth,” he said. “The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back on track, is to beat the virus.”
He warned that a return to normal this summer would require the public to continue to wear masks, social distance and sign up to be vaccinated. His order to eliminate the current prioritization of vaccine eligibility is a reflection, his aides said, of the administration’s confidence that there will soon be enough vaccine for everyone.
The speech came just hours after Mr. Biden signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law, calling it an effort focused on “rebuilding the backbone of this country.”
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Mr. Biden acknowledged the devastating impact of a virus that has shuttered restaurants and businesses, emptied sports stadiums, driven patrons from movie theaters and gyms, forced students to learn at home and left tens of millions out of work.
“We all lost something — a collective suffering, a collective sacrifice, a year filled with the loss of life,” Mr. Biden said. “In the loss, we saw how much there was to gain. An appreciation, respect and gratitude.”
But advisers said that in preparing the speech, the president was determined to lay out an optimistic vision in which the country not only gets “closer to normal,” but also grows stronger than before, setting the stage for a fierce debate about the rest of his broader economic and domestic agenda.
“Finding light in the darkness is a very American thing to do,” he said.
Mr. Biden and his team are keenly aware that his presidency will be judged by how he manages to end the pandemic, restore economic growth and return a sense of normalcy to the nation after one of the darkest periods in American history.
Mr. Biden announced a series of new actions to speed up vaccinations, including new federal mass vaccination sites, an expanded partnership with pharmacies to distribute the vaccine, and the use of dentists, veterinarians, medical students and others to actually deliver the shots.
The federal government will also open a website on May 1 to allow Americans to find out where the vaccine is available.
The president faces real challenges ahead: a polarized country still deeply torn about whether to wear masks and remain under tiresome restrictions; logistical barriers to vaccinating tens of millions of people and a portion of the public that remains deeply suspicious about receiving one; and Republican adversaries who have so far resisted Mr. Biden’s solutions, voting en masse against the president’s nearly $2 trillion rescue plan.
The president did not unveil details of what he calls the “next phase” of the pandemic response. But his administration has already signaled that he intends to push for a far-reaching effort to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, providing new opportunities for jobs and pumping more into the economy.
Just hours after he signed a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill into law, President Biden said the package would help to reopen schools and defeat the virus more quickly.
Mr. Biden, in a prime-time address, noted that the measure provides $130 billion for schools, an amount that he said will “accelerate a massive effort to reopen our schools safely.”
“The only way to get our lives back, to get our economy back on track, is to beat the virus,” he said, nodding to the reality that many people cannot return to work or seek new employment until their children are back in school.
Mr. Biden gave a quick pitch for several other provisions in the stimulus package, including checks to individuals, nutritional assistance to families struggling to put food on the table and expanded tax credits that researchers say will halve child poverty for the year. He said that the package would “create millions of jobs.”
“If it fails at any point I will acknowledge that it failed,” Mr. Biden said. “But it will not.”
Economic forecasters expect an almost immediate boost to the U.S. economy from the stimulus law, the American Rescue Plan, which includes several provisions meant to put money in the hands of low- and middle-income segments of the population quickly. That includes direct payments of $1,400 per individual that White House officials say will start showing up in bank accounts this weekend. It also extends unemployment benefits for millions of jobless workers through September, including an additional $300 per week from the federal government.
Economists expect those provisions, among others in the bill, to power an acceleration in consumer spending at a moment when parts of the economy badly damaged by the pandemic, like the hospitality, aviation and tourism industries, are beginning to show new signs of life thanks to ever broader vaccine deployment.
With the bill signed into law, cash will “begin to flow very quickly,” Ian Shepherdson, chief economist for Pantheon Macroeconomics, wrote in a research note on Thursday. He also expects municipal and state governments to quickly begin rehiring some of the 1.3 million workers they laid off in the depths of the crisis, reassured by the law’s designation of $350 billion in aid to cities and states, though that money will not be disbursed as quickly as individual aid.
“This will come at the same time as private businesses are rehiring people in customer-facing jobs as the reopening continues in the leisure, recreation, and travel sectors, so we’re expecting payroll growth to accelerate dramatically over the next few months,” he wrote.
Mr. Shepherdson now predicts that U.S. economic growth will hit 7 percent for 2021, which would be the nation’s fastest annual pace since the early 1980s. Many other forecasters have revised up their growth predictions in light of the bill’s passage, even if they are not all as bullish as Mr. Shepherdson.
The international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development predicted this week that the Biden plan would help the U.S. economy grow at a 6.5 percent rate this year. Some economists worry that the growth boost could be too strong, stoking runaway inflation, though there is no indication yet in economic data that a sustained price spike across the economy is imminent. Inflation has on average been running below the Fed’s 2 percent target for several years.
The timing of the rescue plan could strengthen Mr. Biden’s ability to claim credit for an economic rebound, though even before he took office, forecasters were projecting a return to growth, albeit less vigorous. Job growth accelerated in February, Mr. Biden’s first full month in office. In another sign that the economy is healing, the Labor Department reported on Thursday that about 50,000 fewer workers filed first-time claims for state unemployment benefits than last week.
Mr. Biden and his aides plan to aggressively make the case that his relief package is responsible for any rapid economic improvement. At the signing on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Biden got started.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation — working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country — a fighting chance,” the president said. “That’s what the essence of it is.”
Despite not receiving a single Republican vote in favor of his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan, President Biden made it clear on Thursday night that he still believes in “unity.”
“We need to remember the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No. It’s us. All of us,” he said in a prime-time address to the nation, while calling on a divided country to “turn our hands to common purpose.”
“Beating this virus and getting back to normal,” he said, “depends on national unity.”
The political question is whether Mr. Biden can preach that hopeful message of coming together, while also making Republicans pay a price in the midterm elections for not supporting a bill that has broad bipartisan support among voters.
Any talk of “common purpose” looks beyond Washington, where Republicans in both the House and the Senate unanimously voted against the relief plan, and where G.O.P. leaders were already trying to separate any economic recovery from the stimulus bill in order to deny Mr. Biden political credit.
“The American people are going to see an American comeback this year,” said Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader, on Wednesday, “but it won’t be because of this liberal bill.” The Republican National Committee was ignoring the bill’s enactment altogether on Thursday evening, as well as Mr. Biden’s address, instead sending out emails about what it called “the Biden border crisis.”
Some people who had been part of the Trump administration tried to rebut the speech in real time. Chad Gilmartin, a former press aide, argued that Mr. Biden had failed to share credit. “It’s clear his plan is to rely on what he inherited from President Trump: multiple vaccines in record time,” Mr. Gilmartin wrote on Twitter. “Biden should thank Operation Warp Speed for the outstanding miracle it achieved!”
Polls show that despite the measure’s unpopularity among Republicans in Washington, it won’t need much selling elsewhere — its support is broad, and reaches across the country’s political divide. A recent Politico/Morning Consult poll said that about 59 percent of Republicans at least somewhat supported the package.
In his speech, Mr. Biden acknowledged the disconnect between lawmakers and their constituents when it came to supporting the relief plan.
“National unity isn’t just how politics and politicians vote in Washington. What the loudest voices say on cable or online,” he said. “Unity is what we do together as fellow Americans.”
Voting against a plan that saved airline jobs, small-business jobs and extended unemployment benefits while trying to cut the estate tax could be a tough position for Republicans to defend in November of next year, when Mr. McCarthy is hoping to flip five seats to take back the majority in the House.
But Mr. McCarthy could also succeed in celebrating the potential economic recovery in a way that could bolster Republicans.
“It doesn’t feel to me that Democrats have done that much or really tried to do that much to hang this around the Republicans’ neck as a defining moment for a Marie Antionette-like G.O.P.,” said Bill Kristol, the conservative columnist. “Maybe that comes later?”
The awkward position was already apparent online, where Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, tweeted approvingly of a part of it just hours after the bill passed. Notably absent from his praise was any mention that he voted against it.
President Biden on Thursday evening condemned “vicious” hate crimes against Asian-Americans, who he said have been “attacked, harassed, blamed and scapegoated” during the coronavirus pandemic.
“They’re forced to live in fear for their lives just walking down streets in America,” Mr. Biden said during a prime-time address at the White House, marking a year since the coronavirus was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. “It’s wrong. It’s un-American, and it must stop.”
Asian-Americans have grappled with anxiety and fear as violence against them spiked during the pandemic. Activists and elected officials say the attacks were fueled early on in part by the rhetoric of former President Donald J. Trump, who frequently referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese virus” because it originated in Wuhan, China. Mr. Trump has also blamed the Chinese government for the pandemic, saying Beijing failed to keep the virus from spreading beyond China’s borders.
Over the past year, researchers and activist groups have tallied thousands of racist incidents against Asian-Americans. Earlier this year, an 84-year-old man from Thailand was violently slammed to the ground during an attack in San Francisco, and he later died. The killing, which his family described as racially motivated, spurred a campaign to raise awareness of his death and the recent attacks against Asian-Americans.
In New York, the number of hate crimes involving Asian-American victims reported to the New York Police Department jumped to 28 in 2020, up from just three the previous year.
— Madeleine Ngo
President Biden on Thursday dramatically expanded the ways Americans can get vaccinated and the pool of people who can administer shots, moves enabled in part by new funding in the American Rescue Plan. The changes, he pledged in a prime-time address to the nation, would mean “no more searching day and night for an appointment for you and your loved ones.”
Here’s a look at what the Biden administration is doing to offer more access.
Centralizing how you can find a vaccine.
By May 1, when Mr. Biden directed that states should have opened up eligibility for every adult in the United States, the federal government will debut a vaccine finder website that guides people to sites near them offering shots.
By the same date, the administration will launch a call center with a 1-800 number to assist those who might not have internet access in finding a vaccine.
For states that sponsor vaccine appointment websites, the administration will assign staff in technical support jobs to help improve the sites’ performance.
Opening more vaccination sites
In the next six weeks, the administration will send vaccines to up to 700 more community health centers that typically serve lower-income patients, bringing the total number of those sites serving as vaccination centers to 950.
More than 20,000 pharmacies will now administer the shots as part of the federal government’s pharmacy vaccine program, double the number that have so far participated.
The administration is more than doubling the number of federally run mass vaccination sites, settings that the White House said would now be able to administer hundreds of thousands of shots a day under the aegis of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the military and other agencies. At least 4,000 more active duty troops are to be deployed to help the effort.
Expanding the number of people who can administer vaccines
Beginning Friday, a dramatically larger pool of people trained in injections will be eligible to give Covid-19 shots, including dentists, medical students, midwives, optometrists, paramedics, podiatrists and veterinarians.
The Department of Health and Human Services is creating a website for people interested in volunteering to give shots that will help determine if they are eligible to do so.
President Biden, in a prime-time address on Thursday night, exaggerated elements of the coronavirus pandemic along with his, and his predecessor’s, response to it. Here’s a fact-check.
What Mr. Biden Said
“A year ago we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked, denials for days, weeks, then months.”
This is exaggerated. It is true that President Donald J. Trump downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic for months. But he was not exactly silent and did not fail to respond completely. One year ago, on March 12, 2020, Mr. Trump delivered an address from the Oval Office acknowledging the threat and announced new travel restrictions on much of Europe.
What Mr. Biden Said
“As of now, total deaths in America, 527,726. That’s more deaths than in World War I, World War II, the Vietnam War and 9/11 combined.”
This is exaggerated. According to estimates from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a total of 392,393 died in combat in those three wars. Combined with the 2,977 people who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that figure would be indeed smaller than the coronavirus death toll Mr. Biden cited. It would also be lower than the 529,000 death figure tracked by The New York Times. But factoring in deaths that occurred in service but outside of combat, the toll from the three wars (more than 610,000) would be higher than the current total number of virus-related deaths Mr. Biden cited.
What Mr. Biden Said
“Two months ago this country didn’t have nearly enough vaccine supply to vaccinate all or anywhere near all of the American public. But soon we will.”
This is misleading. By the end of last year, the Trump administration had ordered at least 800 million vaccine doses that were expected for delivery by July 31, 2021, the Government Accountability Office reported. That included vaccines undergoing clinical trials as well as those not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration. According to Kaiser Health News, that would have been enough to vaccinate 200 million people with authorized vaccines, and more than enough for 400 million once all the vaccines were cleared for use. The current U.S. population is roughly 330 million. And, contrary to Mr. Biden’s suggestions, both administrations deserve credit for the current state of the vaccine supply.
President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion economic relief package on Thursday afternoon, ushering in an aggressive infusion of federal aid in a far-reaching effort to address the toll of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country,” Mr. Biden said, “and giving people in this nation, working people, middle-class folks, people who built the country, a fighting chance.”
Mr. Biden had originally been scheduled to sign the bill on Friday, after it had been reviewed again and printed. But the president and his advisers, aware that low- and middle-income Americans are desperate for the round of direct payments that the bill includes, moved up the timeline to Thursday afternoon.
Minutes after Mr. Biden signed relief package, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said, “People can expect to start seeing direct deposits hit their bank accounts as early as this weekend.”
Ron Klain, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff, wrote on Twitter earlier in the day that the enrolled bill had arrived at the White House on Wednesday night, adding, “We want to move as fast as possible.”
He continued, “We will hold our celebration of the signing on Friday, as planned, with Congressional leaders!”
The president signed the measure in the Oval Office hours before he was set to deliver a prime-time televised address on Thursday night, kicking off an aggressive campaign to inform voters of the benefits that are coming to them through the relief package.
The campaign will include travel by the president and Vice President Kamala Harris across multiple states, events that will feature a wide range of cabinet members emphasizing the legislation’s themes, as well as endorsements from Republican mayors, according to administration officials.
The White House’s decision to go out and sell the stimulus package after its passage reflects a lesson from the early months of the Obama administration. In 2009, fighting to help the economy recover from a crippling financial crisis, President Barack Obama never succeeded in building durable popular support for a similar stimulus bill and allowed Republicans to define it on their terms, fueling a partisan backlash and the rise of the Tea Party movement.
Mr. Biden starts with an advantage: The legislation is widely popular in national polling. And it will deliver a series of tangible benefits to low- and middle-income Americans, including direct payments of $1,400 per individual, just as the economy’s halting recovery from the pandemic recession is poised to accelerate.
After his address on Thursday night, Mr. Biden will headline a weekslong public relations effort. He is set to visit the Philadelphia suburbs on Tuesday, and he and Ms. Harris are scheduled to travel to Atlanta next Friday.
The House on Thursday approved a pair of bills that would expand and strengthen background checks for gun purchasers, as Democrats pushed past Republican opposition to advance major gun control measures after decades of congressional inaction.
In votes that fell largely along party lines, the House passed legislation that would require background checks for all gun buyers and extend the time given to the F.B.I. to vet buyers flagged by the national instant check system.
Despite being widely popular with voters, the measures face what is expected to be insurmountable opposition in the Senate, where Republicans have resisted imposing any limits on guns, including stricter background-check requirements.
The House voted 227 to 203 to approve the universal background check measure. The vote was 219 to 210 to pass a second one giving federal law enforcement more time to vet gun purchasers.
Both pieces of legislation are aimed at addressing gaps in existing gun laws.
The measure passed on Thursday would require purchasers shopping for firearms online or at gun shows to have their backgrounds vetted before they could receive a weapon. They are not currently required to do so, although in-person purchasers, who make up the majority of such transactions, are.
The second bill addresses what is known as the “Charleston loophole,” which restricts to three days the time the F.B.I. has to conduct a background check, allowing many purchases to proceed without them. The provision allowed Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine people in 2015 at a historically Black church in Charleston, S.C., to buy a handgun even though he should have been barred from purchasing the weapon. The bill would extend the amount of time the F.B.I. has to complete a check for an additional week, to 10 days.
“Let’s not add more names to this registry of grief,” Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat, said, reading from a lengthy list of recent mass shootings and noting that they had sharply fallen in the last year. “Let’s not rely on a pandemic to do what we ought to have done so long ago. Let’s pass these bills and reduce gun violence the right way.”
Democrats first passed the legislation in 2019, shortly after they recaptured control of the House, making it a centerpiece of their agenda as they sought to capitalize on an outpouring of student activism in favor of stricter gun safety measures after a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. Polling then and now, conducted by multiple firms, shows that over 80 percent of voters support the legislation.
Last month, President Biden called on Congress to enact the bills in a statement commemorating the three-year anniversary of the Parkland shooting.
“This administration will not wait for the next mass shooting to heed that call,” he said.
Still, the bills approved on Thursday will join a growing stack of liberal legislation that is widely popular with voters but appears destined to languish in the 50-50 Senate, where Democrats must win the support of 10 Republicans to pass most major measures. It is part of a concerted strategy to increase pressure on Democrats resistant to eliminating the legislative filibuster while forcing Republicans to take difficult votes ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.
“We are not going away until this legislation passes,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “We will meet the challenge to the conscience of the country, when it comes to the gun violence crisis in our country.”
From almost the day he was tapped to head the Office of Federal Student Aid under the Trump administration, Mark A. Brown was a target of consumer and labor groups aligned with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. This week, they cheered his resignation.
In announcing Mr. Brown’s departure, the Biden administration’s recently confirmed education secretary, Miguel Cardona, outlined a general set of promises for the student aid office, saying it would “renew its focus on streamlining access to and management of federal financial aid, easing the burden of student debt and carefully stewarding taxpayer dollars.”
Mr. Brown, a retired Air Force major general, was appointed chief operating officer of the agency in March 2019, overseeing a $1.6 trillion federal student loan portfolio for 43 million borrowers. His resignation on Friday came one year shy of the end of his three-year term.
Betsy DeVos, the former education secretary, appointed Mr. Brown in March 2019, a time when Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts was making student debt forgiveness a centerpiece of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.
Ms. Warren sent him a 23-page letter in May 2019 to congratulate him on his appointment, and to “discuss your vision for the student loan program and loan servicing, which has been under scrutiny for years,” as the letter put it. She said the agency he was leading had “repeatedly failed borrowers and taxpayers.”
She and her allies were no happier with the office under Mr. Brown. Two advocacy groups sued the agency last year for garnishing the wages of thousands of student borrowers who were behind on their loans during the coronavirus pandemic, despite a federal order not to do so. The department blamed employers.
Ms. Warren welcomed Mr. Brown’s resignation with a tweet: “Whether it was incompetence, malice, or a mix of both, @usedgov’s student loan bank under Betsy DeVos was a disaster. The resignation of her Federal Student Aid COO Gen. Mark Brown is good for student borrowers.”
Mr. Brown made a farewell video defending his record. “You do not have the luxury of opining from the sidelines or offering opinion only when it is politically convenient to do so,” he told his staff in the video. “Indeed, you find yourself in the arena each day, trying to make all this work for parents, students and borrowers.”
The Pentagon’s press secretary, John F. Kirby, on Thursday publicly rebuked Tucker Carlson for sexist comments made by the Fox News host, in which Mr. Carlson ridiculed recent changes the military had made to be more accommodating to women.
“So we’ve got new hairstyles and maternity flight suits — pregnant women are going to fight our wars,” Mr. Carlson said on his show Wednesday night. “It’s a mockery of the U.S. military.”
Mr. Carlson went on to praise the Chinese military for increasing the number of ships in its navy, a move he described as “more masculine.” His comments came days after two women — Gen. Jacqueline D. Van Ovost of the Air Force and Lt. Gen. Laura J. Richardson of the Army — were nominated to lead two of the military’s combatant commands.
“What we absolutely won’t do is take personnel advice from a talk-show host or the Chinese military,” Mr. Kirby told reporters on Thursday. “Now maybe those folks feel like they have something to prove; that’s on them.”
Soon after Mr. Kirby made his remarks, the U.S. Army posted a tweet in support of women in the armed forces.
Mr. Kirby’s comments were also echoed by a number of active duty military officials, including several generals and the senior enlisted leader of the U.S. Space Command, with some calling out Mr. Carlson directly.
“I’ll remind everyone that his opinion, which he has a right to, is based off of actually zero days of service in the armed forces,” said Master Gunnery Sgt. Scott H. Stalker of the Space Command.
“The bottom line is that we value women in our armed forces,” he added, citing his own 28 years in the Marine Corps, which includes service in combat.
Mr. Carlson’s remarks drew immediate backlash on social media from women on active duty and in the Reserves, as well as female veterans. On Twitter, Maggie Seymour, a major in the Marine Corps Reserve who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, noted the disparity in service between Mr. Carlson and herself.
Senator Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and an Iraq war veteran, mocked Mr. Carlson by pointing to his 2006 performance on the television show “Dancing With the Stars,” which resulted in him being quickly eliminated from the competition.
“While he was practicing his two-step, America’s female warriors were hunting down Al Qaeda and proving the strength of America’s women,” Ms. Duckworth tweeted.
The senator, whose legs were blown off in combat in Iraq as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the Army, added, “Happy belated International Women’s Day to everyone but Tucker, who even I can dance better than.”
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland promised on Thursday to protect the credibility of the Justice Department and Americans’ civil rights and civil liberties, delivering a short speech via video to the Justice Department’s roughly 115,000 employees about an hour after he was sworn in.
“I am honored to work with you once again,” Mr. Garland said, speaking from the department’s Great Hall. “Together, we will show the American people that the Department of Justice pursues equal justice and adheres to the rule of law.”
Mr. Garland’s speech was his first official act as attorney general. He used the moment to assure the rank and file that the Justice Department would no longer face pressure to attack the president’s enemies and protect his allies — a callback to the unyielding push by former President Donald J. Trump that diminished public confidence in the institution and led some career lawyers to resign.
“The only way we can succeed and retain the trust of the American people is to adhere to the norms that have become part of the DNA of every Justice Department employee,” Mr. Garland said. “Those norms require that like cases be treated alike.”
Mr. Garland was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday in a bipartisan vote, with 20 Republicans joining all Democrats in supporting his nomination. He was sworn in as attorney general in a private ceremony at the Justice Department on Thursday morning, with a public ceremony overseen by Vice President Kamala Harris to be held in the afternoon.
Mr. Garland most recently served as a federal appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit, but he is best known for his 2016 nomination to serve on the Supreme Court, which Republicans refused to consider in a political power play that ultimately allowed Mr. Trump to fill the seat.
But Mr. Garland is also a longtime veteran of the Justice Department, having worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington during the George H.W. Bush administration and as a department official during the Clinton administration.
“When I walked in the door of Main Justice this morning, it really did feel like I was coming home,” Mr. Garland told employees who watched him via video and the handful attending in person, who sat socially distanced as he spoke.
More than seven weeks after President Biden took office, White House staff members are working from California, Puerto Rico, Texas and elsewhere around the country, a striking indication of the strange reality of building a new administration during a pandemic as well as the sharp shift from the Trump administration’s casual approach to dealing with the coronavirus.
Many Biden officials have never met in person with colleagues they interact with on a daily basis. Gina McCarthy, the White House national climate adviser, has met her chief of staff only on a video screen.
The setup might be inconvenient and somewhat anticlimactic for government officials who would normally be sporting coveted White House badges and establishing regular after-hours watering holes. But those who chose not to move during the coronavirus pandemic said it had also given them an outside-the-bubble perspective as they experienced firsthand a grim reality that many of the administration’s policies are trying to address.
Emmy Ruiz, the White House’s director of political strategy and outreach, said she became alarmed when she lost water after the deep freeze in Texas last month and immediately recognized it as a “huge red flag.” Because she lives near a hospital, her neighborhood had until then been prioritized in keeping power and utilities running. She called the nurses she knew at the hospital, where her son was born, “and they were painting a very dire picture,” Ms. Ruiz said. “The hospitals needed water, and in some cases they had to transfer patients, but the roads were ice.”
Ms. Ruiz relayed the concerns she was hearing in her neighborhood to Julie Chávez Rodriguez, the White House intergovernmental affairs director, who was in direct contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Security Council. Ms. Ruiz also reached out to local government officials and county judges to help put them in touch with the federal government for support.