Biden's infrastructure win overshadowed by new virus surge

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Associated Press 30 July, 2021 - 11:11pm 25 views

When the Senate voted this week, with bipartisan support, to begin work on an infrastructure bill that Biden supported, he seemed to have proof of the concept.

But the triumph was overshadowed by the surging delta variant of the coronavirus that has forced the restoration of mask guidelines, imperiled the nation’s economic recovery and threatened Biden’s central promise that he would lead the United States out of the pandemic.

“Democrats have to put wins on the board going into 2022, and COVID clouds on the horizon make getting infrastructure and reconciliation done all that much more important,” said Robert Gibbs, former press secretary to President Barack Obama. He added that it’s “imperative for the Biden administration to communicate on this regularly and prepare for us for the ups and downs of this pandemic.”

The president’s first six months in office, for which he has received strong marks in most public polls, featured the full vaccination of more than 60% of Americans, the creation of more than 3 million new jobs and the passage of a sweeping $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. And in recent days, he has made progress along the massive, two-pronged infrastructure track that could pour $4.5 trillion into the United States economy while he also eyed future moves on voting rights and immigration.

But the virulence of the delta strain coupled with stubborn vaccine hesitancy among a significant portion of the American population has raised alarms about another punishing wave of the pandemic, a prospect that has rattled financial markets already nervously eyeing the possibility of long-term inflation.

And now Biden has entered a more challenging phase of his presidency as the virus has once more proved to be an intractable foe that now endangers the nation’s fragile return to normalcy.

“I know this is hard to hear. I know it’s frustrating. I know it’s exhausting to think we’re still in this fight,” Biden said to reporters at the White House on Thursday. “And I know we hoped this would be a simple, straightforward line, without problems or new challenges. But that isn’t real life.”

At the same time, the administration response has hardly been seamless. It has been criticized about its messaging on the virus, including confusing guidance this week as to when and why vaccinated people would need to resume wearing masks indoors.

In front of 1,000 mask-free people at the White House, Biden had decreed July 4th to be the day that America declared its “independence” from the virus. But just weeks later, staffers and journalists working at the White House were required to don face coverings again, regardless of their vaccination status.

And across the country, Americans who reveled in a return to normalcy are now being asked to wear masks again, stirring resentment in some of those who have followed health guidelines throughout the pandemic, including getting the shot. And the rollback calls into question whether the Biden administration had been too quick to relax guidelines and now risked losing some of the public’s confidence.

“They broke their word. They broke their own rules,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “And now they’ve broken the trust of the American people.”

To be sure, though, the vaccine hesitancy has been most pronounced in areas strongly associated with support for former President Donald Trump, and some conservative media outlets have amplified the wariness.

Any president must be able to set aside the most organized, carefully laid plans to deal with a sudden crisis. Trump was overwhelmed by the pandemic, his best reelection argument — a strong economy — vanishing overnight while his administration's erratic and sporadic response to the virus was judged harshly by voters.

Biden’s White House is more methodical and spent months carefully working on its infrastructure plan, which the president has prioritized for months even amid calls from some in his own party to focus on voting rights. The strategy was crafted to reach a bipartisan agreement by persuading at least 10 Republicans to lay down their partisan arms to reach a deal on so-called hard infrastructure — highways, broadband internet access, mass transit — while then proceeding on a larger, Democrats-only budget reconciliation vote for the rest of the plan.

Though the negotiations were left for dead more than once, Biden’s bet on reaching across the aisle paid off, as 17 GOP senators voted to advance the nearly $1 trillion bipartisan plan. It marked a significant win for the White House, even as numerous twists and turns surely lie ahead, including keeping all the Democrats in line for the $3.5 trillion reconciliation plan.

Biden had framed it as necessary to prove that the two parties could still work together, a demonstration that democracies could still deliver for their people.

“Our economy grew more in six months than most Wall Street forecasters expected for the entire year before we implemented our plan,” said Biden, who predicted that the infrastructure deal is “going to continue this momentum over the long term by making the most significant investment to rebuild America in nearly a century.”

Biden has pushed his broadly popular agenda directly into conservative strongholds — he has held about a half-dozen events in Republican-controlled districts in recent weeks — in an effort to paint Republicans as the party of no while hoping to rein in their turnout next fall when he tries to help preserve threadbare Democratic majorities in Congress.

With a wary eye on inflation, the president is betting that voters will reward him for his policies, as the White House argues it is Republicans who are running solely on identity politics rather than sincerely delivering for their voters.

But that strategy depends on the policy working — which is what makes the virus so dangerous.

If another wave causes businesses or schools to close, not only would the public’s faith in Biden’s management of the virus surely waver, but the economic recovery would also likely stagnate, jeopardizing the Democrats’ central arguments heading into next fall’s midterms.

“We're not out of the woods,” Gibbs said.

Associated Press writer Josh Boak in Washington contributed to this report.

The U.S. Senate will continue work on Saturday on a bill that would spend $1 trillion on roads, rail lines and other infrastructure, as lawmakers from both parties sought to advance President Joe Biden's top legislative priority. The ambitious plan https://www.reuters.com/article/usa-biden-infrastructure-details/factbox-whats-in-the-us-senates-bipartisan-1-tln-infrastructure-plan-idUSL1N2P52EF has the backing of Democrats and Republicans alike and has already cleared two hurdles by broad margins in the closely divided Senate. Lawmakers could debate the bill through the weekend.

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Biden administration officials are downplaying Republican attacks on the latest mask guidance, focusing on one study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in making its determination.

"Public health data, science and advice of our own experts support a responsible, timely reopening plan," the lawmakers wrote to White House leaders.

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U.S. Capitol Police were authorized to arrest visitors and staff for refusal to wear masks, according to a memo obtained by Rep. Kat Cammack.

"Something has to change when it comes to border immigration issues," Rep. Henry Cuellar said at a press briefing Friday.

Biden also said the government will reimburse employers who give their staff paid time off to get vaccinated.

Read full article at Associated Press

President Biden Addresses Rising Covid Cases

MLive 31 July, 2021 - 10:20am

Biden, corporate America launch tactics to get more people vaccinated

Global News 31 July, 2021 - 10:20am

Under the new rules, they’ll be required to verify they’re vaccinated or face regular testing. Unvaccinated workers will also face travel restrictions and be required to mask up.

Biden outlined the requirements Thursday in an public address, calling the rising-yet-preventable deaths among the unvaccinated an “American tragedy.”

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say, ‘If I’d just got the vaccine.’ People are dying who don’t have to die,” Biden said. “Want to know how we put this virus behind us? Well I’ll tell you how, we have to get more people vaccinated.”

He said federal civilian workers and onsite contractors who aren’t vaccinated “will be required to mask no matter where they work, test one or two times a week to see if they’ve acquired COVID, social distance, and generally will not be allowed to travel for work.”

Biden’s order come three days after the Department of Veterans announced a vaccine mandate for its healthcare workers.

Dr. Adam Robinson, director VA Pacific Health Care System and a former Surgeon General of the Navy, said there are medical and religious exemptions to the mandate.

80% of the VA Pacific Health Care System’s 1,600 employees have already been vaccinated.

“If we can stay the course and vaccinate, I truly feel that we can defeat the virus and I think the longer we debate that, the longer we are going to have COVID-19 with us,” Robinson said.

Meanwhile, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers ― which represents 3,000 federal workers in Hawaii ― says it supports the vaccine mandate for federal workers.

“We don’t want any more of our members dying,” said the union, in a statement.

“We don’t think either our members or their mission should be placed at risk by those who have been hesitant to take a shot,” it added.

On Thursday, Biden also urged local governments to give $100 to those who get the vaccine. He said federal COVID aid could be used for the incentives.

But some local leaders questioned the suggestion.

“Why are we pampering those who are not vaccinated by having incentive programs?” asked Honolulu City Council member Calvin Say.

President Biden urging more vax incentives

WWLTV 31 July, 2021 - 10:20am

Biden says US will 'in all probability' see more guidelines and restrictions amid rising Covid cases

CNN 31 July, 2021 - 10:20am

Updated 9:15 PM ET, Fri July 30, 2021

CNN's Rachel Janfaza, Maegan Vazquez and Michael Nedelman contributed to this report.

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Mack Trucks to hire 400 at Lower Macungie facility

69News WFMZ-TV 31 July, 2021 - 10:20am

Clear to partly cloudy and continued comfy.

The company announced its plan as it marked a visit by President Joe Biden on Wednesday.

The president toured the facility in Lower Macungie Township, and promoted buying American and the importance of good-paying jobs.

Mack Trucks said in a news release it recently completed $84 million in plant upgrades, and plans to add 400 new hires this year to its 2,500 workforce.

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Fact-checking Biden's claim on mask mandates and vaccination rates

CNN 31 July, 2021 - 10:20am

Updated 9:26 AM ET, Fri July 30, 2021

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