Biden Doesn’t Shy From Early Fights to Move His Agenda Forward

Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Interior Department, faced tough questions during her confirmation hearing on Wednesday.
Credit…Pool photo by Sarah Silbiger

Senator Joe Manchin III, the West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Energy Committee, announced Wednesday that he will vote to confirm Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico to head the Interior Department.

Mr. Manchin’s vote could be crucial to Ms. Haaland’s confirmation, as Republicans this week escalated attacks on the former environmental activist, signaling that the vote to confirm her could come down to party lines.

If confirmed, Ms. Haaland would make history as the first Native American to head a cabinet agency. She would also play a central role in advancing President Biden’s climate change agenda, as the head of an agency that oversees over 500 million acres of public lands, including national parks, oil and gas drilling sites, and endangered species habitat. And she would be charged with enacting one of Mr. Biden’s most contentious proposals: the banning of future leases to conduct hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas on public lands.

But her nomination has come under fire as Republicans have expressed concerns about her history of pushing to shut down fossil fuel drilling and pipelines — positions which go further than those of Mr. Biden.

The Republican National Committee on Tuesday sent out an email urging senators to vote against Ms. Haaland, writing, “By nominating Haaland, Biden is embracing far-left special interest groups who do not care what jobs they destroy, do not know the true impacts of their policies, and have no answers on when they can get Americans back to work.”

Should Republicans unite against Ms. Haaland, she will need the support of every Democrat in the equally divided Senate, which would allow Vice President Kamala Harris to cast the deciding vote in a party-line divide. Until now, the vote of Mr. Manchin, who heads the Senate energy panel but has often voted with Republicans on energy policy issues, remained uncertain. Mr. Manchin, whose home state of West Virginia is heavily reliant on coal mining, has expressed concern about Mr. Biden’s plans to curb fossil fuel exploration.

Mr. Manchin’s announcement that he plans to vote for Ms. Haaland also underscores the crucial role he will play in the success or failure of the president’s legislative agenda. (He already said he would vote against another of Mr. Biden’s nominees, Neera Tanden, who was nominated to the head the Office of Management and Budget, casting doubt on her prospects for confirmation.)

In a statement, Mr. Manchin said: “Given the political divisions currently facing our country, I believe that every presidential nominee and every member of Congress must be committed to a new era of bipartisanship. That is the standard the overwhelming majority of Americans expect and deserve.”

Regarding Ms. Haaland, he added, “while we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence.”

Appearing before the Senate Energy Committee on Wednesday for her second day of confirmation hearings, Ms. Haaland faced sharp criticism from oil-state Republicans, who made clear that they will not support her.

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the ranking Republican on the energy panel, singled out remarks made by Ms. Haaland in 2018 as she campaigned to eliminate oil and gas production in New Mexico, and proposed legalizing and taxing cannabis as a way to make up for the lost state revenue.

“Is selling marijuana among what the Biden administration calls the ‘better choices’ that the Biden administration has promised to give displaced oil and gas workers?” Mr. Barrasso asked. He added, “Your preference is to turn to drugs — is what you’ve recommended to the voters — at a time when we know there is high unemployment, and energy workers lose their jobs.”

Ms. Haaland responded that the proposal was intended to signal that she wants to “diversify sources of revenue for education,” and she added, “I don’t know what President Biden’s stance is on marijuana.”

Ms. Haaland told senators repeatedly that in her role as the head of a federal agency, she would carry out the agenda of the president, rather than push per personal views.

“If I’m confirmed as secretary, that is a far different role than a congresswoman representing one small district in my state,” she said. “So I understand that role: It’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico.

Immigrants received assistance with their U.S. citizenship applications in New York in 2018. Preseident Biden ended a ban on legal immigration that President Donald J. Trump imposed last spring.
Credit…John Moore/Getty Images

President Biden reopened the country on Wednesday to people seeking green cards, ending a ban on legal immigration that President Donald J. Trump imposed last spring, citing what he said was the need to protect American jobs during the pandemic.

In a proclamation, Mr. Biden said that the ban did “not advance the interests of the United States,” challenging Mr. Trump’s claim that the way to protect the American economy during the health crisis was to shut the country off from the rest of the world.

“To the contrary,” Mr. Biden said of his predecessor’s immigration ban, “it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world.”

The president’s action was the latest example of his efforts to roll back Mr. Trump’s assault on the nation’s immigration system.

In April, as the coronavirus crisis worsened, Mr. Trump ordered a “pause” in the issuance of green cards, one of the primary ways that foreigners can receive permission to live and work in the United States.

At the time, Mr. Trump described his action as a way to protect Americans, millions of whom lost their jobs as the threat of the coronavirus shut down the economy.

Critics of Mr. Trump accused him of using the pandemic as an excuse to further advance his agenda of severely restricting immigration. And many scholars noted that studies had repeatedly cast doubt on the idea that immigration was a direct threat to American jobs because many immigrants take jobs that Americans do not want.

Mr. Biden echoed that sentiment. In his proclamation, he wrote that he found “that the unrestricted entry into the United States” of people seeking green cards was “not detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

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‘We Will Do Better,’ Postmaster Tells House Lawmakers

Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, testified to the House Oversight Committee at a hearing on Postal Service reforms on Wednesday. It was the first time Mr. DeJoy appeared before lawmakers since the election.

We must acknowledge that during this peak season, we fell far short of meeting our service targets. Too many Americans were left waiting for weeks for important deliveries of mail and packages. This is unacceptable, and I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays. All of us at the Postal Service, from our board to our leadership team to our union association leadership, to every employee, strive to do better in our service to the American people, and we will do better. To confront these urgent issues, our team has been working on a 10-year strategy that will reinforce the Postal Service’s obvious strengths, and address our obvious weaknesses. The key commitments of this plan will include; one, a commitment to six and seven-day week delivery service to every address in the nation, not just because it’s the law, but because it’s the key ingredient to our future success; two, a commitment to stabilizing and strengthening our workforce, especially for our associates who are not yet in a career position. We want every postal employee to have tools, training and supportive environment necessary to enjoy a long-term career with us; and three, a commitment to investing in our network infrastructure, including vehicles, technology and package sortation equipment.

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Louis DeJoy, the postmaster general, testified to the House Oversight Committee at a hearing on Postal Service reforms on Wednesday. It was the first time Mr. DeJoy appeared before lawmakers since the election.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Jim Watson

President Biden on Wednesday announced three nominees to fill vacant seats on the Postal Service’s board of governors, a move to increase Democratic influence on the future of the beleaguered agency.

If the nominees are confirmed by the Senate, Democrats and Democratic appointees would gain a majority on the nine-member board. That would give them the power to oust Louis DeJoy, a major Republican donor who has served as postmaster general since last year, should they decide to. The board, not the president, hires and fires the postmaster general.

Mr. Biden’s announcement was his most direct action to date to address the service’s problems. The president’s nominees are Anton Hajjar, the former general counsel of the American Postal Workers Union; Amber McReynolds, the chief executive of the National Vote at Home Institute; and Ron Stroman, who resigned last year as deputy postmaster general and later served on Mr. Biden’s transition as the leader of the agency review team for the Postal Service.

The announcement came on the same day that the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing on how to address the post office’s widespread service and financial problems, marking the first time that Mr. DeJoy had testified before lawmakers since the election in November.

The Postal Service catapulted to the national spotlight last summer amid nationwide slowdowns that coincided with operational changes instituted by Mr. DeJoy, raising fears ahead of the election about vote-by-mail delays. Democrats accused Mr. DeJoy, a supporter of President Donald J. Trump, of trying to undercut mail balloting at a time when Mr. Trump was also promoting a false narrative that it was rife with fraud.

But Mr. DeJoy has also drawn fire for continued delivery problems since the election, as the Postal Service struggles to find a sounder financial footing.

In his opening statement on Wednesday, Mr. DeJoy offered an apology for the service’s slow delivery times during the 2020 holiday season.

“We must acknowledge that during this peak season, we fell far short of meeting our service targets,” he said. “Too many Americans were left waiting for weeks for important deliveries of mail and packages. This is unacceptable, and I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays.”

The delays last year prompted a slew of lawsuits that forced the Postal Service to temporarily postpone the operational changes. But service issues have continued to plague the agency, and some Democrats have called for Mr. Biden to replace the entire Postal Service board.

Asked by Representative Jim Cooper, Democrat of Tennessee, how long he planned to serve in his post, Mr. DeJoy responded: “A long time. Get used to me.”

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Architect of the U.S. Capitol Outlines Damage from Jan. 6.

The Architect of the Capitol, Brett Blanton, testified before lawmakers on Wednesday detailing the damage done to the complex and actions taken by his staff during the assault.

Over the course of a couple hours, the hard work of the team was destroyed. The platform was wrecked. There was broken glass and debris everywhere. The sound system and photography equipment was stolen or damaged beyond repair. Two historic Olmsted lanterns were ripped from the ground, and wet blue paint was tracked across the historic stone balustrades and hallways of the Capitol. As the crowd began crashing through windows and prying open doors, my staff undertook several unheralded actions in support of Congress. Architect of the Capitol employees identified and sheltered congressional staff in their shops to protect them from the roving mob.

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The Architect of the Capitol, Brett Blanton, testified before lawmakers on Wednesday detailing the damage done to the complex and actions taken by his staff during the assault.CreditCredit…Jason Andrew for The New York Times

The top operations and maintenance official of the United States Capitol told lawmakers on Wednesday that the costs of the Jan. 6 attack will exceed $30 million, as his office works to provide mental health services, increase security and repair historical statues and other art damaged in the riot.

“The events of Jan. 6 were difficult for the American people, and extremely hard for all of us on campus to witness,” J. Brett Blanton, the architect of the Capitol, testified as he and other top officials gave their first extensive look at the damage inflicted on the House’s fine art collection and the strain on congressional employees from the assault.

Speaking to the House Appropriations Committee, where lawmakers are considering an emergency bill to cover the costs of the most violent attack on the Capitol in two centuries, Mr. Blanton described how his staff sheltered congressional aides as “the crowd began crashing through windows and prying open doors.”

As staff members huddled inside, the inauguration platform they had been diligently assembling was wrecked: sound systems and photo equipment irreparably damaged or stolen, two lanterns designed and built by the eminent landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in the late 19th century ripped from the ground, and blue paint tracked all over the stone balustrades and into the hallways. Inside, busts of former speakers of the House and a Chippewa statesman, a statue of Thomas Jefferson and paintings of James Madison and John Quincy Adams were coated in fire extinguisher and other chemicals, including yellow dye that could stain.

Outside the physical damage, the officials detailed a substantial increase in demand for mental health counseling, with an office that typically handles about 3,000 calls per year surging to more than 1,150 interactions with employees, managers and members of Congress in six weeks.

“While the physical scarring and damage to our magnificent Capitol building can be detected and repaired, the emotional aspects of the events of Jan. 6 are more difficult to notice and treat,” Catherine Szpindor, the House’s chief administrative officer, told the panel.

Mr. Blanton said the committee had already approved the transfer of $30 million to maintain the temporary fencing around the Capitol complex through March 31, and support National Guard troops stationed in the building. But he said more funds would most likely be needed to address the intensified security and support for both the building and its inhabitants.

Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee to lead the Office of Management and Budget, at a Senate Budget Committee hearing.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

Two Senate committees abruptly postponed votes they had planned on Wednesday to advance the nomination of Neera Tanden, President Biden’s pick to lead the Office of Management and Budget, signaling pessimism that she could secure enough support to be confirmed by an evenly divided Senate.

The Budget Committee and the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee both postponed the planned votes, according to three people familiar with the situation who insisted on anonymity to discuss the decisions.

Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the chairman of the homeland security committee, told reporters on Wednesday that “people needed a little bit more time to assess it.”

He declined to give specifics, adding, “We’re still having discussions with folks.”

Ms. Tanden’s nomination has been in jeopardy since Friday, when Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, announced he would not support her, citing concerns about public criticisms she made of lawmakers in both parties in Twitter posts before her selection.

White House officials have remained adamant that Mr. Biden plans to stand behind Ms. Tanden, even as moderate Republican senators who Democrats had hoped would provide the necessary votes to confirm her have announced plans to oppose her. With Manchin in the “no” column, at least one Republican would be needed to join all other Democrats in support.

The vote delays came as a surprise on Wednesday morning, after Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who leads the budget panel, had told reporters on Tuesday that his committee would move forward.

Bipartisan support is building for Shalanda Young, currently Mr. Biden’s pick for deputy director of the agency, to take Ms. Tanden’s place as the nominee to head the agency. She served as staff director for House Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, the first Black woman to serve in the role.

Ms. Young, who has strong backing from House Democrats, helped wrangle the compromise that ended the nation’s longest government shutdown in 2019. She was also a lead staff negotiator on the coronavirus relief packages Congress approved in 2020, a job that earned her bipartisan respect — and a pre-emptive endorsement from Senator Richard C. Shelby of Alabama on Wednesday.

“She’s smart, she knows the process inside-out, and she’s an honest broker who has demonstrated the ability to work with both sides and get things done,” Mr. Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement. “She would have my support.”

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, reiterated on Wednesday Mr. Biden’s support for Ms. Tanden, dismissing any discussion of an alternative nominee.

“It’s a numbers game,” Ms. Psaki said during a briefing at the White House. “It’s a matter of getting one Republican to support her nomination.”

Asked if Ms. Tanden had offered to withdraw from consideration, Ms. Psaki replied, “That’s not the stage we’re in.”

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On Wednesday, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California and Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming disagreed on whether former President Donald J. Trump should speak at a conservative event this week.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The widening intraparty divide over former President Donald J. Trump was vividly illustrated on Wednesday in a roughly 30-second exchange during a news conference organized by House Republicans to emphasize their unity.

The weekly event, held at the Capitol, featured an opening statement by Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the pro-Trump minority leader, reiterating his opposition to President Biden’s pandemic relief bill.

Representative Liz Cheney, the anti-Trump No. 3 House Republican, stood a few feet behind him.

When the questioning began, a reporter asked Mr. McCarthy if Mr. Trump should be allowed to go ahead with a planned appearance at the conservative conference known as CPAC in Florida this weekend. It would be Mr. Trump’s first public speech since leaving office.

“Yes, he should,” Mr. McCarthy replied.

“Congresswoman Cheney?” a journalist asked, redirecting the question.

Ms. Cheney took one step forward and said, “I’ve been clear about my views on Mr. Trump and the extent to which, following the events of Jan. 6, I don’t believe he should be playing a role in the future of the party.”

Mr. McCarthy stood in the foreground, digging his thumbs into papers he was holding as she answered.

There was a pause of a few seconds.

“On that high note, thank you all very much,” Mr. McCarthy said, walking away with a sheepish smile.

Offstage, the two leaders are on relatively good terms, according to Republican aides.

Mr. McCarthy, who remains in close contact with Mr. Trump, defended Ms. Cheney earlier this month when conservatives attempted to remove her from her post as chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, after she voted to impeach Mr. Trump and said during an interview “the former president does not have a role as a leader of our party going forward.”

This, predictably, infuriated Mr. Trump and his family, but the effort to oust Ms. Cheney fell short.

“People can have differences of opinion,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters at the time. “Liz has a right to vote her conscience and at the end of the day, we get united.”

Mr. McCarthy has taken it upon himself to bridge the warring factions within his party — unlike his counterpart in the upper chamber, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, who has criticized Mr. Trump in withering terms, prompting a cascade of insults from the former president.

In the aftermath of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, a shaken Mr. McCarthy said that Mr. Trump “bears responsibility” for inciting a mob that stormed both legislative chambers — but he softened that tone after meeting with Mr. Trump in late January at Mar-a-Lago, where he enlisted the former president’s help in the 2022 midterm elections.

A Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif. A global shortage in semiconductors — a crucial component in cars and electronic devices — has forced several major American auto plants to close or scale back production.
Credit…Justin Kaneps for The New York Times

Automakers have been forced to halt production because of a lack of computer chips. Health care workers battling the coronavirus pandemic had to make do without masks as the United States waited on supplies from China. And pharmaceutical executives worried that supplies of critical drugs could dry up if countries tried to stockpile key ingredients and block exports.

Deep disruptions in the global movement of critical goods during the pandemic prompted President Biden Wednesday evening to take steps toward reducing the country’s dependence on foreign materials. He issued an executive order requiring his administration to review critical supply chains with the aim of bolstering American manufacturing of semiconductors, pharmaceuticals and other cutting-edge technologies.

In remarks at the White House, the president cast the move as an important step toward creating well-paying jobs and making the economy more resilient in the face of geopolitical threats, pandemics and climate change.

“This is about making sure the United States can meet every challenge we face in the new era,” he said.

But the effort, which has bipartisan support, will do little to immediately resolve global shortages, including in semiconductors — a key component in cars and electronic devices. A lack of those components has forced several major American auto plants to close or scale back production and sent the administration scrambling to appeal to allies like Taiwan for emergency supplies.

Administration officials said the order would not offer a quick fix but would start an effort to insulate the American economy from future shortages of critical imported components.

The president ordered yearlong reviews of six sectors and a 100-day review of four classes of products where American manufacturers rely on imports: semiconductors, high-capacity batteries, pharmaceuticals and their active ingredients, and critical minerals and strategic materials, like rare earths.

The executive order did not target imports from any specific country, but it is being viewed as an early salvo in the administration’s economic battle with China. Beijing’s dominance of global supply chains for raw materials and critical products like medical masks has prompted deep concerns that its authoritarian government could cut off the United States, causing even bigger economic disruptions.

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, China diverted exports of surgical masks and protective gear to its local governments and hospitals, leaving foreign purchasers empty-handed. Along with India, China is also a major source for the active ingredients that go into making vital drugs, including antibiotics and pain medicines.

China has also periodically moved to ban exports of rare earth materials that are crucial for manufacturing electronics, fighter jets and weaponry; it proposed new export curbs this year.

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China Poses ‘Biggest Geopolitical Test’ to U.S., C.I.A. Nominee Says

William J. Burns, President Biden’s nominee for C.I.A. director, pledged to increase surveillance of China with an emphasis on technology, and to investigate mysterious attacks that sickened C.I.A. officers overseas.

“Today’s landscape is increasingly complicated and competitive. It’s a world where familiar threats persist from terrorism and nuclear proliferation to an aggressive Russia, a provocative North Korea and a hostile Iran. But it’s also a world of new challenges, in which climate change and global health insecurity are taking a heavy toll on the American people, in which cyberthreats pose an ever greater risk to our society, and in which an adversarial, predatory Chinese leadership poses our biggest geopolitical test. If confirmed, four crucial and interrelated priorities will shape my approach to leading C.I.A. — China, technology, people and partnerships. As President Biden has underscored, outcompeting China will be key to our national security in the decades ahead. That will require a long-term, clear-eyed bipartisan strategy underpinned by domestic renewal and solid intelligence.” “We’ve seen evidence now not just of agency personnel, but State Department personnel and others become victims of mysterious attacks. It was for a while called the Havana Syndrome, and a number of us have been quite concerned that we still don’t know the source of those attacks. We still don’t potentially have a full medical diagnosis, and even though we have put in into law in the last three intel authorization bills, the ability for the C.I.A. director to provide enhanced benefits to those individuals, you know, the kind of first-rate quality health care and compensation they need and deserve, we’re not sure that’s really taken place.” “I will have no higher priority than taking care of people, of colleagues and their families. And I do commit to you that if I’m confirmed, I will make it an extraordinarily high priority to get to the bottom of who’s responsible for the attacks that you just described. And to ensure that colleagues and their families get the care that they deserve.”

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William J. Burns, President Biden’s nominee for C.I.A. director, pledged to increase surveillance of China with an emphasis on technology, and to investigate mysterious attacks that sickened C.I.A. officers overseas.CreditCredit…Pool photo by Tom Brenner

President Biden’s nominee to lead the C.I.A. pledged during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday to improve spying on China, warned of Russia’s ability to interfere with American affairs and promised to deliver apolitical intelligence to the White House, leaning on his long diplomatic experience to win over senators.

The nominee, William J. Burns, argued that China was an adversarial power and the intelligence community’s greatest geopolitical challenge. He called for investing more resources and personnel as well as technological innovation.

He also warned that even as a declining power, Russia has shown it can be disruptive. And he pledged to examine evidence about mysterious attacks that have left a number of C.I.A. officers with lingering ailments, making a commitment to a work force battered for years by former President Donald J. Trump.

Mr. Burns’s confirmation as C.I.A. director seems all but assured, with a large bipartisan majority of senators supporting him. A vote by the full Senate could come next week.

The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was far more of a coronation than a confrontational question-and-answer session, with more of the discussion focusing on foreign policy than intelligence matters, perhaps unsurprising given Mr. Burns’s experience as ambassador to Jordan and Russia, as well as the senior State Department positions he has held.

A former ambassador to Moscow, Mr. Burns has deep experience studying Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin. While Mr. Burns repeatedly said Moscow’s power was ebbing, he highlighted ways that Russia could make trouble, including with cyberoperations like the SolarWinds hacking that allowed it to steal secrets from nine federal agencies.

“Putin’s Russia continues to demonstrate that declining powers can be just as disruptive as rising ones and can make use of asymmetrical tools, especially cybertools, to do that,” Mr. Burns said. “We can’t afford to underestimate them.”

Lawmakers also raised questions about ailments suffered by current and former C.I.A. officers as part of mysterious episodes that have befallen agency officers overseas. While some current and former agency officials have said Russia is the most likely perpetrator of those attacks, the C.I.A. leadership during the Trump administration said it lacked the evidence to draw conclusions.

Mr. Burns pledged to examine the evidence and said he would “make it an extraordinarily high priority to get to the bottom of who’s responsible” for the attacks.

President Biden signed an executive order at the White House on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden and Republican lawmakers emerged from a White House meeting on supply chains Wednesday afternoon with some of the warmest praise for bipartisanship in Mr. Biden’s nascent tenure.

“It was one of the best meetings I think we’ve had so far, though we’ve only been here about five weeks,” Mr. Biden said, shortly before signing an executive order to start a government review of America’s dependence on foreign trading partners for semiconductors and other cutting-edge manufacturing inputs.

“It was like the old days,” he said. “People actually were on the same page.”

Mr. Biden entered office with a call for unity in Washington after promising in the 2020 campaign to heal political divisions that widened under former President Donald J. Trump. He has hosted Republican lawmakers for several White House meetings since taking office last month.

But Mr. Biden has proceeded without bipartisan cooperation in his first major legislative initiative, a $1.9 trillion economic aid package, which Democrats have pushed through Congress via a parliamentary process called budget reconciliation that would allow it to pass without a single Republican vote. Republicans in the House and Senate have accused the president of betraying his unity calls by not negotiating a package that could pass with bipartisan support.

The supply chain issue is more ripe for compromise. Democrats and Republicans have worked together to craft legislation to increase American capacity to manufacture computer chips, 5G networks and other critical supplies amid growing bipartisan concern over American dependence on nations like China for those products.

Mr. Biden discussed the issue on Wednesday with nearly a dozen lawmakers from both parties, including Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “The president was very receptive, as was the vice president,” Mr. Cornyn told reporters, praising the meeting. “He said, ‘We’re all in.’”

“You know, I’ve taken it myself,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday urged American troops to accept Covid-19 vaccinations when they are offered, part of an effort from the Biden administration to address skepticism about vaccines across the military.

In a video message to the Defense Department on Wednesday, Mr. Austin said members of the armed forces and their families should be aware that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has determined the vaccines are safe and effective.

“You know, I’ve taken it myself,” Mr. Austin said. “I believed it was the right thing to do.”

Some American commanders have reported as many as 30 percent of their eligible personnel had declined to take the vaccine when offered.

Officials with the Biden administration hope that Mr. Austin, as the most senior Black man in the Cabinet, can help address the skepticism that many members of the Black community have toward vaccines. That skepticism is rooted in a history of federal agencies conducting medical experimentation on African-American people.

Mr. Austin’s video message went out to the force on the same day that he visited a vaccination center in Los Angeles where American service members have been helping vaccinate thousands of people a day.

The Pentagon also said Wednesday that close to 800 medical and support personnel would deploy to Florida and Pennsylvania to support five state-run, federally supported community vaccination centers. The service members are expected to arrive on Thursday, as Florida and Pennsylvania will join California, New York, Texas, New Jersey and the U.S. Virgin Islands as locations where the Pentagon has sent troops do help administer vaccinations.

President Biden’s biggest priority — and the one he has shown the least inclination to compromise on — is his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Most administrations start with a burst of activity, but the frenetic action on Capitol Hill this week represents something different — a preview of what to expect over the next two years from a grind-it-out presidency laboring to rack up wins before the 2022 midterm elections.

“The bottom line,” wrote Biden adviser Mike Donilon in a memo leaked to reporters last week, is “the country is looking for action.”

On Tuesday, the White House plunged neck-deep in a trio of testy confirmation fights, faced down an increasingly united Republican front against President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, and fielded darts from critics, left and right, on the minimum wage and student debt — all the while grappling with centrists from both parties who control the balance of power in the Senate.

His predecessor’s impeachment trial and the fallout from the Jan. 6 riot have put Mr. Biden behind schedule, which is giving some allies the jitters.

But the animating spirit behind the administration’s approach is impatience — born of the pandemic, the looming midterms and Mr. Biden’s own bitter experiences with Republicans during President Barack Obama’s administration.

“He knows he is not going to be judged by the margins he gets in the Senate — the biggest danger is a failure to deliver what he promised,” said Ben LaBolt, a longtime Obama aide who worked in the White House, often around the former vice president. “His approach reflects the sober realities we encountered back in 2009, when the Republicans claimed they were holding out for a deal, but never did one.”

As a consequence, Mr. Biden has not shied away from conflict while projecting an air of conciliation. A lot of it has to do with his most powerful aide, Ron Klain — who served with him in the vice president’s office and is now the hard-driving White House chief of staff.

Mr. Biden’s nomination of Neera Tanden, an outspoken longtime Hillary Clinton adviser close to Mr. Klain, to serve as budget director is a case in point: Her nomination is teetering and may yet fall, but on Tuesday the president said he still planned to “push” for her.

Two of Mr. Biden’s other cabinet selections — Representative Deb Haaland of New Mexico, the nominee to lead the Interior Department, and Xavier Becerra, the nominee to lead the Department of Health and Human Services — have drawn fire from the right but appear on a steadier course to confirmation.

Both had confirmation hearings on Tuesday and will face questions from senators again on Wednesday — and senators, already griping about the compressed schedule, will also take up the nomination of Jennifer Granholm, Mr. Biden’s pick for energy secretary, on Wednesday.

But the biggest priority for Mr. Biden by far — and the one he has shown the least inclination to compromise on — remains his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, and he is not waiting to see if Republican support materializes. On Tuesday, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican open to a much smaller deal, suggested Mr. Biden’s package would not receive any votes from her party.

That does not bother Mr. Donilon, one of the president’s closest friends, who wrote “this is not a moment in the country when obstructionism is rewarded” in his memo.

Amanda Chase, a Virginia state senator who calls herself “Trump in heels,” is making a bid to be the Republican nominee for governor.
Credit…Ryan M. Kelly/Associated Press

The Republican Party of Virginia on Tuesday decided to hold an in-person drive-through convention to choose its nominees for statewide offices later this year, after efforts to organize a party-run primary or satellite convention sites failed.

Party leaders voted to hold their convention May 8 on the campus of Liberty University in Lynchburg, a three-hour drive from the state’s major population centers in the Washington suburbs and Virginia Beach. Officials noted the renewed popularity of drive-in moviegoing during the coronavirus pandemic and predicted Republicans would hear candidates’ speeches on a dedicated FM-radio signal in their vehicles.

“Liberty University has more than 25,000 parking spots that they are willing to let us use for this convention,” said Willie Deutsch, a member of the party’s state central committee.

The meeting lasted nearly four hours, and was the fifth time since December that Virginia Republicans met to sort out how to pick 2021 candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Party leaders rejected holding a primary as part of an effort to stop Amanda Chase, a state senator who calls herself “Trump in heels,” and Glenn Youngkin, a political newcomer and former chief executive who vowed to spend tens of millions of dollars on his campaign, from winning the nomination for governor.

The decision to hold a single convention is damaging to Ms. Chase’s chances of wining the nomination, as she is unlikely to win the 50 percent required to be nominated at a convention. Her odds were better in a primary or canvass, given the crowded field in the governor’s race. But holding the convention in early May would give Ms. Chase about a month to qualify for the general election ballot as an independent candidate, which she has threatened to do.

Party officials are expected to determine the rules for the convention in the coming weeks.

Other candidates in the race include Kirk Cox, a former State House speaker, and Pete Snyder, a technology executive who in 2013 lost a bid to be the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor at a party convention.

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the nominee for surgeon general, left, and Xavier Becerra, the nominee for health secretary. Both men are appearing on Capitol Hill for confirmation hearings this week.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times, Pool photo by Leigh Vogel

The Biden administration’s first days were inevitably dominated by discussion of how his team would tackle the coronavirus pandemic, as the U.S. death toll continued its inexorable climb to a staggering milestone reached on Monday: 500,000 deaths, more than any other country has reported.

Two of the key figures on the president’s Covid-19 response team are appearing on Capitol Hill this week for confirmation hearings.

Xavier Becerra, nominated for secretary of health and human services, is appearing before the Senate Finance Committee for a second day of hearings on Wednesday. He pledged to find “common cause” with his critics in an appearance before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Tuesday, as Republicans sought to paint him as an unqualified extremist.

Mr. Becerra was appointed as attorney general of California in 2017, when his predecessor, Kamala Harris, joined the Senate, and he was elected to a full term in 2018. He became known as a lead attacker in the Trump resistance, filing roughly 100 lawsuits against the administration on issues including climate change, gun control and health care. Notably, he led 20 states and the District of Columbia in a campaign to protect the Affordable Care Act. Before serving as attorney general, he spent 24 years in Congress, representing a Los Angeles district.

If confirmed, he would be the first Latino to run the mammoth department, which has a budget of more than $1 trillion.

Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, nominated for surgeon general, is scheduled to begin his confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on Thursday.

Dr. Murthy served as surgeon general under President Barack Obama — he was one of the youngest ever — and is Mr. Biden’s nominee for the same position. He is a physician who has taught at Harvard Medical School and served as vice admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. Dr. Murthy has been outspoken about linking public health and wellness. His book “Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World” was published last year.

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