What to Know in Washington: Biden Targets Trump Voters, Suburbs

Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure and family-support plans are a direct appeal to the discontented White voters who put Donald Trump in office and to independent suburban women, his advisers say, with the president staking a claim on economic issues ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

The so-called American Jobs Plan Biden released last month features spending on traditional infrastructure like highways and airports to better compete with China, a pitch his advisers think will resonate with Republican men and blue-collar workers.

And the “American Families Plan” he’ll outline this week seeks to broadly increase the availability of child care and improve working conditions for people caring for children and seniors — a top priority for suburban women, pollsters say.

Taken together, support from the two groups could form a potentially powerful bloc for Democrats ahead of the midterms, when the party of incumbent presidents typically loses seats in Congress. Republicans have long polled with voters as more trustworthy on economic stewardship, but Biden’s bet is that his proposals — even accompanied by price tags in the trillions of dollars and tax increases to help pay for them — can peel away enough GOP support that Democrats can keep control of the House and Senate.

It’s too soon to say whether Biden’s bet will pay off. His tax-and-spend plans offer ready-made material for GOP TV ads in races against vulnerable Democrats. Those may play particularly well in the Republican-leaning suburban districts Democrats seized to win their House majority in 2018. Republicans already are preparing their attack lines. Read more from Nancy Cook.

Photographer: Mike Theiler/UPI/Bloomberg
Biden walks with First Lady Jill Biden near the White House on Sunday.

Biden to Follow Speech With Visits to Swing States: Biden is hitting the campaign trail after his prime-time address to a joint session of Congress tomorrow, as he tries to build support in key swing states for his infrastructure and family-assistance legislative proposals. The tour will have Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and others visit a dozen states in the days following the speech, a White House official said. Justin Sink and Jennifer Epstein have more.

  • Chief Justice John Roberts will attend Biden’s address to a joint session of Congress—by himself. The Supreme Court confirmed that Roberts, a stickler for tradition, was the only justice invited to the speech in the House chamber due to social distancing restrictions, Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson reports.

Lawmakers Unveil ‘Earmark’ Requests for Infrastructure: House members are pitching billions of dollars worth of projects in their home districts ranging from marine terminals to hiking trails that they want folded into Biden’s massive infrastructure package. Lawmakers have until the end of today to send proposals for district or community-level projects to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee under rules that revived the practice of designated spending, or “earmarks.” Over $8 billion in such earmark requests are expected.

Both parties banned earmarks in 2011 after years of their association with wasteful projects and corruption. As part of the conditions for the revival, the committee plans to list all of the requests over the next several days in a nod to transparency. Members also are required to announce on their own congressional websites what they’ve asked for, as some have done. Billy House has more.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said yesterday the panel will also accept requests for congressionally directed spending items for appropriations bills for the 2022 fiscal year, Megan Howard reports. “In recent years, Congress has ceded too much of its Constitutional authority over spending to the Executive Branch to make decisions about how and where to invest Federal taxpayer dollars,” Leahy said in a statement. “A rebalanced process will allow Members to better utilize their knowledge and experience to thoughtfully direct federal funds, and do so with transparency and accountability.”

Happening on the Hill

Today’s Agenda:

  • The Senate plans votes on two of Biden’s nominees: Jason Miller to be deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, and Janet McCabe to be deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • The chamber could also hold a procedural vote on legislation to authorize more than $35 billion in water resource development projects (BGOV Bill Summary).
  • Click here for a complete list of today’s hearings and markups.

Congress Fear Voters Over Staff Pay Raise: A group of House lawmakers are preparing to tackle a politically toxic issue many members see as necessary: increasing Capitol Hill staffer pay. While incumbents are often criticized by political opponents for any spending increases, lawmakers and advocacy groups say current salaries are too low and result in experienced staffers leaving for the private sector and more lucrative salaries — or at least enough income to buy a house and raise a family in such an expensive city.

The latest effort to raise staffer pay is getting a boost from top Democratic leaders, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). Both urged a temporary panel of lawmakers focused on modernizing the House to prioritize staffer retention through increased pay and befits. Read more from Emily Wilkins.

Senate Delays China Competition Bill: A cornerstone of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) legislative package to make the U.S. a stronger competitor against China may be delayed as a key committee postponed consideration of the bill. “It needs some time for consensus to build,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Commerce Committee, said yesterday. He added that the panel would likely take up the legislation, called the Endless Frontier Act, after the Senate returns in May from a recess. Read more from Flatley and Jenny Leonard.

Rubio Pushes for Rare Earths Cooperative: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) led a mostly Republican group of lawmakers calling on the Biden administration to establish a rare-earth metallurgical cooperative to end dependence on China. Such cooperative would develop U.S. capabilities for manufacturing critical products composed of rare-earth elements. Their letter was also signed by Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Ohio), Catherine Larkin reports.

Census Hands Edge to GOP

Republicans Emerge From Census With Upper Hand in Map-Drawing: Republicans’ bid to retake the U.S. House next year got a lift from new Census figures that added congressional seats in a handful of states, including Texas, that Donald Trump won in November’s election.

With Democrats holding the House by a slim majority, the numbers released by the U.S. Census Bureau yesterday leave the GOP, for now, in a stronger position — especially since Republicans control the legislatures that will redraw congressional districts in states with the biggest population changes. Texas, a Republican bastion, was the big winner with two new congressional seats, while GOP-dominated Florida and Montana each gained one. The swing states of Colorado and North Carolina also gained one each along with Democratic Oregon. Read more from Gregory Korte.

Census Data Sparks Suits Challenging Maps: Democrats in three states filed lawsuits challenging the current congressional district maps, claiming they have been rendered unconstitutional by demographic and population shifts as reflected in newly released census data. Voters in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Louisiana are seeking court orders to permanently stop the use of outdated maps in any future elections and the drawing up of new maps in time for the 2022 elections. Read more from Joe Schneider.

Join the Conversation on Twitter Spaces: Texas will gain two seats in the U.S. House under the new Census numbers, while states in the Northeast and Midwest will lose seven. Join Bloomberg Government and Bloomberg News reporters on Twitter Spaces today at noon as they talk about what the Census means for the U.S. political landscape.

Around the Administration

CDC to Update Guidance on Masking Outdoors: A mounting call for health officials to relax rules about mask-wearing outdoors could soon lead to one of the most significant changes in virus guidelines since the U.S. first told Americans to don face coverings to curb the spread of Covid-19. Outdoor mask wearing has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. There’s evidence that vaccines not only prevent illness, but also transmission. And with the U.S. seeing about 2.74 million vaccine injections daily, even some public health experts are calling for less strict guidelines as warmer weather arrives.

A response could come as early as today. Biden will deliver remarks at the White House at 1:15 p.m. on the administration’s response to Covid-19. The White House Covid-19 Response Team will also hold a press briefing at 12:30 p.m. Read more from Kristen V. Brown.

  • U.S. trade chief Katherine Tai met with key officials at Pfizer and AstraZeneca about raising production of Covid-19 vaccines and a proposed waiver of intellectual-property protections as the daily number of confirmed cases keeps rising, Eric Martin reports.

Virus Relief Rules to Get Fast Track: White House officials will aim to speed up their sign-off on pandemic-relief-related rules by several months as part of a push to quickly implement the second-biggest economic stimulus in U.S. history. Agencies should expect the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to take at least five days to approve urgent rules connected to the $1.9 billion aid bill Congress passed in March, acting OMB Director Shalanda Young said. Read more from Courtney Rozen.

Biden Orders Minimum Wage Raised to $15 for Federal Contractors: Biden will require federal contractors to pay workers at least $15 an hour in an executive order designed to leverage government purchasing power to boost working conditions for lower-earners employed via taxpayer funds. Updating an Obama-era measure, Biden’s order mandates that all federal agencies incorporate what amounts to a $4.05 minimum wage hike into new contract solicitations by January 2022 and into new contracts by March 2022, the White House announced today. The minimum hourly rate will then rise annually to keep up with inflation. Read more from Ben Penn.

Harris Pledges $310 Million For Immigration Aid: Vice President Harris pledged $310 million in additional humanitarian aid for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in an effort to stem a wave of migration from those countries to the U.S., her office said. Harris discussed the funding in a discussion yesterday with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. The virtual meeting lasted roughly an hour, according to a senior administration official, and came before a June trip by Harris to the country. Read more from Jordan Fabian.

Transportation Staffing Complicate Equity Pledge: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has become the Biden administration’s go-to spokesman for emphasizing “equity” in policy. He has pledged to consider the needs of minority communities when evaluating old projects or considering new ones. But he makes these commitments while leading a midsize department of disproportionately White and male employees—a potential barrier to achieving truly equitable outcomes, some observers warn. Read more from Lillianna Byington.

Biden Isn’t Cutting Meat for Climate: Biden isn’t taking hamburgers away from Americans as part of his efforts to slash greenhouse gas emissions, according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Vilsack said yesterday that reports in conservative media tying Biden’s climate goals to cutting meat intake are completely false. “There’s no effort designed to limit people’s intake of beef,” Vilsack said. Read more from Michael Hirtzer and Mike Dorning.

Agencies Told to Stop Rethinking Permitting Rules: The White House yesterday scrubbed a Trump-era memo ordering agencies to create new procedures to comply with environmental permitting changes made last year. That Trump-era order “is, or may be inconsistent with, or present obstacles to, the administration’s policies,” the White House’s Office of Management Budget said. Read more from Stephen Lee.

With assistance from Megan U. Boyanton

To contact the reporters on this story: Zachary Sherwood in Washington at zsherwood@bgov.com; Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com