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Two months into office, President Biden will give his first news conference as president on Thursday.
But amid that tour, details came out about his potentially massive infrastructure plan, the Biden administration faced continued questions about southern U.S. border crossings, and two mass shootings refocused the nation’s attention on guns.
And there are other big items on Biden’s increasingly full plate, from the coronavirus pandemic and the economy to fraught relations with China.
Here are five questions to set the table:
Question: You promised voters you would not only restore some civility to politics but also restore bipartisanship and compromise to Washington. It didn’t work for the American Rescue Plan; you didn’t get a single Republican vote. How important is it to you to have Republican votes for the “Build Back Better” infrastructure legislation? And what will you do differently this time to get them? — Mara Liasson
Context: Candidate Biden ran on a “unity” platform. But he and congressional Republicans have shown little desire to compromise so far. On the rescue plan, a group of Republicans met with Biden at the White House, but their proposal was just a third of the size of Biden’s, making it difficult to find a solution.
Democrats wound up using a budget procedure to do an end-run around the filibuster and pass the $1.9 trillion measure with a simple majority vote. But not every piece of legislation can be passed using that maneuver, raising questions about what’s next for Biden’s agenda, as well as the filibuster and Biden’s willingness to push for tweaking or eliminating it.
Republicans have voiced support for some infrastructure provisions, though the two sides haven’t been able to agree on how to pay for them. Republicans would also likely line up against other potential elements of Biden’s plan, such as money for education or tax hikes on the wealthy.
Question: You have said you see opportunity in Central America. You’re pressing for a $4 billion package to fight the root causes of migration. But the U.S. government has for years been sending billions of dollars into the region and we’re still seeing these cyclical rises in migration. How is this time different, especially when the U.S. seems to want these changes more than the region itself? — Franco Ordoñez
Context: Biden is seeking to resurrect a strategy that he tried near the end of the Obama administration. He led that administration’s Alliance for Prosperity effort, a $1 billion plan to address the root causes of migration and boost police training, judicial reforms and other projects for the three Northern Triangle countries — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Supporters of Biden’s efforts say it is impossible to improve the economic stability in Central America and create jobs without controlling corruption, but critics say a 2020 GAO report shows that the USAID has already allocated about $3.7 billion in assistance for Central America from 2013 to 2018. The largest amount went to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Former President Donald Trump did not help matters. He basically looked the other way as the Honduran and Guatemalan governments undercut international anti-corruption efforts, and Guatemala forced into exile a former attorney general running for president on an anti-corruption platform.
The Trump administration also cut much of the aid, though spending did increase later on. But those critical of Biden’s plans argue that the region’s infrastructure is not set up to make the most of this money, especially considering the rampant corruption that exists. They add real change cannot happen until the leaders of the countries show they want this change — and that the U.S. needs more buy-in from the region.
3. Gun violence
Question: What strategy has your administration been pursuing to reduce gun violence, which rose sharply over the last year, before these latest mass shootings? You headed up the effort to craft a legislative and executive response to the Sandy Hook massacre, but a bipartisan effort in the Senate fizzled. Why should anyone believe this time is different? And what are you considering in terms of executive action? — Arnie Seipel and Tamara Keith
Context: From March 16 to March 22, there were seven mass shootings in seven days, according to CNN. Those include shootings in Colorado, where 10 people, including a police officer, were killed at a supermarket, and in the Atlanta area, where six women of Asian descent were killed.
But aside from mass shootings, day-to-day gun violence rose sharply in 2020. At least 19,223 people lost their lives due to gun violence in 2020, according to an early 2021 tally from the Gun Violence Archive.
Democrats continue to call for universal background checks, restrictions on access to certain kinds of guns and limiting the size of magazines, so a shooter can’t get off as many shots as they can now without having to pause to reload. But Republicans continue to stand firmly against any changes, something that has been the case for decades now despite mass killing after mass killing where guns were involved.
Question: You set a goal of small backyard gatherings for the Fourth of July. When it comes to the COVID-19 response, you have consistently set achievable goals, but do you risk seeming out of touch with the reality many Americans are already living? Realizing you don’t want to create false hope, are you being too cautious in a way that could hurt your credibility or reduce incentives for getting vaccinated? — Tamara Keith
Context: Many people, especially those who have been vaccinated, are holding backyard gatherings — and indoor gatherings — already, especially in states that have gone against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and moved to open up more quickly.
Facing pressure to revive local economies and a restive public, governors, even the more cautious ones, have increased allowable gathering sizes. There is clearly a disconnect between the federal guidelines, some states and the increasing number of Americans who are venturing out despite continued risk and guidance.
Question: During a meeting last week in Anchorage, Alaska, the world witnessed a tense exchange between the U.S. side and China. China even challenged American democracy and said the U.S. should be more concerned about its own internal matters, rather than trying to spread American ideology to other parts of the world.
Clearly, this is a Chinese government willing to stand up to your administration and is challenging American power. How do you — and the United States — avoid looking weak in the face of that? And how would you characterize the U.S. relationship with China?
Context: In an unusual departure from the usually staid and staged phot0 ops of a bilateral meeting, American and Chinese diplomats traded barbs about each other’s countries and sets of values.
Secretary of State Tony Blinken raised concerns about China’s actions against U.S. allies, saying it was posing a threat to “the rules-based order that maintains global stability.” He also sharply criticized China’s human rights record against Uighur Muslims in China and its jailing of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong.
China didn’t appreciate it and responded with a list of criticisms of the U.S. and its official blew through the allotted two minutes for statements. Blinken wound up calling the press back in to respond and China shot back as well. It’s a test of the relationship between the two countries with opposing political systems but with an entangled economic association.