April 17, 2021

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President Biden’s First News Conference Today: Live Updates and 5 Issues to Watch – The New York Times

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President Biden speaking to news outlets last week in Ohio. He will face reporters in his first formal news conference Thursday afternoon.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

President Biden will face reporters in his first formal news conference Thursday afternoon, using the stately backdrop of the White House to promote the benefits of his economic recovery efforts, call for action on gun control and respond to criticism about his handling of the border with Mexico.

It will be Mr. Biden’s first high-stakes grilling by reporters since taking office more than two months ago. Since then, his advisers have carefully controlled his interactions with the press, which have included one-on-one interviews and some limited opportunities for reporters to ask questions during brief appearances.

That will not be the case in a formal news conference, which has been a White House tradition for decades. If he follows the routines established by previous presidents in both parties, Mr. Biden will pick the reporters he wants to call on, but he will have no control over the questions they ask, and his answers will be broadcast live.

Here are five issues that are likely to come up.

In the wake of two mass shootings in a week, the president will probably be asked why gun control has not been a more pressing priority for his administration. While Mr. Biden has long been a proponent of gun restrictions like a ban on assault weapons, he did not issue any executive orders on the subject during his first days in office.

Mr. Biden said this week that Congress should tighten background checks for gun buyers and renew the ban on assault weapons, which expired years ago. He has also said the White House is examining executive actions for him to sign that could help prevent mass shootings in the future.

Mr. Biden has said that responding to the coronavirus crisis is his No. 1 responsibility. In recent months, the numbers of cases and deaths have fallen, in part because of the accelerating pace of vaccinations.

Reporters are expected to ask him about that vaccination effort, the threat of new variants of the virus and the pressure to reopen schools over the objections of some teachers and their unions.

The president campaigned on reversing former President Donald J. Trump’s immigration agenda, and he moved quickly to do so during his first hours in office. But the administration’s handling of a surge of migrants at the border with Mexico in the last several weeks has prompted criticism that will most likely draw questions at the news conference.

Reporters will most likely press Mr. Biden on how he intends to resolve the immediate issue of border facilities crowded with children. And he is expected to be asked whether his policy of a more humane immigration system than his predecessor is responsible for encouraging more migrants to leave Central America for the United States.

He may also be pressed about his proposal to legalize 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States and how he intends to build support among Republicans for a comprehensive overhaul of the nation’s immigration system.

The administration is poised to announce sanctions on Russia for a series of actions, including the SolarWinds cyberattack, which compromised U.S. government agencies and companies.

Mr. Biden was highly critical of his predecessor for failing to take action against Russia for its election meddling. But in the early days of his administration, the president has not acted quickly to impose broad sanctions over that attack. Reporters will probably ask why.

They may also push the president on when to expect the sanctions and what he hopes they will achieve.

Fresh off passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which is intended to help the economy recover and to finance the virus response, Mr. Biden is expected to soon propose another round of spending on climate change and infrastructure repairs that could total an additional $3 trillion.

Reporters are certain to press the president on the shape of that proposal and whether he intends to try to build Republican support for it. Mr. Biden passed the American Rescue Plan with only Democratic support thanks to a procedural loophole in the Senate. Reporters will want to know whether he plans to use that same maneuver again as he pushes for his broader agenda.

President Biden will hold his first formal news conference at the White House on Thursday.
Credit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden will hold his first formal news conference as president on Thursday.

The news conference is expected to touch on a wide array of issues, including the pandemic, the recently enacted $1.9 trillion stimulus package, immigration and — especially in the wake of deadly shootings in Georgia and Colorado — policies to reduce gun violence.

Thursday is Mr. Biden’s 64th day in office, which is unusually late for a president in modern times to hold his first formal news conference, though he has periodically answered questions from the news media in more informal settings.

When 1:15 p.m. Eastern time

Where The news conference will be in the East Room of the White House.

How to watch A livestream will be available on The New York Times’s home page, and Times reporters will be covering it here in the New Washington briefing. It will also be streaming on whitehouse.gov/live.

A makeshift memorial at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., where a mass shooting on Monday left 10 dead.
Credit…Stephen Speranza for The New York Times

While President Biden considers a gamut of executive and legislative actions on gun control in the wake of two mass shootings, the federal agency tasked with enforcing existing gun laws remains without a permanent leader and hobbled by restrictions on its enforcement power.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or A.T.F., has long been the target of a campaign by the National Rifle Association and its legislative allies to weaken oversight of gun purchases.

“It is hard to think of any federal agency that has been so completely handcuffed as the A.T.F. has been by the N.R.A. and its friends in Congress,” said Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law specializing in gun statutes at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Mr. Biden, who made an emotional appeal on Tuesday for Congress to enact gun control legislation, has not yet picked a nominee to lead the agency.

White House officials said they had no timetable for doing so, but two administration officials with knowledge of the situation said that several potential candidates were being interviewed — although no names have yet been floated on Capitol Hill or among advocacy groups, according to the officials.

“The administration is going to revitalize A.T.F. and ensure that our guns laws are vigorously enforced,” said Michael Gwin, a Biden spokesman.

Still, the delay in naming a director is emblematic of the enormous practical and political challenges that come with efforts to make any significant changes at the agency.

Over the last two decades, Republicans, with the support of conservative Democrats, have embedded into spending bills riders intended to constrain the bureau, including limits on unannounced inspections of gun dealers, prohibitions on documenting the inventories of gun shops and an especially damaging provision that bars the agency from digitizing its records.

Gun rights groups say such steps are necessary to keep the A.T.F. from mounting an “assault” on the rights of gun owners. But critics consider it part of an effort to shield gun companies and owners from oversight and responsibility.

“What’s been done to the A.T.F. is systemic, it’s intentional, and it’s a huge problem,” said T. Christian Heyne of Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a gun-control group that has proposed a plan for executive action on the issue centered on stepped-up enforcement by the agency.

Mr. Biden is expected to roll out a series of executive orders related to gun violence in the coming weeks. Almost all of the orders require a significant expansion of A.T.F. enforcement. But even naming someone to lead the agency is a headache.

In 2006, N.R.A.-allied lawmakers enacted a provision making the position of A.T.F. director, which had previously been a political appointment, subject to Senate confirmation.

As a result, only one director has been confirmed over the last 15 years: the Obama nominee B. Todd Jones. Regina Lombardo, a well-regarded agency veteran who helped direct the federal response to the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando in 2016, has served as acting director since early 2019.

She got the job after former President Donald J. Trump, who ran on a defiantly pro-gun platform, withdrew the nomination of a former top police union official, Chuck Canterbury, after the nominee refused to entirely rule out expanding background checks and other safeguards.

The agency’s potential power was another reason Mr. Canterbury failed. One of Mr. Trump’s closest allies, Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, opposed him, warning that Mr. Canterbury might use the bureau’s authority to more strictly enforce gun laws.

Michael Bloomberg speaking in 2019 about gun violence in Colorado. Bloomberg’s gun control organization plans to spend at least $1 million on advertising next month.
Credit…Chet Strange for The New York Times

The gun control organization backed by Michael R. Bloomberg will soon begin a national advertising campaign aimed at pressuring Republican senators to support measures that would strengthen and expand background checks for gun buyers.

The campaign by the group, Everytown for Gun Safety, comes after two mass shootings in less than a week killed eight people at spas in Georgia and 10 at a supermarket in Boulder, Colo.

The organization’s political arm plans to kick off the campaign in April with $1 million to $1.5 million in television and digital advertisements.

John Feinblatt, Everytown’s president, said the ads would target Republican senators including Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine, who backed the failed 2013 effort to expand background checks, along with “a number of retiring senators” who have opposed new gun control measures in the past.

Mr. Feinblatt said the campaign was aimed at securing the 60 votes needed for the Senate to pass gun control proposals that have already passed the House, which include expanding federal background checks for new gun purchases. It will not ask Democratic senators to alter the filibuster rules to pass any measure with a simple majority vote.

“Every senator needs to know how urgent this matter is, and every senator needs to know we mean business about seizing the moment and getting the bills passed,” Mr. Feinblatt said on Wednesday. “This is about getting 60 votes, which we think is entirely possible because the political calculus has changed.”

Everytown has become the biggest player in gun control politics in recent years. The organization spent about $55 million backing Democratic candidates in 2020.

Mr. Feinblatt said the campaign would continue until the Senate sent the measures to President Biden, who called on Tuesday not only for background checks but also for an assault weapons ban. Such a ban has not received a serious debate in Congress, and Mr. Bloomberg’s organization is not pushing it at the moment.

“We will stick with this until there’s a vote,” Mr. Feinblatt said. “I don’t know when that vote will take place, but I know that we will spend what it takes for as long as it takes.”

Gov. Ralph S. Northam, left, looks over the electric chair in the death chamber at Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, Va., on Wednesday prior to signing a bill abolishing the death penalty.
Credit…Steve Helber/Associated Press

Gov. Ralph S. Northam on Wednesday signed a bill that abolished the death penalty in Virginia, making it the first Southern state and the 23rd overall to end capital punishment amid rising opposition to the practice.

Before signing the bill, Mr. Northam pointed to Virginia’s 413-year history of capital punishment, during which it executed more than 1,300 inmates, more than any other state. He also noted racial disparities in the use of the death penalty: During the 20th century, he said, 296 of the 377 inmates Virginia executed for murder — or about 79 percent — were Black.

“Ending the death penalty comes down to one fundamental question, one question: Is it fair?” Mr. Northam said after he completed a tour of the state’s execution chamber. “For the state to apply this ultimate, final punishment, the answer needs to be yes. Fair means that it is applied equally to anyone, no matter who they are. And fair means that we get it right, that the person punished for the crime did the crime.”

“But,” he added, “we all know that the death penalty cannot meet those criteria.”

The bill’s signing comes as President Biden faces pressure from members of his own party to commute the sentences of the remaining inmates on federal death row. It also follows a spate of executions carried out by the Trump administration that renewed calls from the left to abolish capital punishment.

If Virginia is any indication, Republican support for abolishing capital punishment at the federal level is unlikely. The move has been criticized by some in the party who resent the compassion shown for perpetrators of heinous crimes.

During a hearing in the Virginia House of Delegates last month, Delegate Robert B. Bell, a Republican, noted that two people watched the debate over the death penalty with “rapt attention”: Anthony Juniper and Thomas A. Porter, the last two men on Virginia’s death row. Both were convicted of grisly murders.

The bill, which the Virginia House and Senate passed last month, stipulates that the sentences of the remaining death row inmates be converted to life in prison without eligibility for parole.







Biden Tasks Harris With Curbing Central American Migration

On Wednesday, President Biden announced that Vice President Kamala Harris would be in charge of finding ways to improve conditions in Central American countries with the goal of reducing arrivals of migrants at the U.S. border.

“So, this increase has been consequential. But the vice president’s agreed, among the multiple other things that happed to be needed — and I appreciate it — agreed to lead our diplomatic effort, and work with those nations to accept the returnees and enhance migration enforcement at their borders, at their borders. And Madam Vice President, I gave you a tough job, and you’re smiling, but there’s no one better capable of trying to organize it.” “Well, thank you, Mr. President, and for having the confidence in me. And there’s no question that this is a challenging situation. As the president has said, there are many factors that lead residents to leave these countries. And while we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law, and that we also — because we can chew gum and walk at the same time — let’s address the root causes that cause people to make the trek, as the president has described, to come here.”

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On Wednesday, President Biden announced that Vice President Kamala Harris would be in charge of finding ways to improve conditions in Central American countries with the goal of reducing arrivals of migrants at the U.S. border.CreditCredit…John Moore/Getty Images

Vice President Kamala Harris will be in charge of efforts to reduce illegal immigration by finding ways to improve conditions in Central American countries, President Biden said Wednesday as his administration struggles to confront a surge of migrants at the country’s southern border.

“This new surge we are dealing with now started in the past administration, but it is our responsibility” now to deal with it, Mr. Biden said as he made the announcement during a meeting with top immigration advisers.

He called the vice president the most qualified person to deal with Mexico and Central American countries as they try to limit what he called “serious spikes” in the number of people trying to cross the border illegally.

The announcement puts Ms. Harris in the middle of one of the most charged and contentious issues for the White House, which has scrambled to find space for thousands of minors who have crossed the border without their parents in recent weeks.

Mr. Biden said that Ms. Harris would oversee the administration’s plans to pump billions of dollars into the ravaged economies of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador in the hopes of reducing the violence and poverty that often drive families in those countries to seek refuge in the United States.

Ms. Harris said that there was “no question this is a challenging situation,” but that she was looking forward to engaging in discussions with leaders of Central American countries.

For Ms. Harris, the diplomatic assignment is one of the first in a portfolio of responsibilities that aides said would continue to expand in the months ahead. They noted that Mr. Biden, as vice president under President Barack Obama, had been in charge of working to improve conditions in the same Central American countries.

The task is likely to be a difficult one. Mr. Biden’s efforts in Central America were largely unsuccessful, as critics charged that corrupt leaders there had not effectively spent foreign aid money. In the years since, the countries have grown more dangerous and more economically unstable.

Now, Ms. Harris will face similar challenges in an even more heated political environment. Republicans have seized on the surge of migrants at the border as evidence that Mr. Biden’s immigration policies are failing.

Aides sought to describe the vice president’s role as limited to working on long-term improvements in Central America. But it may be difficult for Ms. Harris to avoid political blame for the administration’s broader immigration agenda if her efforts fail to significantly stem the flow of migrants arriving at the southern border of the United States in the short term.

Ms. Harris said on Wednesday that she expected to travel to the border in the coming weeks, but did not provide details. Aides declined to say when she would make a trip to Central America or discuss the immigration issue with the leaders of the nations she will work with.

“Institutions that focus on diversity and do it well are the successful institutions in our society,” said Jerome Powell, the Federal Reserve chair.
Credit…Mandel Ngan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, said on Thursday that the central bank was trying to make its economic employee base more racially diverse and he was not satisfied with its progress toward that goal so far.

“It’s very frustrating, because we have had for many years a strong focus on recruiting a more diverse cadre of economists,” Mr. Powell said while speaking on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” after being asked about a New York Times story on the Fed’s lack of Black economists. “We’re not at all satisfied with the results.”

Only two of the 417 economists, or 0.5 percent, at the Fed’s board in Washington were Black, according to data the Fed provided to The Times earlier this year. By comparison, Black people make up 13 percent of the country’s population and 3 to 4 percent of the U.S. citizens and permanent residents who graduate as Ph.D. economists each year.

Across the entire Fed system — including the Board of Governors and the 12 regional banks — 1.3 percent of economists identified as Black. The Fed has been making efforts to hire more broadly, Mr. Powell said, including by working with historically Black colleges.

“It’s a very high priority,” Mr. Powell said of hiring more diversely. “Institutions that focus on diversity and do it well are the successful institutions in our society.”

The Fed chair was also asked about how he would rate the central bank’s sweeping efforts to rescue the economy as markets melted down at the start of the coronavirus outbreak last year. In addition to cutting its policy interest rate to near zero and rolling out an enormous bond-buying program, the Fed set up a series of emergency lending programs to funnel credit to the economy.

Rolled out over a frantic few weeks, the programs included ones that the Fed had never tried before to backstop corporate bond and private company loan markets.

“I liken it to Dunkirk,” Mr. Powell said, referring to the rapid evacuation of British and Allied forces from France in World War II. “Just get in the boats and go.”

Despite the speed of the decision-making, Mr. Powell said that he looked back on the results as positive.

“Overall, it was a very successful program,” he said. “It served its purpose in staving off what could have been far worse outcomes.”

Kumasi Amin, 26, canvassing at the entrance to an Amazon facility in Bessemer, Ala., earlier this month. President Biden has expressed support for workers trying to unionize.
Credit…Bob Miller for The New York Times

Two months into the new administration, labor leaders are proclaiming Joseph R. Biden Jr. to be the most union-friendly president of their lifetime — and “maybe ever,” as Steve Rosenthal, a former political director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in an interview.

Mr. Biden has moved quickly to oust government officials whom unions deemed hostile to labor, and to reverse Trump-era rules that weakened worker protections. He has pushed through legislation sending hundreds of billions of dollars to cities and states, aid that public-sector unions consider essential, and tens of billions to shore up union pension plans.

Perhaps most notably, the president appeared in a video alluding to a union vote underway at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, warning that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda” — an unusually outspoken move by a president in a standard union election.

Yet Mr. Rosenthal and other labor advocates confess to a gnawing anxiety: Despite Mr. Biden’s remarkable support for their movement, unions may not be much better off when he leaves office than when he entered it.

That’s because labor law gives employers considerable power to fend off union organizing, which is one reason that union membership has sunk to record lows in recent decades. And Senate Republicans will seek to thwart any legislative attempts — such as the PRO Act, which the House passed this month — to reverse the trend.

“The PRO Act is vital,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “But what happens now in terms of Republicans in Congress, the Senate filibuster, is anyone’s guess.”

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