President Biden has signed off on a Democratic plan to further limit the next round of stimulus payments, a crucial concession to moderates whose votes he needs to push through his $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package.
The proposal would disqualify individuals earning more than $80,000 — and households whose incomes exceed $160,000 — from receiving stimulus checks of up to $1,400, lowering the income caps by $20,000 from the last round of direct payments and from the version of the aid plan passed over the weekend by the House.
The tentative agreement was detailed on Wednesday by a Democrat familiar with the details, who disclosed them on condition of anonymity. It was under discussion as Democratic leaders pressed to find the 50 votes they will need to push through the stimulus measure in the face of unified Republican opposition.
Like the House bill, the proposal under discussion would send $1,400 checks to people earning up to $75,000 and households earning up to $150,000, with those earning more money receiving smaller payments. But the House bill would have capped the income level for receiving a check at $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for households.
The lower caps being discussed in the Senate, if they were adopted, would mean that some people who got a check during the Trump administration will not get one under Mr. Biden.
But Senate Democrats have agreed to the House-passed proposal to provide a $400 weekly federal unemployment payment through the end of August, rejecting a bid by some moderate senators to keep the weekly benefit at the current amount of $300 per week.
The private haggling between Mr. Biden and Senate Democrats over the details of the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan underscored the challenge of steering it through the evenly divided Senate, where Democratic leaders cannot afford a single defection. With unemployment benefits set to begin lapsing on March 14, Senate Democrats are working to pass the legislation by the weekend, with the first votes to advance it coming as early as Wednesday.
Liberal lawmakers are frustrated over the decision to drop a minimum-wage increase from the package, after a key Senate official ruled it out of bounds and moderates in the chamber said they would not support it. The centrists, who spoke privately with Mr. Biden earlier this week, have also been pushing to narrow other elements of the stimulus plan.
Mr. Biden sought to rally Democratic senators around the package on Tuesday, joining their weekly lunchtime meeting by phone and urging them to stick together to reject attempts by Republicans to inject changes when the Senate considers the bill that could kill its chances of passage.
“The public really needs it. This plan is composed of the right elements. It’s popular. Republicans like it. Republican mayors and governors like it. The bill will be chock-full of things that Republicans have asked for,” Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virgina, said, recounting the message from Mr. Biden. “So, you know, let’s do it.”
The Department of Defense inspector general concluded in an unreleased report that Representative Ronny Jackson, Republican of Texas, “disparaged” his subordinates, including pounding on the door of a woman who worked for him in the middle of the night during a presidential trip, and engaging in problematic drinking while working as the top White House physician.
The report, which was obtained by The New York Times, shed light on a number of rumors that had dogged Dr. Jackson beginning in 2018, after former President Donald J. Trump nominated him to lead the Veterans Affairs Department. After allegations emerged that Dr. Jackson had improperly distributed prescription drugs, created a hostile work environment, and had problems with drinking, the White House withdrew his nomination.
Dr. Jackson went on to win a crowded Republican primary race to represent a district in northeastern Texas and was elected to Congress in 2020.
The 37-page report, first described by CNN, painted a picture of a physician who engaged in reckless and sometimes threatening behavior, creating an uncomfortable environment for subordinates. A majority of the 60 witnesses interviewed by investigators said that Dr. Jackson had created a negative work environment, and nearly all of them said they had either personally witnessed, experienced, or heard from colleagues about Dr. Jackson “screaming, cursing, or belittling subordinates.”
Investigators also found that Dr. Jackson engaged in inappropriate behavior on trips abroad with Mr. Trump and former President Barack Obama, whom he also served.
In 2014, ahead of a trip to Manila, witnesses said that Dr. Jackson told a male subordinate that he thought a female medical professional they were working with had a nice figure, using colorful language, and that he would “like to see more of her tattoos.”
While in Manila, witnesses said that Dr. Jackson went out on the town for a night of drinking, and came back to the hotel where the medical team was staying and began yelling and pounding on the female subordinate’s hotel room door between 1 and 2 a.m. while “visibly intoxicated.” Witnesses said he created so much noise they worried it would wake Mr. Obama.
“He had kind of bloodshot eyes,” the woman recalled to investigators. “You could smell the alcohol on his breath, and he leaned into my room and he said, ‘I need you.’ I felt really uncomfortable.”
On a separate trip to Argentina with Mr. Trump, a witness recalled that Dr. Jackson “smelled of alcohol” as he assumed his duties as the primary physician on the trip, and recalled that the doctor had a beer a few hours before going on duty, in defiance of a policy preventing White House medical personnel from drinking on presidential trips. Dr. Jackson had previously recounted to witnesses that he found that rule to be “stupid,” investigators found.
Former subordinates interviewed by investigators additionally raised the concern that Dr. Jackson took Ambien, a powerful sleep-aid medication, to help him sleep during long overseas travel. Though it appears Dr. Jackson never was called upon to provide medical care after he had taken the drug, his subordinates worried that it could have left him incapacitated and unable to perform his duties.
In a lengthy statement, Dr. Jackson accused the inspector general of resurrecting “false allegations” because “I have refused to turn my back on President Trump.”
“I flat out reject any allegation that I consumed alcohol while on duty,” Dr. Jackson said. “I also categorically deny any implication that I was in any way sexually inappropriate at work, outside of work, or anywhere with any member of my staff or anyone else. That is not me and what is alleged did not happen.”
In a fact sheet also provided to reporters, Dr. Jackson’s office noted that Mr. Obama promoted him to rear admiral “after the alleged events” outlined in the report, and that the then-president had profusely praised him for his work.
The head of the D.C. National Guard was not given approval to mobilize troops during the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol until more than three hours after he first requested it, he said during congressional testimony on Wednesday, outlining a longer delay than previously known and emphasizing the bureaucratic restrictions that hindered his efforts to quell the violence.
The Guard commander, Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, got word that Pentagon officials had authorized his request at 5:08 p.m. — more than three hours after he received a desperate plea for help from the then-chief of the Capitol Police, General Walker wrote in his testimony.
“We already had Guardsmen on buses ready to move to the Capitol,” General Walker said, testifying alongside officials from the F.B.I. and departments of Homeland Security and Defense about security and intelligence breakdowns ahead of the deadly rampage.
The Pentagon had removed his own authority to quickly deploy his troops, which also slowed the response to the riot, he said. He said that he was unable to even move troops from one traffic stop to another without permission from the secretary of the Army. Once he had the approval, the Guard arrived at the building in less than 20 minutes and helped re-establish the security perimeter on the east side of the Capitol.
Military officials had authorized Guard troop deployment at 3:04 p.m. that afternoon, according to the Pentagon, an approval that was itself delayed as officials there debated concerns about the optics of sending troops into the Capitol.
The reason for the delay in conveying the message of eventual approval to General Walker was not immediately clear. But during those hours, video and interviews have shown, the Capitol Police and supporting forces were overwhelmed in trying to fight off the pro-Trump mob.
“That number could have made a difference,” General Walker said of the possibility of deploying his troops earlier. He said he could have had 150 troops at the Capitol in 20 minutes.
He also said that he believed that Pentagon officials’ concerns about optics were misguided and that forces needed to be quickly sent to the Capitol to help repel the rioters.
“Seconds mattered,” General Walker added. “Minutes mattered. They made a difference.”
General Walker said that Pentagon officials placed restrictions before Jan. 6 on his ability to deploy troops and called it “unusual.” He noted that military officials had not raised concerns about optics last summer when the National Guard was deployed in Washington to help quell violence that erupted as racial justice protests were underway across the country.
The restrictions on the Guard on Jan. 6 were put in place because of aggressive tactics by the Guard during the June deployment that drew criticism, said Robert Salesses, a senior Defense Department official testifying at the hearing. He said that the secretary of the Army, Ryan McCarthy, and other military officials delayed making a decision on Jan. 6 about whether to deploy forces because they wanted to know more about what they would be doing.
Their testimony came at the latest bipartisan investigative hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Rules and Administration Committee.
“We must get to the bottom of why that very day it took the Defense Department so long to deploy the guard,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota and chairwoman of the rules committee, adding that the insurrectionists “came prepared for war.”
At the first joint oversight meeting of the two committees last week, three former top Capitol security officials deflected responsibility for security failures that contributed to the riot, blaming the other agencies, each other and at one point even a subordinate for the breakdowns that allowed hundreds of Trump supporters to storm the Capitol.
The officials testified that the F.B.I. and the intelligence community had failed to provide adequate warnings that rioters planned to seize the Capitol and that the Pentagon was too slow to authorize Guard troops to help overwhelmed police after the attack began.
In addition to General Walker and Mr. Salesses, the officials testifying are Melissa Smislova, a senior official from Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and Jill Sanborn, the F.B.I.’s assistant director of its Counterterrorism Division.
The top trio of House Democratic leaders on Wednesday recommended Shalanda Young to be President Biden’s budget office director after the White House withdrew its nomination for Neera Tanden to serve in the role in the face of bipartisan opposition.
The formal endorsement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Representatives Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, and James Clyburn of South Carolina, the majority whip, is a significant boost to Ms. Young, who is currently the nominee to serve as the deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget. The three leaders worked closely with Ms. Young, who was the first Black woman to serve as the staff director for Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee.
“Her legislative prowess, extensive knowledge of federal agencies, incisive strategic mind and proven track record will be a tremendous asset to the Biden-Harris administration,” the three leaders said in a statement. “Her leadership at the O.M.B. would be historic and would send a strong message that this administration is eager to work in close coordination with members of Congress to craft budgets that meet the challenges of our time and can secure broad, bipartisan support.”
Fallback nominees for the position also include Gene Sperling, a former National Economic Council director, and Ann O’Leary, the former chief of staff to Gov. Gavin Newsom of California. But the statement Wednesday morning underscored how Ms. Young has earned the support of lawmakers across Capitol Hill, ranging from Democratic leaders in both chambers to the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Long before Ms. Tanden’s decision to withdraw her nomination on Tuesday, Senator Richard C. Shelby, Republican of Alabama, went so far as to issue a statement preemptively announcing that Ms. Young “would have my support, and I suspect many of my Republican colleagues would support her as well.”
At her confirmation hearing for the No. 2 spot at the budget agency, multiple Republicans also signaled their support for Ms. Young, who helped negotiate in 2019 the end to the nation’s longest government shutdown in her role on the House Appropriations Committee and the series of pandemic relief bills in 2020.
“Everybody that deals with you on our side has nothing but good things to say,” said Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the top Republican on the budget panel. “You might talk me out of voting for you, but I doubt it.”
“You’ll get my support, maybe for both jobs,” he noted.
The Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package is on the fast track, but Washington is still trying to find the right fix for an overlooked aspect of the crisis: a massive tax shortfall experienced by cities hit by the collapse in commercial property values.
Local governments rely on property tax revenue to fund an array of vital programs and services, and those ghostly rows of empty commercial buildings are not just eyesores, but a growing policy problem.
At a meeting with Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen last month, Jeff Williams, the Republican mayor of Arlington, Texas, laid out his grim predicament: While pandemic relief costs and sluggish tax revenue and tourism were partly to blame for budget shortfalls, the big worry, Mr. Williams said, was all those the empty buildings.
Many states had stronger-than-expected revenue in 2020, but municipal budgets, which are heavily reliant on property taxes, are facing real estate revenue losses of as much as 10 percent in 2021, according to government finance officials.
For states, property taxes account for just about 1 percent of tax revenue, but they can make up 30 percent or more of the taxes that cities and towns collect. The National League of Cities, an advocacy organization, estimates that cities could face a $90 billion shortfall this year.
Lawmakers in Washington are negotiating over a stimulus package that could provide as much as $350 billion to states and cities. On Saturday, the House passed a $1.9 trillion bill that garnered no Republican support. The Senate is expected to take up the bill this week.
Republicans have continued to object to significant aid for states, but local officials from both parties say the help cannot come soon enough — and worry if it will be sufficient.
According to Moody’s, commercial real estate values are projected to decline by 7.2 percent nationally from their pre-pandemic levels this year, with the office and retail sectors hit hardest. States that do not have income taxes, such as Florida and Texas, are the most vulnerable to fluctuations in real estate values.
Big cities are bearing the brunt of the work-from-home exodus from offices. Unused space in San Francisco increased by nearly 75 percent last year, while empty office space increased by more than 25 percent in Los Angeles, Seattle and New York City.
Last year, Representative Van Taylor, Republican of Texas, introduced legislation that would allow the federal government to take a small ownership stake in hotels and other companies. But commercial real estate has been one of the few sectors not to receive direct government support in packages Congress passed in 2020.
Even some economists who have expressed skepticism about municipal aid representing a blanket bailout now acknowledge that lost commercial property tax revenue is an area that could use some targeted shoring up.
“I’m actually quite worried about the commercial real estate sector,” said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the Congressional Budget Office, who has advised Republicans.
The demise of President Biden’s plan to raise the federal minimum wage as part of his economic stimulus plan has prompted anger among progressives on Capitol Hill and around the country, threatening to overshadow a moment of triumph for Democrats this week as they push through a nearly $2 trillion pandemic aid package.
The simmering tension is unlikely to derail the plan, which is packed with longtime Democratic priorities including enhanced federal jobless aid, direct payments to Americans, and hundreds of billions of dollars for states, cities and tribal governments suffering fiscal shortfalls. But the liberal angst over the measure, coming little more than a month after Mr. Biden took office, foreshadows larger fights to come over the rest of his agenda, and a difficult road ahead for Democrats in navigating the divide.
It also risks muddling what the White House and party leaders had hoped would be a clear and politically potent message on the stimulus measure, which Democrats are working feverishly to portray as a momentous and broadly popular accomplishment that Republicans should be scorned for opposing.
Instead, some of the loudest progressive voices in recent days have been focused on demanding that Mr. Biden and leading Democrats push harder to rescue the minimum wage increase proposal from a procedural thicket in the Senate by changing the chamber’s rules. Their pleas ignore the fact that the proposal does not have enough support even among Democrats to pass.
“This cause has touched a nerve among progressive advocacy groups and among activists around the country in a way that I haven’t seen,” said Representative Ro Khanna of California, who led a letter to Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday that was signed by 23 Democrats asking them to overrule a top official who has deemed the wage increase out of order for the stimulus measure. “This is a defining moment for our party, for the administration. I think that there’s the opportunity to really be the hero to millions of Americans who are looking to us to deliver.”
With unemployment benefits set to begin running out on March 14 and an evenly divided Senate offering little room for dissent or delay, the White House and leading Democrats have rejected such entreaties, and Mr. Biden has instead begun an outreach campaign to Democratic lawmakers to ensure swift passage of the legislation.
In a private 15-minute phone call with senators on Tuesday, the president emphasized the need for Democrats to remain united around a bill that has drawn wide bipartisan support outside Washington, counseling lawmakers to move swiftly and reject so-called poison pill amendments from Republicans intended to kill it, according to four people familiar with the discussion who described it on the condition of anonymity.
On Wednesday, Mr. Biden is set to address a different group of Democratic lawmakers, with a virtual event planned with the House Democratic caucus.
For ambitious Republicans who are mulling a presidential bid, a challenging and at times uncomfortable audition is underway this winter: trying to use the Trump political playbook to impress and inherit the former president’s supporters — all while navigating the limitation of not being Donald J. Trump. Last weekend’s annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, Fla., was the most visible stage yet for these politicians — not to mention where they confronted the most scrutiny.
In interviews, dozens of attendees signaled the contradictions that future presidential candidates would need to embody to win their support. The attendees said they were most drawn to Republicans who both pledged fealty to Mr. Trump and appeared to showcase a distinct political identity — figures like Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida; Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota; Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri; and Mike Pompeo, the former secretary of state.
And while they expected the party’s next star to be a “fighter” in the mold of Mr. Trump, they also bristled at speakers who seemed as if they were trying to mimic him outright — like Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Senator Rick Scott of Florida.
“It’s like Hellmann’s mayonnaise — you can’t imitate it, man,” said Waverly Woods, 54, a Republican activist from Virginia Beach. “You’re either real mayonnaise, or you’re not.”
Much of Mr. Cotton’s CPAC address seemed like imitation, with the senator invoking many of the grievances popularized by Mr. Trump — “cancel culture,” critical race theory — yet struggling to elicit the same emotional response.
Mr. Cotton, who notched one percentage point in the conference’s non-Trump straw poll of possible 2024 presidential candidates, was not the only Republican hopeful who struggled to resonate, despite adopting Mr. Trump’s language. Even on his home turf, Mr. Scott, who governed the state from 2011 to 2019 and recently became the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, appeared to gain little traction.
Armed with more than just a senator’s voting record, governors often have an early edge in presidential contests. But in a moment when almost every prominent Republican — from governors to lawmakers to Fox News personalities — has adopted Mr. Trump’s pledge to “fight,” conservative attendees said they now wanted tales from the front lines.
It was the difference between the dutiful laughter when Senator Ted Cruz of Texas cracked jokes about wearing masks in restaurants, and the uproarious applause when Ms. Noem boasted about refusing to shut down her state. She had not just criticized the recommendations of infectious-disease experts like Dr. Anthony S. Fauci; she had actively defied them.