Biden Transition Live Updates: Congress Racing to Close Stimulus Deal

Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, departing a roll call vote at the Capitol on Saturday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Lawmakers are on the brink of agreement on a $900 billion compromise relief bill after breaking through an impasse late Saturday night, with votes on final legislation expected to unfold as early as Sunday afternoon and very likely just hours before the government is set to run out of funding.

Senator Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, agreed Saturday night to narrow his effort to rein in the Federal Reserve and accepted an offer put forward by Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, according to three aides familiar with the discussion. All three aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity, noted that the precise language was still being finalized.

The agreement was a critical breakthrough for lawmakers who have been racing to complete a package to rush direct payments, unemployment benefits and food and rental assistance to millions of Americans struggling financially during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as relief to businesses and funds for vaccine distribution. Although negotiators were still wrangling over smaller issues, the Federal Reserve language had emerged as the biggest impediment to a final agreement.

“If things continue on this path, and nothing gets in the way, we’ll be able to vote tomorrow,” Mr. Schumer told reporters as he left the Capitol shortly before midnight. “House and Senate.”

One of the potential remaining stumbling blocks is President Trump, who has largely been removed from the stimulus negotiations as he continues to attack the outcome of the Nov. 3 election and undermine President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. Shortly after midnight on Sunday, he tweeted his frustration with Congress for not yet acting on a stimulus and signaled that he would want larger direct payments than the $600 payments currently under discussion.

“GET IT DONE, and give them more money in direct payments,” the president wrote on Twitter.

While Congress approved $1,200 direct payments in the $2.2 trillion stimulus law that passed in March, lawmakers are coalescing around $600 payments for this round in part to maintain Republican support and to keep the price tag of the measure under $1 trillion. The emerging deal would also provide enhanced federal jobless payments of $300 per week until early spring. It would also provide hundreds of billions of dollars to prop up small businesses, schools and other institutions struggling amid the pandemic, and fund the distribution of vaccines.

Congressional leaders plan to merge the $900 billion compromise measure with a catchall omnibus package that will keep the government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year. House leaders notified lawmakers to prepare for votes as soon as early Sunday afternoon. But lawmakers have yet to see the text for either legislative package, and, particularly in the Senate, a single senator could potentially delay passage past the midnight funding deadline.

Sidney Powell, a lawyer who has represented the Trump campaign, at a press conference on election results in Alpharetta, Ga., this month.
Credit…Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters

President Trump on Friday discussed naming Sidney Powell, who as a lawyer for his campaign team unleashed conspiracy theories about a Venezuelan plot to rig voting machines in the United States, to be a special counsel overseeing an investigation of voter fraud, according to two people briefed on the discussion.

It was unclear if Mr. Trump will move ahead with such a plan.

Most of his advisers opposed the idea, two of the people briefed on the discussion said, including Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer. Mr. Giuliani joined the discussion by phone initially, while Ms. Powell was at the White House for a meeting that became raucous and involved people shouting at each other at times, according to one of the people briefed on what took place.

Ms. Powell’s client, retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser whom the president recently pardoned, was also there, two of the people briefed on the meeting said. Some senior administration officials drifted in and out of the meeting.

During an appearance on the conservative Newsmax channel this week, Mr. Flynn pushed for Mr. Trump to impose martial law and deploy the military to “rerun” the election. At one point in the meeting on Friday, Mr. Trump asked about that idea.

Ms. Powell’s ideas were shot down by every other Trump adviser present, all of whom repeatedly pointed out that she had yet to back up her claims with proof. At one point, one person briefed on the meeting said, she produced several affidavits, but upon inspection they were all signed by a man she has previously used as an expert witness, whose credentials have been called into question.

The White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, and the White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, repeatedly and aggressively pushed back on the ideas being proposed, which went beyond the special counsel idea, those briefed on the meeting said.

The baseless claims that Ms. Powell and others have made of widespread fraud have been thoroughly debunked and even many of Mr. Trump’s closest allies have dismissed as preposterous her tale of an international conspiracy to rig the vote.

The idea that Mr. Trump would try to install Ms. Powell in a position to investigate the outcome sent shock waves through the president’s circle.

A White House spokesman, Ms. Powell and a spokeswoman for Mr. Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. introducing nominees for his cabinet in Wilmington, Del., this month. Still a work in progress, his cabinet is designed to be an extension of his own ideology.
Credit…Hilary Swift for The New York Times

His economic and environment teams are a little left of center. His foreign policy picks fall squarely in the Democratic Party’s mainstream. His top White House aides are Washington veterans.

Taken together, the picture that emerges from President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s initial wave of personnel choices is a familiar, pragmatic and largely centrist one.

Still a work in progress, Mr. Biden’s cabinet is designed to be an extension of his own ideology, rooted in long-held Democratic Party principles but with a greater focus on the plight of working-class Americans, a new sense of urgency about climate change and a deeper empathy about the issues of racial justice that he has said persuaded him to run for the presidency a third time.

His nominees are diverse in ways that appeal to liberals, young voters and people of color. And they are moderate like the swing voters who helped him win in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

For his cabinet, Mr. Obama assembled outsize personalities like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary who was a holdover from the George W. Bush administration.

Mr. Biden’s cabinet so far has no one likely to draw the same kind of high-octane attention. His choices have decades of quiet, behind-the-scenes policymaking experience, matching Mr. Biden’s pledge to return basic competence to the government after four years of Mr. Trump’s chaotic administration.

His nominees and choice of top White House aides make only a nod to the progressive movement in the Democratic Party that helped Mr. Biden win the election. That has left some of the party’s liberals frustrated by what they say is the creation of a new administration dominated by old thinking, unprepared to confront the post-Trumpian world of deeper racial and economic inequities and more entrenched Republican resistance.

“It is still an older, whiter, male-er group in general,” said Varshini Prakash, the executive director and a founder of the Sunrise Movement, a liberal group focused on climate change. “We are never going to develop the leadership we need for decades to come if we keep appointing people who are in their 60s and 70s who have served in multiple administrations already.”

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