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Biden promotes virus-aid plan through citizen call

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette Staff From Wire Reports | February 7, 2021 at 4:00 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- President Joe Biden on Saturday took his pledge to help Americans struggling with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic to a personal level.

The effort to directly communicate with Americans affected by the pandemic will be a regular opportunity for the president to make his case for the American Rescue Plan, the White House said.

"I've been saying a long time, the idea that we think we can keep businesses open and moving and thriving without dealing with this pandemic is just a nonstarter," Biden told Michele Voelkert, 47, of Roseville, Calif., who lost her job at a startup clothing company because of the pandemic.

The chat was posted on the White House Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube accounts and on the president's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.

The call, captured in a 2½-minute video released by the White House, followed a letter Voelkert sent to Biden in which she said it was the first time she'd been laid off in her life and that she connected on social media with others who share her fate.

She told Biden "it's been a tough time" trying to find work.

Biden, who spoke from his Oval Office desk, replied that his father used to say a job is about dignity and respect as much as a paycheck. He described his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan, which calls for $1,400 payments to people like Voelkert and other economic aid for individuals and small businesses. There's also money to help distribute vaccines.

Biden's second full week in office ended with a pivotal procedural vote that would allow Democrats to move ahead with his stimulus package without any support from Republicans, who oppose the size of the plan and some of its components.

The scope of the multiple crises confronting the nation now, along with the lessons Democrats learned from four years of Republican obstructionism during Barack Obama's presidency, seem to be pushing Biden toward quick action on the aid bill, even if Republicans get left behind.

"If I have to choose between getting help right now to Americans who are hurting so badly and getting bogged down in a lengthy negotiation or compromising on a bill that's up to the crisis, that's an easy choice," Biden said Friday. "I'm going to help the American people who are hurting now."

The administration has proceeded on parallel tracks.

One featured a public show of trying to reach across the political aisle, with bipartisan rhetoric and a White House invitation for Republican senators. They responded with a proposal more than $1 trillion short of what Biden wanted.

At the same time, the administration has encouraged Democratic senators to be prepared to go it alone, to ready a plan that combines money to address the virus and vaccines with money to fulfill a progressive agenda that includes a higher federal minimum wage.

ADDRESSING AMERICANS

The conversation with Voelkert is part of an effort to help Biden, who has largely limited his travel because of the pandemic, communicate directly with Americans, the White House said.

There is a time-honored tradition in the country of hearing from the president in this way," press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday in previewing the video. She referenced Franklin D. Roosevelt's fireside chats and Ronald Reagan's establishment of a weekly radio address.

The radio address eventually grew to include a video version seen over the internet. The practice lapsed under former President Donald Trump.

Biden's weekly address will be produced in a variety of forms, Psaki said.

She said in a briefing last week that Biden, whose social media footprint is much smaller than that of his predecessor, keeps in touch with regular Americans in various ways.

"He receives correspondence letters in his briefing book every night," Psaki said. "He also regularly connects with Americans on the phone." Biden typically attends a public Catholic Mass each weekend, she added.

Later Saturday, Biden left his home for an X-ray of his right foot, which he broke in November while playing with his dog Major.

Dr. Kevin O'Connor, the president's physician, said in a statement issued by the White House that the "10-week post-injury weight-bearing X-ray" was to make sure Biden had regained stability in his ligaments.

The president is spending the weekend at his home in Wilmington, Del., to spend time with his family and watch today's Super Bowl with them.

​​​​​Information for this article was contributed by Jenny Leonard of Bloomberg News (TNS); and Darlene Superville, Alexandra Jaffe and Jonathan Lemire of The Associated Press.

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