Biden signs $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, eyes next stage of pandemic fight

by Reuters
Friday, 12 March 2021 00:07 GMT

(Updates with details about speech)

By Jeff Mason

WASHINGTON, March 11 (Reuters) - Hours after signing his $1.9 trillion stimulus bill into law on Thursday, President Joe Biden prepared to tell Americans in a televised address he is taking aggressive action to speed COVID-19 vaccinations and move the country closer to normality by July 4.

Biden signed the measure, designed to bring relief to Americans and boost the economy, with Vice President Kamala Harris at his side in the Oval Office. The package is a major political victory for the Democratic president some 50 days into his administration.

He plans to discuss the new law and commemorate the anniversary of the lockdown with a primetime speech at 8 p.m. (0100 GMT Friday) that will pair optimism about the future with a call for Americans to remain vigilant against the highly contagious respiratory virus.

About 530,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States, the most of any country, and coronavirus-related lockdowns and restrictions have cost millions of jobs.

Biden will announce that he is ordering U.S. states, territories and tribes to make all adults eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine by May 1, administration officials said. About 10% of Americans have so far been fully vaccinated.

He will also announce the deployment of an additional 4,000 U.S. troops to help in the vaccination effort and set a goal of the July 4 Independence Day holiday for families and friends to be able to gather again in small groups.

Biden and top members of his administration will embark on a victory lap of sorts in the coming weeks to laud and explain the legislation, called the American Rescue Plan, which got final approval from the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

"This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation - working people and middle-class folks, the people who built the country - a fighting chance," Biden said before signing.

The president will also use his remarks on Thursday night to encourage Americans to continue to wear masks, keep socially distant and practice good hygiene to stop the spread of the virus as the pace of vaccinations increases. A number of states have been loosening restrictions.


Biden, who campaigned on a promise to curb the pandemic more effectively than his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, has told Americans since his January inauguration that more deaths and pain were coming from COVID-19.

As the vaccinated population slowly increases, Biden is conveying fresh hope even as he urges people to remain cautious to prevent further flare-ups.

Biden said on Wednesday he would use his address to discuss "what we've been through as a nation this past year" and lay out the next phase of the government's COVID-19 response.

Biden's signing of the legislation, which passed without a single Republican vote, had initially been scheduled for Friday, but White House chief of staff Ron Klain said it was moved up after it arrived at the White House on Wednesday night.

"We want to move as fast as possible," Klain posted on Twitter. A celebration with congressional leaders would still take place on Friday, he said.

The package provides $400 billion for $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, an expansion of the child tax credit and increased funding for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Republicans complained the price tag was too steep.

Biden will discuss the benefits of the pandemic relief bill during trips to Pennsylvania next Tuesday and Atlanta on March 19.

The lockdown from the virus began under Trump, who played down the crisis in its early stages and eschewed mask-wearing, while repeatedly predicting the virus would soon disappear even as his administration pushed to speed up vaccine development.

The former president and his wife, Melania Trump, did not appear in a public service announcement released on Thursday encouraging COVID-19 vaccinations and featuring all of the other living former U.S. presidents and their spouses.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal, Jarrett Renshaw and Susan Heavey; Editing by Heather Timmons and Peter Cooney)

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