In 2009, then Vice President Joe Biden was “Sheriff Joe,” the enforcer who made sure that the US dollars got to the right places quickly from a massive economic aid package.
This time around, President Biden’s role is different: he’s the main seller of the $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 aid package, which is out to earn political points when Americans begin to take advantage of the government’s massive relief efforts .
Biden signed the bill Thursday and then praised it in a prime-time address to the nation that night. On Friday he celebrated the package again, this time with Democratic lawmakers at his first event in the rose garden as president.
Biden said Friday he would draw on his 2009 experience and work four to five hours a day for six months to make sure the incentive was successful. The same type of focus is needed for coronavirus relief.
“The devil is in the details,” said the president. “It is one thing to get the American bailout plan out of the way. It will be a different matter to implement. It will require careful monitoring to ensure that there is no waste or fraud and that the law is doing what it was designed to do. And I mean it. We have to do this right. “
The White House has planned an ambitious campaign to showcase the contents of the law while providing impetus for future, more difficult parts of the president’s broader agenda. Biden will be traveling to the battlefield states of Pennsylvania and Georgia next week to discuss this, and other high-level government officials will spread across the country to do the same.
West Wing Aids say there is a determination to avoid the mistakes made more than a decade ago when President Barack Obama’s administration did not do enough to promote its own economic recovery plan. However, according to veterans of the Obama administration, Biden receives some degree of credit for successfully executing the plan.
Biden was in control of the government’s $ 787 billion stimulus plan after writing a memo to Obama about how it should run, and he enjoyed his role as the program’s top cop. He said he has not looked “yet” to his Vice President Kamala Harris to play the same role in helping COVID-19.
Back then, Biden held weekly conference calls with mayors, governors, and others to urge wise use of the money. He estimated he spoke to over 160 mayors and every governor but one – Alaska Republican Sarah Palin, who was nominated for vice president in the 2008 election.
Biden also convened regular cabinet meetings to keep the end of the Washington program on track. At a 2009 cabinet meeting, Biden urged federal officials to give him a quick heads-up when projects fell behind schedule, saying, “You need to give me more ammunition so I can pick up the phone and become a sheriff.”
Biden used his role as “Sheriff Joe” to cut red tape and “bring the momentum into the economy itself,” said Robert Gibbs, who was Obama’s press secretary at the time. He predicted that this time Biden would be just as adamant in selling the aid package.
“I would be surprised if there were two days in the next four years without you hearing any discussion of the legislation,” Gibbs said. “This is so important that you literally say it during the final rally of your re-election campaign.” ”
Biden is expected to appoint someone to oversee the implementation of the COVID-19 relief plan. And although Biden himself won’t be so in the weeds this time, the helpers still expect a lot of questions from him about where and when the money is moving.
“He will play a different role: he is also the commander in chief, overseeing an economic recovery, weathering the pandemic and managing a number of crises,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary. “But he’s a detail guy in his soul and he’ll want to roll up his sleeves and call the local mayor, governor, school district to make sure the money comes out the door.”
Biden faces challenges despite White House staff pointing to polls showing the package is popular with Republican voters despite not a single GOP lawmaker voting in favor. No Republicans attended the Rose Garden Victory Round.
The Biden White House has adopted a strategy of promising too little and then delivering too much in order to often exceed target dates and goals, for example in the distribution of vaccines.
But in his Thursday night speech, Biden set an ambitious schedule for all adult Americans to be eligible for the vaccine by May 1, and let the prospect of normal life dangle through July 4. And while adding reservations about a possible virus surge, Biden’s new timeline created pressure to meet the bold headlines it produced.
Republicans trying to label the COVID-19 relief bill as partisan believe they will be able to roll back the Biden administration far more effectively if the president digs into more polarizing areas of his agenda like immigration and climate change and voting rights.
“Less than two months into his presidency, Biden is showing that he never really meant his promises of bipartisanism and unity,” said GOP chairman Ronna McDaniel. “Instead of working with Republicans on targeted aid legislation, he went for a non-partisan bill full of pork.”
The Obama bill faced headwinds because it followed the bank bailout developed under President George W. Bush and came when the economy stagnated. This time around, Americans will notice the effects much sooner – some will even see their $ 1,400 stimulus check deposited this weekend.
Economic forecasts also point to a robust rebound through to the end of the year, and Biden should be able to point to concrete employment growth, making sales easier than in 2009.
Jennifer Palmieri, former Obama White House communications director, said Obama must argue that “things are still bad but would be worse than them if we hadn’t passed.” In contrast, she said, Biden can tell Americans, “there are signs of life, hope, and growth.”
She added, “The White House should feel empowered: the message from the COVID bill is that Republicans in DC have no contact with the rest of the country. Time to step on the gas. “
Associate press writer Nancy Benac contributed to this.