A coalition of 10 Republican senators took a stimulus counterproposal to the White House on Monday evening, urging President Biden to scale back his ambitions for a sweeping $1.9 trillion pandemic aid package in favor of a plan less than one-third the size that they argued could garner the bipartisan consensus the new president has said he is seeking.
Their outline, which came as Democrats prepared to push forward on Mr. Biden’s plan with or without Republican backing, amounted to a test of whether the president would opt to pursue a scaled-back measure that could fulfill his pledge to foster broad compromise, or use his majority in Congress to reach for a more robust relief effort enacted over stiff Republican opposition.
White House officials said Mr. Biden was eager to hear from the Republicans on their plan and willing to negotiate over its details. But his advisers have made clear that the president has little enthusiasm for significantly cutting back on the rescue measure he has proposed. And there was scant evidence, for now, that any Democrats were seriously considering embracing such a limited proposal.
“The risk is not that it is too big, this package,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said before the meeting. “The risk is that it is too small. That remains his view.”
On Monday night, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, called the gathering with Mr. Biden an “excellent meeting” and said, “It was a very good exchange of views.”
Republicans outlined the plan as the Congressional Budget Office projected that the American economy would return to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year, even if Congress did not approve any more federal aid for the recovery, but that it would be years before everyone thrown off the job by the pandemic would be able to return to work.
The Republicans’ $618 billion proposal would include many of the same elements as Mr. Biden’s plan, with $160 billion for vaccine distribution and development, coronavirus testing and the production of personal protective equipment; $20 billion to help schools reopen; more relief for small businesses; and additional aid to individuals. But it differs in ways large and small, omitting a federal minimum wage increase or direct aid to states and cities.
It would slash the direct payments to Americans, providing $1,000 instead of $1,400 and limiting them to the lowest income earners, excluding individuals who earned more than $50,000. It would also pare back federal jobless aid, which is set to lapse in March, setting weekly payments at $300 through June instead of $400 through September.
On Capitol Hill, top Democrats said they were worried a smaller package would not adequately meet the needs of struggling Americans, and Democratic leaders began laying the groundwork to move forward on their own, if necessary, with Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan.
Ahead of Mr. Biden’s meeting with the Republicans, congressional Democrats released a budget blueprint, the first in a series of steps to pave the way for approving Mr. Biden’s plan through a process known as budget reconciliation, which would allow it to bypass a filibuster and pass solely with Democratic votes.
The new legal team that former President Donald J. Trump has brought in for his impeachment trial next week is unlikely to focus his defense on his baseless claims of widespread election fraud and instead question whether the trial is even constitutional since he is no longer president, people close to the team said on Monday.
Several Trump advisers have told the former president that using his election claims as a defense for his role in the mob attack on the Capitol last month is unwise, according to a person close to the new lawyers, David Schoen and Bruce L. Castor Jr.
The new team has to file a brief with the Senate on Tuesday.
Many Republicans on Capitol Hill expect the defense team to at least partly rely on their argument that holding a trial of a former president is unconstitutional. People close to the Trump legal team said that would be a main avenue of defense.
The House managers are set to file their own brief on Tuesday. The document should offer the first comprehensive road map of their argument that Mr. Trump sowed baseless claims of election fraud, summoned his supporters to Washington and then directly provoked them to confront Congress as it met in the Capitol to certify his election loss.
The brief will also include an argument in favor of holding the trial, with the managers prepared to argue that the framers of the Constitution intended impeachment to apply to officials who had committed offenses while in office.
Mr. Schoen, an Atlanta-based criminal defense lawyer, has represented mobsters and Mr. Trump’s longtime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr.
Mr. Castor is best known for reaching a deal not to prosecute Bill Cosby for sexual assault when he was the district attorney of Montgomery County, Pa.
Mr. Castor’s cousin is Stephen R. Castor, the congressional investigator who battled Democrats over Mr. Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joseph R. Biden Jr. when he was preparing to run against him. A person familiar with the discussions said that Stephen Castor had recommended his cousin to the former president.
Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio plans to run for his state’s open Senate seat, Democrats who have spoken with him said, a bid that would test whether even a Democrat with roots in the blue-collar Youngstown region and close ties to organized labor can win in the increasingly Republican state.
Mr. Ryan, an 18-year House veteran, has reached out to a host of Ohio and national Democrats in recent days about the seat now held by Senator Rob Portman, a Republican who stunned officials in both parties by announcing last week that he would retire.
Former Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, a Democrat who has been encouraging Mr. Ryan to run, said of the congressman, “He has the ability to appeal to a lot of independents, and Democrats will be very excited about this candidacy.”
Mr. Ryan hails from Niles, Ohio, just north of Youngstown, a region filled with voters who are effectively Trump Democrats, many of them union members or retirees. He outperformed Mr. Biden in his district, but Democrats there suffered a series of losses in other down-ballot races.
In Congress, Mr. Ryan has been a close ally of unions and has generally toed the Democratic line, shifting toward a stance in support of abortion rights in recent years. Even before formally announcing his bid, Mr. Ryan drew support from the state chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, which on Monday released a letter endorsing his undeclared candidacy.
Mr. Ryan also has an ally in the White House, having endorsed Mr. Biden in November 2019, a low ebb in the race for the candidate.
It’s unlikely, though, that the congressman will run unopposed for the Senate nomination. One Democrat whose name has been floated for the seat, Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, said she was “thinking about it” when asked on the day Mr. Portman announced his retirement.
Former President Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party leveraged false claims of voter fraud and promises to overturn the election to raise more than a quarter-billion dollars in November and December as hundreds of thousands of trusting supporters listened and opened their wallets.
But the Trump campaign spent only a tiny fraction of its haul on lawyers and other legal bills related to those claims. Instead, Mr. Trump and the G.O.P. stored away much of the money — $175 million or so — even as they continued to issue breathless, aggressive and often misleading appeals for cash that promised it would help with recounts, the rooting out of election fraud and even the Republican candidates’ chances in the two Senate runoff races in Georgia.
Only about $10 million spent by Mr. Trump’s campaign went to actual legal costs, according to an analysis of new Federal Election Commission filings from Nov. 4 through the end of the year.
Far more is now sitting in the coffers of a new political action committee, Save America, that Mr. Trump formed after the election and that provides him a fat war chest he can use to pay advisers, fund travel and maintain a political operation. Mr. Trump’s new PAC had $31 million in the bank at the end of 2020 and an estimated $40 million more sitting in a shared party account waiting to be transferred into it.
Mr. Trump’s extraordinary success raising money came mostly from grass-roots and online contributors drawn to his lie that the election result would soon be somehow wiped away. Only about a dozen donors gave $25,000 or more to one of Mr. Trump’s committees after Nov. 24.
“Sophisticated donors are not dumb,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor who has supported Mr. Trump in the past. “They could see through what Trump was trying to do.”
A host of corporations and major donors mostly ignored Mr. Trump in the weeks after the election and poured money instead into the Georgia Senate runoffs. Donations included a $5 million check from the American Petroleum Institute and hundreds of thousands more from oil giants like Chevron and Valero, which were fearful of the impact of a Democratic-controlled Senate.
A federal court on Monday overturned the Trump administration’s signature environmental policy, a regulation that critics said was aimed at crippling the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to enact new clean air and water protections.
The order by Judge Brian Morris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana overturned the E.P.A.’s policy, which called for the agency to dismiss or downgrade any studies that did not expose its raw data, sending it back to the agency for revisions, if the new administrator wishes to pursue it.
Dozens of leading medical and scientific groups argued the rule actually would have blocked the E.P.A. from using important studies showing the health consequences of exposure to air pollution and other toxins because those studies often rely on confidential medical data that cannot be released.
The Biden administration had vowed to overturn the policy and said in a statement Monday they were “pleased” with the court’s ruling. The E.P.A. did not say whether it would aim to revise the regulation, though the issue is likely to come up Wednesday when Mr. Biden’s choice to lead the agency, Michael Regan, appears before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a confirmation hearing.
Public health advocates said they thought it was unlikely the Biden administration will seek to replace the Trump policy with one of its own.
“For all practical purposes it’s dead,” Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association, said of the Trump-era rule. He called the judge’s decision “a strong rebuke of an ill-conceived and illegal approach designed to undermine the use of science that is really the cornerstone of the agency’s work.”
The decision is a serious blow to the Trump administration’s legacy. In addition to rolling back more than 100 air, water and climate change regulations, the E.P.A. under Mr. Trump also sought to make it more difficult for any future administration to craft aggressive rules.
Mandy Gunasekara, who served as chief of staff to Andrew Wheeler, Mr. Trump’s E.P.A. administrator, said in a statement that the judge’s decision was “unfortunate” and maintained the goal of the policy was to promote transparency.
A whistle-blower complaint filed on Monday said a top Trump homeland security official sought to constrain the Biden administration’s immigration policies by agreeing to hand policy controls to the pro-Trump union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The complaint accuses Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II of “gross mismanagement, gross waste of government funds and abuse of authority” over the labor agreements he signed with the immigration agents union the day before President Biden’s inauguration.
According to the complaint, on Jan. 19, Mr. Cuccinelli — an immigration hard-liner whose legal legitimacy to serve in senior positions at the Department of Homeland Security was contested — essentially sought to tie Mr. Biden’s hands.
“This abuse of authority is shocking,” wrote David Z. Seide, a lawyer representing the whistle-blower, whom he described as “a current federal employee who wishes to remain anonymous” and who “possesses information concerning significant acts of misconduct” by Mr. Cuccinelli.
A senior homeland security official confirmed that since Mr. Biden’s inauguration, officials have been meeting to discuss the implications of the ICE labor agreements.
One clause in the contract requires homeland security leaders to obtain “prior affirmative consent” in writing from the union on changes to policies and functions affecting agents, appears to allow the ICE union to argue that it can reject changes such as Mr. Biden’s recent order to focus on violent criminals and not prioritize other undocumented immigrants.
Mr. Cuccinelli said in an email that the agreement is “entirely legal and appropriate, or we wouldn’t have executed it.”
He declined to respond to a question inquiring how the agreement would affect Mr. Biden’s directives to ICE.
Chris Crane, the union president who signed the agreements with him, did not return a request for comment. The ICE union, which represents more than 7,500 agents and employees, endorsed Mr. Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Among other things, Mr. Seide’s complaint portrayed the agreements as “effectively giving the union unprecedented veto authority in many areas,” including enhancing its power “to slow and impede agency activities by requiring its express written approval prior to implementing changes in the conditions of employment” for agents.
The complaint filed on Monday is the second major accusation against Mr. Cuccinelli by a whistle-blower in recent months. In September, Brian Murphy, the former intelligence chief for the Homeland Security Department, claimed Mr. Cuccinelli ordered him to modify intelligence assessments to make the threat of white supremacy “appear less severe” and include information on violent “left-wing” groups. Mr. Cuccinelli denied the accusations.
Among President Biden’s most specific foreign policy promises was a pledge to convene a global democracy summit during his first year in office. The gathering would be intended to take a public stand against the authoritarian and populist tides that rose during the presidency of Donald J. Trump and, as Mr. Biden and his advisers see it, threaten to swamp Western political values.
In the weeks since Mr. Biden’s election, however, America’s own democracy has been staggering. In January, a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and disrupted the hallowed peaceful transfer of power. Next week, the Senate will begin its second presidential impeachment trial of Mr. Trump in a year. Republicans in Congress are poised to impose legislative gridlock by obstructing Mr. Biden’s every move.
The sense of a dysfunctional, if not entirely broken, democratic system has foreign rivals crowing — and suggesting that the United States has no business lecturing other nations.
“America no longer charts the course and so has lost all right to set it,” Konstantin Kosachev, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper house of Russia’s Parliament, wrote on Facebook after the Capitol riot. “And, even more so, to impose it on others.”
Administration officials say that neither opportunistic commentary from foreign rivals nor recent expressions of good-faith skepticism from foreign policy analysts at home has tempered the plan Mr. Biden promised as a candidate: convening a “summit for democracy” where like-minded leaders could discuss ways to strengthen their own systems and protect them from threats like corruption, election security breaches, disinformation and authoritarian models.
A person familiar with the summit planning, which has been underway since before the election, said Mr. Biden was undeterred by the recent political strife in the United States and was likely to act as the host at an event with fellow heads of state, although details like the timing and location have not been determined. Others familiar with the process said they expected an event near the end of the year. A White House official did not respond to a request for comment.
In Washington, however, a debate over the idea — and whether to postpone the plan — has broken out among former United States government officials and academics. It narrowly concerns plans for the summit but involves larger anxieties about the country’s role as a global leader in the post-Trump era.
“The United States has lost credibility; there’s no question about that,” said James Goldgeier, a professor of international relations at American University and a former National Security Council aide in the Clinton administration. “If you have total gridlock on Capitol Hill and you don’t have the ability to get things done to improve people’s lives, you’re not going to command a lot of moral authority.”
Mr. Biden had planned to travel to the State Department on Monday to deliver a foreign policy speech. But that was postponed because of the winter weather complications across the region, according to a White House official.
Katie Rogers contributed reporting.
New administrations are generally cautious about changing their predecessors’ legal positions. But this time may be different when it comes to repudiating former President Donald J. Trump’s agenda in major cases, including the latest challenge to the Affordable Care Act.
In a position that prizes its reputation for credibility, consistency and independence, solicitors general of both parties have said they are wary of veering from positions staked out by their predecessors.
Justice Elena Kagan, who was President Barack Obama’s first solicitor general before joining the court, has said, for instance, that “a change in position is a really big deal that people should hesitate a long time over.”
But a new law review article by Michael R. Dreeben, a longtime deputy solicitor general, presents a dissenting view, concluding that the Biden administration need not fear announcing bold reversals of stances taken by the Trump administration.
“The court will understand that new administrations have new views, particularly coming on the heels of the Trump administration, which in many ways pressed a radical vision of its jurisprudential agenda on the court that a successor administration is entitled to push back on,” Mr. Dreeben, who worked in the office for more than 30 years, said in an interview.
With the departure of former President Donald J. Trump, the G.O.P. has become a leaderless party, with past standard-bearers changing their voter registrations, luminaries like Senator Rob Portman of Ohio retiring, and far-right extremists like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia building a brand on a web of dangerous conspiracy theories.
With no dominant leader other than the deplatformed one-term president, a radical right movement that became emboldened under Mr. Trump has been maneuvering for more power. More moderate Republicans feel increasingly under attack, but so far have made little progress in galvanizing voters, donors or new recruits for office.
Instead, in Arizona, the state Republican Party has brazenly punished dissent, formally censuring three of its own: Gov. Doug Ducey, former Senator Jeff Flake and Cindy McCain, the widow of former Senator John McCain. The party cited their criticisms of Mr. Trump and their defenses of the state’s election process.
In Wyoming, Representative Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican, headlined a rally on Thursday to denounce Representative Liz Cheney for her vote to impeach Mr. Trump. Joining Mr. Gaetz by phone was Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son, who has been working to unseat Ms. Cheney and replace her with someone he believes better represents the views of her constituents — in other words, fealty to his father.
And in Michigan, Meshawn Maddock, a Trump supporter who pushed false claims about voter fraud and organized bus loads of Republicans from the state to attend the Jan. 6 rally in Washington, is running unopposed to become the new co-chairman of the state party.
There are still Republican officials who are responsible for the party’s political interests, but they are preaching unity to factions that have no desire to unite.
In an interview on Friday, Ronna McDaniel — the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee and a close ally of Mr. Trump’s — sounded exasperated at the public brawling.
“If you have a family dispute, don’t go on ‘Jerry Springer,’” Ms. McDaniel said. “Do it behind closed doors. It’s my role to call them and explain that if we don’t keep our party united and focused on 2022, we will lose. If we are attacking fellow Republicans and cancel culture within our own party, it is not helpful to winning majorities.”