2021-03-19 by W.M.
Some Republicans reject vaccines, complicating a return to normalcy on Capitol Hill.
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — American diplomats ended a fraught round of high-level talks with Chinese officials in Alaska on Friday with no major diplomatic breakthroughs, and acknowledged that a tense relationship lies ahead for Washington and Beijing.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that U.S. officials had raised numerous issues with their Chinese counterparts — including human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the status of Tibet and Taiwan, and cybersecurity — which caused tension.
“We certainly know, and knew going in, that there are a number of areas where we are fundamentally at odds,” Mr. Blinken said, adding that “it’s no surprise that when we raised those issues,” U.S. officials “got a defensive response.”
Mr. Blinken also said American officials had notified Chinese diplomats that on issues such as Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan and climate change, the U.S. would “move forward on them in a way that fully protects and advances the interests” of the nation.
Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, said that American officials had expected the talks to be difficult, and that the delegation had laid out its priorities for how the Biden administration would approach diplomatic relations with Beijing.
“We were cleareyed coming in, we’re cleareyed coming out,” Mr. Sullivan said, “and we will go back to Washington to take stock of where we are.”
In setting up the two days of discussions, the Biden administration had sought to build a baseline for its approach to China, one that officials have said would be grounded in competition but leave space for cooperation or confrontation with Beijing when necessary.
But they kicked off Thursday afternoon with more than an hour of heated accusations passing between Mr. Blinken and his Chinese counterpart, a rocky exchange that played out in front of TV cameras and threw into doubt any prospect of their geopolitical rivalry softening.
Yang Jiechi, China’s top diplomat, accused the United States of taking a “condescending” approach to the talks and said the American delegation had no right to accuse Beijing of human rights abuses or give lectures on the merits of democracy.
At one point, he said the United States would do well to repair its own “deep seated” problems, specifically pointing to the Black Lives Matter movement against American racism. At another, after it looked as if the opening remarks had concluded and journalists were initially told to leave the room to let the deeper discussions begin, Mr. Yang accused the United States of being inconsistent in its championing of a free press.
Mr. Blinken appeared taken aback but tried to keep the discussion on an even keel. He had opened the talks by asserting a goal to “strengthen the rules-based international order.”
It is now unclear how much cooperation between the two nations will be possible, although that will be necessary to achieve a host of shared goals, including controlling the pandemic, combating climate change, and limiting Iran’s nuclear program and North Korea’s weapons systems.
President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, the first Asian-American in the role, met with Asian-American leaders in Atlanta on Friday afternoon after a shooting rampage at Asian massage businesses left eight people dead this week. Mr. Biden was expected to deliver remarks after the meeting.
Those who met with the president and vice president included Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, state lawmakers and the heads of several Asian-American social justice groups and nonprofit organizations.
Ms. Harris posted on Twitter after the meeting: “We want Asian Americans in Georgia and across our nation to know: We won’t be silent. We won’t standby. We will always speak out against violence.”
While investigators continue to assess whether the shootings were racially motivated, Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris were expected to discuss the nationwide increase of attacks on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders during the coronavirus pandemic. Six of the people killed in the Atlanta shootings were women of Asian descent.
At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Asian-American lawmakers warned that the country had reached a “crisis point” amid a sharp increase in discrimination and violence targeting the Asian community. It was the first congressional hearing on the issue held in over three decades.
Although Asian-Americans, like other minority groups, have long endured deadly violence, the threats and discrimination they continue to face are often trivialized as harmless insults.
“There’s a tendency to not believe that violence against Asian-Americans is real,” said Angela Hsu, 52, a lawyer in suburban Atlanta. “It’s almost like you need something really, really jarring to make people believe that there is discrimination against Asian-Americans.”
Investigators in Cherokee County, where one spa was targeted, have said that the gunman told them he had a “sexual addiction” and had carried out the attacks as a way to eliminate temptation.
The president and vice president canceled a political event that had previously been scheduled for Friday night in Georgia, the White House announced.
“During their trip to Atlanta,” White House officials said, “they will instead meet with Asian-American leaders to discuss the ongoing attacks and threats against the community.”
This week, Ms. Harris, whose mother was born in India, condemned the bloodshed and expressed her solidarity with the Asian-American community.
“This speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country and what we must do to never tolerate it and to always speak out against it,” Ms. Harris said, adding that the motive in the shooting was still unclear.
“I do want to say to our Asian-American community that we stand with you and understand how this has frightened and shocked and outraged all people,” she added.
As a tribute to the shooting victims, Mr. Biden on Thursday ordered American flags to be flown at half-staff through sunset on Monday.
In February, the Biden administration signaled that past marijuana use would not necessarily disqualify a person from employment in the federal government. It was a change that was seen as a way to open the door for younger talent, but one that only took a few weeks to be tested.
On Friday, responding to a news report in the Daily Beast that said “dozens” of young staff members had been pushed to resign or had been reassigned to remote work based on their past marijuana use, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said that a small number of people were no longer working at the White House after their past use of the drug had been assessed.
“The bottom line is this,” Ms. Psaki wrote. “Of the hundreds of people hired, only five people who had started working at the White House are no longer employed as a result of this policy.”
The officials were directed to resign, in part because of past marijuana use, according to a person familiar with the matter but who was not authorized to speak publicly. Several in that group also had other disqualifying factors that surfaced when determining their eligibility to receive clearances, the person said.
Still, the episode highlighted how murky the new guidelines are, particularly for a White House that has pledged to embrace progressive positions, even as President Biden has always maintained a moderate stance toward legalizing the drug.
The matter also pits federal policy against a move to legalize or decriminalize marijuana use or possession in individual states — a complicating factor for officials who have arrived in Washington from places where use of the drug is permitted. Marijuana use and possession is still a federal crime, despite fast-growing public support to legalize the drug.
Last month, the White House made public a new set of guidelines for people in the Executive Office of the President whose past marijuana use was determined not to disqualify them from employment, or from jobs that require top-secret security clearances. Officials who have disclosed past marijuana use but are still permitted to work for the administration have been asked to sign a pledge not to use marijuana while working for the government, and they also must submit to random drug testing, according to officials.
There are also a number of White House officials who have been directed to work remotely until they have been cleared to meet a new standard of past marijuana use set by White House personnel security officials. Officials did not say on Friday what the timeline for that clearance was or how many people had been directed to work remotely, but two people familiar with the new policies said it was not dozens.
The new guidelines may affect how people in agencies across the federal government receive security clearances. In February, a memo on past marijuana use for all federal civilian employees was issued by Kathleen M. McGettigan, the acting director of the United States Office of Personnel Management.
“It would be inconsistent with suitability regulations to implement a policy of finding an individual unfit or unsuitable for federal service solely on the basis of recency of marijuana use,” she wrote. “Past marijuana use, including recently discontinued marijuana use, should be viewed differently from ongoing marijuana use.”
Representative Tom Reed, Republican of New York, disputed the accuracy of a news report on Friday in which a former lobbyist said he had touched her inappropriately during a weekend political trip in 2017.
The woman, Nicolette Davis, told The Washington Post that she was a 25-year-old lobbyist for Aflac when Mr. Reed groped her at an Irish pub in Minneapolis after a day of ice fishing with donors, politicians and lobbyists. The congressman was drunk, she said, and while sitting at the bar, he placed his hand on her back, unclasped her bra through her blouse and moved his hand up her thigh before Ms. Davis asked the man sitting next to her to intervene.
Mr. Reed, 49, who was elected to the House in 2010 and is now mulling a run for governor of New York, declined to discuss the allegation with reporters in the Capitol on Friday. In a statement, he said that the “account of my actions is not accurate,” but he did not elaborate or deny the encounter outright. His spokesman did not respond to detailed follow-up questions, including what specific allegations the congressman disputed.
Ms. Davis, who is now a second lieutenant in the Army, could not be reached. She told The Post that, though she was a lifelong Democrat, it was her “conscience” and desire to set an example for others that had led her to share her story publicly.
Jon A. Sullivan, a spokesman for Aflac, the insurance giant, confirmed on Friday that Ms. Davis had reported the incident to two colleagues shortly after it happened, including sending a text message to one of them asking for “HELP” as Mr. Reed was rubbing her back.
“When this matter was reported to senior leadership and colleagues who were not present at the event, we immediately provided support and counsel for Nicolette, enabling her to determine personally how she wanted to proceed with regard to bringing this deeply troubling experience to light,” Mr. Sullivan said in an emailed statement.
Ms. Davis more recently reported the incident to the Army, which referred it to the police in Minneapolis. Cynthia O. Smith, an Army spokeswoman, directed a reporter to the city’s police department, which declined to comment.
Mr. Reed, who told Fox News in February that he was “seriously considering” a run for governor in 2022, has been an outspoken critic of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat. He has called for Mr. Cuomo to resign or be impeached amid a wave of accusations of sexual harassment and other misconduct, and has described the governor’s reported behavior as “disturbing and unacceptable.”
Mr. Reed, a former mayor of Corning, N.Y., represents a large swath of rural western New York, including Ithaca and parts of the Finger Lakes. As a leader of the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus, Mr. Reed has cultivated a reputation in Washington as a middle-of-the-road Republican eager to work with Democrats on thorny policy issues.
He has been a vocal proponent of sexual harassment training for members of Congress and their staffs, and wrote an op-ed for The Huffington Post in 2014 to raise awareness about sexual assault.
Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.
The agency that distributes foreign aid suspended more security clearances during the Trump administration than it had previously, according to a Republican senator who said the increase could demonstrate retaliation against whistle-blowers.
Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, who has long been a vocal defender of whistle-blowers, said the information that he provided from the U.S. Agency for International Development indicated “a potentially troubling pattern of suspensions” of security clearances.
The Trump administration earned a reputation for doing little to protect whistle-blowers. After his first impeachment, former President Donald J. Trump moved to punish key witnesses, effectively blocking the promotion of one and firing another, as well as the inspector general who had brought the abuse-of-power allegations to Congress.
While some have tried to prevent the use of security clearance suspensions as a way to punish workers, lawyers and experts said the practice continued.
Mr. Grassley and his staff have been investigating the case of Mark Moyar, a political appointee under the Trump administration who accused some employees of the U.S. aid agency of conflicts of interest, abusive behavior and wasting government resources.
After Mr. Moyar made his complaints, he learned that the Pentagon had suspended his security clearance because of material in a book he had written years before. Mr. Moyar, who had been a fellow at the Joint Special Operations University, had submitted his book for review by the Pentagon before he joined the Trump administration. The Defense Department never signed off on the manuscript but also never informed him that it contained any classified material, so after waiting a year for a response, Mr. Moyar published the book in 2017.
Without a security clearance, the U.S. aid agency moved to fire Mr. Moyar, but gave him the opportunity to resign, which he took.
A spokesman said the agency had suspended his clearance because the military’s Special Operations Command told agency officials that Mr. Moyar had “leaked classified information.”
Kel B. McClanahan, Mr. Moyar’s lawyer, said the information in the book was attributed to nonclassified, public material. Some officials who have reviewed documents in the case said the accusation that the book contained classified secrets was overblown.
Responding to a December letter from Mr. Grassley, the U.S. aid agency reported that it had not suspended any clearances in 2016, the last year of the Obama administration. But under Mr. Trump, it suspended eight clearances in 2017, and the same number in 2018. That increased to 14 in 2019 before dropping to four in 2020.
Of those officials, 12 voluntarily resigned and 10 had their clearances reinstated.
President Biden was “doing fine” after falling off balance while boarding Air Force One before his Friday trip to Atlanta, according to a press secretary traveling with him.
“It’s pretty windy outside,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the principal deputy press secretary, told reporters traveling with Mr. Biden to Georgia. “It’s very windy. I almost fell coming up the steps myself. He is doing 100 percent fine.”
Mr. Biden was boarding Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland when he stumbled about midway up the stairs. He leaned down to catch himself, and appeared to fall off balance once more before landing on his left knee. He stood up, dusted off his shin and boarded the plane.
In Atlanta, Mr. Biden was scheduled to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and meet with Asian-American leaders after the shooting rampage at Asian massage businesses in the area this week. Ms. Jean-Pierre said the president was “preparing for the trip just fine” after he tripped.
Kate Bedingfield, Mr. Biden’s communications director, said that the president did not require medical attention from staff once aboard the plane. Mr. Biden, she wrote on Twitter, “did not even require any attention from the medical team who travels with him. Nothing more than a misstep on the stairs.”
In late November, Mr. Biden, 78, suffered hairline fractures on his right foot while playing with his German shepherd, and was required to wear a walking boot while he recovered. In February, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, the White House physician, said that Mr. Biden’s foot had healed.
“Both small fractures of his foot are completely healed,” Dr. O’Connor said in a statement in February after the president received follow-up X-rays. “These films were obtained while standing, so we could further assess that his ligamentous stability remains fully intact and strong. This injury has healed as expected.”
Ms. Jean-Pierre did not answer when reporters aboard Air Force One asked her if Mr. Biden’s foot had caused the stumble, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment on Friday.
In Atlanta, Mr. Biden exited the plane without an issue.
When Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene was expelled from her congressional committees as punishment for conspiracy mongering and violent statements, she embraced her exile, declaring that she had been “freed” from the obligation to participate in the drudgery of legislating.
“If I was on a committee, I’d be wasting my time,” said Ms. Greene, Republican of Georgia.
Since then, Ms. Greene, locked out of the policymaking process, has instead devoted the first weeks of her term in Congress to disrupting House floor proceedings and trolling her colleagues on social media. She recently gummed up a string of straightforward procedural votes to advance gun control legislation and wasted hours of lawmakers’ time with dilatory tactics as the House worked to pass the economic stimulus package, all the while building her inflammatory profile.
Ms. Greene may be something of an outlier, but her reaction to her exile illustrated a new reality that has taken hold in Congress, most vividly in the new ranks of Republicans. A growing number of lawmakers have demonstrated less interest in the nitty-gritty passing of laws than in using their powerful perches to build their own political brands and stoke outrage among their opponents.
The trend has contributed to the deep dysfunction on Capitol Hill, where viral moments of Republicans trying to troll their colleagues across the aisle — often in the mold of former President Donald J. Trump — generate far more attention than legislative debate.
“If your motivation is to keep your head down, work hard to pass legislation, it’s harder than it used to be,” said Corry Bliss, a veteran Republican strategist. “It seems more and more, the rewards are skewed toward going on television and being bombastic.”
Democrats see a grimmer side to the tactics, particularly after the Capitol riot, with some arguing that Republicans have fomented a dangerous political environment.
The shift has been particularly noticeable in recent weeks, as a string of leading Republican policy thinkers and deal makers have announced they will leave Congress. Their styles and records stand in sharp contrast to those of the new crop of lawmakers, who appear to be more interested in waging culture wars than achieving policy victories.
President Biden on Friday nominated Bill Nelson, a former senator from Florida, to head NASA.
A statement from the White House announcing the nomination said of Mr. Nelson, “In the Senate he was known as the go-to senator for our nation’s space program.”
The selection raised concerns that the Biden administration may restore a more traditional space program that relies on large, legacy aerospace companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin, rather than more nimble newcomers like SpaceX.
Many people in the field had also hoped that Mr. Biden would nominate the first woman to serve as administrator.
“Given how many qualified and talented women were rumored to be in consideration, he’s putting great trust in his former Senate colleague,” said Lori Garver, who was a deputy administrator of NASA during the Obama administration.
Mr. Nelson, who lost his bid for re-election to a fourth term in 2018, was a onetime astronaut and longtime supporter of NASA in the Senate. He was also a chief architect of the 2010 law that directed NASA to develop a heavy-lift rocket known as the Space Launch System. Although the rocket had a successful engine test on Thursday, it is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget.
President Biden has shown an interest in space, putting a moon rock collected by astronauts on the last Apollo mission in 1972 on display in the Oval Office and chatting with scientists and engineers running the Perseverance robotic rover, which landed on Mars last month.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, has said the administration supports NASA’s current Artemis program, which is to send astronauts back to the moon, but the administration has not laid out broader space policy goals or described how it might change the Artemis plans announced by former President Donald J. Trump.
Ms. Garver said that perhaps Mr. Nelson’s selection could indicate personal interest in space exploration from Mr. Biden. The familiarity Mr. Biden has with Mr. Nelson from their years as Senate colleagues could mean “he’ll increase NASA’s budget,” she said.
Even as Americans across the country hunt for a lifesaving coronavirus vaccine in a bid to get back to a semblance of normalcy, more than a quarter of members of Congress, just a phone call away from receiving a shot, have turned it down.
Lawmakers who have continued to meet in person during the pandemic, often in violation of public health advice, have had access to the Pfizer vaccine since late December. But in the House, about 25 percent of lawmakers have not received a vaccination, the top Republican wrote this week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, citing data from the Office of the Attending Physician. It is unclear how many senators have been vaccinated, though a handful of Republicans have said they do not intend to get one.
The hesitance in Congress mirrors a broader trend across the United States, where polling suggests that Republicans are far more skeptical of being vaccinated. Because vaccinations are confidential health information, there is no breakdown of which lawmakers have received one. But in recent weeks, several Republicans have publicly rejected the idea.
Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and a former ophthalmologist, said he was “going with the science on this one” in refusing a vaccine because he had already had the virus.
“I have not chosen to be vaccinated because I got it naturally,” Mr. Paul recently told reporters. (The science says the opposite; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get vaccinated even if they have already had the coronavirus.)
Republicans’ reluctance is just the latest barrier that Congress is confronting as leaders consider how to begin reinstating a sense of normalcy. At the same time, many aides on Capitol Hill — some of whom work for lawmakers who expect them to show up in person — are themselves struggling to find a vaccine dose.
Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, told reporters on Friday that the House should aim for “100 percent” of members to be vaccinated, but lamented that she could not force anyone to accept a shot. If Republicans refused, she said, it would take longer to get the House back to normal, as members of that party have been pushing to do.
The future of the Senate filibuster is increasingly in doubt, even though Republicans have yet to use it to block a single Democratic bill this year.
While the real showdown lies ahead, President Biden’s endorsement this week of a change in the rules governing the Senate’s signature procedural weapon represented a major shift in the political dynamic. Almost overnight, the prospect of Democrats’ taking action to weaken the minority party’s power to stall legislation has shifted from a far-off theoretical question to a fast-moving push with presidential buy-in.
What Mr. Biden said — a tempered embrace of requiring filibustering senators to hold the floor — was far less important than the fact that he said it at all. For Mr. Biden, a protector of the Senate if there ever was one, to declare that the filibuster needed updating was a big far-reaching deal, to paraphrase the former vice president’s hot-mic comment on the enactment of the Affordable Care Act.
“As a student and creature of the Senate, he certainly knows how to choose his words carefully on this subject,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, who has suddenly emerged as one of the most prominent advocates of overhauling the filibuster. “I think he’s acknowledging the obvious — that the filibuster has really shackled the Senate and made it far less productive.”
Democrats still lack the votes to overturn the current rules, which effectively require proponents of a bill to muster a 60-vote supermajority to advance it. The prospect that they might try has uncovered more queasiness among Democratic senators, underscoring the reality that progressive activists and senators eager to modify the filibuster have plenty of work to do if they are to prevail.
But they already knew that. To them, the fact that Mr. Biden and Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia and the party’s most outspoken backer of the filibuster, have both expressed some openness to change is more than they could have imagined at this stage.
“That’s light years ahead of where I would have hoped we’d be,” said Adam Jentleson, a former top Democratic Senate aide who is advising the anti-filibuster forces. “There’s a long way to go, but we are ahead of schedule.”
The growing momentum behind the current movement is remarkable considering there has not yet been a legislative filibuster this session. Democrats passed the coronavirus aid bill under a special budget process that prevented a filibuster, and nominations are no longer subject to a 60-vote threshold.
But filibusters are coming, beginning with a voting rights measure that is set for a Senate hearing next week, followed by bills to legalize undocumented immigrants, strengthen gun safety laws, bolster labor rights and more that Republicans strongly oppose.
Passing new restrictions on voting — in particular, tougher limits on early voting and vote-by-mail — is now at the heart of the right’s strategy to keep donors and voters engaged as former President Donald J. Trump fades from public view and leaves a void in the Republican Party that no other figure or issue has filled.
In recent weeks, many of the most prominent and well-organized groups that power the party’s vast voter turnout efforts have directed their resources toward a campaign to restrict when and how people can vote, with a focus on the emergency policies that states enacted last year to make casting a ballot during a pandemic easier. The groups believe it could be their best shot at regaining power in Washington.
Their efforts are intensifying over the objections of some Republicans who say the strategy is cynical and shortsighted, arguing that it further commits their party to legitimizing a lie. It also sends a message, they say, that Republicans think they lost mostly because the other side cheated, which prevents them from grappling honestly with what went wrong and why they might lose again.
Some also argue that setting new restrictions on voting could undercut the party just as it was making important gains with Black and Latino voters, who are more likely to be impeded by such laws.
“Restricting voting is only a short-term rush. It’s not a strategy for future strength,” said Benjamin Ginsberg, one of the Republican Party’s most prominent election lawyers, who has criticized Mr. Trump and other members of the party for attacking the integrity of the voting process.
The debate over voting laws is part of the bigger fight over the future of the party and whether it should continue to focus on making Mr. Trump and his hard-core voters happy.
For now, many conservative groups are choosing to side with the former president, even at the risk of feeding corrosive falsehoods about the prevalence of voter fraud.
“I’m not someone who thinks that China hacked the voting machines,” said Terry Schilling, the president of the American Principles Project. But at the same time, he said, “if you’re a conservative organization and you have small-dollar donors, you’re hearing this from everywhere: ‘Well, what’s the point in voting?’”
Tucked into President Biden’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package are tens of millions of dollars for organizations dedicated to curtailing domestic abuse, which skyrocketed during the pandemic, as well as vouchers for people fleeing violence at home.
These measures are the most concrete signals to date that Mr. Biden’s domestic policy agenda will aim to combat domestic abuse, an issue that has long animated his four-decade career in politics.
As a senator, Mr. Biden sponsored the bill that became the Violence Against Women Act, the first federal legislation intended to end domestic violence, which the House voted to renew on Wednesday. As vice president, he created a position to coordinate federal efforts around abuse and sexual assault. That adviser reported to him.
As president, Mr. Biden signed off on a version of the American Rescue Plan that funnels $49 million in aid and hundreds of millions of dollars in housing assistance to victims who have been trapped during the pandemic with their abusers. A senior White House adviser will also focus on gender violence as part of Mr. Biden’s newly formed Gender Policy Council.
“The most vicious of all crimes are domestic crimes,” he said in 2009, when he was vice president. “The worst imprisonment in the whole world is to be imprisoned in your own home.”
Groups that work to end domestic abuse believe that the Biden administration’s policies could signal a substantive shift in addressing a crisis that cuts across race, class and gender. That he is doing so amid a pandemic that has disproportionately affected people of color, and a racial justice and police reform movement that also intersects with issues faced by survivors, has been applauded by advocates.
“For us, imagining that we will have folks in the White House paying attention, not only to violence against women but to these intersections — it is a deep sigh of relief,” said Karma Cottman, the executive director of Ujima, the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community.
Floridians 50 years and older will be eligible to get a vaccine on Monday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said, and there are plans to make shots available for all adult residents in the coming weeks.
Speaking at a news conference on Friday, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said it made sense to broaden eligibility now that, he said, 70 percent of Florida’s senior population has been vaccinated.
Some counties, including Orange and Miami-Dade, have expanded eligibility ahead of the state doing so. On Monday, Orange County residents 40 years and older, and Miami-Dade residents 50 years and older can start signing up for shots, their local officials said.
Numerous other states have announced expansions to vaccine eligibility as the pace of daily shots administered across the country has steadily increased to an average of about 2.5 million doses a day, as of Friday, according to a New York Times analysis of data reported from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That rate is nearly seven percent higher than it was a week ago.
On Friday, Maine’s governor announced on Twitter that the state would be accelerating its vaccination timeline by two weeks. Beginning March 23, Maine residents age 50 and older will be eligible for the vaccination, and on April 19, all Maine residents age 16 and older will be eligible for vaccination.
The state is also moving to vaccinate teachers, school staff and licensed child care workers this month, following a directive from the Biden administration, according to a statement released by the governor’s office.
“The light that we can see at end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter as more people get vaccinated,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, a Democrat said Thursday when he announced expansions to vaccine eligibility in his state.
Last week, President Biden set a deadline of May 1 for states to make vaccines available to all adult residents.
States have been able to open vaccinations up to more people as supply has steadily increased; the Biden administration has bulked up the vaccine production and distribution campaign, though its key elements were in place before he took office. The White House press secretary, Jennifer Psaki, said this week another 22 million vaccine doses were to be sent to states, jurisdictions and pharmacies this week.
As of Friday, more than 118 million shots have been administered since inoculations began in mid-December.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a trip to Georgia on Friday, Mr. Biden suggested the United States could reach a point in the future where officials are administering five million doses a day. “Hopefully we’ll keep the pace of about 2.5 million a day,” he said, “which we may be able to get to — we may be able to double.”
The president’s goal for the United States to administer 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days was met on Friday, with more than 101 million doses administered since Jan. 20, six weeks ahead of his self-imposed deadline.
During brief remarks on Thursday, the president maintained that the 100-million-shot goal was ambitious, even though he conceded in January that the government should be aiming higher. Five days after he was inaugurated, Mr. Biden had said the United States would aim to administer 1.5 million vaccine doses a day, a target that was reached a few weeks later.
Mr. Biden has continued to claim unexpectedly fast progress in meeting his vaccine goal, even as public health officials have said that his goal was less ambitious and easier to achieve.
Add the White House Easter Egg Roll to the list of yearly traditions canceled — once again — by the pandemic.
The event was canceled for the second year in a row over concerns about large gatherings. President Biden’s cautious benchmark — small gatherings by July 4, if Americans keep to social distancing protocols and receive vaccines when they are offered — comes well after the Easter holiday and nowhere near the usual capacity for the egg roll, which draws up to 30,000 people to the White House grounds.
“The Bidens hope to continue this tradition in 2022,” Michael LaRosa, a spokesman for the first lady, Jill Biden, said in a statement confirming the cancellation. “The White House plans to send out thousands of the 2021 commemorative Easter Egg Roll eggs in the coming days to vaccination sites and local hospitals. We urge everyone this Easter to continue wearing masks, engage in social distancing and get the vaccine when it is your turn.”
In addition to the risk of coronavirus transmission, there are fewer people in place to organize and host the event. Dozens of White House officials are working remotely, adhering to strict coronavirus protocols as the pandemic continues.
Anita McBride, a board member of the White House Historical Association, said the White House “generally still doesn’t have a full complement of staff” coming into the building. She added that there would be “no in-person activities” for the egg roll this year.
Instead, the association has released a virtual egg hunt. Commemorative wooden eggs — featuring the White House dogs, Champ and Major, and an Easter bunny wearing a protective mask — are also for sale.
Last year, Melania Trump, the former first lady, called the decision to cancel the egg roll “difficult” but necessary.
“The health and safety of all Americans must be the first priority, especially right now,” Mrs. Trump said in a statement issued by the White House last March. “I deeply regret this cancellation, but we need to make difficult decisions in the short term to ensure a healthy country for the long term.”
The White House Easter Egg Roll dates back to 1878 and has only been canceled a handful of times. In 1918, it was canceled because of food shortages and concerns over the spread of a deadly flu.