WASHINGTON — The card tucked in President Joe Biden’s right jacket pocket must weigh a ton. You can see the weight of it on his face when he digs it out, squints and ever-so-slowly reads aloud the latest tally of COVID-19 dead.
Sometimes he’ll stumble on a digit — after all, flubs come with the man. But the message is always clear: The toll of the virus weighs on him constantly, a millstone that helps explain why the typically garrulous politician with the megawatt smile has often seemed downright dour.
For any new leader, a lingering pandemic that has killed more than a half-million citizens would be plenty for a first 100 days. But it has been far from the sole preoccupation for the now 78-year-old Biden.
The oldest person ever elected president is tugging the United States in many new directions at once, right down to its literal foundations — the concrete of its neglected bridges — as well as the racial inequities and partisan poisons tearing at the civil society. Add to that list: a call for dramatic action to combat climate change.
He’s doing it without the abrasive noise of the last president or the charisma of the last two. Biden’s spontaneity, once a hallmark and sometimes a headache, is rarely seen. Some say he is a leader for this time: more action, less talk and something for the history books.
“This has been a really terrible year,” said Matt Delmont, who teaches civil rights history at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. “There’s so much. We want a new president to be a light forward. From that perspective, it makes sense that you want to get out of the box fast.”
Biden “sees the virtue of going bigger and bolder,” Delmont said. “It so strongly echoes FDR.”
Few would have bet Joe Biden would ever be uttered in the same breath as Franklin D. Roosevelt. It’s too soon to know whether he deserves to be.
But the scope of what Biden wants to do would — if he succeeds — put him in the company of that New Deal president, whose burst of consequential actions set the 100-day marker by which all successors have been informally measured since.
A reported 4,380 people in the U.S. died from the virus on the day Biden became president on Jan. 20. COVID-19 is killing about 700 people a day now. For Biden, much of the struggle is about “getting people some peace of mind so they can go to bed at night and not stare at the ceiling.”
It’s not all been smooth. Biden has struggled to change course on immigration practices he railed against in the campaign. He’s earned rare rebukes from some Democrats and shown that a president’s famously empathetic nature does not necessarily mean empathetic treatment of the world’s dispossessed.
Already, Biden has achieved a pandemic relief package of historic breadth and taken executive actions to wrestle the country away from the legacy and agitations of President Donald Trump.
The U.S. has pivoted on the environment. The government has created payments that independent analysts say should halve child poverty in a year. It has embraced international alliances Trump shunned. It has elevated the health insurance program Trump and fellow Republicans tried to kill, making the Affordable Care Act more affordable than it ever was under President Barack Obama.
When Trump won the 2016 election, Obama said the day after that he saw something very American in the outcome, as unhappy as he was about the result. “The path that this country has taken has never been a straight line,” Obama said. “We zig and we zag.”
It’s Biden’s zigzag now. The temperature is lower. The drama is less. And the persona is fundamentally different.
“He ran as the antithesis of Trump — empathetic, decent and experienced, and he is delivering on that promise,” said former Obama adviser David Axelrod.
Biden’s first months in office were, in many ways, a rejection of what came before.
He evoked his bipartisan deal-making track record of 36 years in the Senate as the example he sought to bring back, though there’s been little bipartisanship in what he’s achieved as president.
Gone are the out-of-control news conferences. Gone are the sudden firings and impulsive policy declarations — both often in the form of a tweet — of the Trump years. Twitter is irrelevant for Biden’s presidential musings; he has yet to tweet by his own hand and what appears under his name is White House boilerplate.
Americans are getting something more organized and methodical. Like the index card in his suit jacket pocket. Printed in black and white, it shows his schedule, the daily numbers of vaccine doses administered, the previous day’s virus deaths, daily hospitalizations and the cumulative death toll.
It lists daily numbers of troops killed and wounded in war, a tally he started keeping in his pocket years ago, through the wars that spanned his two-term vice presidency. He says he will bring the last U.S. troops home from Afghanistan on Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked America’s longest war.
Biden has appeared in public far less than his predecessors and given the public fewer set pieces. That’s in part due to COVID-19 safety concerns, but also because of a sense among his advisers that people were simply worn out from four years of the Trump show.
Biden wanted to occupy less of the American consciousness than did Trump, who dominated the discourse like no one else had done, while achieving almost nothing legislatively in his 100-day debut. The new president turned virus briefings over to the scientists and administration officials and didn’t gag them.
He filled his staff with policy experts and old administration hands, not provocateurs. He achieved more diversity in the administration’s top levels than any president before him.
If there is a consistent through line to Biden’s term so far, it is his attempt to respond to age-old racial inequalities, in corners of public policy where most Americans might not expect to see it.
Biden’s massive infrastructure plan, for example, contains measures to address harms inflicted generations ago when governments built urban highways through Black neighborhoods, fracturing communities.
“That’s something most Americans don’t think about if they don’t have a direct experience of it,” Delmont said. “People hear infrastructure and think it’s a race-neutral set of policies.”
But without knowing about the destruction of Black neighborhoods from the bulldozer or reckoning with the heavy pandemic toll on minority communities, he said, “It’s hard to know what systemic racism looks like. These are civil rights issues. That’s where people want to see actions and resources.”
Biden’s agenda has been more activist than expected, unabashedly liberal and defined by anti-poverty measures and a far-reaching expansion of government.
For the most part, he’s actually doing more than he promised in his campaign. The election dealt him a hand that makes bigger things possible, thanks to majorities so thin in Congress that he needs Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tiebreaking votes in a 50-50 Senate.
If the pace seems breakneck, there may be a good reason: Time with real power may be perilously short. First- term presidents historically see their party lose big in the midterms and Republicans have shown no inclination to support his policies.
Even within his party, cohesion is not a given, with constant tension between centrists and those on the activist left. So far, Biden has managed to avoid a revolt from either faction.
But liberals were far from pleased when Biden, citing a “crisis” at the U.S.-Mexico border from a wave of migrants seeking asylum, balked at keeping his campaign promise to restore Obama-era refugee admissions worldwide and go even higher, after Trump’s drastic cuts. Thousands of refugees who had been cleared to come to the U.S. have been stranded abroad as a result.
“This cruel policy is no more acceptable now than it was during the Trump administration,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., adding that Biden was “caving to the politics of fear.”
Though the West Wing attempted to script the first 100 days, Biden faced vivid reminders that presidents are often measured more by how they respond to events they cannot control.
A surge of mass shootings confronted him, as did a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. The record number of unaccompanied children who tried to cross the border from Mexico — 18,890 in March alone — strained the administration’s capacity to hold them humanely. China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are testing him.
Yet to Axelrod, Biden has moved swiftly and efficiently on the two issues that dominate public concerns — the virus and the economy.
“His team has been competent and focused, a marked contrast to the chaos of the Trump years,” he said. “But, as important, he’s restored a sense of calm and equilibrium to a capital that lived on the jagged edge for four years of Trump.
“Biden is measured. He does not personally vilify his opponents or divide the country. He does not insist on constantly making himself the center of attention.”
Biden was deprived of an orderly transition by Trump’s false claims of election fraud, explosive charges that animated the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and brought a second Trump impeachment trial.
This meant delays up and down the federal bureaucracy. In the case of vaccines, it meant the Trump administration had done little to facilitate their distribution before Biden took office, prompting his complaint in late February about “the mess we inherited.”
A distribution mess, perhaps, but the Trump administration and Congress had made a huge investment in the development of vaccines. Not only that, but the administration took action to lock in early supplies for the U.S. while many other developed countries still face crucial shortages of doses.
As the number of vaccines manufactured swelled, so did the number that reached Americans’ arms, with more than 4 million shots administered one day in mid-April. The president became fond of the political trope of underpromising but overdelivering, repeatedly blowing past benchmarks and timelines.
The improved vaccine deployment was a significant early achievement, in part made possible by Biden’s first legislative success: passing a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill into law within two months.
Not a single Republican lawmaker voted for the measure, though the White House was quick to claim that it was a bipartisan bill because it polled well with GOP voters.
Republican opposition to Biden’s next cornerstone legislation, a $2.3 trillion infrastructure and jobs program, also initially seemed firm. Yet some Republicans worry they will be left defending politically unpopular decisions — like opposing a corporate tax rate increase — while the Democrats may be able to simply pass the mega-package along party lines.
UP IN POLLS
To this point, Republican criticism of Biden has failed to land, as he enjoys healthy poll numbers. A Pew Research approval rating of 59% this month put him in league with Obama (61%) and President George W. Bush (55%). Trump trailed all modern presidents at 39% at this point.
In large measure Republicans have tried to score points by focusing on wedge issues of the kind that mostly interest Twitter users who argue over racial stereotypes in Dr. Seuss books, gender issues raised by Mr. Potato Head and excesses of cancel culture.
Meanwhile a longtime Republican argument — we’re spending way too much on government programs — has lost much of its potency, at least for now, thanks to cheap borrowing costs and low inflation.
Biden press secretary Jen Psaki looked back at the Obama stimulus package that helped lift the U.S. from the Great Recession and said it wasn’t so big that “people would be talking about it at their dinner tables.” This one got everyone’s attention.
Biden’s package featured $1,400 payments to most people, on top of $1,800 from Trump’s two waves of pandemic relief, which steered nearly $3 trillion to the economy.
But Biden’s package was much more geared to lower-income Americans and broader in its sweep. It focused on barriers to returning to work and sustaining people as they look for jobs, instead of subsidizing employers. It offers the prospect of slashing poverty by one-third with the stroke of his pen. The aid is to expire; Democrats will try to extend it.
Few people have tried longer to be president than Biden, who also had formed a clear vision of the job. “He really knew how he saw the presidency before he got here,” said White House senior adviser Steve Ricchetti.
Biden talks more quietly now, moves a little slower and has lost weight. Mindful of his age, and his own life touched by immense tragedy, Biden has told confidants that he knows tomorrow is never a given.
He speaks of all he wants to do, “God willing.”
“I’m just going to move forward and take these things as they come,” he said at his only formal news conference. “I’m a great respecter of fate.”
The schedule on his card is full. The virus death tally inches up, more slowly now. So far, he’s played golf once.
Garima Vyas always wanted to live in a big city. She thought about New York, long the destination for 20-something strivers, but was wary of the cost and complicated subway lines.
So Vyas picked another metropolis that’s increasingly become young people’s next-best option — Houston.
Now 34, Vyas, a tech worker, has lived in Houston since 2013. “I knew I didn’t like New York, so this was the next best thing,” Vyas said. “There are a lot of things you want to try when you are younger — you want to try new things. Houston gives you that, whether it’s food, people or dating. And it’s cheap to live in.”
The choices by Vyas and other members of the millennial generation of where to live have reshaped the country’s political geography over the past decade. They’ve left New York and California and settled in places less likely to be settings for TV sitcoms about 20-something urbanites, including Denver, Houston and Orlando, Florida. Drawn by jobs and overlooked cultural amenities, they’ve helped add new craft breweries, condominiums and liberal voters to these once more-conservative places.
The U.S. Census Bureau this coming week is expected to formally tally this change by releasing its count of population shifts in the once-a-decade reallocation of congressional seats. It’s is expected to lead to the Sun Belt gaining seats at the expense of states in the north.
Most projections have Texas gaining three seats, Florida two and Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon one each. Expected to lose seats are Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, West Virginia — and California.
The relocations have reshuffled politics. Once solidly conservative places such as Texas have seen increasingly large islands of liberalism sprout in their cities, driven by the migration of younger adults, who lean Democratic. Since 2010, the 20-34-year-old population has increased by 24% in San Antonio, 22% in Austin and 19% in Houston, according to an Associated Press analysis of American Community Survey data. In November’s election, two states that also saw sharp growth in young people in their largest cities — Arizona and Georgia — flipped Democratic in the presidential contest.
These demographic winners are almost all in the Sun Belt, but climate is not the only thing they have in common.
“These places are growing not just because they’re warmer, it’s because that’s where the jobs are and young people are moving there,” said Ryan Wiechelt, a geography professor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
There are other drivers of population growth, such as immigration from overseas and childbirths. But as foreign immigration tapered off during the decade, then plummeted during the pandemic, internal relocations have become an increasingly big factor in how the country is re-sorting itself, demographers say.
Places with jobs have long attracted transplants, but this shift has been different because housing prices have risen so much in previous job clusters — Boston, New York and Silicon Valley, for example — that cost of living has become more of a factor in relocations, said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist for Redfin.
“Since the last housing crisis, young millennials have had to move to places with really strong job markets,” Fairweather said. “Now, during the pandemic I think that is changing — you don’t have to move to San Francisco if you want a job in tech.”
Plenty of young people still move to traditional destinations such as New York and California to start careers, experts say. They just leave them relatively quickly now, with a wider variety of alternative job centers to choose from. “Every year these places attract a lot of young people, but they lose more,” William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institute, said of traditional, coastal job magnets, joking that his own hometown of Washington, D.C. “rents” young people.
Instead, places with both cheaper housing, growing economies and recreational amenities have become popular. Colorado was the third most popular place for young adults to relocate to since 2015, gaining more than 20,000 new young adults from elsewhere each year, according to Frey’s analysis of early census data. The state has boomed over the past decade as its libertarian lifestyle, outdoor attractions and growing knowledge-based economy have drawn young people from across the country.
As a result, Denver’s skyline is regularly pockmarked with construction cranes. Apartment complexes are springing up from parking lots. For when those renters want to have children and buy homes, waves of new suburban subdivisions are emerging in the shadow of the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.
As mostly college-educated transplants have relocated to Denver and its satellite communities, Colorado has gone from being a solidly Republican state to a competitive swing state to a solidly Democratic one. It’s a pattern that some political experts expect could be replicated in other states importing loads of young people, even traditionally conservative Texas.
Sydney Kramer is typical of many new Colorado arrivals. The 23-year-old moved to the university town of Boulder in January to begin graduate studies in atmospheric and oceanic sciences. She could have stayed in Miami, a natural location for someone of her interests and where she finished her undergraduate studies. But Kramer was depressed by Florida’s anti-science turn under Republican state control.
“The government and policy hasn’t necessarily caught up there yet,” Kramer said of Florida, noting that state regulations barred the use of the term “climate change” in some official documents under the previous governor. “Everybody here has a high level of education, is really educated about climate change.”
“This,” she said of Boulder, with its wealth of environmental and forecasting organizations, “is just a really great place to be for my industry.”
A New Jersey native who did not want to deal with New York City’s high rents, Kramer has been impressed by how her new neighbors talk excitedly about hiking, camping and skiing and at the combination of outdoor activities and urban amenities the area offers. “It’s a really wonderful place to be for everything you get for the cost of living,” she said.
MINNEAPOLIS — With Derek Chauvin convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death, activists and the Floyd family are turning their attention to this summer’s trial for the other three officers involved in his May 2020 arrest.
All three have already sought to deflect responsibility to Chauvin, by far the most senior officer on the scene.
Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao face trial in August on charges of aiding and abetting both second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill ordered that they be tried together, but separately from Chauvin, to reduce the number of people in the courtroom amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the three weigh their strategies, legal experts say they are sure to be watching what kind of prison time Chauvin gets at his June 16 sentencing — as much as 30 years, though likely less. Minnesota law sets the same penalties for aiding and abetting murder or manslaughter as for the act itself.
They’ll also be mindful that it took jurors less than 24 hours to find Chauvin guilty on all charges. That could ratchet up pressure to consider a plea deal.
“The factual differences between Chauvin and the other three are what should drive this,” said Tom Heffelfinger, a former U.S. attorney for Minnesota.
Experts said the best Lane, Kueng and Thao can hope for is a jury of 12 people who think Chauvin was guilty but aren’t so sure about what roles the other three played. And they said the evidence against the three is weaker than the evidence against Chauvin, which provides opportunities for their attorneys.
“I would expect the theme of all three would be, ‘That’s a really bad thing that Chauvin did. I didn’t like it. I’m not responsible for what happened,’” former Ramsey County prosecutor Susan Gaertner said.
Prosecutors declined to discuss their case. Attorneys for Lane and Kueng also declined, and Thao’s attorney did not return a message seeking comment. But their past filings and the evidence offer clues for likely strategies.
Lane and Kueng can argue they were rookies, in just their first week as full-fledged cops, and felt a need to defer to Chauvin — their training officer — when he pinned Floyd’s neck to the ground with his knee for nearly 9 1/2 minutes as Floyd shouted repeatedly that he couldn’t breathe before going silent, then limp.
“Those two rookies have a facially different defense, and a very real factual defense, as compared to Chauvin,” Heffelfinger said.
Lane might have the best defense. Body camera video shows he asked the other officers if they should turn Floyd on his side — and Chauvin said no.
Local defense attorney Joe Friedberg said the evidence at Chauvin’s trial showed that Lane was “trying to use as little force as possible” before Chauvin arrived and took charge.
Kueng can be heard reporting to Chauvin at one point that he could not find Floyd’s pulse.
“They’re raising questions about what was happening and whether they should be doing something different,” said another local defense attorney, Brock Hunter. “It’s not nearly as clear-cut as I think the evidence against Chauvin was.”
But both Chauvin and Kueng maintained their restraint, and body camera video shows Kueng holding up one of Floyd’s handcuffed hands — an action that prosecution medical experts testified made it even harder for Floyd to breathe.
Thao can argue that it was crowd control, keeping an agitated group of about 15 onlookers at a safe distance, and that he largely had his back to the other officers and Floyd.
“His defense could be, ‘I was just present and it takes more than presence to make a crime,’” Heffelfinger said.
But one of the onlookers Thao specifically ordered to stand back was Genevieve Hansen, a Minneapolis firefighter who can be heard on video pleading repeatedly for officers to check Floyd’s pulse. Hansen cried on the witness stand at Chauvin’s trial as she described her frustration at being prevented from coming to Floyd’s aid.
The quick conviction for Chauvin spurred speculation about plea deals. Heffelfinger said prosecutors may be open to that because they’re aware of the potential weaknesses in the cases against the three.
“Prosecutors know this stuff, so this is a good time for all parties to consider settlement over the next two or three months,” he said.
Gaertner said prosecutors will feel pressure not to strike a plea deal that could be seen by activists as letting the officers off lightly. But she said she hopes they do consider deals that would avert a trial, particularly due to the stress and expense of the just-completed trial that transformed parts of Minneapolis into a militarized zone.
“Clearly these three defendants are significantly less culpable than Chauvin,” she said. “And that should be taken into account. Another trial is going to be very disruptive, costly and I’m not sure that that’s in the best interests of the public.”
But Friedberg said he doesn’t expect any deals.
“None of them will ever plead guilty,” Friedberg predicted. “They have three really good lawyers who are extremely aggressive lawyers. There’s no question in my mind they’re going to go to trial and they’re going to claim that they were completely unaware of the depths of what Derek Chauvin was doing.”
ALLEN — A Dallas-area man has been arrested while awaiting an airline flight out of state and charged with capital murder in the deaths of his mother and sister, police said Sunday.
Isil Borat, 51, and daughter Burcu Hezar, 17, were found knifed to death in their Allen home on Saturday morning by police answering a reported “disturbance with weapons.”
Borat’s husband identified stepson Barak Hezar, 20, as the suspect, said Sgt. Jon Felty, Allen police spokesman. Police were able to trace Burak at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Hezar was arrested while awaiting a flight to San Francisco, where his biological father lived, Felty said.
The motive for the homicides was unclear, he said.
Hezar was booked into the Collin County on a capital murder charge on $2 million bond. Jail records list no attorney for him.