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Joe Biden and Kamala Harris

White House plans PR blitz to sell coronavirus relief bill

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The White House is mounting an all-out push to sell President Biden’s newly signed coronavirus relief bill to the public, starting with trips to multiple states in the coming week.

According to The Hill a key facet of the strategy will be to highlight components of the measure that impact Americans directly, such as the $1,400 stimulus payments.

The White House is also trying to underscore the broad bipartisan support among voters for the legislation, even though it received no votes from Republican lawmakers, who consistently called the $1.9 trillion package partisan and too expensive.

Administration officials say Democrats fell short during the Obama era of selling the 2009 economic recovery bill. Whether Democrats can maintain popularity for the newly enacted COVID-19 relief bill will play a key role in determining the party’s fortunes in the 2022 election.

The public relations push coincides with an effort by the administration to get financial assistance out the door as quickly as possible. The White House says eligible Americans will begin receiving direct payments this weekend, though other stimulus funds are expected to take longer to allocate.

“It’s one thing to pass the American Rescue Plan. It’s going to be another thing to implement it. It’s going to require fastidious oversight to make sure there is no waste or fraud and the law does what it’s designed to do,” Biden said at a Rose Garden event Friday.

“We have to get this right. Details matter. Because we have to continue to build confidence in the American people that their government can function for them and deliver,” he said.

The trips across the country — many of them targeting swing states — are the center point of the White House’s campaign to highlight the tangible deliverables of the American Rescue Plan Act, including the $1,400 direct payments going to the majority of Americans and funding for vaccine distribution and school reopening.

“I think the biggest thing is it raises awareness for what specifically is in the legislation, what people are likely to get in an individual and family case and ultimately to connect the legislation to that assistance,” said Robert Gibbs, who served as White House press secretary during the Obama administration. “That will hopefully build some long-term political capital for the Biden administration.”

Next week, Biden will host an event at the White House on implementation of the rescue plan before traveling to Pennsylvania and Georgia as part of what the White House has branded the “Help is Here” tour.

Vice President Harris will travel with her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, to Nevada and Colorado, while first lady Jill Biden will travel to New Jersey and New Hampshire. More trips could be announced in the coming days.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who was a Democratic candidate for president in 2020 before Biden won the nomination, is scheduled to travel to Landover, Md., to tour a UPS distribution center being used to deliver vaccines.

Gibbs noted that the circumstances are different from 2009, in part because the economy is in a different place than it was 12 years ago when Obama’s recovery bill was passed. At that time, the Obama White House needed to make the argument that the bill lessened the economic damage, even though financial pain was still widespread and the situation worsened in the months after the bill was passed.

One former Obama administration official suggested the simple fact that Biden and other officials are traveling the country will spur media coverage given how infrequently the president has hit the road since taking office due to the pandemic. The former official also argued Americans will be more inclined to see the benefits given the tangible effects of stimulus payments and unemployment benefits.

The Office of Public Engagement is working directly with advocacy and grassroots groups to ensure they can educate their constituencies about what’s in the bill and how it will benefit underserved communities and other less talked about areas, one administration official said.

The White House also launched a new website to tout provisions in the bill, and outside Democratic groups are already devoting resources to promoting the measure.

During the legislative process, Republicans largely focused their criticism on the bill’s price tag, along with some warnings of

inflation and the need for more targeted relief. Those arguments did not resonate with voters, with polls showing widespread support for the rescue package.

The GOP will need to find a way to counter the popularity of the relief bill now that it’s become law, and as Congress gears up for negotiations on an infrastructure package and other legislation that could deliver more wins for Biden.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) this week sought to take credit for a provision in the bill that provides aid to small restaurants for which he advocated, despite voting against the overall package.

One GOP operative suggested the likeliest paths forward were to attack the legislation for its lack of Republican support in Congress following Biden’s pledge to reach across the aisle, and to frame the bill as a progressive wish list given the president’s reputation as a moderate.

The Democratic National Committee on Friday launched a new advertisement for the relief bill called “Help is Here” that will air in battleground states and Washington, D.C. The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA earlier this week announced a two-year multimillion-dollar ad campaign aimed at promoting the rescue plan and the president’s broader agenda.

Biden is expected to name a coordinator who will oversee implementation of the rescue bill, but the White House had no personnel announcements as of Friday. Biden and White House chief of staff Ron Klain were both critical players in the implementation of the 2009 recovery act, and the White House has signaled that Biden will select someone to play a similar role with the relief bill.

Whether the bill maintains its popularity going forward, experts say, will depend largely on implementation.

“The results are going to be crucial,” said Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “Money in pockets, shots in arms, masks on faces, kids in classrooms.”

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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