White House ‘Help is Here’ stimulus tour puts heavy focus on battleground states

WASHINGTON – This week the Biden administration kicked off a nationwide messaging campaign promoting the benefits of the American Rescue Plan, Democrats’ $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that recently was signed into law.

Democrats hope the so-called “Help is Here” tour, which includes a media blitz and presidential surrogate visits to regions across the country, will help everyday Americans understand the full scope of benefits and economic provisions offered in the stimulus package.

“So this is what’s on his mind, right?” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a Monday press briefing about the president’s concerns about communicating with the public. “How do people know how this money will help their schools? You know, how do they know, you know, how this will help get vaccines in the arms of their friends and family members?”

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The administration has claimed the tour will help inform the public about the new federal programs available to them, including expanded aid to local governments and businesses and $1,400 direct stimulus payments to individuals making less than $80,000 a year.

“We want to avoid a situation where people are unaware of what they’re entitled to,” Vice President Kamala Harris said at a Monday stop in Las Vegas with second gentleman Douglass Emhoff by her side. “It’s not selling it; it literally is letting people know their rights. Think of it more as a public education campaign.”

Stops in battleground states

Yet the national tour so far has also heavily featured stops in battleground states key to Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, an ironic turn of events after Democrats largely abstained from in-person campaigning last year.

On Tuesday, Biden visited a flooring company in Chester, Pennsylvania, to discuss the federal government’s redesigned Paycheck Protection Program while Harris held a listening session for small businesses at a Denver restaurant.

US President Joe Biden visits Smith Flooring, a small minority-owned business, to promote his American Rescue Plan in Chester, Pennsylvania, on March 16, 2021. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds, AFP via Getty Images)

The next day, first lady Jill Biden visited a Concord, New Hampshire, school to promote the administration’s school reopening plans. Emhoff visited an Albuquerque, New Mexico, health center Wednesday, where he praised the COVID-19 vaccine rollout among some Native American tribal communities.

Each appearance — all in states Biden won in 2020 and that will be critical to Democratic victories going forward — underscored a different aspect of the massive rescue package. Democrats hope the messaging campaign will help persuade the public to support the party and its governing agenda, a crucial pitch ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

Democrats appear keen to avoid what many in the party saw as failures of the Obama administration, which quickly pivoted from its stimulus package in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis to health care. The party then suffered historic losses in the 2010 midterm elections.

Vice President Kamala Harris gives her order to Germaine Turnbow, while stopping for lunch at Tacotarian, March 15, 2021, in Las Vegas. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses are opening an ambitious, cross-country tour to highlight the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan and its benefits. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)

A pivot in visit to Georgia

A capstone visit on Friday to Georgia, where Democrats won two January Senate runoffs that secured their razor-thin majority in Congress’ upper chamber, was repurposed after a gunman killed eight people in the city, six of whom were Asian American women.

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The killings have been called hate crimes by many activists, and they stirred grief and outcry in the Asian American community, which was already seeing a rise in the number of hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, Biden ordered that all American flags be flown at half-staff at federal buildings until Monday night as a “mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence” in Atlanta.

On Friday, Biden and Harris, joined by Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Ga., will meet with Asian American community leaders and local lawmakers, in lieu of a larger political evening event.

The president will also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention while in Atlanta in a show of support for the research and medical staff at the government agency.

Democrats are expected to use the “Help is Here” tour to not only tout the benefits of the latest round of economic relief but also as a pitch to voters for the rest of their policy agenda.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Senate Democrats reelection effort, is already running political ads hammering Republican senators for not supporting the stimulus package. The Democratic National Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s other two main political organs, will begin to do the same in the coming weeks.

And Biden will meet Friday with Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate who spurred voter mobilization efforts across the country. That indicates Biden will likely touch on voting rights, an issue Democrats have coalesced around as both a moral imperative and political necessity for any future progressive governing coalition.

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Republicans have pilloried the stimulus package as too large and not targeted to the needs of an already recovering economy. Yet the attacks on the law are scattered among other conservative talking points, including criticism of Biden’s handling of the growing wave of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The administration also seems to be mindful that no amount of messaging will overcome a poorly executed policy rollout. Biden has tapped Gene Sperling, a veteran economic policy expert, to oversee the rollout of the stimulus plan. Sperling, whom Biden has called a “gifted manager,” will coordinate efforts across federal agencies to quicken the pace of aid to everyday Americans, state and local governments and businesses in need.

“Help is here and hope is here in real and tangible ways,” Biden urged in remarks announcing Sperling on Monday. “We have to prove to the American people that their government can deliver for them, and do it without waste or fraud,” the president urged.

“That’s our job. That’s our responsibility.”

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