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Biden Has Hit The Road To Promote COVID-19 Aid Bill

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Having signed his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan into United States law, President Biden has now turned his attention to promoting it to United States residents. Today Biden went to Chester, Pa. That's outside Philadelphia, and it was his first stop on a tour touting the American Rescue Plan Act. He visited a small Black-owned flooring shop that received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program. NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow was there with him, and he joins us now.

Hey, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good afternoon, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So why the road tour, and why now?

DETROW: You know, the president wants to make sure that Americans tie the coming benefits like direct payments and ramped-up vaccine distribution and tax credits with the bill he just signed. 2009 looms large for this White House. Biden and so many staffers were in the Obama administration, and they want to take a different approach in areas that they thought were mistakes. You saw that first of all in the administration cutting bait on trying to change the bill to get Republican votes that they thought weren't coming. Now you're seeing it in an aggressive sales pitch roadshow. The law is popular right now. They want it to stay popular and not get reframed as an expensive boondoggle, which is what Republicans are trying to do.

KELLY: All right. So Biden is on - what did you just call it? - an aggressive sales pitch roadshow. What does that actually look like?

DETROW: Well, today it didn't really look that aggressive, I would say. You know, he has been trying to tie this law to the small businesses benefiting from it. Today he was in Chester. It's a smaller city just south of Philadelphia. It's almost 70% Black. The median income in Chester is $32,000. And he was meeting with two owners of a small flooring shop, as you mentioned, a minority-owned business.

You know, like many Biden events over the past year, including the campaign, it was limited and distant and kind of awkward at times. Biden was standing distanced from the two owners in a garage and just as distanced from two congresswomen who voted for this bill. It was hard to hear him at times that he was speaking to them in this garage. But you have seen events like this. You'll see other events, maybe bigger events where, the same way that he has been making the same points over and over again at the White House, he is coming armed with stats about how much relief is going to each state, how many vaccinations are going into arms and soon, how many direct payments are going into people's bank accounts and mailboxes.

KELLY: And we said this is the first stop on this tour. Where else is he going?

DETROW: He'll be going to Georgia next on Friday. That state was critical to Democrats taking back control of the Senate in that special election. Direct payments were a huge part of that campaign. Biden came down to Georgia. He said, elect John Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and the Senate will pass $2,000 direct payment checks. Now he's coming back to tout the fact that the Senate did pass $1,400 checks. Pennsylvania and Georgia, of course, were both key states that put Biden in the White House. I asked press secretary Jen Psaki today about the political calculation here and whether Biden is going to be visiting states that he did not win last November.

JEN PSAKI: I would say stay tuned. We'll be certainly going to some redder states, states he didn't win or very blue states and states he didn't campaign in. So I wouldn't overread into it in that way.

DETROW: And I would note that Vice President Harris has been campaigning as well. Not campaigning - I mean, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference, but touting this new law. She was in Nevada yesterday, Colorado today - also two states that Biden won - touting the benefits of this new law.

KELLY: Yeah. And real quick, did you get to ask him anything? Did the president take questions from reporters?

DETROW: He did not take questions. That's not new. But Psaki did announce that on March 25, next Thursday, Biden will hold his first formal press conference. He has been getting criticism for not doing this. This has been a very scripted presidency so far. He's going to face some tough questions next week, including about the situation at the border.

KELLY: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow, thank you.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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