Biden embarking on 'Help is Here' tour to tout COVID relief bill's benefits

It includes travel to five states with Senate races next year.

March 12, 2021, 4:13 PM

With direct payments hitting bank accounts as soon as this weekend, the newly passed American Rescue Plan is quickly going into effect, and President Joe Biden is headed on the road to educate the public on the benefits included in the massive $1.9 trillion law.

Next week, Biden will set off to give his sales pitch as part of the "Help is Here" tour, backed up by Vice President Kamala Harris, first lady Jill Biden, second gentleman Doug Emhoff and members of his Cabinet -- all taking part in the effort to secure credit and continue to build support for the massive spending plan.

"In the coming weeks, Jill and I, and Kamala on Doug, and our Cabinet, with all of you, members of Congress, we’re gonna be traveling the country to speak directly to the American people about how this law is going to make a real difference in their lives and how help is here for them. Almost every single aspect would be significant ... every one of those pieces standing alone would be viewed as a significant accomplishment," Biden said at a Friday afternoon Rose Garden event to celebrate the bill's passage.

In a memo to White House senior staff obtained by ABC News, deputy chief of staff Jen O’Malley Dillon outlined the outreach efforts included in the tour, which will focus on "10 key aspects of the bill," including helping veterans, halving child poverty, bolstering rural health care and supporting small businesses.

"We’ll be putting surrogates and senior administration officials on local TV in markets around America. We’ll mobilize our coalition of over 400 supportive mayors and governors – Democrats and Republicans alike – to talk about what the plan means for them and their communities. We’ll continue to engage organized labor, the business community, and other groups, to reinforce why the Rescue Plan is vital in getting Americans back to work," O’Malley Dillion wrote.

While the White House is preparing for a full court press on the policy, senior officials argue the tour is about educating the public rather than building support.

"This isn't a question of, of trying to sell it to make it more popular," White House Senior Adviser Anita Dunn said.

"This is much more a challenge of making sure the American people know exactly what kind of help, what kind of assistance they're going to get if they're a small business owner, if they are a farmer, if they are a teacher running a school system trying to get it reopened," she added.

President Joe Biden speaks about the American Rescue Plan, a coronavirus relief package, in the Rose Garden of the White House, March 12, 2021, in Washington, D.C. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listen.
Alex Brandon/AP

According to a Pew Poll this week, 70% of American adults support the rescue plan, including 41% who identify as Republicans or lean in that direction. But as the bill shifts from theory to reality, the numbers could change, particularly given the far-reaching impacts of the massive spending legislation and long-lasting impacts of COVID.

"This is important to the president personally. Having a conversation directly with people about how they could benefit, addressing questions they have, even taking their feedback on implementation and how to make it clear," White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday.

The White House is also keen on applying the lessons learned from the 2009 recovery plan that Biden led the charge on, with Biden himself acknowledging more should have been done to continue to tout the significance of that stimulus deal to the public.

"Barack was so modest he didn't want to take, as he said, a victory lap. I kept saying, 'Tell people what we did.' He said, 'We don't have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.' And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility," Biden told House Democrats earlier this month.

Next week alone, Biden and Harris, along with Jill Biden and Emhoff, will fan out across the country as they make their case, stopping in Pennsylvania, Nevada, Colorado, New Jersey, New Mexico and Georgia -- a state that allowed Democrats to pass the bill on a party-line vote without support from Republicans.

"It was important to the president to visit not just blue states but also red states, purple states, you will see that reflected as we continue to announce travel and trips that he will take in the coming weeks," Psaki said Thursday, previewing the tour.

Five states of the state's the team is visiting have Senate races next year.

In four of the five -- Nevada, Colorado, New Hampshire and Georgia -- Democrats are on the defensive. In Pennsylvania, Democrats are competing for an open seat held currently by outgoing Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

The White House has contended that while the bill ultimately did not earn any Republican votes in Congress, those members will have to answer for their no vote for the popular bipartisan bill. But as Biden touts the Democrats' work, it also raises questions about his ability to deliver the bipartisanship he pledged during the campaign.

One senior administration official argued the ball is in Republicans' court.

"He will continue to reach out. If they choose to basically take their ball and go home, there is not a lot he can do about it except to continue to try and to reach out to other Republicans," the official said.

The White House has yet to announce the next legislative effort the White House will undertake, though there has been rampant speculation it could be the president’s previously introduced Immigration bill or infrastructure -- a perennial source of hope for bipartisan cooperation in Washington.

But the relief package and COVID, the issue that animated much of Biden’s campaign against former President Donald Trump and has consumed the early weeks of Biden's administration, will continue to be a major focus.

"We will continue to communicate even as we start moving on with other pieces as well because this is not like a one and done. This is going to be an ongoing effort from this White House," Dunn said.

ABC News' Kendall Karson and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed reporting.

Related Topics