Democrats Prepare Plan to Raise Taxes on Multinational Corporations

WASHINGTON — Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat in charge of writing tax legislation, will release a new plan on Monday to overhaul the way the United States taxes multinational corporations, in what could be a blueprint for how lawmakers will finance President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

The proposal could raise hundreds of billions of dollars from companies that operate across international borders, according to analyses of similar proposals by congressional scorekeepers. Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Mark Warner of Virginia, both Democrats, signed on as co-authors.

In addition to raising revenue, the plan seeks to discourage companies from shifting profits and jobs to low-tax countries to avoid paying taxes in the United States. It also creates new incentives through the tax code for companies to invest in research and manufacturing in the country.

The proposal would tweak several aspects of President Donald J. Trump’s signature 2017 tax law, which created a series of new mechanisms for how the United States taxes multinational companies. It would increase the rate of a global minimum tax that was included in that legislation and change how it is applied to income that corporations earn in various countries overseas. It would also alter two other parts of the 2017 law in ways that the senators say would better encourage investment in America.

Those measures mirror the Biden administration’s ambitions on international taxation. Separately on Monday, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen called for global coordination on an international tax rate that would apply to multinational corporations regardless of where they locate their headquarters. Such a global tax could help prevent the type of “race to the bottom” that has been underway, Ms. Yellen said, referring to countries trying to outdo one another by lowering tax rates in order to attract business.

“Competitiveness is about more than how U.S.-headquartered companies fare against other companies in global merger and acquisition bids,” Ms. Yellen said. “It is about making sure that governments have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenue to invest in essential public goods and respond to crises, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government.”

Last week, Mr. Biden proposed spending $2 trillion on an infrastructure package, financed over 15 years by higher corporate taxes. That includes raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 21 percent and a variety of changes to international tax rates.

On Monday, Mr. Biden continued to press for those tax increases, saying that companies need to pay their fair share and that there was “no evidence” behind concerns from Republicans that raising tax rates would drive investment out of the United States.

“You’re talking about companies in the Fortune 500 that haven’t paid a single penny in tax for three years. Come on man,” he said.

The president is expected to detail as much as $2 trillion more in education, health care and other spending initiatives later this month, much of which would be financed by raising taxes on high-earning individuals. Mr. Biden’s aides have estimated that his international tax proposals could raise more than $600 billion over the course of 10 years.

Mr. Wyden, in a news release, said that the senators tax plan would “not only generate critical revenue to pay for President Biden’s infrastructure package,” but would also “encourage additional investment in the United States and its workers.”

The Senate drafters do not specify the exact new tax rates associated with their plan or how much additional tax revenue it would raise, choosing instead to wait and set rates to match Democrats’ spending ambitions later this year. “I’m going to start rolling out specific proposals so that people can have ideas about how they might proceed,” Mr. Wyden said in an interview last month.

The presence of Mr. Brown, one of the most progressive Democrats in the Senate on tax issues, and the more centrist Mr. Warner as co-authors suggests the Wyden plan could attract widespread support in a Democratic caucus that most likely cannot afford to lose a single vote for Mr. Biden’s infrastructure plan.

Mr. Brown said in a statement on the plan that “corporations should pay their fair share, just like Ohio families do, and they shouldn’t get a tax break for shipping workers’ jobs overseas.”

Mr. Warner argued that the proposal would provide an incentive to invest in the United States, saying “we need an international tax system that rewards companies making investments here in the U.S., particularly in cutting-edge technologies that will dictate the future success of our economy and ability to create good-paying jobs.”

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Biden Poised to Raise Taxes on Business and the Rich

Many liberal economists say there are good reasons to raise taxes, starting with using those funds to invest in workers and help build economic opportunity. Spending on physical infrastructure, like roads and water pipes, or on programs like education and child care that are meant to help people earn more money could help curb persistent inequalities in income and wealth. The economists also say that tax increases that are properly set up would provide incentives for multinational companies to keep jobs in the United States and not shift profits to lower-tax foreign countries.

“The purpose of the tax system is to both raise enough revenue for what the government wants to do, and to make sure that as we’re doing that we are encouraging activities that are in the national interest and discouraging ones that are not,” said Heather Boushey, a member of the White House’s Council of Economic Advisers.

Key Democrats are trying to bring the party to consensus. The top tax writer in the Senate, Ron Wyden of Oregon, is drafting a series of bills to raise taxes, many of them overlapping with Mr. Biden’s campaign proposals.

“I’ll be ready to raise what the Democratic caucus decides is required to move forward,” Mr. Wyden, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said in an interview.

Mr. Wyden’s plans include big changes to the portions of Mr. Trump’s tax cuts that overhauled how the United States taxes multinational companies, including the creation of a minimum tax of sorts on income earned abroad. Mr. Wyden and many Democratic economists, including some inside the Biden administration, say that the tax was devised in a way that it ultimately incentivized companies to continue moving profits and activities offshore to avoid American taxes. Republican economists and some tax experts disagree and say the law has allowed U.S. companies to better compete globally.

A report from the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation this month showed that multinational companies paid an average U.S. tax rate of less than 8 percent on their income in 2018, down from 16 percent in 2017. The report also found that those companies did not slow their practice of booking profits in low-tax havens like Bermuda.

Mr. Biden, Mr. Wyden and Mr. Sanders have all drafted plans to raise revenues by amending the 2017 law to force multinational companies to pay more to the United States. One of the most lucrative ways to do that, according to tax scorekeepers, would be to increase the rate of the global minimum tax, forcing those companies to pay higher U.S. tax rates no matter where they locate jobs or profits.

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Biden’s Task: Overhaul the Economy, as Fast as Possible

WASHINGTON — After a two-month, $2 trillion sprint to pass aid for an economy still hobbled by the coronavirus pandemic, President Biden is finally set to detail his “Build Back Better” agenda next week in Pittsburgh. Its name, carried over from the 2020 campaign, has become a catchall phrase that cabinet officials and junior aides use to describe all manner of plans to overhaul American capitalism.

In the weeks ahead, the president’s strategic choices will show the country what “building” really means, to him.

Mr. Biden’s forthcoming proposals, which aides and documents suggest could cost as much as $4 trillion over the next decade, are a pivot to the core economic agenda he campaigned on: rebuilding infrastructure, revitalizing America’s competitiveness in emerging industries and reducing the barriers that hold back men of color and women in the workplace.

Mr. Biden will have the benefit of momentum in pushing them, and of a political moment that seems ripe for another large spending bill. Democrats are riding high on the public approval ratings for their coronavirus relief bill across the country. Even the most conservative Democrats in the Senate are eager to spend big again to address infrastructure concerns that have festered for a decade, and to combat widened income inequality that has helped fuel the rise of populist politicians in both parties.

low-carbon energy economy.

toured the Mississippi River to celebrate projects built with money from an $800 billion economic stimulus bill that had passed seven years before. He stopped at a port, a bus and train terminal, and a rail yard where he declared, “I’m a railroad guy.”

In his campaign, he spoke frequently of the need to build more in the United States to improve the economy and better compete with international rivals like China in a host of emerging industries like fifth-generation cellular networks, known as 5G, and advanced battery manufacturing. Like President Donald J. Trump before him, he has set ambitious goals to reverse a decades-long slide in American factory employment, pledging to create at least five million new jobs in manufacturing and innovation. Aides say he is particularly fond of repeating his pledge to install 500,000 electric-car charging stations across the country.

The “Build Back Better” plan that his economic advisers recommended Mr. Biden pursue this week would lead with those physical investments: a combination of spending and tax incentives on traditional infrastructure, high-growth industry cultivation and carbon-reducing energy investment that documents suggest could top $2 trillion.

But Mr. Biden’s economic advisers emphasize that the economy needs more than construction to increase productivity and achieve the president’s goals. They argue that it also needs investments in education, like universal prekindergarten and free community college, and in efforts to relieve the burdens of caring for family that often hamper working women. Those initiatives are included in the second half of the proposal that aides took to Mr. Biden this week, along with extensions of newly expanded tax credits meant to fight poverty.

 stimulus payments would be $1,400 for most recipients. Those who are eligible would also receive an identical payment for each of their children. To qualify for the full $1,400, a single person would need an adjusted gross income of $75,000 or below. For heads of household, adjusted gross income would need to be $112,500 or below, and for married couples filing jointly that number would need to be $150,000 or below. To be eligible for a payment, a person must have a Social Security number. Read more.

Buying insurance through the government program known as COBRA would temporarily become a lot cheaper. COBRA, for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, generally lets someone who loses a job buy coverage via the former employer. But it’s expensive: Under normal circumstances, a person may have to pay at least 102 percent of the cost of the premium. Under the relief bill, the government would pay the entire COBRA premium from April 1 through Sept. 30. A person who qualified for new, employer-based health insurance someplace else before Sept. 30 would lose eligibility for the no-cost coverage. And someone who left a job voluntarily would not be eligible, either. Read more

This credit, which helps working families offset the cost of care for children under 13 and other dependents, would be significantly expanded for a single year. More people would be eligible, and many recipients would get a bigger break. The bill would also make the credit fully refundable, which means you could collect the money as a refund even if your tax bill was zero. “That will be helpful to people at the lower end” of the income scale, said Mark Luscombe, principal federal tax analyst at Wolters Kluwer Tax & Accounting. Read more.

There would be a big one for people who already have debt. You wouldn’t have to pay income taxes on forgiven debt if you qualify for loan forgiveness or cancellation — for example, if you’ve been in an income-driven repayment plan for the requisite number of years, if your school defrauded you or if Congress or the president wipes away $10,000 of debt for large numbers of people. This would be the case for debt forgiven between Jan. 1, 2021, and the end of 2025. Read more.

The bill would provide billions of dollars in rental and utility assistance to people who are struggling and in danger of being evicted from their homes. About $27 billion would go toward emergency rental assistance. The vast majority of it would replenish the so-called Coronavirus Relief Fund, created by the CARES Act and distributed through state, local and tribal governments, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That’s on top of the $25 billion in assistance provided by the relief package passed in December. To receive financial assistance — which could be used for rent, utilities and other housing expenses — households would have to meet several conditions. Household income could not exceed 80 percent of the area median income, at least one household member must be at risk of homelessness or housing instability, and individuals would have to qualify for unemployment benefits or have experienced financial hardship (directly or indirectly) because of the pandemic. Assistance could be provided for up to 18 months, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Lower-income families that have been unemployed for three months or more would be given priority for assistance. Read more.

“This next package is really about investing in our future and making the kind of smart investments that we know will increase growth,” Ms. Rouse said at a White House news briefing. “And we want that growth to be widely shared.”

“These aren’t simply women’s issues,” she said. “They affect all families, the ability of our economy to recover and our nation’s competitiveness.”

Inside the administration, aides disagree on the likelihood that both halves of the plan — the physical piece and the human piece — could pass Congress this year. Some see hope that Republicans, spurred by the business community, could join an effort with Democrats to muster 60 votes to pass a bill that spends heavily on roads, bridges, water systems and other traditional infrastructure. Some Democrats, like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a key swing vote, have insisted that Republicans be involved in the effort.

But most Democrats in and outside the White House see little chance, if any, of a large bipartisan bill taking shape. They point to early opposition from Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, who has called the proposals a likely “Trojan horse” for tax increases, and whose aides have begun labeling them a “Green New Deal” in disguise, even before Mr. Biden releases the details.

Lobbyists following the process closely expect Mr. Biden to allow Senate moderates to effectively test the proposition, giving them a fixed time to line up 10 Republicans behind an ambitious infrastructure bill that would almost certainly need to be financed by something other than the tax increases on the wealthy and corporations that the administration favors.

At the same time, Democratic leaders will most likely prepare to move at least one part of Mr. Biden’s plans quickly through the budget reconciliation process, which allows senators to skirt the filibuster and pass legislation with a bare majority, as they did for the coronavirus relief bill. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Finance Committee, said in an interview that he is drawing up legislative text for tax increases to fund the Biden spending: “I’m going to start rolling out specific proposals so that people can have ideas about how they might proceed,” he said.

Moving on a party-line basis could leave all or most of the “human” programs behind, some in the administration fear. But analysts in Washington suggest many of them could eventually be rolled into an epic, single bill, perhaps costing $3 trillion and offset in part by tax increases on corporations and the rich, which would pass with only Democratic votes.

The idea, said Jon Lieber, a former aide to Mr. McConnell who is now managing director, United States, for the Eurasia Group in Washington, is that by moving fast and aggressively, Mr. Biden might be able to strong-arm even reluctant Democrats, who see their political fates tied to the continuing success of the administration in the polls.

The odds of a large bill passing this year, Mr. Lieber said, are “very, very, very, very good. What would stop them?”

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A Last-Minute Add to Stimulus Bill Could Restrict State Tax Cuts

WASHINGTON — A last-minute change in the $1.9 trillion economic relief package that President Biden signed into law this week includes a provision that could temporarily prevent states that receive government aid from turning around and cutting taxes.

The restriction, which was added by Senate Democrats, is intended to ensure that states use federal funds to keep their local economies humming and avoid drastic budget cuts and not simply use the money to subsidize tax cuts. But the provision is causing alarm among some local officials, primarily Republicans, who see the move as federal overreach and fear conditions attached to the money will impede upon their ability to manage their budgets as they see fit.

Officials are scrambling to understand what strings are attached to the $220 billion that is expected to be parceled out among states, territories and tribes and are already pressing the Treasury Department for guidance about the restrictions they will face if they take federal money.

Under the new law, $25 billion will be divided equally among states, while $169 billion will be allocated based on a state’s unemployment rate. States can use the money for pandemic-related costs, offsetting lost revenues to provide essential government services, and for water, sewer and broadband infrastructure projects.

based on a formula that considers its unemployment rate rather than its population. Conservative-leaning states, many of which had less onerous coronavirus restrictions and did not shut down as much business activity, claim they are essentially being penalized for prioritizing their economies during the pandemic.

But early analyses of the bill show that both conservative-leaning and liberal-leaning states will receive big chunks of cash. California, Florida, New York and Texas will each get more than $10 billion in aid, according to a Tax Foundation tally.

Still, the tax language has angered Republicans — none of whom voted for the rescue package — and on Thursday, Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, introduced legislation to reverse it.

many cities are facing budget crunches, state finances have turned out to be relatively healthy.

A New York Times analysis this month found that, on balance, state revenues were generally flat or down slightly last year compared with 2019 as expanded unemployment benefits allowed consumer spending and tax revenues to keep flowing.

“Idaho would potentially subsidize poorly managed states simply because we are using our record budget surplus to pursue historic tax relief for our citizens,” Gov. Brad Little of Idaho said this week. “We achieved our record budget surplus after years of responsible, conservative governing and quick action during the pandemic, and our surplus should be returned to Idahoans as I proposed.”

Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican of West Virginia, criticized Mr. Manchin in an interview this week with CNN.

How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Taxes?

Nope. The so-called economic impact payments are not treated as income. In fact, they’re technically an advance on a tax credit, known as the Recovery Rebate Credit. The payments could indirectly affect what you pay in state income taxes in a handful of states, where federal tax is deductible against state taxable income, as our colleague Ann Carrns wrote. Read more.

Mostly.  Unemployment insurance is generally subject to federal as well as state income tax, though there are exceptions (Nine states don’t impose their own income taxes, and another six exempt unemployment payments from taxation, according to the Tax Foundation). But you won’t owe so-called payroll taxes, which pay for Social Security and Medicare. The new relief bill will make the first $10,200 of benefits tax-free if your income is less than $150,000. This applies to 2020 only. (If you’ve already filed your taxes, watch for I.R.S. guidance.) Unlike paychecks from an employer, taxes for unemployment aren’t automatically withheld. Recipients must opt in — and even when they do, federal taxes are withheld only at a flat rate of 10 percent of benefits. While the new tax break will provide a cushion, some people could still owe the I.R.S. or certain states money. Read more.

Probably not, unless you’re self-employed, an independent contractor or a gig worker. The tax law overhaul of late 2019 eliminated the home office deduction for employees from 2018 through 2025. “Employees who receive a paycheck or a W-2 exclusively from an employer are not eligible for the deduction, even if they are currently working from home,” the I.R.S. said. Read more.

Self-employed people can take paid caregiving leave if their child’s school is closed or their usual child care provider is unavailable because of the outbreak. This works similarly to the smaller sick leave credit — 67 percent of average daily earnings (for either 2020 or 2019), up to $200 a day. But the caregiving leave can be taken for 50 days. Read more.

Yes. This year, you can deduct up to $300 for charitable contributions, even if you use the standard deduction. Previously, only people who itemized could claim these deductions. Donations must be made in cash (for these purposes, this includes check, credit card or debit card), and can’t include securities, household items or other property. For 2021, the deduction limit will double to $600 for joint filers. Rules for itemizers became more generous as well. The limit on charitable donations has been suspended, so individuals can contribute up to 100 percent of their adjusted gross income, up from 60 percent. But these donations must be made to public charities in cash; the old rules apply to contributions made to donor-advised funds, for example. Both provisions are available through 2021. Read more.

“He’s hurting his own people in the state of West Virginia,” Mr. Justice said. “I do not condone it.”

The provision is also raising questions about what actually constitutes a tax cut and whether the law could prevent states from other types of tax relief. The language of the legislation appears to offer states little wiggle room.

Jared Walczak, the vice president for state projects at the Tax Foundation’s Center for State Tax Policy, said that the fine print in the law raised many complicated questions for states that, in some cases, would be awarded money for things that they either do not need or that they already had plans to pay for out of their budgets. It is not clear, for example, if a state could use aid money for an expense related to the coronavirus that it was already planning to pay for and then offer tax credits with the additional surplus.

“If the federal government intends to forbid any sort of revenue negative tax policy, no matter what its size, because a state received some funding, that would be a radical federal entanglement in state fiscal policy that may go beyond what was intended,” Mr. Walczak said.

Such questions will largely hinge on how Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen interprets the legislation and what guidance the Treasury Department gives to states.

A department official noted that the law says that states and territories that receive the aid cannot use the funds to offset a reduction in net tax revenue as a result of tax cuts because the money is intended to be used to support the public health response and avoid layoffs and cuts to public services. More guidance on the matter is coming, the official said.

The lack of clarity also raises the risk that states use the money for projects or programs that do not actually qualify under the law and then are forced to repay the federal government. States are required to submit regular reports to the Treasury Department accounting for how the funds are being spent and to show any other changes that they have made to their tax codes. The department will also be setting up a system of monitoring how the funds are being used.

Emily Swenson Brock, the director of the Federal Liaison Center at the Government Finance Officers Association, said that the eligible uses of the federal aid appeared to be relatively limited for the states and that some might actually find it challenging to deploy the money in a useful way.

“It’s complicated here for the states,” Ms. Brock said, adding that her organization had asked the Treasury Department for an explanation. “Congress is reaching in and telling these states how they can and can’t use that money.”

Before they receive federal funds, states will have to submit a certification promising to use the money according to the law. They could also decline funding or, if they are set on tax cuts, they could offset them with other sources of revenue that do not include the federal funds.

For many states, the federal money is welcome even if they do not necessarily need it for public health purposes.

Melissa Hortman, the speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives, said that she was hopeful that the federal government gives states the flexibility to use the money to make up for lost revenue from the virus. She suggested that the state should look to make new investments in education and transportation. Minnesota is expected to have a budget surplus for the next two years and will receive more than $2 billion in aid.

“It’s not too much money,” said Ms. Hortman, a Democrat. “Our country has just lived through a once-in-a-hundred-year pandemic.”

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Massive Hacks Linked to Russia, China Exploited U.S. Internet Security Gap

U.S. lawmakers and security experts are voicing concern that foreign governments are staging cyberattacks using servers in the U.S., in an apparent effort to avoid detection by America’s principal cyberintelligence organization, the National Security Agency.

When hackers recently targeted servers running Microsoft Corp.’s MSFT 0.25% widely used Exchange software, they employed U.S.-based computers from at least four service providers to mount their attack, according to an analysis by the threat intelligence company DomainTools LLC.

The attack that Microsoft disclosed last week affected at least tens of thousands of customers and has been linked by the software giant and other security researchers to China-based hackers. The Chinese Embassy in Washington on Tuesday didn’t directly address the charge that China was behind the Microsoft hack and referred to earlier comments from Beijing in which the government said it “opposes and combats cyberattacks and cyber thefts in all forms.”

It is the second major suspected nation-state hack unearthed in the past few months to have employed U.S. servers as a launchpad. Suspected Russian hackers used U.S.-based cloud services to support key stages of their attack that leveraged a hack at SolarWinds Corp. , the Austin, Texas, network software provider through which they penetrated U.S. government and corporate networks. In both cases, the hacks were disclosed by private-sector researchers, not the U.S. government.

The NSA, with its tens of thousands of employees, is one of the main U.S. government organizations responsible for protecting the U.S. in cyberspace. It has vast surveillance powers, though is generally prohibited from using them to collect intelligence on domestic targets, including computer servers inside the U.S. maintained by American companies.

“The combination of these two attacks definitely has pushed us to a tipping point in terms of the policy makers and the executive branch recognizing now that we need to do something,” said Glenn Gerstell, former general counsel at the NSA.

Microsoft President Brad Smith.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Associated Press

The SolarWinds hackers used cloud-computing systems run by Microsoft and Amazon.com Inc. to launch their attacks. At a Senate hearing last week, Microsoft President Brad Smith said the method was of obvious appeal to the Russians because it enabled them to circumvent U.S. intelligence collection. Amazon declined to appear at the hearing, prompting bipartisan ire from lawmakers, and hasn’t commented publicly on the use of its data centers in the SolarWinds attack.

“This is a sophisticated actor that apparently took the time to research legal authority. It knew that by operating from servers in the United States, it could evade some of the U.S. government’s best threat hunters,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President for customer security Tom Burt said of the Exchange hack.

Based on the internet addresses used, the hack emanated from lesser-known service providers such as DigitalOcean Inc., as well as servers in Hong Kong, the Netherlands, China and other jurisdictions, said Joe Slowik, a researcher with DomainTools. About half the servers identified as connected to the Exchange hack were in the U.S., according to the DomainTools analysis. DigitalOcean didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.

Security experts said Microsoft is caught in the middle of both attacks in part because its products are ubiquitous. It is also a major software provider to the U.S. government and large corporate clients, making Microsoft software flaws appealing targets to hackers trying to spy on U.S. networks, they said.

A suspected Russian cyberattack of the federal government has breached at least six cabinet-level departments. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains what the hack means for President Joe Biden’s national security efforts. Photo illustration: Laura Kammermann (Video from 12/23/20)

The Microsoft Exchange attacks were carried out by at least four hacking groups, all of which have been linked to China, said Alexis Dorais-Joncas, a researcher with ESET, a security company that has been tracking the attack.

The attackers may have had other motivations, beyond skirting NSA detection, to use U.S.-based servers, Messrs. Slowik and Dorais-Joncas said. They may have been trying to improve the performance of their software or to avoid security tools that, for example, would block connections originating from China, they said.

Earlier this week, an anonymous hacker posted “proof of concept” code to the internet that could be used by other hacking groups to conduct further attacks on unpatched Microsoft Exchange servers. An internet scan conducted by search-engine company Shodan LLC this week has found more than 70,000 Exchange servers vulnerable to attack. Most of the entities hit by the widespread China-linked attack were law firms, higher-education facilities, or entities conducting research on infectious diseases, said James Alliband, a cybersecurity strategist with business-software provider VMware Inc.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS

What steps should lawmakers take in response to cyberattacks? Join the conversation below.

Even before the Exchange hack emerged, U.S. lawmakers from both parties were looking for ways to bolster U.S. cyber defenses, including reviving an oft-stalled effort to create a national data-breach notification law.

At a Congressional hearing last month on the SolarWinds hack, several senators asked tech company executives whether gaps in the ability to monitor domestic infrastructure created opportunities for malicious actors to evade potential detection by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Any attempt to write new laws granting the NSA or other intelligence services domestic surveillance authority would likely face sharp resistance from privacy advocates, who have long worried that new powers would lead to abuses. The NSA has been reluctant to be seen as expanding its espionage capabilities ever since the 2013 disclosures by Edward Snowden that revealed classified details about its domestic and international surveillance programs established following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, former officials have said.

“The government already has the authority to watch every bit of data going in and out of federal networks,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D., Ore.). “Some in the government now want to ask for new, warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications to distract Congress from asking unpleasant questions.”

Mr. Wyden added that America’s “$6 billion cyber shield failed to stop or detect the hacks.” The senator was referencing Einstein, a cyber-threat detection system used by the government to try to thwart hacking attempts by finding known malware. Einstein lacks the capacity to identify malware not previously seen in attacks.

That view has detractors, though. “It can’t possibly be the case that the Fourth Amendment ties our hands in such a way that we just have to sit there and watch the Chinese romp through our infrastructure,” said Mr. Gerstell, the former NSA top lawyer, referring to the U.S. Constitution’s protection of privacy against unreasonable searches.

Mr. Gerstell said it was unlikely that Congress would ever grant such authorities directly to the NSA and that an alternate proposal involving a different agency could be more palatable.

The NSA declined to comment and referred questions to the White House National Security Council, which didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is slated to receive separate briefings this week on the Microsoft Exchange hack from the Biden administration and Microsoft, a committee aide said.

“I think we’re going to be struggling for a long time to understand the scope and the scale of what has happened here,” said Katie Moussouris, the chief executive of Luta Security Inc.

Write to Dustin Volz at dustin.volz@wsj.com and Robert McMillan at Robert.Mcmillan@wsj.com

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Tech’s Legal Shield Appears Likely to Survive as Congress Focuses on Details

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald J. Trump called multiple times for repealing the law that shields tech companies from legal responsibility over what people post. President Biden, as a candidate, said the law should be “revoked.”

But the lawmakers aiming to weaken the law have started to agree on a different approach. They are increasingly focused on eliminating protections for specific kinds of content rather than making wholesale changes to the law or eliminating it entirely.

That has still left them a question with potentially wide-ranging outcomes: What, exactly, should lawmakers cut?

One bill introduced last month would strip the protections from content the companies are paid to distribute, like ads, among other categories. A different proposal, expected to be reintroduced from the last congressional session, would allow people to sue when a platform amplified content linked to terrorism. And another that is likely to return would exempt content from the law only when a platform failed to follow a court’s order to take it down.

open to trimming the law, an effort to shape changes they see as increasingly likely to happen. Facebook and Google, the owner of YouTube, have signaled that they are willing to work with lawmakers changing the law, and some smaller companies recently formed a lobbying group to shape any changes.

December op-ed that was co-written by Bruce Reed, Mr. Biden’s deputy chief of staff, said that “platforms should be held accountable for any content that generates revenue.” The op-ed also said that while carving out specific types of content was a start, lawmakers would do well to consider giving platforms the entire liability shield only on the condition that they properly moderate content.

Supporters of Section 230 say even small changes could hurt vulnerable people. They point to the 2018 anti-trafficking bill, which sex workers say made it harder to vet potential clients online after some of the services they used closed, fearing new legal liability. Instead, sex workers have said they must now risk meeting with clients in person without using the internet to ascertain their intentions at a safe distance.

Senator Ron Wyden, the Oregon Democrat who co-wrote Section 230 while in the House, said measures meant to address disinformation on the right could be used against other political groups in the future.

“If you remember 9/11, and you had all these knee-jerk reactions to those horrible tragedies,” he said. “I think it would be a huge mistake to use the disgusting, nauseating attacks on the Capitol as a vehicle to suppress free speech.”

Industry officials say carve-outs to the law could nonetheless be extremely difficult to carry out.

“I appreciate that some policymakers are trying to be more specific about what they don’t like online,” said Kate Tummarello, the executive director of Engine, an advocacy group for small companies. “But there’s no universe in which platforms, especially small platforms, will automatically know when and where illegal speech is happening on their site.”

The issue may take center stage when the chief executives of Google, Facebook and Twitter testify late this month before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has been examining the future of the law.

“I think it’s going to be a huge issue,” said Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, the committee’s top Republican. “Section 230 is really driving it.”

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Covid-19 Live Updates: Restaurant Dining and Lack of Mask Mandates Are Each Linked to U.S. Virus Spread, C.D.C. Says

officials in Texas and Mississippi lifted statewide mask mandates, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered fresh evidence of the importance of mask use in a new study on Friday. Wearing masks, the study reported, was linked to fewer infections with the coronavirus and Covid-19 deaths in counties across the United States.

The researchers also found that counties opening restaurants for on-premises dining — indoors or outdoors — saw a rise in daily infections about six weeks later, and an increase in Covid-19 death rates about two months later.

The study does not prove cause and effect, but the findings square with other research showing that masks prevent infection and that indoor spaces foster the spread of the virus through aerosols, tiny respiratory particles that linger in the air.

“You have decreases in cases and deaths when you wear masks, and you have increases in cases and deaths when you have in-person restaurant dining,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the C.D.C., said on Friday. “And so we would advocate for policies, certainly while we’re at this plateau of a high number of cases, that would listen to that public health science.”

The findings come as city and state officials nationwide grapple with growing pressure to reopen schools and businesses amid falling rates of new cases and deaths. Officials have recently allowed for limited indoor dining in New York City. And on Thursday, Connecticut’s governor said would be ending capacity limits later this month on restaurants, gyms and offices. Masks remain required in both places.

Coronavirus cases and deaths are down significantly across the country compared to the devastating peaks around the holidays. But as more cases of worrisome virus variants have been detected and the U.S. vaccination campaign continues, President Biden and his team have stressed in recent days that now is not the time for Americans to relax, particularly on wearing masks.

According to a New York Times database, the seven-day average of new cases is 62,924 a day, as of Thursday. While that average is down 14 percent from two weeks earlier, the figure remains near the level of new cases reported during last summer’s highest peak. Though fatalities have started falling, in part because of the vaccination campaign at nursing homes, it remains routine for 2,000 deaths to be reported in a single day.

Mr. Biden on Wednesday criticized the decisions by the governors of Texas and Mississippi to lift statewide mask mandates and reopen businesses without restrictions, calling the plans “a big mistake” that reflected “Neanderthal thinking.”

The president, who has asked the American people to wear a mask for his first 100 days in office, said it was critical for public officials to follow the guidance of doctors and public health leaders as the coronavirus vaccination campaign gains momentum.

According to the C.D.C., about 54 million people have already received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, as of Thursday. Mr. Biden’s power to enforce mask-wearing is limited to the federal sphere; he has ordered a mask requirement for anyone on federal property, and his administration is asking people to wear masks regardless of local mandates.

“It may seem tempting, in the face of all of this progress, to try to rush back to normalcy as if the virus is in the rear view mirror. It’s not,” Andy Slavitt, a White House pandemic adviser, said on Friday. “Why somebody wouldn’t take advantage of a small intervention to save people’s lives, that would be surprising.”

In the latest study, C.D.C. researchers examined the association between mask mandates and indoor or outdoor restaurant dining and the number of coronavirus infections and deaths last year between March 1 and Dec. 31. The agency relied on county-level data from state government websites and measured daily percentage growth in coronavirus cases and deaths.

Infections and deaths declined after counties mandated mask use, the agency found. Daily infections rose about six weeks after counties allowed restaurants to open for dining on the premises, and death rates followed two months later.

Mask mandates were linked to statistically significant decreases in coronavirus cases and death rates within 20 days of implementation, the report’s authors concluded. On-premises dining, whether indoors or outdoors, at restaurants was associated with increases in case and death rates within 41 to 80 days after reopenings.

“State mask mandates and prohibiting on-premises dining at restaurants help limit potential exposure to SARS-Cov-2, reducing community transmission of Covid-19,” the authors wrote.

Shortly after publishing the report, the C.D.C. amended it to urge restaurants that resume on-premises dining to follow the C.D.C.’s guidelines for reducing transmission in restaurant settings.

That includes “everything from having staff stay home when they show signs of Covid or have tested positive or been in contact with someone who has Covid, and requiring masks among employees as well as customers who are not actively eating or drinking,” said Gery P. Guy, a health scientist with the C.D.C. Covid response team and the study’s corresponding author.

Other steps that can be taken are ensuring adequate ventilation, providing options to eat outdoors, spacing customers six feet apart, encouraging frequent hand washing and carrying out frequenting sanitizing of surfaces that are touched a lot, such as cash registers or pay terminals, door handles and tables.

“The message is, if restaurants are going to open for on-premise dining, it’s important to follow C.D.C. guidelines to do so safely and effectively,” Dr. Guy said.

Eileen Sullivan contributed reporting.

Workers checking syringes at a factory in Ballabgarh, India, last month.
Credit…Rebecca Conway for The New York Times

As countries jostle to secure enough vaccine doses to help put an end to the pandemic, a new competition is unfolding: for syringes to administer them with.

There is simply not enough of them.

Officials in the United States and the European Union have said they need more. And in January, Brazil restricted exports of syringes and needles when its vaccination efforts fell short.

Further complicating the challenge, not just any syringe will do the trick.

Japan revealed last month that it might have to discard millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine if it couldn’t secure enough syringes able to draw out a sixth dose from vials. In January, the Food and Drug Administration advised health care providers in the United States that they could extract more doses from the Pfizer vials after hospitals there discovered that some contained enough for a sixth — or even a seventh — shot.

“A lot of countries were caught flat-footed,” said Ingrid Katz, the associate director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The world needs between eight billion and 10 billion syringes for Covid-19 vaccinations alone, experts say.

In previous years, only 5 percent to 10 percent of the estimated 16 billion syringes used worldwide were meant for vaccination and immunization, said Prashant Yadav, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, a think tank in Washington, and an expert on health care supply chains.

Wealthier nations like the United States, Britain, France and Germany pumped billions into developing the vaccines, but little public investment has gone into expanding manufacturing for syringes, Mr. Yadav said.

The industry has ramped up to meet demand.

Becton, Dickinson and Company, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of syringes and is based in New Jersey, said it was producing 2,000 each minute to meet orders of more than a billion.

The United States is the world’s largest syringe maker by sales, according to Fitch Solutions, a research firm. The United States and China are neck and neck in exports, with combined annual shipments worth $1.7 billion.

While India is a small player globally, Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices in Ballabgarh, one of the world’s largest syringe makers, sunk millions of dollars into preparing its syringe factories for the vaccination onslaught.

Rajiv Nath, the company’s managing director, added 500 workers to his production lines, which crank out more than 5,900 syringes per minute at factories spread over 11 acres in a dusty industrial district outside New Delhi. With Sundays and public holidays off, the company churns out nearly 2.5 billion a year, and plans to scale up to three billion by July.

Mr. Nath has sold 50 million to the Japanese government, he said, and over 400 million to India for its Covid-19 vaccination drive, one of the largest in the world.

More are waiting in line, including UNICEF. In November, the United Nations agency for children reached out to say that it was desperately seeking syringes. And not just any would do. They had to be smaller than usual, and break if used a second time, to prevent spreading disease through accidental reuse.

Most important: UNICEF needed them in vast quantities. Now.

“I thought, ‘No issues,’” said Mr. Nath. “We could deliver it possibly faster than anybody else.”

The company is set to begin shipping 3.2 million of those syringes soon, UNICEF said, provided they clear another quality check. And Mr. Nath has offered to produce about 240 million more.

Credit…

The images above tell a story of disparity of the starkest sort.

“People of color are getting vaccinated at rates below their representation of the general population,” Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of President Biden’s coronavirus equity task force, said at a recent forum on the vaccine. “This narrative can be changed. It must be changed.”

In recent days, The New York Times’s graphics team set out to measure how equitably Covid-19 vaccines were being distributed across the United States.

The data is imperfect. As of March 3, only 38 states publicly shared race and ethnicity data for vaccinated people.

Further complicating the task, different jurisdictions define race and ethnicity categories in slightly different ways — and with different levels of completeness. In some states, as much as a third of vaccinations were missing race and ethnicity data.

But a disturbing portrait nevertheless emerged.

Communities of color, which have borne the brunt of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States, have also received a smaller share of available vaccines. The vaccination rate for Black Americans is half that of white people, and the gap for Hispanic people is even larger, The Times analysis found.

Dr. Eva Galvez prepares to test patients for Covid-19 at a clinic in Hillsboro, Ore.
Credit…Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Scientists in Oregon have identified a homegrown version of a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus that first surfaced in Britain — but this one has a mutation that may make the variant less susceptible to vaccines.

The researchers have so far found just a single case of this formidable combination, but genetic analysis suggested that the variant had been acquired in the community and did not arise in the patient.

“We didn’t import this from elsewhere in the world — it occurred spontaneously,” said Brian O’Roak, a geneticist at Oregon Health and Science University who led the work. He and his colleagues participate in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s effort to track variants, and they have deposited their results in databases shared by scientists.

The variant originally identified in Britain, called B.1.1.7, has been spreading rapidly across the United States, and accounts for at least 2,500 cases in 46 states. This form of the virus is both more contagious and more deadly than the original version, and is expected to account for most infections in America in a few weeks.

The new version that surfaced in Portland has the same backbone as B.1.1.7, and the mutation it carries — E484K, or “Eek” — is one seen in variants of the virus circulating in South Africa, Brazil and New York City.

Lab studies and clinical trials in South Africa indicate that the Eek mutation renders the current vaccines less effective by blunting the body’s immune response. (The vaccines still work, but the findings are worrying enough that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna have begun testing new versions of their vaccines designed to defeat the variant found in South Africa.)

The B.1.1.7 variant with Eek also has emerged in Britain, but the virus identified in Oregon seems to have evolved independently, Dr. O’Roak said.

Dr. O’Roak and his colleagues found the B.1.1.7 variant with Eek among coronavirus samples collected by the Oregon State Public Health Lab from an outbreak in a health care setting. Of the 13 test results they analyzed, 10 turned out to be B.1.1.7 alone, and one the combination.

Experts said the discovery was not surprising, because the Eek mutation has arisen in forms of the virus all over the world. But the mutation’s occurrence in B.1.1.7 is worth watching, they said.

Gov. Philip D. Murphy of New Jersey applauded as the state’s first doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were administered at the Union Plaza Apartments in Union City, N.J., on Friday. 
Credit…Bryan Anselm for The New York Times

Vaccine hesitancy has been a concern among U.S. public health experts for months now. But evidence increasingly suggests that as vaccination rates increase, many unvaccinated Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea of receiving the shot themselves.

The proportion of adults in the country who intend to get vaccinated has increased significantly over the last several months, according to a survey released Friday by the Pew Research Center. Sixty-nine percent of the public now plans to get vaccinated — or already has — up from 60 percent who said in November that they intended to pursue it.

The issue has become more partisan over time, however. The new survey finds a 27-percentage point political gap, with 83 percent of Democrats saying they plan to get the vaccine or have already received it, compared to just 56 percent of Republicans.

Despite the divides, the new survey bolsters optimism that overall, Americans are increasingly open to receiving the vaccine. About 54 million people — 16 percent of the population — had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine as of Thursday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey also notes that 47 percent of Black Americans plan to get vaccinated and 15 percent say they already have been. Taken together, that is a sharp increase from the 42 percent who said in November they intended to be vaccinated.

Black and Latino people in the United States are being vaccinated at lower rates in part because they face obstacles like language barriers and inadequate access to digital technology, medical facilities and transportation. Mistrust in government officials and doctors also plays a role, experts say, and is fed by misinformation that is spread on social media. President Biden has made equity a major focus of his pandemic response, saying he wants pharmacies, mobile vaccination units and community clinics that help underserved communities to help increase the pace of vaccinations.

Overall, those surveyed by Pew who say they do not plan to get the vaccine cite reasons including concerns about side effects and a feeling that the vaccines were developed too quickly. Others say they are waiting for more information about how well they work.

The Pew results echo a survey released last week from the Kaiser Family Foundation that found vaccine hesitancy declining among most demographic groups. That survey also found a significant political gap, but noted that both Democrats and Republicans were significantly more likely to say they intended to get the vaccine now than in December.

Credit…Timothy A. Clary/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Since Johnson & Johnson revealed data showing that its vaccine, while highly protective, had a slightly lower efficacy rate than the ones produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, health officials have feared that the new shot might be viewed by some Americans as the inferior choice.

But the early days of its rollout suggest something different: Some people are eager to get it because they want the convenience of a single shot.

And public health officials are enthusiastic about how much faster they can get the single-shot doses distributed, particularly in vulnerable communities that might not otherwise have access to vaccine.

“This is a potential breakthrough,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, the top health official in Louisiana.

With its first allotted doses, that state is holding a dozen large Johnson & Johnson vaccination events at civic centers and other public places, modeled after what has worked for flu vaccines.

Only four million doses were shipped this week, and the company’s manufacturing lags mean that it will be at least a month before states start receiving significant supplies. But as Johnson & Johnson ramps up production over the next few months, Dr. Kanter said, the vaccine will allow his state to slash costs for staffing and operations related to second doses.

“The J. & J. vaccine brings a lot to the table,” he said.

Judged by how well it prevents severe disease, hospitalization and death, the Johnson & Johnson shot is comparable to those made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. And although it has a lower overall efficacy rate in the United States — 72 percent, compared with roughly 95 percent for the others — experts say that comparing those numbers is problematic because the companies’ trials were conducted in different places and at different times.

Besides being a single-dose shot, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine offers another benefit: It can be kept at normal refrigeration temperatures for three months. That makes it ideal for distribution at nonmedical sites such as stadiums and convention centers. The vaccine has caused a surge of excitement at small, independent pharmacies, too.

Many state health officials said they were focused on getting the vaccine to people who might be harder to reach for a second dose, such as those who are homeless or on the verge of release from prison.

Patricia Cooper, a teacher in Washington, D.C., said that President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to claim credit for a vaccine last year and the label “emergency use authorization” had suggested to her that the federal government may have rushed its reviews of vaccines. That left her feeling jittery about their safety.

But Ms. Cooper said she was eager to get a shot, especially the Johnson & Johnson one.

“This one is more appealing to me,” she said. “Who likes to get stuck more than once?”

Pope Francis in the Our Lady of Salvation church in Baghdad on the first day of his papal visit to Iraq.
Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times

Pope Francis made an audacious return to the world stage in the midst of the pandemic on Friday when he became the first leader of the Roman Catholic church to visit Iraq, seeking to help heal a nation uniquely wounded by violent sectarianism, foreign adventurism and the persecution of minority populations, including his own Christian flock.

“I’m happy to travel again,” Francis, who has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, said after taking off his blue surgical mask to address reporters on the papal plane.

The pope’s trip sent a message that, after a year of being cooped up in Rome and fading from public consciousness, Francis wanted to elevate his profile and spend his time with those who have suffered the most.

The pope’s visit coincided with a recent return of suicide bombings, increased rocket attacks and renewed geopolitical tensions, and some of Francis’ admirers worry that his whirlwind four-day visit will exacerbate a recent spike in the country’s coronavirus cases by drawing crowds.

But his advisers and Iraq’s top prelates insisted social distancing measures would be followed and argued the trip was necessary to show Francis’ closeness to a flock that had suffered terribly. The pope’s predecessors dreamed of visiting, but those aspirations were dashed by tensions and conflict.

The pope called for an equitable distribution of vaccines to countries already scarred by “fragility and instability.” A vaccination program began just this week in Iraq, where social distancing restrictions are largely ignored.

Credit…Ivor Prickett for The New York Times
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a briefing on the pandemic a year ago. His thorough, sometimes folksy daily updates drew national attention. 
Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

Top aides to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo were alarmed: A report written by state health officials had just landed, and it included a count of how many nursing home residents in New York had died in the pandemic.

The number — more than 9,000 by that point in June — was not public, and the governor’s most senior aides wanted to keep it that way. They rewrote the report to take it out, according to interviews and documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The extraordinary intervention, which came as Mr. Cuomo was starting to write a book on his pandemic achievements, was the earliest act yet known in what critics have called a monthslong effort by the governor and his aides to obscure the full scope of nursing home deaths in the state. The episode reflects the lengths to which Mr. Cuomo has gone to control data, brush aside public health expertise and bolster his position as a national leader in the fight against the coronavirus.

The details contradict the timeline and motivation Mr. Cuomo offered in recent weeks, when he released the complete data after the state attorney general, Leticia James, revealed that thousands of deaths of nursing home residents had been undercounted, Mr. Cuomo said he had withheld the information out of concern that the Trump administration might pursue a politically motivated inquiry into the state’s handling of the outbreak in nursing homes.

But the rewriting of the report came well before requests for data arrived from federal authorities, and was accompanied by Cuomo aides’ battles with top state health officials, according to documents and interviews with six people with direct knowledge of the discussions, who requested anonymity to describe the closed-door debates.

The aides involved in changing the report included Melissa DeRosa, the governor’s top aide; Linda Lacewell, the head of the state’s Department of Financial Services; and Jim Malatras, a former top adviser to Mr. Cuomo brought back to work on the pandemic. None had public health expertise.

In response to a detailed list of questions from The Times sent on Tuesday, the governor’s office responded with a statement Thursday night from Beth Garvey, a special counsel, who said “the out-of-facility data was omitted after D.O.H. could not confirm it had been adequately verified.” She added that the additional data did not change the conclusion of the report.

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The Senate is set to debate President Biden’s nearly $2 trillion stimulus plan on Friday as Democrats prepare to barrel past widespread Republican opposition.CreditCredit…Anna Moneymaker for The New York Times

President Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus package ground to a standstill in the Senate on Friday, as Democrats haggled among themselves over the size and duration of federal unemployment payments that are a crucial piece of the plan.

Top Democrats, working to preserve moderate support for the package, had planned to drop their effort to increase a federal unemployment payment from $300 a week to $400 but extend it for an additional month, through Oct. 4, hoping that the concession would keep the pandemic aid plan on track.

But it appeared that Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, a centrist whose support they need to maneuver the plan through the 50-50 Senate where all Republicans are opposed, remained unsatisfied.

The impasse halted the measure in its tracks just as the Senate had begun voting on proposed changes. What was supposed to have been a 15-minute vote on a minimum-wage increase stretched for longer than six hours as Democrats stalled for time, huddling on the Senate floor in search of a solution to break the impasse.

The White House declined to say whether Mr. Biden had reached out to Mr. Manchin to try to secure his support. A White House official said that Mr. Biden and his team were “staying in close contact with senators to find a resolution that will deliver for Americans who need help the most.”

Another wrinkle arose late Friday as Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska, left the Capitol in order to catch a flight to Fairbanks and attend a funeral for his father-in-law on Saturday.

A spokesman, Nate Adams, confirmed the senator’s departure on a Friday afternoon flight and said Mr. Sullivan “intended to vote against final passage of the bill and made his opposition clear” after voting against advancing the measure.

In an evenly divided Senate, Mr. Sullivan’s absence will give Democrats an extra vote of leeway as they haggle over a series of last-minute changes to the $1.9 trillion package. But it is unlikely to resolve the current impasse, given that Mr. Manchin appeared to be contemplating supporting a Republican amendment that would curtail unemployment insurance benefits.

With the existing $300-a-week payments set to lapse on March 14, Mr. Biden’s stimulus proposal and the House bill that passed last weekend to implement it would increase the jobless aid to $400 a week and extend it through the end of August.

Some moderate Senate Democrats are opposed to raising the amount, while others are concerned about the possibility that the benefits could lapse when the chamber is typically on recess and out of Washington. The revision Democrats had devised would address both issues, as well as adding a provision to make a large portion of 2020 jobless benefits tax-free.

In a brief interview, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said the change “avoids the August cliff, secures tax forgiveness — preventing what I call the unexpected unemployment tax surprise — and keeps the caucus together.”

It was aimed at appeasing centrist Democrats who might otherwise have been tempted to vote for a Republican amendment by Senator Rob Portman of Ohio to keep the unemployment benefit at $300 per week — extending it until July but omitting any tax sweeteners — thus sapping support for the bill among other Democrats. But on Friday, Mr. Manchin did not appear ready to accept the alternative.

The White House had signaled support, with Ron Klain, the chief of staff, tweeting, “This compromise is a great result.”

The proposal, introduced by Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, was one of dozens of amendments the Senate was set to consider on Friday as it made its way through a marathon session of rapid-fire votes. The vote-a-rama, as it is known, could stretch long past midnight as Republicans battle against the bill, paving the way for a Senate vote to pass the stimulus plan as early as Saturday.

The unemployment provision would forgive up to $10,200 in taxes on benefits received in 2020. Mr. Wyden, who was among those pushing to increase the unemployment payment to $400, said on the Senate floor that he was “really hoping this brings all sides of the Senate together.”

Democrats are racing against the clock, as some Americans have already begun to file their taxes and unemployment benefits are set to begin lapsing next weekend. The agreement would also extend tax rules regarding excess business loss limitations for one additional year, through 2026.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday that Canada’s health regulator had authorized the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, giving the country a fourth vaccine option.CreditCredit…Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Canada’s health regulator on Friday authorized the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine. The move now gives the country, which has experienced a slow start to vaccinations, four inoculations to choose from.

“This is great news,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference. He offered no projected date for the first deliveries.

Health Canada officials said that the vaccine has an overall effectiveness of 66.9 percent, much lower than the efficacy rates reached by Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. But it is similar to those vaccines in having a powerful ability to prevent severe disease, hospitalizations and death.

The United States and Bahrain have also authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Production delays with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, combined with relatively modest initial shipments, have led to frustration among many Canadians — and put political pressure on Mr. Trudeau as Canada’s vaccination rate fell far behind that of the United States, Britain and other countries. As of Friday, 2.86 percent of all Canadians have received at least one dose.

Canada has ordered 10 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and has options for another 28 million, a combined number that is slightly higher than the country’s population.

Depending on its arrival and combined with the need to only administer a single shot, the new vaccine may help significantly boost the country’s vaccination rate. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine also does not require extremely low storage temperatures, as the Pfizer vaccine does, making it easier to distribute to remote communities in Canada’s north.

Mr. Trudeau said that Pfizer would send 1.5 million doses, originally scheduled for delivery in the summer, over the next two months. Canada also received its first shipment this week of a version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, developed by the Serum Institute of India.

The Canadian government had initially promised to obtain six million doses of vaccines by the end of March. The new Pfizer schedule combined with AstraZeneca shipments, officials said, will raise that figure to eight million.

President Biden visiting a Covid-19 vaccination center in Bethesda, Md. 
Credit…Oliver Contreras for The New York Times

President Biden is enjoying a level of popularity his poll-obsessed predecessor never came close to achieving — a 60 percent approval rating — with 70 percent of Americans expressing support for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new poll.

Despite enduring and stark partisan divisions, 44 percent of Republicans approve of Mr. Biden’s actions prioritizing the fight against the virus, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released early Friday.

As a temperature check of the current national mood, the poll suggests that Republican lawmakers in Washington, who have united to oppose Mr. Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, are not swaying public opinion, despite their efforts to alter or delay its passage.

In all, 22 percent of Republicans approve of Mr. Biden’s performance, suggesting small but substantial gains among his most hard-core opponents that could give him added political leverage, paving the way for the possibility of a big bipartisan deal on infrastructure.

Mr. Biden’s overall approval among Democrats is a solid 94 percent, despite recent criticism from progressives.

Mr. Trump sustained a similar level of support from his base, but is the only president in the history of modern polling to never post an aggregate approval rating above 50 percent. His level of support has sunk, to an average of about 38 percent, after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

Friday’s poll is a bit sunnier than other recent national surveys that show a slight decrease in support for Mr. Biden as the fight over his relief package heats up on Capitol Hill. A RealClearPolitics aggregation of polls put his approval rating at 53.4 percent, not factoring in the A.P. poll.

Mr. Biden’s grades on the economy were lower than his ratings on other issues, the poll found. His approval on pocketbook issues was 55 percent. Only 17 percent of Republicans, a group that gave former President Donald J. Trump high marks for his handling of the economy even during the pandemic-related downturn, approved of Mr. Biden’s approach to the economy.

The A.P. poll, unsurprisingly, found that the atmosphere of hyper partisanship exacerbated by Mr. Trump’s four years of provocation is not subsiding under Mr. Biden, and that people in both parties tend to interpret fact through the filter of ideology.

Americans’ views on the economy have shifted dramatically even though many basic economic statistics have budged little, if at all.

In December, 67 percent of Republicans and just 15 percent of Democrats described the economy as “good,” according to an A.P. poll taken at the time. Now, 35 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats describe the economy in positive terms.

The poll, which surveyed 1,434 adults between Feb. 23 and March 1, has an overall sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

A beach in Limassol, Cyprus, on Thursday. Some European nations with economies that are heavily reliant on tourism have pushed for a vaccine certificate program to help open up international travel.
Credit…Petros Karadjias/Associated Press

Cyprus has announced a plan to allow vaccinated residents of Britain to visit the island beginning in May, a further signal that countries, particular those dependent on tourism, could resort to inoculation certificates to reopen their borders.

Savvas Perdios, the deputy tourism minister for Cyprus, told the Cyprus News Agency that, as of May 1, British citizens who had received two doses of a vaccine approved by the European Union’s drug regulator would be allowed to travel to the Mediterranean island without having to be tested for the coronavirus or to isolate on arrival.

Some European nations with economies that are heavily reliant on tourism, such as Spain, have advocated for a vaccine certificate program to be created at the European Union level but have also said that they could adopt bilateral systems if no broader agreement is reached. The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, this week announced plans to create a “digital green pass” to facilitate safe travel among member nations, though that system is expected to take at least three months.

The British authorities have said that talks on opening up travel are underway with a number of countries, including some in the European Union.

Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, said this week, “If another country wants to say that you need to have been vaccinated with a recognized vaccine to travel there, we want to enable Brits to be able to take that journey.”

More than a million travelers from Britain visited Cyprus in 2019, representing by far the highest number of international tourists to the island, according to official statistics.

Despite the green light from Cyprus, international travel from Britain is forbidden for leisure purposes until at least May 17 under the current lockdown rules, and it is unclear how many British residents will have received two vaccine doses by then. Fewer than a million people in Britain have so far been fully vaccinated.

In other news around the world:

Some gorillas in a troop at the San Diego Zoo tested positive for the coronavirus in January. Zoo officials have been using an experimental vaccine on other apes, like orangutans and bonobos. 
Credit…Ken Bohn/San Diego Zoo Global, via, via Reuters

The San Diego Zoo has given nine apes an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Zoetis, a major veterinary pharmaceuticals company.

In January, a troop of gorillas at the zoo’s Safari Park tested positive for the virus. All are recovering, but even so, the zoo requested help from Zoetis in vaccinating other apes. The company provided an experimental vaccine that was initially developed for pets and is now being tested in mink.

Nadine Lamberski, a conservation and wildlife health officer at San Diego Zoo Global, said the zoo vaccinated four orangutans and five bonobos with the experimental vaccine, which is not designed for use in humans. Among the vaccinated orangutans was an ape named Karen, who made history in 1994 when she became the first orangutan to have open-heart surgery.

Dr. Lamberski said one gorilla at the zoo was also scheduled to be vaccinated, but the gorillas at the wildlife park were a lower priority because they had already tested positive for infection and had recovered. She said she would vaccinate the gorillas at the wildlife park if the zoo received more doses of the vaccine.

Mahesh Kumar, senior vice president of global biologics for Zoetis, said the company is increasing production, primarily for its pursuit of a license for a mink vaccine, and will provide more doses to the San Diego and other zoos when possible. “We have already received a number of requests,” he said.

Infection of apes is a major concern for zoos and conservationists. They easily fall prey to human respiratory infections, and common cold viruses have caused deadly outbreaks in chimpanzees in Africa. Genome research has suggested that chimpanzees, gorillas and other apes will be susceptible to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that has caused the pandemic. Lab researchers are using some monkeys, like macaques, to test drugs and vaccines and develop new treatments for the virus.

Scientists are worrying not just about the danger the virus poses to great apes and other animals, but also about the potential for the virus to gain a foothold in a wild animal population that could become a permanent reservoir and emerge at a later date to reinfect humans.

Infections in farmed mink have produced the biggest scare so far. When Danish mink farms were devastated by the virus, which can kill mink just as it kills people, a mutated form of the virus emerged from the mink and reinfected humans. That variant showed resistance to some antibodies in laboratory studies, raising suspicion that vaccines might be less effective against it.

That virus variant has not been found in humans since November, according to the World Health Organization. But other variants have emerged in people in several countries, proving that the virus can become more contagious and in some cases can diminish the effectiveness of some vaccines.

Denmark ended up killing as many as 17 million mink — effectively wiping out its mink farming industry. In the United States, thousands of mink have died, and one wild mink has tested positive for the virus.

Although many animals, including dogs, domestic cats, and big cats in zoos, have become infected by the virus through natural spread, and others have been infected in laboratory experiments, scientists say that widespread testing has yet to find the virus in any animal in the wild other than the one mink.

National Geographic first reported the vaccination of the apes at the San Diego Zoo.

Employees at Juniper Village, a nursing home in Bensalem, Pa.
Credit…Kriston Jae Bethel for The New York Times

For much of the winter, Meryl Gordon worried about the people caring for her 95-year-old mother, who was rehabbing in a Manhattan nursing home after surgery for a broken hip.

“Every week they sent out a note to families about how many staff members had positive Covid tests,” said Ms. Gordon, a biographer and professor at New York University. “It was a source of tremendous anxiety.”

Ms. Gordon feels reassured now that her mother is fully vaccinated and has returned to her assisted living facility. But what about the two home care aides who help her 98-year-old father, David, in his Upper West Side apartment?

Neither has agreed to be vaccinated. David Gordon’s doctor has advised him to delay vaccination himself because of his past allergic reactions.

Ms. Gordon has not insisted that the caregivers receive vaccinations. “You’re reluctant to do something that could cause you to lose the people you rely on,” she said. But she remains uneasy.

It’s a question that many long-term care employers, from individual families to big national companies, are confronting as vaccines become more available, although not available enough: In a pandemic, can they require vaccination for those who care for very vulnerable older adults? Should they?

Some employers aren’t waiting. Atria Senior Living, one of the nation’s largest assisted living chains, has announced that by May 1 all staff members must be fully vaccinated.

Silverado, a small chain of dementia care homes, most on the West Coast, mandated vaccination by March 1. Juniper Communities, which operates 22 facilities in four states, has also adopted a mandate.

“We felt it was the best way to protect people, not just our residents but our team members and their families,” said Lynne Katzmann, Juniper’s chief executive. Of the company’s nearly 1,300 employees, “about 30 individuals have self-terminated” because of the vaccination requirement, she reported.

Juniper’s experience supports what public health experts have said for years: Vaccine mandates, like those that many health care organizations have established for the flu vaccine, remain contentious — but they do increase vaccination rates. As of Feb. 25, 97.7 percent of Juniper residents had received two vaccine doses, and so had 96 percent of its staff members.

That stands in stark contrast to staff vaccinations in many facilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that during the first month of vaccine clinics in nursing homes, only 37.5 percent of staff members received the first shot, along with 77.8 percent of residents.

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