Washington — After testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, President Biden canceled a planned trip to Pennsylvania, where he was set to outline a $37 billion plan aimed at making U.S. communities safer and fighting crime amid a nationwide surge in violence.
Mr. Biden was scheduled to travel to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to outline his “Safe America Plan,” funding for which would use money included in his fiscal year 2023 budget request to Congress.
Instead, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the president “will participate in his planned meetings at the White House this morning via phone and Zoom from the residence” and “will continue to work in isolation until he tests negative.” Mr. Biden was set to travel to Philadelphia after his stop in Wilkes-Barre before heading to Delaware later Thursday.
Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey tweeted that he had spoken on the phone with Mr. Biden, and said he “sounded great and is in good spirits.” Casey, a Democrat, said he is “[l]ooking forward to welcoming him back to [Northeast Pennsylvania] sometime soon” and encouraged Americans to get vaccinated and boosted.
The president tweeted a short time later that he is “doing great” and had spoken to Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright, Scranton Mayor Paige Cognetti and Casey to express “my regrets for missing our event today.”
Jean-Pierre said the president tested positive for the coronavirus earlier Thursday and was experiencing “very mild symptoms.” First lady Dr. Jill Biden tested negative on Thursday, her spokesman said.
The president’s crime prevention proposal calls for $13 billion over the next five years for communities to hire and train 100,000 additional police officers, as well as nearly $3 billion to help clear court backlogs and solve murders, a White House fact sheet said.
Mr. Biden’s plan establishes a $15 billion grant program for cities and states to use over the next decade to promote approaches to prevent violent crime or identify non-violent situations that warrant a public health response, with the goal of alleviating the burden on law enforcement officers. Another $5 billion would be used for evidence-based community violence intervention programs.
Senior administration officials told reporters that Mr. Biden’s remarks were meant to “drive a clear contrast with Republicans,” who are seeking to paint Democrats as being soft-on-crime ahead of November’s midterm elections. The president had also been expected to detail how Democrats have taken action to combat rising crime rates, only to have GOP lawmakers oppose their efforts “at every turn,” one official said.
Mr. Biden also planned to continue to press Congress to pass legislation strengthening background checks for all gun sales and ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, according to the officials.
Lawmakers approved and the president signed into law a bipartisan measure last month to reform the nation’s gun laws, the first major update to federal firearms statutes in nearly three decades. Called the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, the law enhances background checks for gun buyers under 21, provides billions of dollars for mental health services and sets aside $750 million to incentivize states to create crisis-intervention programs. The measure also closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” to ensure convicted domestic abusers can’t purchase a firearm for five years.
But it’s unlikely legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines would clear both chambers of Congress.