President Biden is set to take the first international trip of his term on Wednesday, but negotiations over the future of American roads, bridges and public works projects will be at the top of his agenda before he leaves.
Mr. Biden will meet on Monday with Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the Republican leading infrastructure talks with the White House, for their second discussion in three days. But a deal appears elusive so far.
By Sunday, another West Virginian, Senator Joe Manchin III, said that he believed negotiations were continuing in good faith.
“I still have all the confidence in the world,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” “My goodness, the president has gone from $2.25 trillion down to $1 trillion. The Republicans have come up quite a bit from where they started.”
Mr. Manchin, a Democrat, declined to say how he would vote on a party-line infrastructure bill, saying that a bipartisan group of senators negotiating a deal that could get at least 60 votes were “not that far apart.” But he also wrote in The Charleston Gazette-Mail over the weekend that he would not vote for the Democrats’ far-reaching bill to combat voter suppression, nor would he ever end the legislative filibuster, a promise that imperils much of the president’s agenda.
Mr. Biden offered several concessions to Republicans last week to try to win a $1 trillion infrastructure deal that could receive bipartisan support. The president has now cut more than $1 trillion from his initial $2.3 trillion proposal, while Republicans have added less than $100 billion in new spending to their first offer.
But Republicans are still unhappy with Mr. Biden’s plan to fund the bill by increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy, making a bipartisan agreement a long shot.
Pete Buttigieg, the transportation secretary, hinted on Sunday that there was still interest among Democrats to jam a package through the Senate without Republican support.
“As our Democratic friends remind us, there is another way,” Mr. Buttigieg said in an appearance on “Face the Nation” on CBS. “But our strong preference is to do this on a bipartisan basis, especially because it’s a bipartisan priority.”
After two decades in the military, after earning two master’s degrees and navigating a successful career as a corporate coach, Victor Stemberger seemed ready for a peaceful retirement. But he had a new venture in the works.
Mr. Stemberger, of Virginia, had a $10 million inheritance waiting for him, according to men claiming to be affiliated with the Nigerian Ministry of Finance. Through a dizzying web of more than 160 emails over the course of a year, Mr. Stemberger, then 76, somehow grew convinced.
The final step to collect his millions was a good-will gesture: He needed to embark on a whirlwind tour to several countries, stopping first in São Paulo, Brazil, to pick up a small package of gifts for government officials.
With that parcel tucked away safely in his luggage, Mr. Stemberger got ready to board a flight to Spain, the next leg of his trip.
The next day, his son, Vic Stemberger, received a text from a Spanish number: “Your father is in prison.”
International criminals have long set their sights on older Americans, deceiving them with promises of money or romance and setting them up to unwittingly carry luggage filled with drugs or other contraband, hoping they will not raise flags in customs.
But Mr. Stemberger’s case shines a discomfiting light on a little-known program run by Immigration and Customs Enforcement known as Operation Cocoon, which is devised to disrupt international drug trafficking rings.
Under the program, ICE officials share information with foreign law enforcement agencies when they learn about potential smuggling. But critics say the program does not do enough to warn unwitting drug mules that they are being duped; instead, U.S. officials in some cases are delivering vulnerable older Americans straight into the hands of investigators in foreign countries, where they can be locked up for years.
“If somebody from the U.S. government showed up at my father’s house and spoke to my dad and said, ‘Hey, look, we have reason to believe you’re being scammed,’ there’s 100 percent no doubt he would have dropped it,” Vic Stemberger said.
His father has been in a Spanish prison since the police arrested him as he got off a plane in Madrid nearly two years ago and found more than five pounds of cocaine sewn into jackets in his luggage, according to court documents.
A Spanish court sentenced him last year to seven and a half years in prison.
The rapid U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan is creating intense pressure on the C.I.A. to find new ways to gather intelligence and carry out counterterrorism strikes in the country, but the agency has few good options.
The C.I.A., which has been at the heart of the 20-year American presence in Afghanistan, will soon lose bases in the country from where it has run combat missions and drone strikes while closely monitoring the Taliban and other groups such as Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The agency’s analysts are warning of the ever-growing risks of a Taliban takeover.
United States officials are in last-minute efforts to secure bases close to Afghanistan for future operations. But the complexity of the continuing conflict has led to thorny diplomatic negotiations as the military pushes to have all forces out by early to mid-July, well before President Biden’s deadline of Sept. 11, according to American officials and regional experts.
One focus has been Pakistan. The C.I.A. used a base there for years to launch drone strikes against militants in the country’s western mountains, but was kicked out of the facility in 2011, when U.S. relations with Pakistan unraveled.
Any deal now would have to work around the uncomfortable reality that Pakistan’s government has long supported the Taliban. In discussions between American and Pakistani officials, the Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the C.I.A. or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan, according to three Americans familiar with the discussions.
Diplomats are also exploring the option of regaining access to bases in former Soviet republics that were used for the Afghanistan war, although they expect that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would fiercely oppose this.
Recent C.I.A. and military intelligence reports on Afghanistan have been increasingly pessimistic. They have highlighted gains by the Taliban and other militant groups in the south and east, and warned that Kabul could fall to the Taliban within years and return to becoming a safe haven for militants bent on striking the West, according to several people familiar with the assessments.
As a result, U.S. officials see the need for a long-term intelligence-gathering presence — in addition to military and C.I.A. counterterrorism operations — in Afghanistan long after the deadline that Mr. Biden has set for troops to leave the country. But the scramble for bases illustrates how U.S. officials still lack a long-term plan to address security in a country where they have spent trillions of dollars and lost more than 2,400 troops over nearly two decades.
William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, has acknowledged the challenge the agency faces. “When the time comes for the U.S. military to withdraw, the U.S. government’s ability to collect and act on threats will diminish,” he told senators in April. “That is simply a fact.”
Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.