1.7 million Texas households are set to lose monthly internet subsidy

The Texas Tribune

1.7 million Texas households are set to lose monthly internet subsidy

Pooja Salhotra – April 2, 2024

A colonia, unincorporated neighborhoods that lack basic services such as street lights, proper drainage, paved roads or waste management, is seen near Edinburg on March 25, 2020.
A colonia, unincorporated neighborhoods that lack basic services such as street lights, proper drainage, paved roads or waste management, is seen near Edinburg on March 25, 2020. Credit: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Texas Tribune

The $30 per month Daisy Solis has saved off of her internet bill for the past two years stretched a long way.

Those dollars covered new shoes for her three, growing children, dinners out at the Chick-fil-A that popped up in her town of Peñitas in South Texas, and part of a higher-than-usual electricity bill.

Now, Solis worries she might have to sacrifice on her internet speed because a federal subsidy that has helped her pay for her internet plan is set to expire at the end of April.

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides a $30 monthly subsidy to help low-income households pay for internet service, and up to $75 per month for households on tribal lands. The $14.2 billion program was part of the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and has helped 23 million households in the U.S — including 1.7 million in Texas — save money on their internet bills. The program’s funding is slated to dwindle at the end of April, though, potentially cutting millions off from the internet. In May, limited remaining funding in the program will allow eligible households to receive a partial discount; there won’t be any benefits after May.

“It has really helped me in that I don’t have to stress out about the bill,” said Solis, 27. “Even though it’s $30, $30 goes a long way.”

The program’s termination will disproportionately impact South Texas, where counties along the Texas-Mexico border had higher than average rates of participation. Overall, 1 in 7 Texans used the program. But in some border counties, including Hidalgo County, about half of its residents used the subsidy, according to data from the Federal Communications Commission.

“Some people have told me they might not get internet if [the subsidy] goes away,” said Marco Lopez, a community organizer at La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a nonprofit organization that supports low-income neighborhoods in the Valley. “I don’t know what to tell them because it’s not just cutting off their internet; it’s cutting off their opportunities for jobs, for school, for telehealth.”

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill that would extend funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program through the end of 2024. But the bill has not moved and faces considerable pushback from Republican lawmakers who claim the Biden administration has spent “recklessly.”

In a December letter to the chair of the FCC, a group of lawmakers, including U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, disputed that the broadband program was necessary. The lawmakers said that most households using the subsidy already had broadband subscriptions. But that’s likely untrue. According to an FCC survey, 47% of respondents reported having either zero connectivity or relying on mobile service before enrolling in the federal program.

On Tuesday, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel sent a letter to Congress urging them to fund the program until the end of the year. She said the funding has been particularly critical for vulnerable populations, including veterans, seniors, and students.

“We know that nearly half of ACP households are led by someone over the age of 50,” she wrote. “The ACP and the broadband service it supports is ‘need to have’ for many seniors, who depend on the program for managing their health and maintaining access to their medical teams.”

The program’s termination comes as the state and federal government pump historic sums of money to expand broadband infrastructure and close the so-called digital divide. Texas is poised to receive more than $3.3 billion federal dollars to help connect the roughly 7 million Texans who lack access to affordable internet. The state will bolster those funds with an additional $1.5 billion that voters approved in November.

Some advocates worry that terminating the Affordable Connectivity Program at this juncture could jeopardize the success of future broadband investments.

“If we build the infrastructure but then all these people lose internet access, we are going to be taking one step forward and two steps back,” said Kelty Garbee, executive director of Texas Rural Funders, a nonprofit focused on rural philanthropy. “It is important to take a long view.”

Rural areas lag behind their urban counterparts when it comes to broadband access. The combination of low population density and remoteness make such areas unattractive to internet service providers, who are hesitant to invest in expensive infrastructure without a guaranteed pool of customers. Garbee worries that ending the government subsidies could shrink the rural customer base and make those areas even less attractive to internet companies.

Jordana Barton-Garcia, who focuses on broadband investments for nonprofit organization Connect Humanity, said that while the termination of ACP will be a significant loss for high poverty areas, the program is a “Band-Aid” solution. She said the subsidy doesn’t address the root of the problem: that the economics of broadband do not work in rural, low-income areas.

“Instead of being ruled by profit-maximizing major corporations, we need other models to serve low and moderate income communities,” she said. “We need to be able to serve without maximizing profits and instead serve for the public good.”

Some communities have found innovative ways to provide broadband to their rural constituents at a low cost. The city of Pharr in Hidalgo County, for example, created a municipal internet service program that offers plans for as low as $25 per month, the price residents in the border community said they could afford. Barton-Garcia said Pharr won’t be affected by the termination of government subsidies because the city has already secured its own funding. Pharr used grant money, a municipal bond as well as American Rescue Plan dollars to create a municipally-run internet service.

Large internet providers such as Comcast said they will continue to support low-income customers with an affordable plan. Comcast offers eligible customers a plan called internet essentials for $9.95 and a slightly higher-speed plan for $29.95.

For smaller providers in rural Texas, though, a low-cost plan is not financially feasible without government support. Charlie Cano, CEO of ETex Telephone Cooperative, said his lowest cost option is $62 per month.

“Anything lower than that is going to jeopardize our business model,” Cano said. “I’m nervous about what we are going to do about that low-cost option.”

In order to qualify as a grantee for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program — the main broadband program created by the bipartisan infrastructure law — providers must offer a low-cost option to low-income customers. Providers like Cano worry this requirement may make it difficult for companies like his to win federal grant dollars.

Disclosure: Comcast has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Biden administration points finger at Republicans for internet bill hikes


Biden administration points finger at Republicans for internet bill hikes

Brian Fung, CNN – April 2, 2024

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Tens of millions of Americans could see skyrocketing internet bills this spring or may be abruptly kicked off their plans — and it will be congressional Republicans who are to blame, the Biden administration said Tuesday.

The accusation reflects a last-ditch pressure campaign to save a federal program that has helped connect more than 23 million US households to the internet, many for the first time. Without it, those households will be forced to pay hundreds of dollars more per year to stay online.

By the end of the month, funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) will run out, jeopardizing the monthly discounts on internet service benefiting an estimated 59 million low-income people, including veterans, students and older Americans.

Many ACP subscribers would be forced to choose between paying for groceries and paying for internet service if the program is shut down, CNN has previously reported.

Although popular with users from across the ideological spectrum, the ACP’s future is in doubt as legislation to extend the program has stalled. Now, as the Federal Communications Commission has begun winding it down, the Biden administration is ramping up pressure on the GOP for standing in the way of a critical lifeline for accessing health care, jobs and education.

“President [Joe] Biden has been calling on Congress to pass legislation that would extend the benefit through 2024. And we know Democratic members and senators have joined him in that effort,” a senior administration official told reporters. “But unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have failed to act.”

Biden has called on Congress to approve $6 billion to continue the ACP. A bill introduced in January by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate would authorize $7 billion. That legislation has 216 co-sponsors in the House, including 21 Republicans, and three in the Senate, including two Republicans.

But policy experts have said it is unlikely Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson will let the bill onto the House floor as GOP leaders have decried government spending, despite the program being used in virtually every congressional district nationwide.

“It is clear the program would be extended if the speaker would allow a vote,” said Blair Levin, an analyst at the market research firm New Street Research. “So far, he has not said anything about it, but it appears he will not allow the House to vote on the legislation. He has not, to my knowledge, said anything substantive about the legislation or the program.”

Levin added that support by Republican Sens. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota also suggest the bill would pass the Senate, making the House “the biggest obstacle.”

Spokespeople for Johnson and for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The result is a stalemate that, if left unresolved, will lead to the collapse of the ACP by early May.

Administration officials declined to say whether Biden or Vice President Kamala Harris have personally discussed the ACP with congressional Republicans. But the officials told reporters there is currently no Plan B if Congress fails to extend the program.

“There are really no good options in a world in which Congress leaves us without any funding,” said another senior administration official. “There are certainly no easy answers for us to move forward if this program ends. So we want to work as hard as possible to make sure we avoid that possibility.”

Some lawmakers had hoped that money for the ACP could have been included in the recent bipartisan spending deal intended to keep the government open, but those hopes were ultimately left unfulfilled.

On Tuesday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel sent a letter to Congress outlining the impact that the ACP’s disruption would cause.

“The end of the ACP will have broad impact,” Rosenworcel wrote. “But it is worth noting that they will have special impact on certain vulnerable populations, including senior citizens. We know that nearly half of ACP households are led by someone over the age of 50.”

More than 4 million military households are signed up for the ACP, Rosenworcel added, while 3.4 million households within the ACP program reported using school lunch or breakfast programs, indicating that many program subscribers are parents of children whose ability to do homework assignments may be interrupted by the loss of the ACP. To qualify for the ACP, users are required to meet certain income limits or be a participant in one of a number of other federal aid programs, such as the National School Lunch Program.

Rosenworcel called on Sen. Maria Cantwell and the panel she chairs, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, to quickly advance legislation to extend the ACP. But the bill’s future remains foggy.

Finland has been crowned the happiest country in the world for the 7th year running. See the top 20.

Business Insider

Finland has been crowned the happiest country in the world for the 7th year running. See the top 20.

Beatrice Nolan and Ana Altchek – March 20, 2024

A woman in Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, Finland.Lingxiao Xie/Getty Images
  • Finland has been named the world’s happiest country for the seventh year in a row.
  • The World Happiness Report released its annual rankings of the happiest countries on Wednesday.
  • The US fell out of the top 20 as youth happiness plummeted.

Finland has been crowned the happiest country in the world for the seventh consecutive year.

The World Happiness Report released its annual rankings of the happiest countries on Wednesday, with the majority of the top spots going to European nations.

The report, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, relies on data from the Gallup World Poll, which is analyzed by some of the world’s leading well-being scientists.

The rankings represent the average view of life satisfaction in respective countries, known as “subjective well-being.”

Finland has managed to hold onto the top spot despite Denmark significantly closing the gap between first and second place.

On the flip side, Afghanistan, which was also ranked in last place in 2023, dropped even further for average happiness. America also saw a drop in perceived quality of life, dropping out of the top twenty countries for the first time since the report was published.

Young Americans ranked the lowest, with Gen Z loneliness increasing.

Here’s the full list of the top twenty happiest countries in the world, according to the report.

20. United Kingdom

The London tube.
The London tube.Tim Grist/Getty Images

According to the report, older people in the UK are significantly happier than younger age groups.

Despite the UK maintaining its ranking, a recent report from US nonprofit Sapien Labs’ Mental State of the World Report said that the UK is the second most miserable country in the world. It ranked below Ukraine, and the report indicated that factors like having a smartphone at a young age, eating highly processed foods, and decreased social relationships contributed.

19. Lithuania

Street in Lithuania
A street in LithuaniaRicardo Sergio Schmitz

While it’s No. 19 overall, Lithuania ranked as the happiest country for you people, according to the Gallup report. The country’s capital city, Vilnius, is known for attracting young workers from across the globe because of better work opportunities.

18. Czechia

A square in Czechia.Courtesy of National Geographic

Czechia maintained its ranking as 18 for the second year in a row. The country is known for its strong work-life balance and low cost of living.

According to the report, growing happiness in Czechia and other transition countries of Eastern Europe, like Lithuania and Slovenia, is partially why the US and Germany have fallen below the top 20 mark.

17. Ireland

Dublin, Ireland.
Dublin, Ireland.Getty Images

Ireland has a slower pace of life and is full of cultural traditions, with drinking being a big one. It also has affordable healthcare and a good work-life balance where weekend getaways are common and encouraged.

16. Belgium

a view of wavre, belgium town hall
Wavre, Belgium.boerescul/Getty Images

Despite a high tax rate, many companies in Belgium offer perks like company cars, meal stipends, and affordable healthcare.

Antwerp, the biggest city in the Flanders region of Belgium, has previously been named one of the happiest cities in the world.

15. Canada

A man wrapped in two Canadian flag parades down an empty street.
A man wrapped in the Canadian flag.Dave Chan

Canada and the UK are the only countries with populations over 30 million that made the top 20 ranking in the report.

Older Canadians are significantly happier than younger age groups in the country. According to a breakdown of younger and older residents in each country, Canadians under 30 ranked 50 points lower than those 60 and older.

14. Austria

a photo of the Vienna, Austria Skyline.
Vienna, Austria.Giannis Alexopoulos/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Many Americans have moved to Vienna and Linz for better work opportunities and overall quality of life. Shortages in engineering, nursing, and baking have opened up opportunities for people living in other countries.

One expat dad living in the country said his overall mental health improved in Austria and the move relieved some of his anxiety related to work. He also gets to travel more easily and spend more time with his family.

Austrians get 38 days of paid time off per year, with 25 days of paid vacation and an additional 13 public holidays off.

13. Kuwait

Kuwait downtown luxury
Downtown Kuwait.trabantos / Getty Images

Kuwait is newly ranked in the top 20 happiest countries. Workers in the private sector get 30 days of paid time off a year, one of the highest amounts of PTO in the world.

12. Costa Rica

Waterfall and pond in Nicoya, Costa Rica.
A waterfall in Nicoya, Costa Rica. underworld111/Getty Images

Costa Rica returned to the top 20 list after earning the same ranking in 2012, according to the Gallup report. Housing isn’t cheap, but some residents save money on utilities and transportation.

Others have reported improved mental health after moving there from the lifestyle and culture that centers around wildlife and nature.

11. New Zealand

Aerial View Of Auckland City's skyline in New Zealand at sunrise
Aerial View Of Auckland City’s skyline in New Zealand at sunrise.Jonathan Clark/Getty Images

According to some Americans who moved to New Zealand, housing costs are high, and buying options are limited. But work-life balance is better, and education and healthcare come at a lower cost.

Despite its high ranking, the report reveals that younger people living in New Zealand are significantly less happy than older residents. A separate list comparing young and older age groups in each country found that Kiwis 60 and older ranked in sixth place in happiness globally, while Kiwis under 30 ranked at 27.

10. Australia

The Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia.
The iconic Sydney Opera House in Australia. James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Australia has a reputation for offering one-of-a-kind experiences in nature, like snorkeling with turtles off the Great Barrier Reef or observing kangaroos in wildlife preserves. It’s also known for its laidback culture and relaxing vibe.

9. Switzerland

The Bernina Express train in Switzerland
The Bernina Express train in Switzerland.Roberto Moiola/Getty Images

Switzerland was previously named the world’s best country by US News & World Report, and its business-friendly culture was a big part of the ranking.

Switzerland is a hub for raw materials like oil, and the country may also benefit from its historical stance of neutrality during international conflicts.

8. Luxembourg

Luxembourg city old town
The old town of Luxembourg City.Getty Images

Luxembourg is known for its rich history, tasty pastries, and fairytale aesthetic in some of its villages like Echternach.

According to an American student who moved there for grad school, the lower cost of tuition and cheaper healthcare necessities were a perk. Other notable factors included an efficient transportation system and a strong work-life balance that made a difference for her.

7. Norway

oslo norway
Oslo, Norway.Getty Images

Norway maintained a high ranking in the report, but it also experienced a drop in scores among younger age groups.

While the weather doesn’t bode well for everyone, the country’s capital Oslo has previously been ranked as the best city in the world for work-life balance. Oslo has high employment opportunities in the life sciences, IT, and energy and environmental technology sectors.

6. The Netherlands

Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands.Mouneb Taim/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A large part of Dutch culture lies in the concept of “niksen,” or doing nothing. Dutch residents value relaxation and tend to be friendly and welcoming to others.

The country is also known for its transportation system and Dutch-style home mortgages that make it easier for some residents to buy property.

5. Israel

Jerusalem, Israel
Israel.Nick Brundle Photography/Getty Images

Israel remained in the top five happiest countries in the world, moving down one ranking and 0.9 of a percentage point from last year. While the poll was taken before warfare in Gaza escalated, it was taken after the October 7 attack and hostage crisis.

With men and women joining the military at 18 years old, Israelis value living live in the present. The country also places high importance on community and family life, and less emphasis on work and status.

4. Sweden

Norrbro Bridge and the Royal Opera building in Stockholm, Sweden.
Norrbro Bridge and the Royal Opera building in Stockholm, Sweden.Murat Taner/Getty Images

According to the Gallup report, older Swedish people are significantly happier than younger age groups in the country.

Sweden is known for its high level of safety and strong work-life balance. According to one consultant from California who moved to Sweden, it took two years to secure a full-time job but now she gets six weeks of paid vacation time and also secured a free master’s.

3. Iceland

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland.Phillip Chow/Getty Images

Despite limited sunlight in the winters, Iceland managed to rank in the top three happiest countries for the second year in a row. While rent is rising in Iceland, it’s still cheaper than in other countries, and the cost of living is relatively low with healthcare heavily subsidized and nearly free.

2. Denmark

Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark. Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Denmark is known for its “hygge” culture, which is the Danish concept of relaxing and enjoying simple comforts — the term is used in different settings to reinforce the idea of having fun.

The country is also known for its exceptional childcare, with Copenhagen ranked as one of the best places to raise children.

1. Finland

Market Square and Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral
Market Square and Uspenski Orthodox Cathedral in Finland.Jon Hicks/Getty Images

Finland has a strong sense of democracy, and its public institutions and policies reinforce it.

Some attribute the high satisfaction of its residents to its welfare policy, which covers necessities for residents from “cradle to grave.” The policy offers free healthcare and free education from elementary school to college.

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a MAGA Meltdown

The fulminations surrounding the world’s biggest pop icon — and girlfriend of Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce — reached the stratosphere after Kansas City made it to the Super Bowl.

By Jonathan Weisman – January 31, 2024

Travis Kelce, left, wearing football pads with an AFC Champion T-shirt and hat that says Super Bowl, kisses Taylor Swift on the field after a game.
Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce after the Chiefs’ victory on Sunday. They are the focus of right-wing vitriol and conspiracy theories. Credit…Julio Cortez/Associated Press

For football fans eager to see a new team in the Super Bowl, the conference championship games on Sunday that sent the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers back to the main event of American sports culture were sorely disappointing.

But one thing is new: Taylor Swift. And she is driving the movement behind Donald Trump bonkers.

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The fulminations surrounding the world’s biggest pop icon — and girlfriend of Travis Kelce, the Chiefs’ star tight end — reached the stratosphere after Kansas City made it to the Super Bowl for the fourth time in five years, and the first time since Ms. Swift joined the team’s entourage.

The conspiracy theories coming out of the Make America Great Again contingent were already legion: that Ms. Swift is a secret agent of the Pentagon; that she is bolstering her fan base in preparation for her endorsement of President Biden’s re-election; or that she and Mr. Kelce are a contrived couple, assembled to boost the N.F.L. or Covid vaccines or Democrats or whatever.

“I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month,” Vivek Ramaswamy, the conspiratorial presidential candidate, turned Trump surrogate, pondered on social media on Monday. “And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.”

The pro-Trump broadcaster Mike Crispi led off on Sunday by claiming that the National Football League is “rigged” in order to spread “Democrat propaganda”: “Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and ‘endorses’ Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield.”

Other detractors of Ms. Swift among Mr. Trump’s biggest fans include one of his lawyers, Alina Habba, one of his biggest conspiracy theorists, Jack Posobiec, and other MAGA luminaries like Laura Loomer and Charlie Kirk, who leads a pro-Trump youth organization, Turning Point USA.

The right has been fuming about Ms. Swift since September, when she urged her fans on Instagram to register to vote, and the online outfit Vote.org reported a surge of 35,000 registrations in response. Ms. Swift had embarked on a world tour that helped make her a billionaire. Gavin Newsom, the California governor, praised her as “profoundly powerful.” And then Time magazine made her Person of the Year in December, kicking off another round of MAGA indignation.

The love story that linked her world with the N.F.L. has proved incendiary. Mr. Kelce’s advertisements promoting Pfizer’s Covid vaccine and Bud Light — already a target of outrage from the right over a social media promotion with a transgender influencer, Dylan Mulvaney — added fuel to that raging fire.

Taylor Swift onstage, middle, while she is projected onto two screens at left and right, in the middle of a stadium.
Ms. Swift embarked on a worldwide stadium tour last year, which included a May stop at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

The N.F.L.’s fan base is huge and diverse, but it includes a profoundly conservative element that cheered on the star quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s one-man crusade against Covid vaccines and jeered Black players who knelt during the national anthem. The league has long battled charges of misogyny, from the front offices of the Washington Commanders to multiple cases of sexual and domestic assault and abuse.

The Swift-Kelce story line, for some, has delivered a bruising hit to traditional gender norms, with a rich, powerful woman elevating a successful football player to a new level of fame.

Some of the Monday morning quarterbacking has been downright silly, including speculation that Ms. Swift is after Mr. Kelce for his money. (Her net worth exceeds $1 billion, a different universe than the athlete’s merely wealthy status.)

Other accusations appear to be driven by fear and grounded in some truth, or at least in her command of her 279 million Instagram followers: that she has enormous influence, and has supported Democrats in the past. For much of her extensive music career, Ms. Swift avoided politics, but in 2018, she endorsed two Democrats in Tennessee, where she owns two homes: former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who was running for the Senate against then-Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Jim Cooper, a House member who has since retired.

“I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country,” she wrote on social media. “I believe in the fight for L.G.B.T.Q. rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG.”

She added, “I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.”

The alarm bells were loud enough to pull Mr. Trump into loudly backing Ms. Blackburn: “I’m sure Taylor Swift doesn’t know anything about her,” he said at the time, knowing all too well how influential Ms. Swift could be. “Let’s say that I like Taylor’s music about 25 percent less now, OK?”

He probably liked her even less in 2020 when she criticized his pandemic response, and then endorsed Mr. Biden.

While her early pop music may have mainly attracted teens and preteens, those fans have reached voting age, and her music has grown more sophisticated with the albums “Evermore” and “Folklore” to match her millennial roots and her fans’ taste.

Taylor Swift fans taking selfies outside a merchandise booth before a concert.
In September, Ms. Swift urged her fans on Instagram to register to vote, yielding a surge of 35,000 registrations on the website Vote.org. Credit…Jutharat Pinyodoonyachet for The New York Times

Much of the Swift paranoia has lurked on the MAGA fringes, with people like Ms. Loomer, the conspiracy theorist from Florida who declared in December that “2024 will be MAGA vs Swifties” and Mr. Kirk, who declared in November that Ms. Swift would “come out for the presidential election” after Democrats had another strong showing in an election that demonstrated the issue of abortion motivated voters to the polls.

“All the Swifties want is swift abortion,” he said.

Then Swift-bashing reached Fox News in mid-January. The host Jesse Watters suggested the superstar was a Defense Department asset engaging in psychological warfare. He tied Ms. Swift’s political voice with her boyfriend’s Pfizer endorsement to the remarkable success of her Eras tour, which bolstered local economies and landed her on the cover of Time.

“Have you ever wondered why or how she blew up like this?” Mr. Watters wondered on air. “Well, around four years ago, the Pentagon psychological operations unit floated turning Taylor Swift into an asset during a NATO meeting.”

Andrea Hailey, the chief executive of Vote.org, made the most of the Fox News criticism, saying the organization’s partnership with Ms. Swift “is helping all Americans make their voices heard at the ballot box,” adding that the star is “not a psy-op or a Pentagon asset.”

But her appearance on the field with Mr. Kelce in Baltimore after the Chiefs beat the Ravens on Sunday, complete with a kiss and a hug, appears to have sent conservatives into a fit of apoplexy that may only grow in the run-up to Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas Feb. 11.

The feelings are so strong that Fox News ran a segment on Sunday lamenting that Ms. Swift’s private “jet belches tons of CO2 emissions,” showing a sudden awareness of the leading cause of global warming.

Mr. Ramaswamy said his Super Bowl conjecture was dead serious.

“What your kind of people call ‘conspiracy theories,’ I simply call an amalgam of collective incentives hiding in plain sight,” he said.

The White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stoked speculation still more by invoking the Hatch Act, which prohibits political actions by civil servants, in declining to answer whether Mr. Biden would be appearing with Ms. Swift.

“I’m just going to leave it there,” she said Monday. “I’m not going to get into the president’s schedule at all from here, as it relates to the 2024 elections.”

The Trump campaign, which had initially planned to ignore the frenzy, dispatched Karoline Leavitt, a campaign spokeswoman, to dismiss concerns about a potential Biden endorsement.

“I don’t think this endorsement will save him from the calamity” of his record, she said.

Audio produced by Parin Behrooz.

Jonathan Weisman is a politics writer, covering campaigns with an emphasis on economic and labor policy. He is based in Chicago.