By LIBBY CATHEY, TIA HUMPHRIES and LAUREN KING, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — This is Day 15 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Here is how events are unfolding. All times Eastern:
Feb 03, 4:21 pm
Confirmation hearings continue for Biden Cabinet nominees
It’s been two weeks Biden’s inauguration and the Senate has so far confirmed six of his Cabinet nominees.
Michael Regan, Biden’s nominee to lead the Environmental Protection Agency — who would be the first African American man to run the EPA, if confirmed — sat before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for a hearing Wednesday afternoon.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions also considered the nomination of Miguel Cardona for education secretary Wednesday. If the nominees move out of their committees, they’ll receive full floor votes.
Earlier in the day, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s nomination for Energy Secretary in a 13-4 vote.
The Senate Commerce Committee also had a 15-minute hearing earlier in the day on the nomination of Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo as the next commerce secretary and approved her out of the committee in a 21-3 vote.
Asked about Biden’s Cabinet confirmations at Wednesday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said there has “certainly” been a delay in the confirmation of his nominees, saying, “Some of them were slower-paced than they should have been, early on,” and calling out Republicans for so far blocking a hearing for Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland.
-ABC News’ and Jack Arnholz, Adia Robinson and Lauren Lantry
Feb 03, 3:42 pm
White House lays out negotiable elements of COVID-19 relief plan
White House press secretary Jen Psaki at Wednesday’s press briefing outlined Biden’s calls and meetings with Democrats on COVID-19 relief and laid out the large differences between the Democratic and Republican plans.
Psaki stressed that Biden and Democrats want to make this bill “as bipartisan as possible,” but there only seems to be a few real areas for change: Who gets the $1,400 stimulus, funding for small businesses and additional aid for state and local governments.
Asked for a response to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s criticism that state and local districts haven’t spent the money previously provided to them for schools, Psaki said it was “pivotal” that schools receive more funding.
Psaki also pushed back on reports she called “ludicrous” that Biden is more willing to negotiate than members of his White House Staff, saying that was “absolutely not” the case.
Asked about Biden’s Cabinet confirmations, Psaki said there has “certainly” been a delay in the confirmation of his nominees, saying, “Some of them were slower-paced than they should have been, early on,” and calling out Republicans for so far blocking a hearing for Attorney General-designate Merrick Garland.
-ABC News’ Justin Gomez and Molly Nagle
Feb 03, 1:41 pm
Schumer says Dems will work with GOP ‘when we can’ on COVID-19 relief
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer led 10 of his Democratic colleagues out of the Oval Office about 90 minutes after the start of their meeting with Biden and made no mention of any potential red lines discussed or whether the group talked about moving forward with the reconciliation process.
Schumer did attempt to underscore unity among Democrats, saying, “We’re going to all work together with this president, we are united as one, for a big bold package, working with our Republican friends, when we can.”
Unlike Biden, who expressed confidence at the beginning of the meeting that he could win bipartisan support, Schumer has still left the door open to going it alone.
“There’s universal agreement we must go big and bold,” he said.
“We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in that, in that big, bold program that America needs. The vast majority of Republican voters support large parts of the program. We want to do it bipartisan, but we must be strong,” Schumer continued. “We cannot dawdle, we cannot delay, we cannot dilute, because the troubles that this nation has, and the opportunities that we can bring them, are so large.”
Federal jobless benefits, put in place amid the ongoing pandemic, are set to expire March 14.
Feb 03, 1:28 pm
CDC director says teacher vaccinations not a ‘prerequisite’ for safely reopening schools
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at Wednesday’s White House coronavirus briefing that “vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for a safe reopening of schools,” citing increasing data suggesting that’s the case.
Walensky’s comment comes after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed Democrats for refusing to open schools because, he said, they’re beholden to “big labor,” a reference to teacher’s unions, which have adamantly fought not to send teachers back to school without vaccines.
“Not wearing masks and participating in in-person social gatherings have contributed to the variants spread. We must take prevention intervention seriously,” CDC Director Dr. @RWalensky says. “Now is not the time to let our guard down.” https://t.co/XpzCetkNpb pic.twitter.com/BB5SgS61Qx
— ABC News (@ABC) February 3, 2021
Biden’s COVID-19 response director Jeff Zients was quick to add that Biden wants to get teachers all the necessary resources to stay safe, like personal protective equipment, ventilation and access to testing. Zients called on Congress for funding — which McConnell shot down earlier, arguing that funding for schools from the last relief package hadn’t been used up.
Zients also said the federal government was partnering with California to open its first two federal vaccination community centers Wednesday. They were built by the Defense Department and are being run by federal employees from a handful of different agencies, including FEMA. The centers will be in East Los Angeles and Oakland, two places hard hit by the pandemic.
Biden has pledged to open 100 vaccination centers nationwide over his first month in office.
Walensky also noted that case numbers are now back to the level they were before Thanksgiving but “still twice as high as the peak number of cases over the summer.” She asked Americans not to gather on Superbowl Sunday.
Feb 03, 1:04 pm
Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick departs Capitol for last time
After a moving ceremony inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda, United States Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick for the last time departed Capitol Hill — the place he swore to protect and died while doing so one month ago.
He was given the rare distinction of lying in honor inside the Capitol.
Sicknick, 42, died from injuries he sustained fending off members of the mob that breached the Capitol complex on Jan. 6.
“May it be a comfort to Officer Sicknick’s family that so many mourn with them and pray for them during this sad time,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in remarks.
Sicknick’s urn was carried down the East front Capitol steps as bagpipes played “Amazing Grace.” His final resting place will be Arlington National Cemetery, where his remains will be interred.
Biden and the first lady paid respects to Sicknick Tuesday night. Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the Rotunda earlier Wednesday.
Feb 03, 12:37 pm
Biden confident in bipartisan support for COVID-19 relief bill
In a brief pool spray in the Oval Office during Biden and Harris’ meeting with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democratic chairs of the committees most involved in the drafting of the American Rescue Plan, the president expressed confidence that he would get bipartisan support for COVID-19 relief.
Asked if he would “go it alone, without Republicans,” Biden said confidently, “Oh we’ll get Republican support.”
“I think we’ll get some Republicans,” Biden added.
Biden also said he welcomed “home” the Democratic Senators in the meeting.
“This is their new home, for a while anyway. And with — with a little bit of luck, the grace of God, the goodwill of the neighbor, and the creek not rising, it’s gonna be longer than just four years, so,” Biden said, prompting Schumer to knock twice on a wooden table.
Feb 03, 12:19 pm
DOJ drops Trump-era suit against Yale for ‘illegal discrimination’
The Justice Department on Wednesday filed notice with the District Court in Connecticut that it is voluntarily dropping its discrimination lawsuit against Yale University that was brought under the Trump administration.
Back in October, the Justice Department sued, alleging that Yale used illegal discrimination practices to decide who gets admitted to the university.
Specifically, the department alleged Yale discriminated against Asian American and white students. Its complaint accused Yale of injuring applicants and students based on their race and alleged that the university engaged in “racial balancing.”
Feb 03, 12:00 pm
Biden meets with Dems in Oval Office to discuss COVID-19 relief
Biden is meeting with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Democratic chairs of the committees most involved in the drafting budget reconciliation to make way for his COVID-19 “American Rescue Plan” in the Oval Office on Wednesday.
Along with Schumer, Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Pat Leahy, D-Vt., Bob Menendez, D-.N.J., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., are also in attendance.
Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., are overseeing confirmations hearings and were not able to attend, the White House said.
The meeting with Democrats comes after Biden met with 10 Republican senators on their COVID-19 relief plan — which costs about a third of Biden’s — in the Oval Office Monday night.
Feb 03, 11:38 am
Biden’s home state senators discuss targeted payments at White House meeting
About an hour ahead of hosting Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and 10 other Democratic committee chairs in the Oval Office, Biden also had his home state Senate delegation — Delaware Democratic Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper — in the Oval Office Wednesday morning to discuss the COVID-19 relief negotiations.
“The centerpiece of our conversation was giving him insight and feedback on what we’ve heard from our Republican colleagues, and what’s possible, while still keeping an eye on the urgency of relief in the midst of a raging pandemic where literally thousands of Americans will die today,” Coons said outside the Oval Office after the meeting.
Asked whether Biden indicated any deal-breakers, Coons replied “Speaking for myself, if there is zero for state and local aid, I think that’s a non-starter.”
Coons also divulged the three Delawareans discussed how to potentially increase the targeting of relief payments.
“He will do his best, but unity doesn’t mean unanimity, and unity doesn’t mean letting the minority party block progress in the Senate,” Coons added.
In terms of timing, Coons said his view is that relief should come in “weeks, not months.” Carper noted the $900 billion package passed last year mostly expires in the middle of March and expressed a desire for a smooth transition to new aid.
Notably, Carper and Coons said the looming Senate impeachment trial did not come up at all.
Feb 03, 11:37 am
Biden tells House Dems he won’t go below $1,400 on relief checks
Biden joined a House Democrats Caucus call Wednesday morning, telling members he’s willing to further target relief payments in his COVID-19 “American Resue Plan” but that he will not go below the $1,400 amount proposed by the White House, according to a source on the call.
“We can make compromises but we must take care of the people. We have to go big,” he said, according to the source.
“This package gets money into the pockets,” Biden continued. “We can’t walk away from additional $1,400 in direct checks we proposed because people need and frankly, they’ve been promised it. Maybe we can, I think we can better target that number. I’m OK with that. But … I’m not going to start my administration by breaking a promise to the American people.”
GOP senators whom Biden met with Monday night would scale back direct payments to Americans from $1,400 for those making up to $75,000, to $1,000 for those making up to $40,000 — a plan Biden has now confirmed he’s not on board with.
Feb 03, 10:27 am
Schumer announces power-sharing agreement reached with McConnell
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that will allow Democrats to take the chairmanships of committees nearly a month after the party took control of the chamber.
“I am happy to report this morning that the leaders of both parties have finalized the organizing resolution for the Senate. We will pass the resolution out of the Senate today,” Schumer said in remarks from the Senate floor.
The two leaders had fought over the legislative filibuster and over committee budgets. Since Democrats are delayed in taking the helm of committees, it has, in turn, slowed Biden’s Cabinet nominees who await confirmation.
For example, on the nomination of Merrick Garland as attorney general, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is in a public feud with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. over the timing of a confirmation hearing. Graham has refused to hold a hearing before the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, and Durbin has threatened to force a hearing — potentially canceling an upcoming President’s Day recess to get Biden’s nominee through.
On COVID-19 relief, Schumer repeated on the Senate floor his belief that the country needs to go big and bold and confirmed he’ll be joining Wednesday’s Oval Office meeting with Biden and his committee chairs involved in writing relief legislation.
“History has taught us hard lessons about the cost of small thinking during times of big challenge,” Schumer said.
Feb 03, 10:22 am
Buttigieg participates in ceremonial swearing-in with Harris
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg participated in a ceremonial swearing-in with Harris on Wednesday morning.
The event took place in the ceremonial office of the vice president in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent to the White House. Buttigieg was sworn in with his hand on the bible and joined by his husband, Chasten. The vice president’s office said the bible belonged to Buttigieg’s mother, Jennifer Anne Montgomery.
Second gentleman Doug Emhoff was also present, and the four posed for a photo after the ceremony before walking out.
Buttigieg is the first openly gay Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate — and at 39, he is also the youngest person on Biden’s Cabinet.
He was confirmed by the Senate in a vote of 86-13 on Tuesday. The Senate has confirmed six of Biden’s Cabinet nominees so far.
Feb 03, 10:17 am
Biden to meet with Dems as party moves on COVID-19 plan
Biden has no signings on his schedule Wednesday, and the White House says he’s busy working behind the scenes on COVID-19 relief or what he’s called the “American Rescue Plan.”
Biden was expected to call into the weekly House Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday morning and meet with Democratic chairs of committees receiving budget reconciliation instructions in the Oval Office to discuss the package around 11:30 a.m.
While Democrats have said they want bipartisan support on Biden’s plan, they moved forward Tuesday to pass it without Republican support. In a 50-49 vote, the Senate voted to consider a budget resolution that includes Biden’s COVID-19 relief package — a step toward passing Democrats’ priorities through the budget reconciliation process, which needs only a simple majority.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., voted with his party to consider the reconciliation process, but he’s expressed opposition to ultimately passing a $15 minimum wage presented in the package and to the $350 billion in state and local aid — signaling there is still negotiating to be done within the party even with Harris, as president of the Senate, having the power to cast tie-breaking votes.
Harris on Wednesday ceremonially swore-in Pete Buttigieg as secretary of transportation in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, adjacent the White House. Buttigieg makes history as the first openly gay Cabinet member to be confirmed by the Senate — and at 39, he is also the youngest person on Biden’s Cabinet.
Wednesday also marks a somber anniversary for Biden, who is known for dealing with grief and loss, personally: His late son, Beau Biden, would have turned 52.
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