By MICHELLE STODDART and LAUREN KING, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — This is Day 30 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Here is how events are unfolding Wednesday. All times Eastern:
Feb 17, 5:37 pm
Biden has call with Netanyahu
Biden spoke Wednesday with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, according to the White House.
“The President affirmed his personal history of steadfast commitment to Israel’s security and conveyed his intent to strengthen all aspects of the U.S.-Israel partnership, including our strong defense cooperation,” according to a readout from the White House. “Together, the leaders discussed the importance of continued close consultation on regional security issues, including Iran. The President emphasized U.S. support for the recent normalization of relations between Israel and countries in the Arab and Muslim world. He underscored the importance of working to advance peace throughout the region, including between Israelis and Palestinians. Together, they affirmed their shared interest in continued strategic cooperation to confront the many challenges facing the region.”
Feb 17, 5:36 pm
Biden meets with labor leaders, pushes COVID-19 relief plan
Biden and Harris met with labor leaders in the Oval Office Wednesday afternoon, where Biden discussed his commitment to the middle class.
“The middle class built this country and labor built the middle class,” Biden said. “We have an amazing opportunity to create progress and good jobs, to rebuild infrastructure in a way that has to be done.”
He also took two questions from reporters, one of them about what he learned from taking his pitch for COVID-19 relief on the road. He said he learned that people like everything in the plan, reiterating, “not a joke, everything that’s in the plan.”
“And it’s not about the money. It’s about, in order to do everything from open schools as we should, to make sure that we’re generating income for people who are in real trouble. It’s about how much it costs,” Biden said.
“The federal government has to chip in, make sure we get this done.”
On Thursday, the administration will continue its push when Harris hosts a roundtable discussion with “women leaders in Congress and women leaders of advocacy organizations” about the importance of COVID-19 relief for women. Biden will take his second presidential trip, this one to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to visit a Pfizer vaccine manufacturing plant and deliver remarks.
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky and Mary Bruce
Feb 17, 3:49 pm
WH offers no timeline for return to normalcy
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Mary Bruce at a Wednesday afternoon briefing that the White House does not yet have a timeline for a return to normalcy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We want to be straight with the American public, though,” Psaki said. “We are not in a place where we can predict exactly when everybody will feel normal again.”
Bruce noted White House Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci had suggested a sense of normalcy could come in the fall but his estimate has been sliding back to early next year, while Biden cited Christmas during a town hall in Madison, Wisconsin, on Tuesday night.
“Even though we will have enough doses for every person in this country, as you all know, because we’ve talked about it in here, vaccine hesitancy remains a challenge. We need to ensure that everybody who can get a dose is getting a dose. We’ll also need to be masking for some time. We will also need to be still taking social distancing measures. And I think the president wants things to return to normal, as we all do. But we don’t know at this point what that timeline is going to look like,” Psaki said.
Psaki also tried to clarify mixed messages about whether the White House takes the position that teachers must be vaccinated before returning to in-person instruction, saying multiple times the White House does, in fact, agree with the CDC guidelines that vaccinations are not a prerequisite for teachers to come back to classrooms — but stressing that they should be prioritized.
Bruce asked Psaki whether the White House is urging states to put teachers at the front of the line.
“Absolutely, it’s something he said in a nationally televised town hall meeting last night and something that he will continue to communicate at every opportunity. And I think what I was conveying, just for full clarity, is that it’s a recommendation, it’s a number, one of many mitigation steps, but the CDC guidelines are guidelines. They’re not requirements. At the same time the president, and the vice president, they believe teachers should be prioritized, and in many states, they are,” Psaki said.
Another reporter then asked Psaki whether the federal government can mandate teachers get priority for vaccines that the federal government is distributing to the states.
“That’s not how the process has worked and I don’t anticipate that’s how it will be moving forward,” Psaki said.
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky
Feb 17, 2:40 pm
National Security official says SolarWinds hack was ‘sophisticated, advanced, persistent’ threat
Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technologies, gave an update during Tuesday’s White House press briefing on the SolarWinds hack, saying those responsible were “likely of Russian origin,” that it was “launched from inside the United States” and that it could take “several months” to complete the investigation.
She said that as of Wednesday, “nine federal agencies and about 100 private sector companies were compromised.”
“The techniques that were used lead us to believe that any files or emails on a compromised network were likely to be compromised…The actor was a sophisticated, advanced persistent threat. Advanced, because the level of knowledge they showed about the technology and the way they compromised it truly was sophisticated. Persistent, they focused on the identity part of the network, which is the hardest to clean up.” Neuberger said. “And threat, the scope and scale to networks, to information makes this more than an isolated case of espionage.”
Neuberger said that this was a “sophisticated actor” who is believed to have taken “months to plan and execute” the attack.
When asked by ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce if there is a price tag to the total cost of damage to the U.S. government, Neuberger broke it down into two parts: investments in infrastructure and the “scale of the information that was potentially compromised.”
“One is it’s really highlighted the investments we need to make in cybersecurity to have the visibility to block these attacks in the future. And then the second is the scale of the information that was potentially compromised and the impact of how that information could be used in the hands of a malicious actor. So it’s — there’s certainly a cost with regard to dollars,” Neuberger said. “It’s also a cost with regard to national security, and we’re bounding and understanding both.”
Bruce also asked if it could potentially take years to try to secure some networks going forward, but Neuberger was quick to say “we certainly don’t have years.”
“It’s wise when planning in cybersecurity to consider the worst case, particularly when you’re dealing with such a sophisticated attacker in that way, so we know we don’t have years, and the remediation, the fix and cleanup work is underway already,” Neuberger said. “And we’ll be doing it in a careful way to ensure that we lock down layer by layer, but we know it’s going to be a lot shorter than that.”
-ABC News’ Justin Gomez
Feb 17, 12:51 pm
Biden nominates Jennifer Abruzzo as general counsel of the NLRB
Biden has nominated Jennifer Abruzzo as the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), according to the White House.
“The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency of the U.S. government that works to enforce, advance, and protect fair labor practices across the country,” a White House statement says.
Abruzzo serves as special counsel for Strategic Initiatives for the Communications Workers of America (CWA). She previously served as acting general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), according to the White House.
Feb 17, 12:48 pm
Schumer, Warren push Biden to cancel $50,000 in student debt
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., issued a joint statement Wednesday urging Biden to cancel $50,000 in student debt.
“An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans,” the statement says.
This push comes as the House held a hearing earlier Wednesday on reparations for Black Americans and after Biden said in a town hall Tuesday night that he would not cancel $50,000 in student debt.
“I will not make that happen,” Biden said after a member of the audience said his proposal to cancel $10,000 per borrower doesn’t go far enough.
Biden did say community college should be free, as should state school education for families making less than $125,000. He also expressed support for repaying debt as a portion of one’s salary.
“Presidents Obama and Trump used their executive authority to cancel student loan debt,” the joint statement says. “The Biden administration has said it is reviewing options for cancelling up to $50,000 in student debt by executive action, and we are confident they will agree with the standards Obama and Trump used as well as leading legal experts who have concluded that the administration has broad authority to immediately deliver much-needed relief to millions of Americans.”
-ABC News’ Mariam Khan and Justin Gomez
Feb 17, 11:50 am
Biden receives ashes for Ash Wednesday
Biden received ashes for Ash Wednesday at Wolfington Hall at Georgetown University from Rev. Brian O. McDermott, S.J. on Wednesdsay morning.
Due to COVID-19, the Vatican has advised that ashes be sprinkled on parishioner’s heads, not swiped in a cross on their foreheads, and that they be given without the traditional blessing.
Biden is only the country’s second Catholic president and frequently attends services.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle and Sarah Kolinvosky
Feb 17, 9:13 am
Harris faces pushback on school reopenings, teacher vaccinations
Harris was interviewed on NBC News’ Today show Wednesday morning, reiterating much of what President Biden said Tuesday night in his CNN town hall in Milwaukee, including doubling down on Biden’s statement that there will be enough vaccine available by the end of July for any American who wants one. Harris could not offer a straight answer on whether teachers should have to return to the classroom before they are vaccinated. Despite sidestepping many questions, she did say the administration wants to make vaccines for teachers a priority.
Harris was asked twice about the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that recommends against reopening schools in so-called COVID-19 red zones — effectively meaning the majority of students should not be back in the classroom — and attempted to dodge the question.
“Well, let’s first say this, that in the last four weeks, schools are opening every week, more schools are opening. It is because we are supplementing what needs to happen around the vaccinations getting to states, but also because folks — we’re seeing progress. When folks are wearing masks, when they’re getting vaccinated, when they’re social distancing, we’re seeing progress there,” Harris argued, adding “what they have recommended are exactly that, recommendations, about how to reopen safely if they’ve been closed, how to stay open if they have been opened.”
Harris also sought to clarify the administration’s goals on reopening schools, saying the administration wants “as many K through 8 schools as possible” to reopen within the first 100 days. “Our goal is that it will be five days a week. So we have to work to achieve that goal.”
Harris weighed in on vaccinations for teachers as well, saying the administration viewed them as a priority, but it was ultimately up to the states to create their distribution guidelines.
“The states are making decisions individually about where they will be on the list of who gets vaccinated. I believe they should be a priority. The president believes they should be a priority,” Harris said.
Harris also defended the massive price on COVID-19 relief comparing the pandemic to a natural disaster, saying “a national emergency, a big problem, requires a big solution.”
Harris again did not bite on impeachment, dodging the question to argue she is focused on pandemic relief.
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