We're ending the week with a president who has raced to show the American public that he's fighting the twin crises with the full power of the presidency and the federal government.
The blitz of activity during President Biden's first days comes after months of planning to launch what he called “a wartime undertaking”: With more than 408,000 Americans dead, Biden authorized the use of the Defense Production Act to increase efforts to fight the pandemic and improve vaccine distribution.
Biden's new coronavirus federal strategy and 10 executive orders issued yesterday are designed to “streamline the federal government response, move toward reopening schools and businesses, ensure safer travel, and increase vaccinations, among other goals,” our colleagues Ashley Parker and Matt Viser report.
- “For the past year, we couldn’t rely on the federal government to act with the urgency and focus and coordination we needed,” Biden said at the White House on Thursday. “And we have seen the tragic cost of that failure.”
Biden urged patience: “Unfortunately, the death toll will likely top 500,000 next month,” Biden said. “The cases will continue to mount. We didn’t get into this mess overnight. It’s going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear: We will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic.”
- “We’re going into war — but it wasn’t a surprise attack. This isn’t Pearl Harbor. It’s more like D-Day,” Ted Kaufman, a close Biden adviser who led the transition, told Ashley and Matt. “This is the first days of the battle, and if you have really, really good people you can fight on all the fronts.”
Today: Biden will sign “executive orders tackling the economy, which continues to struggle, with nearly 16 million people claiming benefits as of Jan. 2, the last week the information was available,” per our colleagues.
- That includes unilateral directives to increase food assistance for millions of hungry Americans: “Biden is asking the Department of Agriculture to allow states to increase Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — commonly known as food stamps — and to increase by 15 percent benefits awarded through a school meals programs for low-income students started during the pandemic, according to Biden administration officials. That could give a family of three children more than $100 in extra benefits every two months, officials said,” our colleagues Jeff Stein and Laura Reiley report.
- More: “A separate unilateral move aims to help get previously approved stimulus checks into the hands of Americans who haven’t received them yet. And another would ask the Labor Department to make clear that workers who refuse to return to working conditions that could expose them to the coronavirus should be eligible for unemployment insurance.”
BUSY WEEK: Overall, Biden has signed 15 executive actions and two agency directives since taking office at noon on Wednesday — some of which reversed signature policies of Trump's presidency. They ranged from rejoining the Paris Climate Accords to ending construction of Trump's border wall — and ordering masks to be worn in airports and on many planes, trains, ships and intercity buses in addition to federal property.
- “Together, the two orders come as close to a national mask mandate as his federal powers may allow, leaving it to states and municipalities to require residents to wear masks at a local level,” Michael Laris and William Wan write.
- Biden also “issued a sweeping executive order making it clear that gay and transgender people are protected against discrimination in schools, health care, the workplace and other realms of American life,” according to our colleagues Samantha Schmidt, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Moriah Balingit.
- On the immigration front, Biden also signed executive orders that ended the ban on travel from several predominantly Muslim and African countries; revoked the Trump administration's plan to exclude noncitizens from the census count; and “bolstered the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects from deportation immigrants brought to the United States as children,” per the New York Times's Aushvarya Kavi. “The order also calls on Congress to enact legislation providing permanent status and a path to citizenship for those immigrants.”
THERE'S MORE NEXT WEEK: “And he plans to continue apace in the coming days, outlining a ‘Buy American’ action Monday, followed by a focus on racial equity Tuesday, climate change Wednesday, health care Thursday, and immigration Friday,” according to Ashley and Matt.
On the environmental front, Biden has thus far overturned two of the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks and has targeted 58 of them, according to our colleagues Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis, and John Muyskens, who are documenting the unwinding of Trump's climate legacy.
- “Administration officials are suggesting that they will go well beyond reversing Trump’s policies,” they write. “On Thursday U.S. presidential climate envoy John F. Kerry said the U.S. and other nations must commit to much deeper carbon cuts to avert dire climate impacts, and the Interior Department issued an order requiring sign-off from a top political appointee for any new oil and gas lease or drilling activity. The directive, which could slow approval for more than 400 drilling permit applications, prompted an immediate outcry from the oil and gas industry.”
AND ON THE INTERNATIONAL STAGE: Biden is also “seeking a five-year extension with Russia on the only remaining treaty limiting the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals just days before it expires, said two senior U.S. officials,” our colleague John Hudson scooped.
- “As the Biden administration informs Moscow of its terms for an extension, the president will order Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to provide him a full intelligence assessment of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2020 election, use of chemical weapons against opposition leader Alexei Navalny and bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, officials said.”
- “Biden is also asking Haines for an assessment of the massive cyberattack on federal agencies and departments related to the SolarWinds software breach, which many analysts and government officials have blamed on Russia. The request for the intelligence assessments will go out this week, said the officials.”
In the media
BRIEFING ROOM BUZZING AGAIN: There have also been other significant changes that signal a return to a more traditional Washington. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, returned to the White House briefing room yesterday and described working for the Biden administration as “liberating” as opposed to working under his previous boss.
- “Obviously I don't want to be going back over history, but it was very clear that there were things that were said — be it regarding things like hydroxychloroquine and other things like that — that really was uncomfortable because they were not based on scientific fact,” Fauci said.
- “I can tell you, I take no pleasure at all in being in a situation of contradicting the president, so it was really something that you didn't feel that you could actually say something and there wouldn't be any repercussions about it,” Fauci said. “The idea that you can get up here and talk about what you know, what the evidence, what the science is, and know that's it — let the science speak. It is somewhat of a liberating feeling.”
And the White House press secretary is back to holding consistent press briefings: Jen Psaki will be “a critical player in reassuring Americans that the coronavirus pandemic can be soon defeated and in helping to restore the credibility of the White House with the news media and the public after four years of falsehoods and hostility from President Donald J. Trump and his aides,” the New York Times's Katie Rogers and Annie Karni report.
- “There will be times when we see things differently in this room,” Psaki said. “That’s OK. That’s part of our democracy.”
- “When asked how the Biden administration planned to combat a campaign of disinformation, Ms. Psaki said that one way to do so would be 'accurate information and truth and data,'" the Times reports.
On the Hill
A BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF THE GOP: Members remain bitterly divided over how to move forward in a post-Trump world.
Challenges ahead for Cheney: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) the No. 3 party leader in the House has a primary challenger. Wyoming State Sen. Anthony Bouchard, a hard-line conservative, announced he will run against Cheney in 2022 to oust her for voting to impeach Trump, the Casper Star Tribune reported.
- At least 107 Republicans have communicated their support for removing Cheney from her leadership position as House Republican conference chair on a secret ballot, Politico reports.
- Despite a flurry of Republican opposition, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said he will back Cheney to remain as conference chair, while saying her vote for Trump’s impeachment would be a topic for discussion during a closed-door meeting of the GOP caucus next week, John Wagner reports.
IMPEACH IN A TWEET: Freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), who has expressed racist views and support for QAnon conspiracy theories online, announced that she had filed articles of impeachment against Biden on Twitter, the AP reported. Last Sunday, Twitter temporarily suspended her account over election fraud claims.
McCarthy defends his actions: McCarthy was among House Republicans who voted earlier this month to reject the electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania, and was also among the 126 Republicans who signed onto an amicus brief last month in a lawsuit that would have invalidated the results from four states Biden won, Felicia Sonmez and JM Rieger report. But at a news conference yesterday, he argued he did not vote to “overturn” Biden’s win. “What I voted on wasn’t to overturn an election, because it wouldn’t. It would not overturn it,” McCarthy told reporters.
Impeachment stalls: Senate Republicans pushed to delay the impeachment trial of Trump for at least three weeks because he is struggling to recruit a legal team and assemble a defense against the accusation that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Mike DeBonis and Seung Min Kim report.
- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) floated postponing the start of the trial until mid-February, telling colleagues Trump deserved more time to prepare his case and file briefs with the Senate.
- Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), disclosed Trump secured a lead defense counsel for the trial: Butch Bowers, a Columbia, S.C., attorney known for his prominent role in litigating political and election matters for North and South Carolina Republicans.
- Senate Republicans are coalescing around a long-shot bid to dismiss the impeachment trial before it even begins, relying on a disputed legal argument that says putting an ex-president on trial is unconstitutional, Politico reports.
- A conviction could clear the way to barring Trump from public office in the future.
Meanwhile, Democrats vie for moral ground: "Seven Senate Democrats are asking the Ethics Committee to open an investigation into Sens. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) over the Jan. 6 Capitol riot,” the Hill reports.
- The senators filed a complaint asking that it probe whether Hawley and Cruz’s objections to the electoral college results violated the chamber’s ethics rules.
Trouble in paradise: Trump may have flocked to Florida but legal and financial battles loom even beyond another impeachment trial.
Trump returns to his company this week as it faces a deepening crisis, with key properties bleeding revenue and its bankers, lawyers and customers fleeing, David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell report.
- “Financial disclosure forms, filed by Trump as he left office, revealed that his hotels, resorts and other properties had lost more than $120 million in revenue last year, as the pandemic forced long-term closures and kept customers home,” they write.
- His Washington hotel, which has a $170 million loan outstanding, saw revenue drop more than 60 percent. His Doral resort in Miami — also carrying a huge debt load — saw a 44 percent drop.
THE HEARINGS KEEP COMING:
Bipartisan boost for Buttigieg: “Pete Buttigieg made a pitch to senators weighing his nomination to become Biden’s transportation secretary, delivering a wide-ranging performance that drew praise from Democrats and Republicans alike,” Ian Duncan and Michael Laris report.
- Buttigieg advanced the case for Biden’s climate change agenda and an infusion of money to rebuild the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
- The hearing was chaired by the Senate Commerce Committee’s Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.),who said Buttigieg was almost certain to win confirmation.
On the schedule: Congress approved a waiver for retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to lead the Pentagon Thursday, clearing an important procedural hurdle for the Senate to confirm him as the first Black defense secretary — a vote that’s expected this morning, Karoun Demirjian reports.
The Senate Finance Committee is also scheduled to consider the nomination of Janet Yellen for treasury secretary, raising the possibility she could be confirmed by the full Senate later today, Reuters reports.
Other picks still on hold: Republican and Democratic lawmakers struck a handshake agreement to expedite the confirmation of Antony Blinken, who Biden nominated to serve as secretary of state.
- It will be next week at the earliest before the Senate votes on Biden’s nominees to lead the Justice Department, CIA and Department of Homeland Security. Of those three, only Alejandro Mayorkas, the DHS nominee, has had a confirmation hearing, and partisan disputes over his tenure in the Obama administration and his dealings with the Clinton White House have slowed the process.
Headway at the EPA: Meanwhile the Environmental Protection Agency announced a slew of new leadership positions to oversee the administration's ambitious climate agenda.
- Tuesday at 10 a.m. - Gina Marie Raimondo, nominee to be secretary of commerce, before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee
- Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. - Jennifer Granholm, nominee to be secretary of energy, before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
- Wednesday at 10 a.m. - Linda Thomas-Greenfield, nominee to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
- Wednesday at 3 p.m. - Denis McDonough, nominee for secretary of veterans affairs, before Veterans' Affairs Committee
- Thursday 10 a.m. - Marcia Fudge, nominee to be secretary of housing and urban development, before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee
After Politico's Lara Seligman, Natasha Bertrand and Andrew Desiderio broke the story that thousands of National Guardsmen were forced to vacate the Capitol and rest in nearby parking garages – "without internet reception, with just one electrical outlet, and one bathroom with two stalls for 5,000 troops" – they were allowed back into the Capitol.