President Biden on Thursday announced several steps intended to expand access to health care, including an executive order to temporarily reopen the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace for Americans seeking coverage during the pandemic.

Biden also directed federal agencies to reexamine Trump administration policies that he said have made it more difficult to enroll in Medicaid and protect people with preexisting medical conditions. In a second order, he sought to reverse Trump policies that restricted access to abortion both in the United States and overseas.

Biden said the aim of both actions was to “undo the damage Trump has done.”

Here’s what to know:
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) lashed out at Republican leadership for putting Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) on the House Education and Labor Committee in light of her past endorsements of baseless conspiracy theories that deadly school shootings in Connecticut and Florida were “false-flag” operations staged by gun-control advocates.
  • The full Senate took a procedural vote that advanced the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security. A final vote is scheduled Monday. The Banking Committee held a hearing on the nominations of Marcia Fudge as housing secretary and Cecilia Rouse to chair the Council of Economic Advisers.
  • Bracing for the prospect of a likely acquittal, Senate Democrats are eyeing a rapid-fire impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump while also contemplating alternatives such as censure that could attract more support from Republicans.
  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Thursday, a session described as cordial. McCarthy had angered Trump earlier this month when he said the former president bore responsibility for the deadly Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol.
1:55 a.m.
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Biden administration halts effort to install Trump loyalists on Pentagon advisory boards

The Biden administration has halted an effort to install several Trump loyalists on Defense Department advisory boards, Pentagon officials said Wednesday, as the new administration considers a series of unusual appointments that were made in the waning days of the Trump administration.

At least temporarily, the decision affects appointees that include Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, both of whom served as campaign managers for Trump. They were named to the Defense Business Board in December, as the Trump administration also abruptly dismissed other members with a form letter from what historically had been a nonpartisan panel advising the defense secretary.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is weighing his options, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said Wednesday night.

12:25 a.m.
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Doug Emhoff highlights food security in first solo outing as second gentleman

Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Harris, focused on food security issues Thursday in his first solo outing as the second gentleman, with a visit to a farm at Kelly Miller Middle School in Northeast Washington.

There, Emhoff toured an urban farm operated on the school grounds by the city’s parks and recreation department and the D.C.-based nonprofit Dreaming Out Loud, which organizes farmers markets where residents can use federal benefits to purchase produce from local farmers.

On the tour, Dreaming Out Loud executive director Christopher Bradshaw described the program and showed Emhoff where some of the food was grown at the school — including a greenhouse and 10 large garden beds — as well as a compost area. Emhoff mentioned that he had learned on the campaign trail about how the pandemic was exacerbating food insecurity.

Bradshaw said that the program feeds children who get their meals through school lunch programs and that, were it not for the pandemic, children typically would be participating in programs and activities at the farm, according to a pool report.

“Food security is a racial justice issue,” Bradshaw told Emhoff.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Emhoff said that food insecurity was “something everyone needs to be concerned about” and that he would do what he could to amplify the issue. He praised the commitment of those involved in the farm he had just toured.

“This is just so amazing to see the passion, the way these folks are approaching it, coming to a school on a plot of land that hadn’t been used and actually grow food and serving the community that way and also to educate the community about what’s going on,” he said.

Emhoff vowed to share what he learned with Harris.

“I always do. Every time I do something, every time I learned something, it’s like notes from the field,” he said. “We’ll talk about it tonight.”

11:19 p.m.
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Mayor Bowser, other D.C. officials slam proposal to erect permanent fencing around U.S. Capitol

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, city officials and some members of Congress have condemned proposals to erect permanent fencing around the U.S. Capitol.

Bowser (D) has said that upcoming events, such as the impeachment trial of former president Donald Trump, will require extra security, including the fencing and presence of National Guard troops.

“But we will not accept extra troops or permanent fencing as a long-term fixture in D.C.,” she said on Twitter. “When the time is right, the fencing around the White House and U.S. Capitol, just like the plywood we’ve seen on our businesses for far too long, will be taken down.”

Non-scalable fencing topped with spools of wire was put up around the Capitol the day after the violent breach on Jan. 6, although former Army secretary Ryan McCarthy said at the time that the 7-foot-tall fence would remain in place for only 30 days.

But on Thursday, acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman said security experts have long argued that “more needed to be done to protect the U.S. Capitol” and members of Congress.

Her statement infuriated local officials and some U.S. lawmakers, who maintained that the Capitol’s historic grounds should remain open to the public. Several said local residents should not be punished for security lapses during the riot.

“What we saw on the sixth was horrendous, but it also included so many failures of the U.S. Capitol Police. To just build an unscalable perimeter fence and turn the people’s house into a fortress from the people is just wrong,” said D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), whose district includes Capitol Hill. “These areas are part of our community, part of our neighborhood — cutting off public access because they failed to anticipate when they knew what was coming, is just very wrong.”

11:08 p.m.
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Analysis: The Republican Party is not in a position to now take a hard line on conspiracy theories

On Thursday, Republicans were dealing with headaches caused by a conspiracy theorist. Past comments from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), one of those QAnon-supporting candidates that Donald Trump embraced, were emerging at a rapid clip. Before winning her Republican primary last year, Greene had been deeply immersed in the furthest fringe of right-wing conspiracies. She endorsed violence against Democratic politicians. She alleged that Hillary Clinton was involved in satanic rituals. She suggested that a mass shooting at a high school in Florida in 2018 was a “false flag” operation and supported the idea that the massacre of children in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 was staged.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wasn’t in Washington to deal with this. Instead, he was in Florida visiting Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort to show unity with the former president, who was impeached two weeks ago, charged with incitement of insurrection. Trump’s office released a photo of the two of them, smiling while surrounded by the resort’s gilded finery. An accompanying statement assured the world that Trump would help McCarthy and the Republicans in the 2022 House contests; after all, Trump’s endorsement “means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time,” as the statement said.

A party that spends more than five years looking the other way in response to Trump’s behavior, a party that even now, after his lies spurred a violent attack on their own workplace, travels in supplication to his house to seek his support — that’s not a party that has strong standing to hold Marjorie Taylor Greene to account for her past statements.

10:59 p.m.
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‘Brazen, entitled, dangerous’: D.C. judge jails man photographed in Pelosi’s office

Expressing not just concern but disgust, a federal judge in D.C. on Thursday ordered a man who was photographed with his foot up on a desk in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office during the attack on the U.S. Capitol to remain behind bars pending his trial.

Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell of Washington repeatedly described Richard Barnett, 60, of Gravette, Ark., as “entitled,” “brazen,” and “a braggart.” In her first public remarks related to events at the Capitol on Jan. 6, she said Barnett “showed a total disregard for the law” and “total disregard for the U.S. Constitution.”

Barnett is charged with entering the Capitol violently with a dangerous weapon — a stun gun — and with stealing government property — a piece of mail from the Democratic leader’s office that he displayed in interviews outside the building. He identified himself to the New York Times as an intruder in Pelosi’s office during the breach.

10:45 p.m.
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Police officer who died defending Capitol should be allowed to lie in state, bill proposes

Two South Carolina members of Congress are introducing legislation that would allow Brian D. Sicknick, the U.S. Capitol Police officer who died after defending the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

“Officer Sicknick is a national hero that deserves our deepest respect,” Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) tweeted Thursday. He and Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) are introducing the bill, he added.

If passed, Sicknick would lie in state in the Capitol before his internment at Arlington National Cemetery on Feb. 3, according to a statement Thursday by the Capitol Police union — the week before the second impeachment trial of Trump is slated to start on Feb. 9.

“We must never forget the events of Jan. 6 and the loss of life that occurred,” union chairman Gus Papathanasiou said in a statement in support of the proposed memorial service. “Officer Sicknick died because he put the lives of Members of Congress and their staff before his own safety — he did his duty. We should commemorate his life and service with respect and dignity.”

The bill also proposes a plaque with Sicknick’s name to be installed near the Capitol steps “to serve as a reminder to all who pass by that he served with courage and he made the ultimate sacrifice,” the union stated.

10:17 p.m.
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Trump, McCarthy meet at Mar-a-Lago to discuss GOP efforts to retake House in 2022

Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had a “very good and cordial” meeting Thursday at Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s private club in Palm Beach, Fla., according to a statement from Trump’s Save America PAC.

The meeting comes weeks after the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, and ahead of Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate on charges of incitement of insurrection.

At the top of the agenda of Thursday’s meeting, according to statements from the Save America PAC and McCarthy, were Republican efforts to retake control of the House in 2022.

“Today, President Trump committed to helping elect Republicans in the House and Senate in 2022,” McCarthy said in a statement released by the McCarthy Victory Fund. “A Republican majority will listen to our fellow Americans and solve the challenges facing our nation. … A united conservative movement will strengthen the bonds of our citizens and uphold the freedoms our country was founded on.”

McCarthy has been a vocal promoter of Trump’s false claims that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election, and he threw his support behind a Texas lawsuit aiming to overturn Biden’s win.

McCarthy was initially critical of Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 riot, but he has since tempered his criticism, arguing now that “everybody across this country has some responsibility” for the pro-Trump mob’s violent actions at the Capitol.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Jan. 15 shows Trump’s disapproval rating is at its highest measurement since summer 2018. Sixty percent of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the presidency — with 52 percent “strongly” disapproving — while just 38 percent approve.

Nonetheless, Thursday’s statement from the Save America PAC claimed, falsely, that the former president’s ratings are soaring.

“President Trump’s popularity has never been stronger than it is today, and his endorsement means more than perhaps any endorsement at any time,” the PAC said.

According to the statement, Trump told McCarthy he plans to play a role in GOP efforts to retake the House.

“They worked very well together in the last election and picked up at least 15 seats when most predicted it would be the opposite,” Save America PAC said. “They will do so again, and the work has already started.”

9:24 p.m.
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Senate Democrats and White House fast-track covid relief bill, frustrating Republicans

Republicans chafed openly Thursday over Democrats’ go-it-alone strategy on Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, warning they might come to regret it, even as Democrats formalized plans to move forward on their own.

Democrats and White House officials insisted that they want Republicans to vote for the emerging bill. At the same time, arguing the matter is urgent, they announced they would move forward next week with a budget bill that would allow subsequent party-line passage of the sweeping covid relief package.

Pelosi said the House and the Senate would take the initial budget votes next week, and portrayed the partisan “budget reconciliation” approach as a fallback position that could pressure Republicans to come on board.

“By the end of the week, we will be finished with the budget resolution, which will be about reconciliation if we need it,” Pelosi told reporters at her weekly news conference.

9:19 p.m.
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Acting Capitol Police chief endorses making at least some of the enhanced fencing permanent

The acting chief of the U.S. Capitol Police called for “vast improvements” to the building’s security perimeter, including permanent fencing and forces on standby to deploy in case of emergency.

The recommendations from Chief Yogananda D. Pittman are not the final word on the matter: Installing the fencing and retaining the personnel would require the endorsement of campus security officials and a congressional appropriation to cover the costs, according to congressional aides familiar with the approval process.

Pittman said her recommendations were based on a physical security assessment she ordered upon taking over the leadership of the Capitol Police in the wake of the Jan. 6 riot.

“In light of recent events, I can unequivocally say that vast improvements to the physical security infrastructure must be made to include permanent fencing, and the availability of ready, back-up forces in close proximity to the Capitol,” she said in her statement.

Pittman’s force answers to the Capitol Police Board, an organization composed of the Senate and House sergeants-at-arms, as well as the Architect of the Capitol. Appropriations for large sums of money — such as the presumed bill for a fortification of the Capitol — must be approved by the full House and Senate.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) refrained from endorsing or criticizing Pittman’s recommendation. Last week, she tasked retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to conduct a separate review of Capitol security following the storming of the building.

“The Speaker looks forward to General Honoré's final assessment in order to understand what infrastructure changes are necessary to ensure the safety of the U.S. Capitol Complex,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in a statement.

9:15 p.m.
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Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan says he won’t run for Portman’s Senate seat

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) will not run for the Senate seat that is opening up in his state next year, a spokesperson for his campaign confirmed Thursday, following the announcement earlier this week that Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) is retiring.

“Mr. Jordan believes that at this time he is better suited to represent Ohioans in the House of Representatives, where as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, he can advance an America first agenda, promote conservative values, and hold big government accountable,” a spokesperson for Jordan’s campaign said in a statement Thursday.

Portman on Monday announced he would not be seeking reelection to a third term, saying that “partisan gridlock” made it “a tough time to be in public service.”

“We live in an increasingly polarized country, where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground,” Portman said in a statement then. “This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades.”

Democrats are hanging on to a slim majority in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between the two parties, and 2022 is shaping up to be a critical election year. In cases of a tie, Vice President Harris will serve as the tie-breaking vote.

8:08 p.m.
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White House condemns Pakistani court’s decision to release man convicted of beheading U.S. journalist in 2002

The White House condemned the Pakistani Supreme Court’s decision Thursday to order the release of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the man convicted of beheading American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

In a briefing with reporters Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the United States was “outraged” by the acquittals of those responsible for Pearl’s kidnapping and murder, “which shocked the world’s conscience in 2002.”

Saeed had been sentenced to death for Pearl’s kidnapping and murder. But his case was reopened because of claims of lack of evidence, and his sentence was overturned by a provincial court last year, The Washington Post’s Shaiq Hussain reported. The Pearl family’s appeal of that decision was dismissed by Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Thursday.

The Supreme Court did not provide any justification for its ruling. The complete reasons will “be recorded later,” the court said.

Psaki noted Thursday that Saeed remained in detention in Pakistan and called on the government there to “expeditiously review its legal options,” including allowing the United States to prosecute Saeed for the murder of Pearl, who was a reporter with the Wall Street Journal.

“This decision to exonerate and release Sheikh and the other suspects is an affront to terrorism victims everywhere, including in Pakistan,” Psaki said. “We recognize past Pakistani actions to try to hold Mr. Pearl’s murderers accountable. … And we’re committed to securing justice for Daniel Pearl’s family and holding terrorists anywhere accountable for their heinous crimes.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editor in chief, Matt Murray, called the court’s order “an infuriating and unjust decision.”

7:31 p.m.
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Biden signs executive orders he says will ‘undo the damage Trump has done’ on health care, reproductive rights

President Biden signed two executive orders Thursday that he said will “undo the damage Trump has done” on health care and reproductive rights.

The orders represent Biden’s first steps since taking office to help Americans gain health insurance.

The first will lower recent barriers to joining Medicaid and reopen federal marketplaces selling Affordable Care Act health plans. The second rescinds what has been called the “Mexico City” rule, which compelled nonprofit organizations in other countries that receive federal family-planning aid to promise not to perform or encourage abortions.

“Today, I’m about to sign two executive orders, and basically the best way to describe them is to undo the damage Trump has done,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office. “There’s nothing new that we’re doing here, other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became president.”

President Donald Trump, Biden argued, had made it “more inaccessible, more expensive and more difficult for people to qualify for either of those two items — the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid.”

Biden advisers last week previewed an end to the Mexico City rule, which for decades has reappeared when Republicans occupied the White House and been rescinded under Democratic presidents.

At Thursday’s event, Biden said his order “reverses my predecessor’s attack on women’s health access” and argued that the Trump administration’s actions had made it “harder for women to have access to affordable health care as it relates to reproductive rights.”

“As we continue to battle covid-19, it’s even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to health care,” Biden said, emphasizing that he is “not initiating any new law, any new aspect of the law.”

“This is going back to what the situation was prior to the president’s executive order,” he said.

7:25 p.m.
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Alejandro Mayorkas headed toward confirmation to lead Homeland Security

Mayorkas was headed toward confirmation as homeland security secretary following a procedural vote by the Senate on Thursday.

With the 55-to-42 vote to limit debate, a final Senate vote is scheduled for late Monday afternoon. Mayorkas, a former deputy secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, would become the fifth Biden Cabinet pick to win Senate confirmation.

Senate Democrats had planned to move the nomination more quickly.

In floor remarks Thursday morning, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) singled out Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). Hawley this week moved to block the fast-track nomination process, saying he was dissatisfied with Mayorkas’s responses to questions about Biden’s immigration agenda.

“In the wake of January 6, the threat of violence and domestic terrorism remains of great concern,” Schumer said. “But because of the tactics of some Republican members, particularly the junior senator from Missouri, Mr. Mayorkas’s nomination is being needlessly stalled.”

Schumer argued that disagreeing with a nominee’s views on some policy issues “is not a sufficient reason to oppose a nomination, especially one as important as homeland security.”

During his confirmation hearing last week, Mayorkas told senators he would carry out Biden’s immigration overhaul while intensifying efforts to combat domestic extremism.

Democrats have argued it is crucial to have top national security officials in place, given the recent siege on the U.S. Capitol, cyberattacks on federal agencies and the coronavirus pandemic.

But some Senate Republicans raised concerns about a 2015 inspector general’s report that said Mayorkas intervened in a visa program for wealthy investors at the behest of politically connected Democrats. The report found that Mayorkas, then-head of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, did not break any laws but created the appearance of “special access” because he got involved in three projects that were headed for rejection, and all were approved.

7:18 p.m.
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House Democrats revive bill to ban colleagues from carrying guns on Capitol grounds

Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) has revived a years-long effort to ban members of Congress from carrying guns on the Capitol grounds, a move likely to rankle Republicans who, in some cases, have refused to cooperate with newly mandated security screenings put in place in the wake of the violent attack of Jan. 6.

Huffman filed the No Congressional Gun Loophole Act on Thursday, seeking to nullify regulations that exempt members of Congress from a federal law banning guns on Capitol grounds. He has pushed to ban his colleagues from toting guns since 2018 — but he argued that the overheated political environment and the behavior by some House Republicans in recent weeks “have really helped underscore” the need to refile the bill at this moment.

“When I brought this up with colleagues in the past, most were surprised to know that members could do whatever they wanted with guns,” Huffman said in an interview. “But I think there has been a false sense of security, that nothing bad would happen. The events of recent days have totally changed that — when you have members defiantly bringing guns onto the floor, boasting about it, and when some of those same members were involved in inciting the insurrection, or have engaged in really belligerent behavior on the House floor on Jan. 6.”