President Biden is hosting labor leaders at an Oval Office meeting Wednesday to discuss two of his leading priorities: his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which is pending in Congress, and investing in the nation’s infrastructure.

The White House meeting comes amid a stepped-up focus on the pandemic. Speaking at a nationally televised town hall on Tuesday, Biden pledged that any American who wants a vaccine will have access to one by the end of July and said he wants many elementary and middle schools to be open five days a week by the end of April.

Here’s what to know:
  • Last year’s SolarWinds hack compromised nine federal agencies and about 100 private companies, and it was conducted by an actor “likely of Russian origin,” Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber, told reporters during a White House briefing.
  • The Biden administration is supplying emergency power generators to Texas and is prepared to move diesel to the state, where about 3 million people remain in the dark amid a barrage of winter storms that has overwhelmed the electric grid.
  • The White House said Wednesday that Biden agrees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that vaccinating teachers need not be a requirement for reopening schools safely, answering a question that other White House officials had dodged in recent television appearances.
  • Former president Donald Trump lashed out at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), accusing him of a “lack of political insight, wisdom, skill, and personality” just days after the Senate — with McConnell’s help — acquitted Trump on an impeachment charge.
1:45 a.m.
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Biden meets with labor leaders in Oval Office to discuss aging infrastructure

President Biden said that Americans broadly supported his coronavirus relief proposal as he discussed the economy with labor leaders on Feb. 17. (The Washington Post)

Biden invited labor leaders for a meeting in the Oval Office to discuss plans to improve the nation’s aging infrastructure.

Calling them his “close friends,” Biden said, “As they say in parts of my state, these are the folks that brung me to the dance,” referring to the political support he has long enjoyed from labor unions.

Biden noted that the United States ranks “like 38th in the world in terms of infrastructure, everything from canals to highways to airports.”

“We are so far behind the curve,” he said, adding that the nation needed to do “everything we can do and we need to do to make ourselves competitive in the 21st century.”

Biden also said he learned from polling data that Americans want everything he and Democrats are proposing in their $1.9 trillion economic relief package.

“I asked a rhetorical question — those who opposed the plan, what don’t they like?” the president said. “Don’t they want to help people with nutrition? Don’t they want to help people be able to pay their mortgages? Don’t they want to help people get their unemployment insurance? Don’t they want to make sure that people are able to stay in their homes without being thrown out of their homes in the middle of this godawful pandemic? What don’t they like?”

After the meeting, the White House issued a statement that acknowledged the dire situation in Texas, where millions are without power because of winter weather.

“Biden engaged the labor leaders during the meeting in a conversation about their priorities, recommendations, and the importance of ensuring union workers play a key role in building a resilient and sustainable infrastructure that can withstand extreme weather and a changing climate all while creating millions of good paying union jobs in the process,” the White House said.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a statement, said that with “key structural changes to our economy, we can create a new generation of good-paying union jobs.”

"That means delivering long-overdue COVID-19 relief to working families. It means passing urgently needed infrastructure spending. And, it means strengthening working people’s freedom to organize a union by passing the PRO Act. President Biden understands how urgent this is, and we’re looking forward to getting it done as quickly as possible,” Trumka said.

1:22 a.m.
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Trump-McConnell clash threatens to settle into a cold war as GOP eyes midterms

Were it up to former president Donald Trump, Republicans would spend the next two years purging their ranks and reshaping themselves in his own image — a process he moved to jump-start Tuesday with a searing attack on the party’s most powerful elected leader, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

McConnell (R-Ky.) has other ideas. Having held Trump responsible for both the loss of his Senate majority in the Jan. 5 Georgia runoffs and the deadly attack on the Capitol a day later, he has moved to chart a different path — one that steers clear of the former president’s personal grievances and conspiratorial rhetoric to put the GOP back in power as soon as possible.

The clash between the two men stands to define the Republican Party for years to come and was sketched out in a recent series of dramatic public attacks — with McConnell labeling Trump as “practically and morally responsible” for the Capitol riot in a Saturday speech, followed by Trump lashing into McConnell in a Tuesday statement as a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack” who should be stricken from GOP leadership.

9:53 p.m.
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Pompeo, DeSantis, Noem among speakers for Republican National Committee’s spring finance meeting

Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) will be among the headline speakers at the Republican National Committee’s spring finance meeting in Florida — but former president Donald Trump is not expected to speak, according to an invitation obtained by The Washington Post.

Other speakers for the event include South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) and Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and Rick Scott (R-Fla.), among others.

The meeting is scheduled for April 9-11 in Palm Beach, where Trump lives.

9:37 p.m.
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‘One down, 44 to go’: Inside the House impeachment team’s uphill battle

The closing arguments were done, a last-minute attempt to call witnesses had collapsed. It was time for the final vote in former president Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial. The nine House managers all found a spot on the Senate floor as the clerk read out the names of each senator and their vote.

“Mr. Burr. Mr. Burr, guilty.”

Standing on the Republican side of the chamber, Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) felt a flash of hope. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), a longtime conservative, had gone against Trump.

“It gave me a moment of, ‘We’re going to convict this guy,’ ” Cicilline recalled later in an interview.

The moment quickly faded. Within minutes, the verdict was in. The Democrats had fallen 10 votes short of a finding that Trump incited the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Even GOP senators who had been noticeably shaken by new video and audio footage revealing the extent of the violence that day rejected conviction. Many of them cited the argument — contested by most scholars — that it was unconstitutional to take such an action against a former president.

9:27 p.m.
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Biden spoke with Israeli PM Netanyahu after waiting a month into his presidency to call

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that he had spoken to Biden for about an hour Wednesday, describing the conversation as “very warm and friendly.”

Netanyahu shared that the two leaders discussed regional issues, including the threat posed by Iran.

“The two leaders noted their longstanding personal connection and said that they would work together to continue strengthening the steadfast alliance between Israel and the US,” read a post from Netanyahu’s official Twitter account, @IsraeliPM.

Biden waited a month into his presidency to call Netanyahu, whom he has known for decades. The notable delay came after Netanyahu enjoyed an extremely chummy relationship with Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, over the last four years.

The silence stands in contrast to Biden’s quick efforts to get in touch with European and North American allies, as well as some Asian partners and the leaders of Russia and China. Israelis have noticed, and Netanyahu’s detractors have mocked him as a sort of spurned lover waiting by the phone.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki had said last week that the lack of a presidential call was not a sign of disrespect to Netanyahu, although Israelis have widely interpreted it that way. On Tuesday, Psaki pledged that Netanyahu would be the first leader from the Middle East to get a call from the president, and that the conversation would be “soon.”

Heading into a meeting with labor leaders, Biden was asked about the call. He told reporters that it was a “good conversation.”

In a statement, the White House said Biden “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.”

“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,” the White House said.

8:28 p.m.
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Biden picks Brooks-LaSure to oversee Medicare, Medicaid

Biden has selected Chiquita Brooks-LaSure to lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, filling a major role in his health-care leadership team, according to three people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it.

Brooks-LaSure served in the Obama administration as a senior CMS official who helped implement the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion and insurance-market overhaul. She also previously worked on Capitol Hill for the House Ways and Means Committee, building ties with then-Rep. Xavier Becerra, Biden’s choice to lead the Health and Human Services Department.

If confirmed by the Senate, Brooks would run the $1 trillion agency that oversees Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. The job is viewed as the second-most powerful after the role of HHS secretary.

HHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

8:06 p.m.
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SolarWinds hack compromised nine federal agencies and about 100 private companies, top cyber official says

So far, nine federal government agencies and about 100 private companies have been compromised in the SolarWinds hacking campaign, said Anne Neuberger, the White House’s top cyber official, in her first public remarks since being appointed last month.

The number could grow as the investigation continues, but it is the first specific accounting by the U.S. government of the massive espionage operation that the U.S. intelligence community last month said was “likely” the work of Russia. Privately, officials say they are highly confident Moscow’s foreign intelligence service, SVR, is the culprit, but they have not yet made a public statement of blame to that effect.

The agencies known to have been compromised are Treasury, State, Commerce, Agriculture, Justice, Energy, Homeland Security, the National Institutes of Health and the National Nuclear Security Administration. Though a Defense Department official told The Washington Post in December that some of its networks received the malicious SolarWinds software update, the Pentagon officially maintains it has not been compromised.

Neuberger did not list the agencies at the White House briefing.

Neuberger, the deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging threats, is coordinating the response to the hacks from the National Security Council. The Biden administration created her position as an effort to elevate a job the Trump administration abolished in 2018.

Neuberger is a highly respected former National Security Agency cybersecurity official who headed the agency’s election security operation in 2018. She has briefed individual lawmakers on the investigation. And, she said, “we’re working closely, with daily conversations, with our private sector partners.” Neuberger has directed all federal agencies to report back soon to her and the Homeland Security Department’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency to understand whether and how they may have been affected by the breaches, said one U.S. official familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk frankly.

“We’re looking to consider both how we manage the risk … and how we address it for the future,” she said Wednesday. She is not ruling out that the intruders were aiming to go beyond spying. “When there is a compromise of this scope and scale, both across government and across the U.S. technology sector, to lead to follow-on intrusions, it is more than a single incident of espionage,” she said. “It’s fundamentally of concern for the ability for this to become disruptive.”

8:06 p.m.
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Analysis: Rush Limbaugh created the politics that Trump used to win the White House

The first time I remember hearing Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, I was in high school. It was 1991, and I was in the district office of Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio), for whom I’d earned the dubious honor of interning.

Traficant was already infamous both for his public persona, which tended toward the eccentric, and his sketchy background. Eventually, his corruption would lead him to be one of the two members of the House expelled by that body since the Civil War. But his constituents loved him. They loved his panache, and they loved his irreverence. But this was Youngstown, epicenter of the Rust Belt politically, and they loved that he was unabashed in fighting for them, whatever else he was doing on the side. In many ways, Traficant’s political pitch was the same one that President Donald Trump would use three decades later, to equivalent success.

So in retrospect it is not a surprise that Traficant had Limbaugh’s show playing over speakers throughout his office as he and his staff conducted their business. Limbaugh, too, was Trump before Trump. Limbaugh, in fact, helped create Trump’s pathway to the presidency, whether the former president ever recognized it or not.

8:02 p.m.
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White House press secretary says Trump administration failed to handle vaccine rollout ‘effectively and efficiently’

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday defended Vice President Harris’s recent remark that the Biden administration was in many ways “starting from scratch” in developing a plan to deliver coronavirus vaccines across the country, arguing that the Trump administration had fallen short in its efforts to craft a national strategy.

“I don’t think most governors, or most of the American people, would tell you that they think it was handled effectively and efficiently by the prior administration, given where we are,” Psaki told reporters at a regular news briefing.

“When the president came in and the vice president came in, there were not enough vaccines, there were not enough vaccinators, there were not enough vaccination locations. They’ve taken significant steps to address all of those issues. … It was important for the vice president to convey that because the American people need to know what we’re digging out of,” she added.

In an interview with Axios this week, Harris had taken aim at the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic response.

“There was no national strategy or plan for vaccinations,” she said. “We were leaving it to the states and local leaders to try and figure it out. And so in many ways, we’re starting from scratch on something that’s been raging for almost an entire year!”

The Biden administration built on an existing structure left behind by the Trump team, however, public health experts told The Washington Post’s Fact Checker this week.

“The Biden administration didn’t start entirely from zero when it came to vaccine distribution, though they have moved to expand and improve upon the foundations laid by the previous administration,” said Joshua Michaud, associate director for global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.

7:21 p.m.
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Trump praises Limbaugh as a ‘legend,’ Biden spokeswoman passes along condolences

Trump called into a Fox News Channel program on Wednesday within an hour of the announcement of Rush Limbaugh’s death to praise the broadcaster as “a legend,” while White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was not likely to issue a statement but passed along condolences to Limbaugh’s family.

“He is a legend. He really is. There aren’t too many legends around, but he is a legend,” Trump said on the show “Outnumbered.” “And those people who listen to him every day, it was like a religious experience for a lot of people.”

Trump also praised Limbaugh as “street smart” and a “great gentleman” and said he had spoken to him in recent days as his battle against lung cancer neared its end.

“He just had an incredible instinct for politics, and he had an incredible instinct for life,” said Trump, who awarded Limbaugh a Presidential Medal of Freedom during his State of the Union address last year.

During the call, it was apparent that Trump has still not accepted his election loss.

“I think it’s disgraceful, what happened,” he said. “We were like a third-world country on election night. … You don’t know how angry this country is, and people were furious.”

Asked during the White House briefing whether Biden plans to issue a statement on Limbaugh’s death, Psaki said, “I don’t know that I anticipate a statement from the president, but I can certainly pass on his condolences and expression of support for the family. ”

7:10 p.m.
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Schumer, Warren push back on Biden’s town hall comments on student debt

Biden’s dismissal at a town hall meeting of a $50,000 student debt forgiveness plan prompted pushback Wednesday from Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who said in a joint statement that the move is needed “to immediately deliver much-needed relief to millions of Americans.”

Biden was asked Tuesday night by an attendee at the town hall meeting hosted by CNN in Milwaukee how he might enact such a plan, which is being pushed by some congressional Democrats.

“I will not make that happen,” said Biden, who argued that the president doesn’t have unilateral authority to cancel student debt of that magnitude.

In their statement, Schumer and Warren argued that the president does have that authority and said that both Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump had taken such action.

“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,” they said. “An ocean of student loan debt is holding back 43 million borrowers and disproportionately weighing down Black and Brown Americans.”

The pair of senators said a move by Biden would “help close the racial wealth gap, benefit the 40% of borrowers who do not have a college degree, and help stimulate the economy.”

“It’s time to act. We will keep fighting,” they added.

At a briefing Wednesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified that Biden hasn’t ruled anything out, but that his administration will first need to conduct a policy review before he decides what action to take on student debt relief.

“So obviously, that’s a review that would need to take place,” Psaki said. “There’s a legal consideration there, as I think everybody agrees. There’s a policy consideration. And once that’s concluded, he’ll decide the path forward.”

During the town hall, Biden said he understands that student debt “can be debilitating” and added that he could embrace a system where debt is forgiven for those who engage in volunteer work.

But Biden voiced reservations about forgiving debts of students “who have gone to Harvard and Yale and Penn” instead of a state school. And he questioned whether doing so could limit funds available for early-education programs for students who come from disadvantaged homes.

That reasoning was questioned on social media by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

“Who cares what school someone went to? Entire generations of working class kids were encouraged to go into more debt under the guise of elitism. This is wrong,” she tweeted Tuesday night. “Nowhere does it say we must trade-off early childhood education for student loan forgiveness. We can have both.”

7:08 p.m.
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Biden administration is supplying emergency generators to Texas, White House says

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Feb. 17 said the Biden administration is giving Texas power generators to combat effects of a historic winter storm. (The Washington Post)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that the Biden administration is supplying emergency power generators to Texas and is prepared to move diesel to the state, where about 3 million people remain in the dark amid a barrage of winter storms that have overwhelmed the electric grid.

At a daily press briefing, Psaki said the White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency “remain in close contact with states across the affected area to ensure any federal support requirements are met.”

“FEMA has supplied generators to Texas and is preparing to move diesel on to the state to ensure the continued availability of backup power. … FEMA is also supplying Texas with water and blankets at their request,” Psaki said. “We are preparing to quickly process requests from other states for emergency assistance.”

The electricity grid in Texas and the grid supplying Louisiana, Kentucky and other states are struggling to come back online, and the death toll from the cold, snow, ice and power outages has reached at least 16 since Sunday, when temperatures plunged sharply.

Biden approved an emergency declaration for Texas over the weekend, and Tuesday night he spoke by phone with governors of affected states, including Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Kansas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Oklahoma.

Andrew Freedman contributed to this report.

6:56 p.m.
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Psaki says vaccinating teachers not a requirement for opening schools safely

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday that Biden agrees with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that vaccinating teachers need not be a requirement for reopening schools safely, answering a question that other White House officials had dodged in recent television appearances.

“No, neither the president nor the vice president believe that it should be, that it is a requirement,” Psaki said during a White House briefing for reporters. “The CDC guidelines included a range of mitigation steps, including vaccinations as recommendations. But the mitigation steps also included steps like social distancing, the need for a smaller class sizes, the need for sanitation.”

She reiterated that Biden and Harris believe states should prioritize teachers when deciding whom to vaccinate.

“About half of the states in the country have prioritized teachers,” she said. “And they both feel that’s important, including child health-care workers … So it’s not a requirement to reopen schools, but they believe that teachers should be prioritized.”

Psaki also said that once confirmed, Miguel Cardona, Biden’s pick for education secretary, will focus heavily on reopening schools.

“This will be his number one priority, working with these school districts to safely reopen as quickly as possible,” Psaki said.

6:50 p.m.
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In wake of 2020 election, Democratic senators urge Biden to expand voting rights protections

A group of Democratic senators will send Biden a letter Wednesday urging him to use his executive powers to expand voting rights protections and step up enforcement of campaign finance violations as part of an effort to turn the page on what they say was President Donald Trump’s disregard for these priorities.

At least 18 senators, led by Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), asked Biden to take nearly a dozen steps to improve ballot access and address bad actors, including greater efforts to help eligible Americans to register to vote and beefed up policing of election-related crimes by the Justice Department, the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

“In some ways, the 2020 election showed the resiliency of our democracy,” the senators wrote in a letter to be sent to Biden on Wednesday, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “Still, we saw widespread voter suppression strategies, especially targeting communities of color, and record levels of dark money spent to unduly influence voters.”