President Biden commemorated the 50 millionth coronavirus vaccination in the United States with an event at the White House in which several people were vaccinated as Vice President Harris and Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, looked on. Later, in a virtual meeting with governors, Biden promoted his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.
Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman on Thursday told a panel of House lawmakers that some of the armed groups behind the Jan. 6 riot “want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible” during Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, an event that has not yet been scheduled.
Harris later swore in former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm as energy secretary, hours after she was confirmed 64-35 by the Senate. Granholm, a strong voice for zero-emissions vehicles, will take the reins of the agency as climate change and severe weather affect the nation’s energy supply.
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The Democratic-led House passed the Equality Act, sweeping legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Biden administration has fewer top government leaders in place than other recent presidents at this point in their terms, a pace that has been slowed by the Jan. 6 siege at the Capitol, an impeachment trial, the pandemic and snowstorms.
White House officials continued to express support for Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget after two Senate committees on Wednesday delayed votes on her nomination.
$15 hourly minimum wage not allowed in coronavirus relief bill, Senate parliamentarian rules
President Biden’s proposed $15-an-hour minimum-wage increase cannot remain in his coronavirus relief bill in the Senate as written, the chamber’s parliamentarian said Thursday.
The guidance from the parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, was communicated privately to key Senate offices and confirmed by aides in both parties. It could be a major setback for liberals hoping to use Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief bill as the vehicle for their long-sought goal of raising the federal minimum wage from its current level of $7.25 an hour.
Democrats had been anxiously awaiting MacDonough’s decision, but their next steps are not clear. The ruling pertains only to the Senate, where the legislation will move forward under complex rules that prohibit certain items that don’t have a particular impact on the budget. MacDonough determined that, as written, the minimum-wage increase did not pass that test — an outcome that had been predicted by a number of Democrats, including Biden.
In a statement late Thursday, the White House said Biden was disappointed by the parliamentarian’s decision but would not try to overrule it.
“He will work with leaders in Congress to determine the best path forward because no one in this country should work full time and live in poverty,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “He urges Congress to move quickly to pass the American Rescue Plan, which includes $1,400 rescue checks for most Americans, funding to get this virus under control, aid to get our schools reopened and desperately needed help for the people who have been hardest hit by this crisis.”
The Biden administration conducted an airstrike against alleged Iranian-linked fighters in Syria on Thursday, signaling its intent to push back against violence believed to be sponsored by Tehran.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the attack, the first action ordered by the Biden administration to push back against alleged Iranian-linked violence in Iraq and Syria, on a border-control point in eastern Syria, was “authorized in response to recent attacks against American and coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats.”
A U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide additional details, said the single strike targeted a cluster of buildings and was believed to have killed up to a handful of people.
Three GOP members of Congress crossed the aisle Thursday to vote with Democrats in support of the Equality Act. The bill, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, passed the House in a 224-to-206 vote.
All Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Republican Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), John Katko (N.Y.) and Tom Reed (N.Y.) also voted to support its passage. The three were among eight Republicans who voted for the same legislation in 2019, when it was passed by the House but blocked in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“In New York, this bill is already established law,” Katko said in a statement, according to Syracuse.com. “But in states across the country, differing standards have made it difficult for employers to conform to conflicting laws. The Equality Act has received strong support from the business and manufacturing community. This bill will ensure equal opportunity in the workplace.”
The Equality Act now moves to the Senate, where it will need at least 60 votes — that is, the support of at least 10 Republican senators — to pass.
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McConnell says he would support Trump if he’s GOP nominee in 2024
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just two weeks ago eviscerated former president Donald Trump in a Senate floor speech, said that if Trump were the GOP presidential nominee in 2024 he would “absolutely” support him.
McConnell (R-Ky.) delivered a scathing rebuke of Trump’s role in provoking the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. Then, a little more than a week ago, Trump hit back in a lengthy statement calling McConnell a “dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack.”
But during an appearance Thursday night on Fox News, McConnell refrained from saying anything negative about Trump, and when asked whether he would support him if he ran and won the GOP nomination, McConnell said that he would.
But he also noted that there are at least four Republican senators he knows of who were planning to run and said it’s a “wide-open race.”
McConnell also deflected any suggestion that there was a civil war inside the Republican Party, saying that a liberal Biden administration agenda was unifying the party.
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Biden urges support for covid relief package in remarks to governors
President Biden on Thursday used his virtual address at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association to rally support for the American Rescue Plan, his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, emphasizing that the pandemic and the hobbled economy were challenges that crossed state borders.
“The economic toll of this pandemic continues to tear through our country as brutally as the virus itself,” Biden told the governors. “We just have to step up. The economic toll we have to address with the same aggressiveness and seriousness of purpose as we do the virus. And that’s what the American Rescue Plan does.”
The president has been spending significant time courting Republican governors to support his agenda as he faces resistance from GOP lawmakers in Congress. In Thursday’s address, Biden touted the benefits he said his relief package would have on the economy and said the plan included “many of the things you have individually and collectively asked me for in recent conversations.”
Biden also said more than 400 mayors had contacted him in support of the package, which includes $350 billion in funding for cities and states.
“We are not the type of nation that can or will stand by and watch our people suffer needlessly through no fault of their own,” he said. “It goes against our conscience. It goes against sound economics. It’s not who we are.”
The House is expected to vote Friday on the bill, which includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals, $20 billion toward a national vaccination program, $130 billion to help schools reopen and an extension of emergency unemployment benefits.
“The bottom line is, the American Rescue Plan meets the moment,” Biden said. “The only way to contain this pandemic and help the American people as quickly as possible is passing the plan as quickly as possible.”
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Biden has first call with Saudi king ahead of expected released of report on Khashoggi
President Biden held his first conversation with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Wednesday, a phone call that while pending had weighed heavily on the future relationship between the United States and a major partner in the Middle East.
The call is likely to be one of the final steps before the release of a report by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on U.S. intelligence findings related to the October 2018 killing of Saudi dissident and Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
The report, expected to be released Thursday, is said to directly implicate Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, in ordering the killing. Congress ordered the report in legislation nearly two years ago, but the Trump administration ignored the mandate.
A readout of the call from the White House says Biden “affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law,” but the summary of the call did not mention Khashoggi.
Biden began with what sounded like a victory lap, touting his administration’s successes — namely the speed in which vaccines are being administered — in just a little more than a month in office.
But he also cautioned against complacency, urging Americans not to let down their guards.
“All things are improving, and we’re going from a mess we inherited to moving in the right direction at a significant speed,” Biden said. “This is not a victory lap. Everything is not fixed. We have a long way to go.”
Biden did offer some reassuring updates, including that the 12 million vaccines that will be given this week is double the 6 million shots in President Donald Trump’s final week in office.
Biden reiterated that by the end of July, there will be enough vaccines for every American. He predicted that by May there will be more vaccines available than people who want them or know how to access them. He said the administration was launching a “massive campaign to educate people about vaccines, that they are safe and effective and where to go to get those shots in the first place.”
The president said he couldn’t provide a date for when things would “get back to normal,” but he promised, “we’ll work as hard as we can to make that day come as soon as possible.”
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Kevin McCarthy and Chip Roy defended Liz Cheney and criticized Trump. Now both have reversed course.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) received a surprising vote of confidence this month. Despite an effort by former president Donald Trump’s loyalists to remove her as the No. 3 House Republican leader over her vote to impeach him, she kept her post by a resounding 145-61 margin. The vote, given its secrecy, led to suggestions that the House GOP’s true devotion to Trump might be less than meets the public eye.
Events Thursday, though, suggest that the party is having second thoughts about how tenable that position is.
Two Republicans who offered significant defenses of Cheney, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), both turned on her in significant ways.
Katherine Tai, Biden’s nominee to become the chief U.S. trade negotiator, said Thursday that U.S. policies must be rethought to safeguard the critical supply lines that feed American factories and to regain the support of “regular people” who have felt victimized by previous commercial deals.
Speaking at her Senate confirmation hearing, Tai promised a “worker-centered” trade policy that would break with both the Trump administration’s protectionism and the reflexive pro-trade stance of earlier Democratic presidents.
Many Americans “for a very long time felt disconnected from our trade policies,” Tai said, adding that voters saw trade deals as “concocted by people in places like Washington, Brussels and Geneva” in ways that were either irrelevant or damaging to their interests.
Tai cited novel labor and environmental provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement as an example of her approach. The accord was negotiated during the Trump administration. But as chief trade counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee, Tai played a key role in rewriting the pact’s fine print to win additional Democratic support.
Reps. Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), the chairman and senior minority member of the House Ways and Means Committee, introduced Tai to members of the Senate Finance Committee, a sign of the bipartisan support that appears likely to cement her confirmation. Tai’s testimony came as the nation’s automakers are struggling amid a paralyzing shortage of semiconductors, which has idled assembly lines.
At the White House on Wednesday, the president said he had directed top aides to meet with industry representatives and U.S. allies in search of a short-term fix.
“A lot of the assumptions we built our trade policy on maximized efficiency without regard to the requirement for resilience,” Tai said. “Trade policy needs to be rethought and reformed with resilience in mind.”
If confirmed as U.S. trade representative (USTR), Tai would face early questions over Mexican and Canadian compliance with the new North American trade deal; U.S. prospects for rejoining an 11-nation Pacific agreement that Trump quit; and making trade policies consistent with other Biden priorities such as climate change.
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Thursday that the Capitol Police Board — the body tasked with approving a request for National Guard backup ahead of expected protests on Jan. 6 — is “obsolete” and “nonfunctioning.”
She offered her assessment after acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman backed up predecessor Steven A. Sund’s statements that he asked the House sergeant-at-arms to approve calling in National Guard forces on Jan. 4, two days before the protests and subsequent storming of the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
The request was denied, Pittman said.
The House sergeant-at-arms is one of three members of the Capitol Police Board, which also includes the Senate sergeant-at-arms and the architect of the Capitol. Former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving testified earlier this week that he did not take the Jan. 4 conversation with Sund as an official request for assistance.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee hosting Thursday’s hearing, was irate that Irving apparently had not taken Sund’s request to his fellow board members.
“It sounds like Mr. Irving was taking all the authority and basically denying Chief Sund’s request without even bringing it to the board,” Ryan said. “Who in the hell gave Mr. Irving the authority to not bring requests by the chief of the Capitol Police, who wants more help? Mr. Irving makes a unanimous decision all by himself to deny that request and then says go tell the National Guard to lean in?
“Why didn’t Chief Sund push back and demand that he brings that to the board for a vote?” the congressman added.
Stark split between lawmakers and law enforcement over whether intelligence warned of Jan. 6 riot
Lawmakers and law enforcement officials were deeply divided Thursday over whether the intelligence Capitol Police had at their disposal before the Jan. 6 riot was alarming enough that they should have taken further steps to protect the building.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), chairman of the House Appropriations legislative branch subcommittee, read aloud from the Capitol Police’s own intelligence assessment that the “Capitol itself” was a target, while he and others asked how officials could have missed the warnings in an FBI report about the potential for “war,” which was sent to the Capitol Police on Jan. 5.
“Top officials either failed to take seriously the intelligence received, or the intelligence failed to reach the top people,” said Rep. Jamie Herrera Beutler (Wash.), the subcommittee’s ranking Republican.
But officials — especially acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman — pushed back, arguing that as much as lawmakers might want to believe security officials missed a silver bullet warning, “there was no such intelligence.”
“No credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol … nor did the intelligence received from the FBI,” she said. She later added that while the FBI report was received by Capitol Police task force agents, the document was “not finally evaluated intelligence” and was “shared for information purposes,” and that the document stated plainly that “receiving agencies are requested not to take action based on this raw reporting.”
“We do not believe that document in and of itself would have changed our posture,” she added, after noting that the problem was that the Capitol Police “were not prepared for” the group of demonstrators to take “on a mob mentality because they were angry and desperate.”
Members were not convinced by her testimony.
“What I’m hearing is the same old stuff, and pointing fingers, and it seems like protecting jobs,” said Rep. Kay Granger (Tex.), the ranking Republican the House Appropriations Committee.
Acting Capitol Police chief warns of threats to ‘blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible’ during Biden speech
Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman told a panel of House lawmakers that some of the armed groups behind the Jan. 6 riot “want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible” during Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress, an event that has not yet been scheduled.
“Based on that information, we think that it’s prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward,” Pittman added.
Her comments came after several lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee’s legislative branch subcommittee expressed their frustration with the fencing around the Capitol, which Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) said gave the Capitol complex the feel of “a minimum-security prison.”
Pittman stressed that the Capitol Police “have no intention of keeping the National Guard soldiers or that fencing any longer than what is actually needed.”
But it is unclear when the threats Capitol Police have identified will abate, and Pittman gave no express timeline for when she thought they would.
“We know that the insurrectionists that attacked the Capitol weren’t only interested in attacking members of Congress and officers. They wanted to send a symbolic message to the nation,” she said.
Acting Capitol Police chief: More than 10,000 rioters came onto Capitol grounds and more than 800 breached the building
Acting Capitol Police chief Yogananda D. Pittman told House lawmakers Thursday that over 10,000 pro-Trump rioters came onto the Capitol grounds and that more than 800 of them ended up breaching the building, putting hard numbers onto the staggering images that the country saw on Jan. 6.
Those numbers put into perspective the extent to which Capitol Police officers were outnumbered as the rioters broke through the security perimeter, and the extent to which lawmakers still in the Capitol building were outnumbered by those who streamed inside just about an hour later.
Pittman maintained that none of the intelligence or warnings that Capitol Police received ahead of Jan. 6 warned that any more than a small percentage of the people at the demonstration were organized. The failures of Jan. 6 resulted because they did not foresee that those people would whip up the others into an angry and increasingly violent mob, she said.
“Hindsight is 20/20; there are numerous lessons to be learned,” Pittman said, noting that police had planned for a “Level 6” threat. If they could turn back the clock, she said she is sure that then-chief Steven A. Sund “would have planned for a Level 10 security posture.”
“We would have changed from bike rack to the global fencing that we have in place now,” she added, listing changes that would have been made if officials had fully understood how the riot would spiral out of control. “But all of that is lessons learned.”
Pelosi’s top money guy to head up fundraising for House Democrats’ main super PAC
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s top political fundraiser is moving over to the main super PAC for House Democrats, who are focused on retaining or growing their narrow majority in the high-stakes 2022 midterm elections.
Mike Smith is joining the House Majority PAC just as its president, Robby Mook, a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, leaves for a year of active duty overseas.
Smith, whose title will be senior adviser, has vast experience in Democratic politics and fundraising, having worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s deputy executive director and as Pelosi’s political director.
The super PAC will play a critical role as House Democrats work to defend their majority in a midterm election year, which historically do not go well for the party of the president. In Mook’s absence, Smith will be the House Majority PAC’s main money guy, shoring up donors ahead of a campaign season in which more than a dozen Democratic incumbents are vulnerable.
“I have been so appreciative of Robby’s work to protect and expand the Democratic majority and we are so proud that he is also doing his patriotic duty in service of our great country by going on active duty with the Naval Reserves,” said Pelosi (D-Calif.). “As we go forward, Mike Smith, who has been a trusted and talented aide for many years, is excellently equipped to help communicate the Democrats’ agenda to rebuild our country and economy after COVID to voters across the country.”
House Democrats underperformed in 2020 after a convincing win in 2018 that gave them the second half of President Donald Trump’s term. Even as now-President Biden swept swing districts in the 2020 election, House Democrats gave up 11 seats in total, losing 13 incumbents but picking up two seats elsewhere.