President Biden hosted a bipartisan group of House members at the White House as he prepares to push a major infrastructure package, his next ambitious goal after the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief legislation. The Senate plans to begin voting Thursday on the relief package, a process that could stretch into the weekend.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of my Republican friends in the House and the Senate and continue to do that,” Biden told reporters when asked about the coronavirus relief package. He added that he is comfortable with having to narrow eligibility for a new round of stimulus payments, a concession to moderate Senate Democrats as party leaders move to lock down support.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Capitol Police have requested a 60-day extension of the presence of some of the 5,200 National Guard members activated in Washington in response to security threats and the Jan. 6 assault on Congress, defense officials said.

Here’s what to know:
1:34 a.m.
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Analysis: While Sen. Johnson forces the Senate to read the coronavirus relief bill, nearly 1,400 Americans may die of covid-19

After passing the House, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate. But that won’t happen for a while yet — not because there aren’t enough votes to pass it, but because Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has decided to force the chamber to read the 628-page bill in its entirety. The effect isn’t to change the outcome. It’s to delay the inevitable.

Normally, the House or Senate dispenses with the required reading of legislation. For those looking to throw up any possible roadblock to a bill’s passage, though, forcing the bill to be read (which can be done at the request of any member) is an effective tool.

It’s meant to be a nuisance. But, as CNN’s Brian Fung pointed out on Twitter, it carries an additional weight this time. Included in the funding bill is financial support for millions of Americans, as well as billions of dollars meant to bolster vaccine distribution and coronavirus testing — tools that could bring the pandemic to an end more quickly.

At this moment, on this issue, time can be measured in human lives. On average, nearly 2,000 people a day are dying of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. That’s a death about once every 44 seconds. It’s an improvement over the end of January, when people were dying at a rate faster than two per minute. But it’s still a much faster rate than the country had seen for much of the pandemic.

12:24 a.m.
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Biden orders temporary limits on drone strikes outside of war zones

The Biden administration has imposed temporary limits on drone strikes targeting suspected terrorists outside the battlefields of Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq, tightening a Trump-era policy while officials review how much leeway to give the military and the CIA in counterterrorism operations.

The restriction was imposed on Jan. 20 — the day of President Biden’s inauguration — by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, according to administration officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations.

The policy move comes as nearly two decades of an international war against Islamist terrorism has weakened though not vanquished al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, whose affiliates maintain the capability to strike regionally and occasionally inspire and plot attacks against the United States.

12:22 a.m.
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Another Biden nominee may be in jeopardy over past tweets targeting Republicans

President Biden’s pick to serve as undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon may be in jeopardy after controversial tweets targeting Republicans emerged, after a similar scenario helped sink another Cabinet nominee earlier this week.

Several Republican senators forced Colin Kahl to answer for his past tweets during his confirmation hearing before the Armed Services Committee on Thursday, including one in which he said Republicans who supported former president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from Syria “debase themselves at the alter of Trump” and are “the party of ethnic cleansing.”

“Dr. Kahl, this is not about mean tweets or insulting senators. We are all used to harsh criticism up here,” said Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who is opposing Kahl’s nomination. “This is just a small, a very small sample of the many intemperate and unbalanced remarks that you’ve directed at people who disagree with you about public policy.”

Kahl apologized before the committee, noting that he had been “swept up” by the polarization on social media and acknowledged he was “sometimes disrespectful.”

Controversial tweets are to blame for the White House’s decision to pull Neera Tanden’s nomination for director of the Office of Management and Budget earlier this week. Her sharply critical tweets going after Republicans and Democrats were enough for Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) to declare he would vote against her nomination, which never made it to the full Senate floor.

Given that the Senate majority is evenly split between the Democratic and Republican caucuses, all eyes are turning to Manchin once again since losing even one Democratic vote is enough to sink any Cabinet nomination.

Asked if Kahl’s tweets were enough to dissuade him from voting for the nominee, Manchin, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said he needs to review the tweets before making a decision. Even so, he told reporters that rhetoric is not encouraging for someone who will have to work in a bipartisan manner with congressional lawmakers.

“To make this place work, we just don’t need that type of mentality or demeanor. We need to do everything we can in a conciliatory manner to get people who want to work together. We don’t need to divide any further,” he said.

The Armed Services Committee is expected to vote on Kahl’s nomination as early as next week. If Manchin votes against Kahl in the evenly split committee vote, his nomination would be recommended unfavorably to the full Senate.

11:55 p.m.
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Cuomo accuser tells CBS she felt ‘deeply uncomfortable’ around governor and felt he was propositioning her for sex

Charlotte Bennett, a former aide to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D), said she thought the governor was propositioning her for sex when he asked her questions about her sex life, according to an exclusive interview with Norah O’Donnell of CBS Evening News.

In the interview, which aired Thursday night, Bennett said that she felt “deeply uncomfortable” and wanted to “get out of this room as soon as possible” in her encounters with Cuomo. Bennett said the inappropriate conversations started last May, after she had shared that she was a sexual assault survivor and also around the time Cuomo was getting national attention for his coronavirus response.

“I think he felt like he was untouchable in a lot of ways,” Bennett told O’Donnell, adding that Cuomo became fixated on her past sexual assault. In June, Bennett said, Cuomo asked whether she was “sensitive to intimacy” in a conversation that took place in his office during the work day.

“He asked me if age difference mattered. He also explained that he was fine with anyone over 22,” said Bennett, who added she is 25. “I thought he was trying to sleep with me. The governor is trying to sleep with me. And I’m deeply uncomfortable and I have to get out of this room as soon as possible.”

“Without explicitly saying it, he implied to me that I was old enough for him and he was lonely,” Bennett told O’Donnell, when asked what made her think Cuomo was trying to sleep with her.

Bennett told O’Donnell that, in the moment, she responded honestly to Cuomo’s questions and that was where she “held the most shame” and what made her hesitate the most to come forward.

“I feel like people put the onus on the woman to shut that conversation down and by answering I was somehow engaging in that or enabling it, when in fact I was just terrified,” Bennett said. “I didn’t feel like I had a choice ... He’s my boss. He’s everyone’s boss.”

The interview with O’Donnell was Bennett’s first televised one since she went public with her accusations against Cuomo. Bennett had told the New York Times that the governor asked whether she had slept with older men and told her that he would be interested in relationships with women in their 20s.

O’Donnell said Bennett described the work environment in Cuomo’s administration as “toxic” and that the governor is a “textbook abuser.”

Cuomo has denied he has inappropriately touched or propositioned anyone. Facing multiple accusations of sexual harassment and growing pressure to resign, Cuomo on Wednesday said he would not resign and offered a new apology for his behavior with women. He previously claimed some of what he did was “misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation.”

In her CBS interview, Bennett said what Cuomo offered was not an apology.

“It’s not an issue of my feelings. It’s an issue of his actions,” she said. “The fact is that he was sexually harassing me and he has not apologized for sexually harassing me.”

10:32 p.m.
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As Biden hosts House members on infrastructure, key lawmaker proposes plan to raise funds

The chairman of the House Transportation Committee pitched a plan Thursday to raise money for infrastructure spending without Republican votes in the Senate ahead of a bipartisan discussion at the White House.

Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), the leading voice on infrastructure in the House, described the idea in an interview with CNBC on the same day that he met with President Biden in the Oval Office. It would involve using reconciliation, a parliamentary procedure that Congress can use to pass budget measures with 50 votes in the Senate.

DeFazio and Biden were joined by Vice President Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and seven other House members. Biden said he wanted to talk to the group about “what we’re going to do to make sure we, once again, lead the world across the board on infrastructure.”

10:25 p.m.
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GOP Sen. Inhofe says it’s ‘outrageous’ to extend National Guard duty at the Capitol

Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, panned the U.S. Capitol Police’s request to extend the National Guard presence on Capitol Hill for another two months, calling it “outrageous.”

“It’s outrageous because that’s not their function, that’s not their mission,” he said. “They cannot do it. All of our employed people, all of the thousands of employers who would be forced to do something that they financially couldn’t do, it’s destroying careers of people. That’s not what they’re supposed to be, that’s not their mission. We have the Capitol Police, that is their mission.”

U.S. Capitol Police have requested a 60-day extension of some of the 5,200 National Guard members activated in the District in response to security threats and the Jan. 6 assault on Congress, defense officials said Thursday.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee that has oversight of Capitol Police, wouldn’t comment on the request, saying they should “listen to the law enforcement intelligence about what is safe.”

10:23 p.m.
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Trump’s YouTube account remains suspended ‘due to the risk of incitement to violence,’ YouTube CEO says

Former president Donald Trump’s YouTube channel will remain suspended “due to the risk of incitement to violence,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said Thursday at a virtual Atlantic Council event.

Wojcicki told the think tank that the company was monitoring government statements and warnings, as well as other violent rhetoric on their own platform, to measure the risk of violence. She cited Capitol Police warnings about another potential attack on the Capitol on Thursday as reasons for the continued suspension of Trump’s account.

“It’s pretty clear that right now where we stand that there still is that elevated risk of violence,” Wojcicki said. “We will turn the account back on, but it will be when we see the reduced law enforcement in capitals in the U.S., [when] we don’t see different warnings coming out of government agencies. Those would be all signals to us that it would be safe to turn the channel back on.”

YouTube suspended Trump’s channel on Jan. 13, a week after a pro-Trump mob overran the U.S. Capitol in an attempted insurrection, and days after other tech platforms — including Twitter and Facebook — also cut Trump off over concerns his posts would stir up additional violence.

“The channel remains suspended due to the risk of incitement to violence,” Wojcicki said.

Wojcicki said their policies apply to all global leaders consistently.

“There are no exceptions,” she said. “I think it’s a very dangerous path to say that some people have a free pass and that they can say whatever they want and the rules don’t apply to them.”

9:21 p.m.
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After meeting with Biden, House transportation chairman aims to have infrastructure bill ready soon

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) left a meeting in the Oval Office with President Biden, Vice President Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and other lawmakers with a directive from the president to have a large infrastructure bill ready soon.

“He wants to move quickly, he wants us to take the lead, he feels strongly we have to meet the challenges of the 21st century,” DeFazio said. “He’s set on getting it done and getting it done” soon.

An ambitious infrastructure package that not only maintains and repairs, but builds anew, evaded the last two administrations, which couldn’t figure out a way to pay for it. A quick way to raise a lot of money fast would be to raise the gas tax, which hasn’t been raised since 1993, but that’s been a political nonstarter.

Asked if they’d discussed how to pay for it, DeFazio said he brought it up with the president but didn’t want to get into the specifics of that conversation.

Infrastructure has long been touted as a great unifier that transcends party politics. Though Republicans and Democrats are often in agreement on the end goals, the funding has always gotten in the way. President Donald Trump teased “infrastructure week” so often it became a running joke.

DeFazio called the conversation with Biden “refreshing.”

“Having sat with Donald Trump to discuss infrastructure and the difference between talking to Joe Biden about infrastructure and what goes into it and how we’re going to get it done … it’s just a whole different world,” DeFazio said. “It’s way better.”

8:53 p.m.
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Senate votes to proceed with Biden’s covid relief bill, with Harris breaking tie

The Senate on Thursday voted to proceed with Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill, with a 51-50 vote on party lines. Vice President Harris cast the tiebreaking vote.

Republicans united in opposition, as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted they would. Similarly, the House on Saturday passed the bill with no GOP support.

After the vote, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) — who had vowed to delay the bill in several ways — objected to dispensing with the reading of the bill. A clerk commenced reading the 628-page bill, something Johnson had estimated could take up to 10 hours.

8:11 p.m.
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After Biden slams ‘Neanderthal thinking’ of governors who have lifted covid-19 restrictions, Sen. Blackburn says Neanderthals are ‘resilient,’ ‘resourceful’

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) on Thursday pushed back against Biden’s criticism of governors who have lifted covid-19 restrictions in their states, taking issue with the president’s use of the phrase “Neanderthal thinking.”

As a Tennessee state senator in the early 2000s, Blackburn had criticized her state’s then-governor, Don Sundquist (R), for using the same phrase to describe opponents of his plan to implement a state income tax.

“You know what I did?” Blackburn said, referring to her actions during the battle over a Tennessee income tax. “I started the ‘Neanderthal Caucus,’ because Neanderthals are hunter-gatherers. They are protectors of their family. They are resilient. They’re resourceful. They tend to their own.”

“So, I think Joe Biden needs to rethink what he is saying about the states that are choosing to move away from these mask mandates,” she added. “In Tennessee, we have a lot of people that are moving away from mask mandates.”

Tennessee is one of more than a dozen states that currently do not have a statewide mask mandate, with the decision left up to the local level.

Biden made the “Neanderthal thinking” remark in response to a question from a reporter at the White House on Wednesday on the decisions by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R) to lift coronavirus restrictions in their states.

Biden called the moves “a big mistake.”

“Look, I hope everybody’s realized by now these masks make a difference,” Biden said. “We are on the cusp of being able to fundamentally change the nature of this disease because of the way in which we’re able to get vaccines in people’s arms. … The last thing, the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking — that, 'In the meantime, everything’s fine. Take off your mask. Forget it.’ It still matters.”

Biden added that it is “critical, critical, critical” that state leaders “follow the science” and that Americans continue to wear masks and follow social-distancing guidelines.

“I know you all know that,” he told reporters. “I wish the heck some of our elected officials would.”

On Tuesday, Abbott ended his state’s mask mandate and boasted in all-caps on Twitter that “Texas is OPEN 100%. EVERYTHING.” Reeves announced similar plans.

8:03 p.m.
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Biden says he’s comfortable limiting direct payments in covid relief bill

As the Senate takes up the House-passed coronavirus relief bill, Biden said he’s comfortable with the decision to scale back which Americans will receive direct stimulus payments.

The response came as reporters were ushered out of the Oval Office after Biden made brief remarks ahead of a private meeting with lawmakers on infrastructure.

“Are you comfortable with having to limit the direct payments?” a reporter called out. Biden asked her to repeat the question and then answered “yes.”

The White House had indicated in the past that Biden would be willing to negotiate on the checks sent to Americans struggling during the pandemic. Then, as the Senate prepared to take up the bill, Biden agreed to scale back the payments in a concession to moderate Democrats.

Under the plan for stimulus checks passed by the House, individuals earning up to $75,000 per year and couples making up to $150,000 per year would qualify for the full $1,400 payment. The size of the payments would then begin to scale down before zeroing out for individuals making $100,000 per year and couples making $200,000.

Under the changes agreed to by Biden and Senate Democratic leadership, individuals earning $75,000 per year and couples earning $150,000 would still receive the full $1,400-per-person benefit. However, the benefit would disappear for individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and couples earning more than $160,000.

Biden also said he has been in frequent contact with Republicans in Congress about the bill.

“I’ve been talking to a lot of my Republican friends in the House and the Senate and continue to do that,” he said. “We’re keeping everyone informed.”

7:12 p.m.
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Psaki says Biden is frustrated with GOP governors lifting mask mandates

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on March 4 President Biden's “Neanderthal” comment reflect “his frustration” with governors who lifted mask mandates. (The Washington Post)

White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Biden’s comparison of governors who have lifted all mask mandates to “Neanderthals,” saying the president was speaking out of “frustration and exasperation.”

“He believes that with more than half a million Americans lives lost, with families that continue to suffer, that it’s imperative that people listen across the country, whether they live in a red state or blue state, to the guidance of public health experts,” she said during the daily press briefing.

Psaki said Biden has not reached out to GOP Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas or Tate Reeves of Mississippi to try to convince them to back mask-wearing for a few more months while vaccine supply is ramped up.

“I don’t think his view on mask-wearing is a secret. They’re certainly familiar with it. He’s talked about it many, many times,” Psaki said. “And I’m certain when he speaks with them next, he will convey that directly.”

7:11 p.m.
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White House press secretary says Shalanda Young could serve as OMB director in an acting capacity

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Shalanda Young, a former congressional budget aide, could serve as acting director of the Office of Management and Budget if she is confirmed by the Senate as deputy director — but stopped short of saying whether Biden plans to nominate Young to lead the agency beyond that.

Psaki’s comments come amid continuing fallout from Neera Tanden’s decision to withdraw from consideration as OMB director after it became clear she lacked the votes to win Senate confirmation. Biden previously nominated Young to be Tanden’s deputy, and top Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), have coalesced around Young as their preference to serve as the next OMB chief.

At Thursday’s White House briefing, Psaki reiterated that Biden has no immediate plans to announce a replacement nominee for Tanden.

“As you know, he’s nominated an incredibly qualified and well-respected woman, Shalanda Young, to be the deputy at OMB,” Psaki said. “And we’re certainly hopeful Congress will move forward on that. And then she would be in a place to be the acting head while we go through the process of nominating a replacement for Neera.”

Young has won bipartisan plaudits for her appearances at confirmation hearings for the deputy role.

6:31 p.m.
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Trump lashes out at Wall Street Journal, McConnell

Trump lashed out Thursday at the Wall Street Journal for an editorial this week that blamed him for Republican Senate losses in Georgia, and he took several shots at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), calling him “the most unpopular politician in the country.”

The Journal editorial, published Monday night, questioned the wisdom of a Trump political comeback, citing electoral losses in 2020 that it attributed to him.

Trump “proceeded to lose the White House on Nov. 3, and he cost the GOP two Georgia Senate races on Jan. 5 as he made his claims of election fraud the main issue rather than checking Mr. Biden and Nancy Pelosi,” the editorial said, referencing the House speaker. “Mr. Trump essentially told his Georgia supporters their votes didn’t matter, and many stayed home. The GOP lost the Senate.”

Trump offered a rebuttal in his statement, saying “nobody cares much” about Journal editorials.

“To set the record straight, there were two reasons the Senate races were lost in Georgia,” he wrote.

The first, Trump asserted, was that Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) allowed changes in the signature-verification process on mail-in ballots.

The second, Trump said, was “McConnell’s refusal to go above $600 per person on stimulus check payments when the two Democratic opponents were touting $2,000 per person in ad after ad.”

“Even more stupidly,” Trump said, “the National Republican Senatorial Committee spent millions of dollars on TV ineffective ads starring Mitch McConnell, the most unpopular politician in the country, who won in Kentucky because President Trump endorsed him.”

Asked earlier this week about Trump taking credit for his 2020 victory, McConnell said wryly: “I want to thank him for the 15-point margin I had in 2014, as well.”