The White House announced that President Biden would sign a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill Friday, shortly before the House gave approval to the sweeping package on a 220-to-211 vote, handing Biden a major legislative victory just shy of his 50th day in office.

Biden hosted the chief executives of pharmaceutical companies Merck and Johnson & Johnson at the White House on Wednesday to celebrate their pact to boost the supply of the coronavirus vaccine. Biden announced that his administration is seeking to secure an additional 100 million doses of the single-shot vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson.

Here’s what to know:
  • The Senate confirmed Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Merrick Garland as attorney general. Later, the Senate voted to confirm Michael Regan to be administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Biden has picked 58 nominees to fill key roles in his administration so far. We are tracking 790 government positions that require Senate confirmation.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from the Capitol Police to extend the deployment of National Guard members to protect Congress into May.
  • Biden’s orders to rein in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement led to a sharp drop in arrests by the agency last month, even though a federal judge in Texas has blocked the new administration’s 100-day “pause” on deportations.
1:16 a.m.
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Geraldo Rivera says he’s considering U.S. Senate run in Ohio

Geraldo Rivera, the former daytime talk show host turned conservative news commentator, tweeted that he’s “pondering” a run for the U.S. Senate seat in Ohio currently held by retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman.

Rivera, a friend of former president Donald Trump, told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Wednesday that he planned to go on a listening tour of the state before officially deciding whether to get in the race. Although Rivera has defended Trump in his role as a pundit on Fox News, he also has been critical of the former president’s behavior after the 2020 election.

“He’s been a friend of mine forever. I have been very public in my disapproval of his actions post-election and certainly condemn in the most vigorous way what happened on Jan. 6,” Rivera told the newspaper. “However, I think President Trump is not only redeemable, but he’s a force of nature who has been a lifelong friend in my adult life. I would expect he would approve of this. We can resolve our issues and help heal the Republican Party.”

Rivera, a native New Yorker who has a home in Ohio, said he’d be a Republican who would “scare the bejesus out of the Democrats and the far-right wing of the Republican Party.”

An hour before tweeting his interest in the Ohio seat, Rivera tweeted about the coronavirus relief bill, writing, “Doesn’t fact Democrats were able to pass one of the largest spending bills in the history of the Republic with zero GOP support make you queasy?”

The GOP primary in the Ohio Senate race is expected to be a crowded and contentious one. If he were to run, Rivera, who has been a fixture on television for decades, would have the early advantage of his celebrity.

1:05 a.m.
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GOP senators introduce full repeal of the estate tax

Republican Senate leaders who voted against the $1.9 trillion covid relief bill introduced legislation to repeal the tax paid on estates worth more than $11.7 million for an individual or double that, $23.4 million, after they die.

Getting rid of the estate tax altogether has long been a GOP priority, and in 2018 under President Donald Trump, the threshold for paying the tax was doubled to more than $11 million and indexed for inflation. The Biden administration and Democrats have proposed lowering it back to pre-Trump levels.

The legislation, which has no chance of becoming law with a Democratic House, Senate and White House, is sponsored by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and is co-sponsored by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and 24 other Senate Republicans.

The effort to eliminate the tax, which is only paid on the amount that exceeds the $11.7 million threshold and applies to only a few thousand people a year, comes as Republicans fought to lower the income level for those to qualify for the $1,400 direct stimulus payment in the covid relief bill.

11:59 p.m.
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Amtrak will restore daily long-distance train service with federal relief funds

Daily service will be restored to long-distance Amtrak trains starting in May and hundreds of furloughed workers will be called to report back to work as early as next month, the passenger railroad announced Wednesday after Congress passed a pandemic relief package that includes $1.7 billion for the carrier.

Amtrak ended daily service last year to hundreds of stations outside the Northeast as part of cost-saving measures that followed a precipitous drop in ridership and revenue amid the coronavirus pandemic. Most long-distance Amtrak trains have been operating three times a week since October.

The company said it will begin to notify more than 1,200 furloughed employees this month that they will be asked report to work as early as April.

10:59 p.m.
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Mississippi GOP senator who voted against pandemic relief bill praises its inclusion of aid for restaurants

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) was among the members of Congress who voted against the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package.

But on Wednesday, after the House passed the measure, Wicker was singing the praises of at least part of it.

“Independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief,” Wicker said in a tweet. “This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.”

He included a link to an article outlining the ways the relief package will benefit the restaurant industry.

Phillip Waller, Wicker’s communications director, noted that Wicker is among the authors of the Restaurants Act, which would establish a $120 billion relief fund to support independent establishments. He also pointed out that Wicker co-authored an amendment with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) that included the restaurant relief fund in the coronavirus relief package that passed the Senate.

Wicker “has supported targeted relief for restaurants from the very beginning,” Waller said. But ultimately, the senator did not agree with the shape of the relief package as a whole.

“He was not able to support $2 trillion in poorly targeted spending as was proposed by congressional Democrats,” Waller said. “He will continue working to advance targeted relief for restaurants and other groups that have been hit hard by the pandemic.”

10:40 p.m.
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‘How dare you’: Democratic Del. Stacey Plaskett slams GOP Rep. Glenn Grothman over Black Lives Matter comments

Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) went off on Republican Rep. Glenn Grothman (Wis.) during a floor speech after he said the Black Lives Matter movement “doesn’t like old-fashioned family.”

“How dare you, how dare you say that Black Lives Matter, Black people do not understand old-fashioned families,” she said. “How dare you say that we are not interested in families in the Black community. That is outrageous; that should be stricken down.”

Grothman had said an increased tax credit for single people in the covid relief bill led to a marriage penalty and tied it to his accusation that Black Lives Matter activists don’t support traditional families.

“I bring it up because I know the strength that Black Lives Matter had in this last election, I know it’s a group that doesn’t like the old-fashioned family,” he said.

Asked to clarify what he meant, Grothman’s spokesman, Timothy Svoboda, said his boss was referring to Black Lives Matter as a group and not all Black people. He pointed to a Washington Examiner article from the fall about the official Black Lives Matter Global Network removing a page from its website with a description of what the group believed that included: “We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and ‘villages’ that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.”

The longer description focuses on the group’s efforts of inclusivity, including that it endeavors to make its “spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work ‘double shifts’ so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.”

An archive of that page can be read here.

Plaskett received applause from her Democratic colleagues in the House chamber when she finished.

10:34 p.m.
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American Airlines tells employees to ‘be sure to thank’ members of Congress for passing relief bill, even though all Republicans voted ‘no’

Executives at American Airlines on Wednesday urged the company’s employees to thank members of Congress for passing the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan — even though every Republican lawmaker voted against it.

In a memo to staff members, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said the additional funding for the Payroll Support Program contained in the bill means that “for our 13,000 colleagues who received Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) notices last month, those are happily canceled — you can tear them up!”

“If you see your local Congressional representative on a flight, be sure to thank her or him for their work this past year and for recognizing the noble work you all do every day,” Parker and Isom said in the letter. “We will need more time until vaccines are out in full force for demand for travel to significantly improve, but thanks to the extension of the PSP, our country and world can count on American Airlines to be ready.”

American Airlines is based in Fort Worth, and its headquarters sits in Texas’s 24th Congressional District. The district is represented in Congress by Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R), who voted against the relief package Wednesday.

10:17 p.m.
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Biden to travel to Delaware County, Pa., next week as he looks to promote coronavirus relief package

President Biden will travel to Delaware County in Pennsylvania next week in his first visit to his native state since he won the presidency. The trip to the Philadelphia suburbs Tuesday will come as the administration looks to promote the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that the House passed Wednesday.

“I want to thank Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi and the House of Representatives today for passing the bill that I will be signing into law shortly,” Biden said Wednesday afternoon. “This bill represents a historic, historic victory for the American people. I look forward to signing it later this week. Everything in the American Rescue Plan addresses a real need.”

Biden will deliver a prime-time address Thursday as part of the administration’s effort to sell the package, which he is scheduled to sign into law Friday. In hindsight, some Democrats have said President Barack Obama did not do enough to promote the 2009 rescue package that helped reverse the financial crisis.

“We didn’t adequately explain what we had done. Barack was so modest, he didn’t want to take, as he said, a ‘victory lap,’” Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, said last week. “I kept saying, ‘Tell people what we did.’ He said: ‘We don’t have time. I’m not going to take a victory lap.’ And we paid a price for it, ironically, for that humility.”

Pennsylvania is familiar territory for the Scranton-born Biden, whose win in the state in November helped deliver the presidency.

10:11 p.m.
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McCarthy asks Pelosi about easing Capitol covid restrictions

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) asking her to detail her plans “to reopen the People’s House,” citing new guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that ease some covid restrictions for vaccinated Americans.

McCarthy suggests that Pelosi begin lifting the protocols put in place nearly a year ago in the House because about 75 percent of the chamber’s members are vaccinated.

That recommendation doesn’t take into account the many other people who work in the Capitol, including congressional aides, janitors, law enforcement personnel and reporters, who may not yet be vaccinated. It also overstates the new CDC guidelines. The CDC said a vaccinated person could be inside maskless with an unvaccinated person in a single household but did not suggest that hundreds of vaccinated people could gather with dozens of unvaccinated ones.

McCarthy specifically asks Pelosi for the timeline for ending proxy voting — something several Republicans took advantage of when they attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida recently.

He also asks when lawmakers will return to in-person committee meetings, when visitors will be allowed inside the Capitol and when mask requirements will be lifted.

McCarthy then asks about removing the security reinforcements that have been in place around the Capitol after the Jan. 6 insurrection, saying, “There are no credible threats against the Capitol.” The House adjourned a day early last week after U.S. Capitol Police received intelligence of threats against the Capitol.

“Simply put: it’s time that we return to regular order. House Republicans are eager for the chance to reopen the People’s House, restore America’s voice in Congress, and work day in and day out to address the many concerns our constituents face,” he concluded.

9:28 p.m.
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Biden says U.S. will share coronavirus vaccine surplus with rest of the world

At an event with the chief executives of Johnson & Johnson and Merck on Wednesday, Biden hailed the progress the United States has made toward combating the coronavirus and said that any surplus vaccine doses will be shared with other countries after people living in the United States get them.

“If we have a surplus, we’re going to share it with the rest of the world. … We’re not going to be ultimately safe until the world is safe,” Biden told reporters at the White House. “And so we’re going to start off making sure Americans are taken care of first, but we’re then going to try to help the rest of the world.”

Biden also thanked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for shepherding the coronavirus relief package through the House hours earlier. Everything in the plan “addresses a real need,” he said.

“The vaccines bring hope and healing in so many ways,” Biden said. “Again, a vaccinated American is the only way to beat the pandemic, get our economy back on track and for us to get back our lives and our loved ones.”

8:37 p.m.
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Top Senate Republican says Capitol fencing is ‘way overreacting’ to actual threats

The Senate’s top Republican slammed the continued presence of fencing and National Guard around the Capitol, complaining that Congress is “way overreacting to the current need” for security.

“I think we’ve overdone it,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, noting there are presently “no serious threats against the Capitol.”

Since shortly after the Jan. 6 riot, the Capitol campus has been surrounded with rings of “unscalable” fencing and round-the-clock patrols of Capitol Police officers and armed National Guard troops. But in recent weeks, the continued presence of those security measures has sparked heated disputes between leading Democrats and Republicans over whether the Capitol is being overly fortified.

Republicans have been vocal about their disdain for the “fortress” around the Capitol, as many have taken to calling it. On Wednesday, McConnell said “all this razor wire around the complex … reminds me of my last visit to Kabul.”

Many Democrats are also frustrated that the Capitol grounds have been closed off to the public. But in comparison to the GOP, the party has kept its criticism largely in check, in deference to an ongoing security review House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) had commissioned.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré briefed members on the results of that review earlier this week. Among his recommendations are a proposal to install movable and retractable fencing around the Capitol and to give the chief of an expanded Capitol Police force the ability to call in the National Guard without seeking permission from superiors.

“Do we need some changes? We probably do,” McConnell acknowledged Wednesday. “But I think we are continuing to overreact based on current threat levels to what is needed here at the Capitol.”

7:53 p.m.
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Senate confirms Merrick Garland to be nation’s attorney general

Merrick Garland, a longtime federal appeals court judge whose nomination to the Supreme Court Republicans famously refused to consider, was confirmed as Biden’s attorney general Wednesday.

Senators voted 70 to 30 to approve Garland’s nomination. He will take over a Justice Department that saw its reputation battered as President Donald Trump sought to use its power to benefit his friends and hurt his enemies, and which is overseeing several high-profile cases that could be politically perilous.

As a judge, Garland earned a reputation as a moderate consensus builder, and Biden selected him because he was viewed as someone who could restore the Justice Department’s credibility and independence from the White House on criminal matters. He enjoyed bipartisan support. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said before the vote that Garland had a “long reputation as a straight-shooter and legal expert” and that his left-leaning views were “within the legal mainstream.”

Garland has vowed to make decisions on criminal matters without regard to politics and that the agency on his watch will be dedicated to fighting discrimination and domestic terrorism. He has said his first briefing will focus on the investigation into Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol — a sprawling, nationwide case that already has produced charges against roughly 300 people.

7:52 p.m.
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House panel takes step toward reviewing results in contested Iowa race

A key House committee took its first step Wednesday toward reviewing the results of November’s election in Iowa’s 2nd Congressional District after Democratic candidate Rita Hart officially petitioned the chamber in December to overturn the contest she lost by six votes to Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

At a virtual meeting, the Committee on House Administration voted to postpone a decision on Rep. Miller-Meeks’s motion to dismiss Hart’s petition until it has had a chance to examine the details of the case.

“Today none of us can say with confidence who won this election,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the panel’s chair, said during the meeting, adding, “Our answer must be grounded in hard evidence, not bald assumptions.”

In a filing to the House in December, Marc Elias, an attorney for Hart, said state and county election officials in Iowa “made two sets of errors that marred the certified vote total.”

Republicans have argued that Hart should have opted to make her challenge through Iowa’s courts, rather than “choosing to pursue a partisan process in the House,” as Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, the top Republican on the Administration Committee, said during Wednesday’s hearing.

“By moving forward with Rita Hart’s complaint, this committee is calling into question every member of Congress elected under Iowa law and, frankly, each of us, too,” Davis said. “Rita Hart had an opportunity to challenge the claims she is making before the committee in Iowa’s impartial court process. She chose not to. That leads me to believe her lawyers knew that she could not win under Iowa law.”

Miller-Meeks was seated in January along with the rest of the 117th Congress. But a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the move was provisional pending the results of the committee’s review.

In a statement after Wednesday’s vote, Zach Meunier, Hart’s campaign manager, praised the move.

“At least 22 Iowans’ legally-cast ballots still have not been counted due to a string of errors,” Meunier said. “We are glad to see the House Committee on Administration taking the next step toward ensuring that every legally-cast vote is counted in this race and that all Iowans’ voices are heard.”

Miller-Meeks’s campaign attorney, meanwhile, dismissed Wednesday’s move as merely a procedural vote and said the congresswoman remains “focused on serving the needs of her constituents.”

“Rita Hart’s contest has no more merit today than it did when it was filed,” the attorney, Alan Ostergren, said in a statement. “Her refusal to put her claims before neutral judges in Iowa tells us everything we need to know about the weakness of her case. … Hart’s power quest is wrong and damages our electoral system.”

7:46 p.m.
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Rep. Golden, lone Democrat to vote against coronavirus relief bill, says he doesn’t support some changes made by Senate

Rep. Jared Golden (Maine), the lone Democrat to oppose the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, said in a statement Wednesday that he did not support some of the changes made by the Senate to the bill.

Golden voted against the package last month as well, before it was taken up by the Senate.

“Although I support the Senate’s effort to reduce the number of wealthier households that will receive stimulus checks, they did not go far enough, and other changes — like removing the minimum wage increase or providing a lower unemployment benefit — undermined policies that I support,” Golden said in a statement Wednesday. “I voted for a $15 minimum wage in the last Congress, and given the opportunity, I intend to do so again.”

Golden said his “no” vote “should not be construed as an unwillingness to support my constituents and the economy through this pandemic.” And he argued that the borrowing and spending that will be brought about by the relief package “poses a risk to both our economic recovery and the priorities I would like to work with the Biden Administration to achieve, like rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure and fixing our broken and unaffordable healthcare system.”

7:39 p.m.
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Biden says coronavirus relief bill will give working class ‘a fighting chance,’ praises Pelosi for its passage

Biden on Wednesday hailed House passage of his coronavirus relief package, saying the legislation will give the working class “a fighting chance” as the nation weathers the pandemic. He also effusively praised House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for her role in facilitating its passage.

“Now we move forward with the resources needed to vaccinate the nation,” Biden said in a statement. “To get $1,400 in direct payments to 85% of American households. To expand coverage and help with lowering health care premiums. To give small businesses what they need to stay open. To expand unemployment insurance, provide food and nutrition assistance. To help keep a roof over people’s heads. To cut child poverty in half.”

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation — the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going — a fighting chance,” Biden said.

He called Pelosi “the finest and most capable speaker in the history of our nation.”

“Once again, she has led into law an historic piece of legislation that addresses a major crisis and lifts up millions of Americans,” Biden said. “On Friday, I look forward to signing the American Rescue Plan into law at the White House — a people’s law at the people’s house.”