Politics live updates: Biden’s COVID relief bill is ‘bipartisan’ already, White House says

Sarah Elbeshbishi

Jeanine Santucci

Caren Bohan

Bart Jansen

Nicholas Wu

Joey Garrison
 
| USA TODAY

Although still lacking support from Republican members of Congress, the White House argued Wednesday that President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief bill already is “bipartisan” because polls show the public overwhelmingly supports it. 

“Our view is that this bill itself is bipartisan,” Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said at a press briefing. “Seventy-four percent of the public support it – Republican and Democrats, independents across the country.”

She was referring to a Yahoo News/YouGov poll that found Biden’s push for $2,000 relief checks – $600 provided by congressional action in December and $1,400 more proposed in the president’s bill – is supported by 74% of Americans and opposed by just 13%.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday found 68% of Americans support passage of the legislation, including 37% of Republican voters, 68% of independents and 97% of Democrats. Forty-three percent of Republican voters said they opposed its passage.

Psaki’s comments mark the latest posturing as the White House remains firm on passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in full while a group of 10 Republican senators looks to scale back the bill to $618 billion.

After meeting with the Republicans on Monday night, Biden hosted Senate Democrats, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, at the White House on Wednesday as they seek to move forward on the bill’s passage. 

Psaki said the president and the senators were in “agreement on the need to move swiftly” with the legislation and on the “need to go big.”

Schumer relayed the same message, telling reporters, “We want to do it bipartisan, but we must be strong. We cannot dawdle, we cannot delay, we cannot dilute, because the troubles that this nation has and the opportunities that we can bring them are so large.”

Psaki said the White House “would certainly welcome an offer” from Republicans on what they would support in direct financial relief for state and local governments. But she noted that the Republican proposal currently has no funding for this. Biden has proposed $350 billion for state and local governments.

— Joey Garrison

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., announced Wednesday the House of Representatives would vote Thursday to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from her House committees because of her past controversial statements and embracing of QAnon conspiracy theories.

Hoyer and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., spoke Wednesday in a final effort to reach a compromise on Greene. But after the conversation, Hoyer said in a statement there was “no alternative” to holding a vote to boot Greene from her committee posts. A key House panel is set to take up the motion spearheaded by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., Wednesday afternoon, clearing the way for the full House to vote.

Democrats have called for Greene to be stripped of her assignments on the House Education and Labor Committee and the Budget Committee after her past statements and social media posts resurfaced after she sworn into office Jan. 3.

She had “liked” calls for violence against prominent Democrats on Facebook, described school shootings as staged events, and outlined conspiracies such as space lasers causing deadly wildfires in California.

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene faces backlash of Facebook posts and video

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene faces backlash after former Facebook activity and video surfaced of her heckling Parkland survivor before she took office.

Staff video, USA TODAY

Republicans denounced Greene as well, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who called her an “embarrassment to our party.”

Greene did not answer questions Wednesday from reporters as she left her office. House Republicans have a meeting Wednesday afternoon and Greene’s future within their caucus is likely to be discussed.

Read the full story.

– Nicholas Wu 

On a private conference call with House Democrats Wednesday morning, President Joe Biden told lawmakers it was “not even in the cards” to go from his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill to a $618 billion counterproposal from a group of Senate Republicans. 

Biden told House Democratic leaders he would not break a “promise to the American people” on the $1,400 stimulus checks, according to a source on the phone call not authorized to speak publicly.

Still, Biden signaled he was “not married on a particular number” for the overall cost of the package, the source said, telling Democrats “we have to get this done.”

Biden told House Democrats he would be open to “better target the number” for income limits on the checks, the source said. Some moderate Republicans like Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had suggested establishing stricter income limits on the checks to prevent wealthier Americans from receiving them.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Tuesday said $1.9 trillion remains the number sought by the White House. Biden met with the group of 10 Republican senators, including Collins, on Monday night, but the two sides left without a deal.

Biden is meeting with Senate Democrats Wednesday afternoon as they speed ahead on passing the president’s full legislative package without scaling it back as demanded by Republicans.

“I think we’ll get some Republicans,” Biden said during a brief appearance with reporters as the meeting got underway.

The Democrat-led Senate on Tuesday voted 50-49, along party lines, to approve a budgetary maneuver that would allow Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to pass with a simple majority and therefore no Republican support.

– Joey Garrison and Nicholas Wu

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., signaled Wednesday he could support the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that President Joe Biden proposed, after earlier calling for a bipartisan compromise with Republicans who propose to spend about one-third of that amount.

“If it’s $1.9 trillion, so be it,” Manchin told MSNBC. “If it’s a little smaller than that and we find a targeted need, then that’s what we’re going to do.”

When reporters asked Manchin Tuesday whether Democrats should reduce the proposal, he said no.

“No, no. Nothing should be taken off the table,” Manchin said. “So they’re going to negotiate. That’s the process.”

The debate over the package represents the first big legislative test for Biden, as he searches for ways to curb the pandemic and revive the economy. But the debate revealed a partisan divide, with the Senate voting 50-49 along party lines to pursue their larger package.

– Bart Jansen

Bruce Castor, one of former President Donald Trump’s lawyers leading his defense team in the Senate impeachment trial, said Wednesday that Trump “has plenty to win” acquittal in the case and that he can’t be blamed for the riot Jan. 6 at the Capitol.

“At some point in this country we have to recognize that people are responsible for their own actions, and the president deplores the violence at the Capitol,” Castor told KYW in Philadelphia. “But just because somebody gave a speech and people got excited, it doesn’t mean it’s the speechmaker’s fault, it’s the people who got excited and did what they know is wrong.”

Castor said he opposed arguing about election fraud as part of the trial and he wasn’t pressured to adopt that strategy.

“There are plenty of questions about how the election was conducted throughout the country, but that’s for a different forum, and I don’t believe that’s important to litigate in the Senate trial because you don’t need it,” Castor said. “President Trump has plenty to win with what he has.”

His comments came a day after Trump’s defense team and House members who will prosecute the Senate trial filed written arguments in the case. Trump is charged with inciting insurrection at the Capitol with his speech the same day, after questioning the legitimacy of the election for months and pressuring Georgia officials to change their results. But Trump’s team said his speech was protected by the First Amendment and that he couldn’t be held responsible for what the mob did.

– Bart Jansen

Senate leaders ended a monthlong standoff over sharing power in a tied 50-50 Senate, finally giving Democrats control of Senate committees.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Wednesday morning a deal had been made between the two parties.

An impasse over a legislative procedure known as the filibuster, which establishes a 60-vote threshold to advance any legislation, had stalled negotiations between Schumer and McConnell. The Republican leader had asked for Democrats to pledge to keep the procedure intact rather than change the rules to eliminate it. 

Their agreement is likely to be similar to the rules agreed to in 2001, the last time the Senate was be split 50-50 between parties. There will be an equal number of Senate Republicans and Democrats on each committee, but Democrats will chair the committees, and will allow them to confirm more of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees. Republican control of the Judiciary and Health Committees, for example, has prevented Democrats from scheduling confirmation hearings for Biden’s Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland or Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra.

– Nicholas Wu

President Joe Biden is set to meet with Senate Democrats Wednesday morning at the White House to discuss his COVID-19 relief bill as his party pushes ahead on passing his full legislative package without making concessions to Republicans.

Democratic senators who will meet with Biden include Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic chairs of 10 Senate committees.

The Oval Office meeting comes one day after the Democrat-led Senate voted 50-49, along party lines, to approve a budgetary maneuver that would allow Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan to pass with a simple majority and therefore no Republican support.

Biden hasn’t budged from his position that his signature legislation remains fully intact after 10 Senate Republicans push a $618 billion counterproposal that’s less than one-third the size.

“It is,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday when asked whether $1.9 trillion remains the price tag that the president wants.

Biden met with the leaders of the Democratic House Caucus by phone earlier Wednesday morning.

– Joey Garrison

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., met with freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., for about 90 minutes Tuesday night after rising concerns from both sides of the aisle over Greene’s incendiary remarks, according to the Associated Press.

Greene has publicly supported QAnon pro-Trump conspiracy theories and appeared to endorse violence against Democratic politicians, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.. The freshman representative also previously suggested that some school shootings had been staged.

Democrats threatened to hold a House vote to remove Greene from her committee assignment if Republicans took no action.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., condemned Greene’s speech. 

McConnell, R-K.Y., criticized Greene, condemning her support of conspiracy theories as “loony lies” that is “cancer for the Republican Party” in a statement Monday.

– Sarah Elbeshbishi

House Republicans: House Republicans, divided and angry, meet to decide fate of Liz Cheney and Marjorie Taylor Greene

Members of Congress will pay tribute Wednesday to Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries sustained during the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol Building.

His remains were taken to the Capitol Rotunda Tuesday night where he is lying in honor.

President Joe Biden arrived at the Capitol to pay his respects about 10 p.m. EST Tuesday alongside first lady Jill Biden. 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy were present for the ceremonial arrival of Sicknick’s ashes at 9:30 p.m. EST. A viewing period for Capitol Police officers went through the night.

Members of Congress will be able to pay their respects beginning on Wednesday at 7 a.m., and congressional leaders will speak at a ceremony at 11:30 a.m.

– Jeanine Santucci

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