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January 21, 2021 at 12:19 pm #1203994920
Biden’s solicitor general will play critical role in early efforts to undo Trump policies
by Ariane de Vogue, CNN Supreme Court Reporter
Updated 12:41 PM ET, Thu January 21, 2021
Washington (CNN) President Joe Biden will name a powerhouse lawyer, Elizabeth Prelogar, to serve as acting solicitor general, in an acknowledgment that the office charged with representing the government before the Supreme Court will face an enormous workload both reversing Trump administration legal positions and developing a defense strategy as Biden’s executive actions come under inevitable legal challenge.
Under normal circumstances, when an election produces an administration of a different political stripe, the solicitor general plays a key role managing a wave of potential reversals on certain issues. As Biden replaces Donald Trump, however, it could look more like a tsunami.
In the short term, for instance, the solicitor general’s office is likely to notify the court of a new position in a blockbuster dispute concerning the future of the Affordable Care Act, defending the law rather than seeking to overturn it — but also in other cases tied to controversial Trump policies, some of which the Biden administration may attempt to rescind before the Supreme Court can rule on them.
Under the Trump administration, the solicitor general’s office was particularly aggressive defending a broad array of Trump’s policies in hot button areas such as immigration, religion and abortion, often asking the justices to jump in before an issue had made its way through the lower courts.
Biden has yet to put forward his nominee for the permanent job. The solicitor general is the person who traditionally represents the US government in cases at the Supreme Court and regularly jousts with the justices in their majestic red velvet lined chamber — or, as with current practice, over the telephone.
In the interim, Prelogar will be in the forefront. She is a veteran of the Office of Solicitor General having served as an assistant in the office and also worked recently as an adviser to former special counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election.
Prelogar worked as a former clerk to Judge Merrick Garland, Biden’s nominee for Attorney General, as well as the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Justice Elena Kagan. Biden has yet to nominate a full-time solicitor general, and once that person is confirmed, she will be the principal deputy.January 21, 2021 at 12:24 pm #1203994931
As expected, Biden intends to keep FBI director in his post, an official says
by Jeff Zeleny, Kevin Liptak and Caroline Kelly, CNN
Updated 1:24 PM ET, Thu January 21, 2021
(CNN) President Joe Biden intends to keep FBI Director Christopher Wray in his post, a senior administration official tells CNN, a sign of confidence for the bureau’s leader who has more than six years remaining in his term.
This is not unexpected.
During the transition, Biden signaled his plan to keep Wray on board — if he wasn’t fired first by President Donald Trump. Like all FBI directors, Wray has a 10-year term. Wray was appointed by Trump in 2017 and faced criticism from the ex-president on a number of issues.
Wray had no reason to think he wasn’t on solid footing with the new Biden administration — despite the fact that White House press secretary Jen Psaki did not answer on Wednesday when asked if Biden had confidence in Wray.
“I have not spoken within him about specifically FBI Director Wray in recent days,” press secretary Jen Psaki said, “but I’ll circle back if there’s more to convey.”
Psaki followed up on Thursday, tweeting: “I caused an unintentional ripple yesterday so wanted to state very clearly President Biden intends to keep FBI Director Wray on in his role and he has confidence in the job he is doing.”
An official said she simply had not spoken to Biden about the FBI leader, so she answered honestly at her first briefing.
Wray’s team of federal investigators is currently chasing thousands of leads in twin efforts to prosecute people involved in the January 6 attack on the US Capitol and to try to prevent feared follow-up attacks in Washington and around the country.
Wray announced last week that investigators have identified more than 200 suspects in their probe of the attack at the US Capitol and arrested more than 100 individuals, a challenge that FBI and Justice Department officials say is “unprecedented.”
While federal law enforcement officials have sought to reassure the American public in recent days that they are up to the task on both fronts, their public remarks also lay bare the enormity of the challenge they face in tracking potential threats to not only the nation’s capital, but across the country.
Law enforcement officials have indicated to CNN that authorities missed key signs ahead of the siege, which left five dead and the Capitol ransacked, and the FBI’s preparations leading up to the day of the attack on the Capitol have come under scrutiny.
The Washington Post reported last week that the FBI warned of a violent “war” at the US Capitol in an internal report issued a day before the deadly siege, but it wasn’t acted on urgently enough to prevent the domestic terrorist attack.
The Post said that the Tuesday prior to the attack, an FBI office in Norfolk, Virginia, issued an “explicit internal warning that extremists were preparing to travel to Washington to commit violence and ‘war.’ ”
The report “painted a dire portrait of dangerous plans, including individuals sharing a map of the complex’s tunnels, and possible rally points for would-be conspirators to meet up” in several states before heading to Washington.
Prior to the attacks, Trump made little attempt to veil his disdain for Wray, who many of Trump’s allies have suggested to him is doing little to stamp out what they view as rampant corruption at the FBI. He complained privately that Wray refuses to rebuke his predecessor James Comey, has chastised those who recommended him for the job and has said he would love to replace him.
Officials at the Justice Department and the FBI told CNN last year that Wray knew Trump was often unhappy with him and that the possibility remained ever-present he could be fired by tweet. But Trump’s repeated attacks on Wray appeared designed to motivate a subset of his political base eager to hear him rail against a swampy deep state — despite holding responsibility himself for executive branch appointments and at the time enjoying Republican control of the Senate, which confirms administration nominees.
CNN’s Kate Sullivan contributed to this report.January 21, 2021 at 12:45 pm #1203994963
Biden targets Trump’s legacy with first-day executive actions
by Eric Bradner, Betsy Klein and Christopher Hickey, CNN
Updated 8:48 PM ET, Wed January 20, 2021
(CNN) President Joe Biden is finalizing 17 executive moves just hours after his inauguration Wednesday, moving faster and more aggressively to dismantle his predecessor’s legacy than any other modern president.
Biden is signing a flurry of executive orders, memorandums and directives to agencies, his first steps to address the coronavirus pandemic and undo some of former President Donald Trump’s signature policies.
“There’s no time to start like today,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office as he began signing a stack of orders and memoranda. “I’m going to start by keeping the promises I made to the American people.”
With the stroke of a pen, Biden has halted funding for the construction of Trump’s border wall, reversed his travel ban targeting largely Muslim countries and embraced progressive policies on the environment and diversity that Trump spent four years blocking.
Biden also reversed several of Trump’s attempts to withdraw from international agreements, beginning the process of rejoining the Paris climate accord and halting the United States’ departure from the World Health Organization — where Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, will lead the US delegation.
His first action was to impose a mask mandate on federal property, a break in approach to dealing with the pandemic from Trump, who repeatedly downplayed the virus. Biden also installed a coronavirus response coordinator to oversee the White House’s efforts to distribute vaccines and medical supplies.
Press secretary Jen Psaki and other top Biden officials had told reporters on the eve of his inauguration that the first-day actions are only part of what will be a series of moves to undo Trump policies and implement Biden’s campaign promises in his first weeks in office.
He plans to follow Inauguration Day by centering each day of January on a specific theme, according to a draft of a calendar document sent to administration allies and viewed by CNN.
Thursday, Biden’s first full day in office, will be focused on the coronavirus pandemic, and Friday will highlight Biden’s push for economic relief — including executive orders restoring federal employees’ collective bargaining rights and directing agency action on safety net programs, including Medicaid and unemployment insurance.
The themes next week will be “Buy American,” with a Monday executive order beefing up requirements for government purchases of goods and services from US companies; equity on Tuesday, coupled with a push to eliminate private prisons; climate on Wednesday with an executive order kicking off regulatory actions reestablishing the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and combating climate change; health care on Thursday, a day on which Biden will rescind the so-called Mexico City Policy blocking federal funding for non-governmental organizations that provide abortion services; and immigration on Friday, when Biden plans to sign executive orders focused on border processing and refugee policies and establish a family reunification task force.
February will focus on what’s identified in the calendar document as “restoring America’s place in the world.”January 22, 2021 at 8:57 am #1203996041
Senate confirms Lloyd Austin to be first Black defense secretary
by Clare Foran, CNN
Updated 11:46 AM ET, Fri January 22, 2021
(CNN) The Senate voted on Friday to confirm President Joe Biden’s defense secretary pick retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, who will be the first African American to run the department.
Austin, who retired in 2016 and had to be granted a waiver from a law requiring a defense secretary to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job. The House approved the waiver Thursday afternoon, followed by Senate approval of the measure.
Thursday’s votes cleared the way for final confirmation in the Senate. Friday’s vote was 93-2. Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Josh Hawley of Missouri were the only two no votes.
Confirmation of the defense secretary gives Biden another key department chief in place as congressional Democratic leaders attempt to move swiftly to confirm Cabinet members and other key officials following Biden’s inauguration on Wednesday. The Senate confirmed Biden’s first Cabinet nominee Wednesday evening, voting to approve his pick for director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, on his first day in office.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Friday that the Senate should “pause and reflect” on the fact that Congress has granted waivers to both the Trump and Biden administrations to confirm defense secretaries.
“The law that we keep waiving actually exists for a good reason,” McConnell said. “Civilian control of the military is a fundamental principle of our republic. We emphatically do not want high-ranking military service to become a tacit prerequisite for civilian leadership posts over the Department of Defense.”
In the run-up to his confirmation vote, Austin has worked to overcome objections from some lawmakers to allowing a recently retired general to assume the top civilian post at the Pentagon.
He addressed those concerns directly at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon, saying, “If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation’s security, and I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended.”
“I understand and respect the reservations some of you have expressed about having another recently retired general at the head of the Department of Defense,” he said at the hearing. “The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil.”
This story and headline have been updated to reflect additional developments Friday.
CNN’s Zachary Cohen and Alex Rogers contributed to this report.January 22, 2021 at 9:50 am #1203996147
Schumer says House will send impeachment article to Senate on Monday
(CNN) Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that the House’s article of impeachment will be delivered to the Senate on Monday, triggering the start of the Senate’s impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
“I have spoken to Speaker Pelosi who informed me that the articles will be delivered to the Senate on Monday,” Schumer said on the Senate floor.
The House’s transmission of the impeachment article on Monday would mean that the Senate trial would begin at 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday — unless the Senate reaches an agreement that would push back the trial itself.
Short of an agreement to push the trial back, Democratic sources say that senators and the presiding officer — it’s still unclear whether Chief Justice John Roberts will preside — would be sworn in Tuesday afternoon. Then arguments would start on Wednesday. The length of the trial is still an open question, which will depend both on whether the House impeachment managers seek to call witness and the length of senators’ questions for the legal teams. But sources say most believe the trial will be shorter than the three-week 2020 impeachment trial for Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had proposed delaying the trial until mid-February in order to give Trump’s legal team time to prepare, beginning the ceremonial functions next week but allowing two weeks for pre-trial briefs to be filed by the House and Trump’s lawyers. Schumer’s announcement puts a new deadline for the Senate leaders to reach an agreement — as the impeachment logistics are part of a broader negotiation over the Senate’s power-sharing agreement that remains stalled over a fight about the filibuster.
Schumer said Friday that McConnell’s insistence the Senate’s organizing resolution include a provision protecting the filibuster was “unacceptable — and it won’t be accepted.”
But pushing forward with the trial against GOP wishes also threatens to stall the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet nominees.
“We won’t be doing any confirmations, we won’t be doing any Covid-19 relief, we won’t be doing anything else other than impeaching a person who’s not even president,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a member of Senate GOP leadership.
Cornyn said Republicans haven’t given consent to bifurcate the trial days to take up nominations during the trial. “No, it’s not gonna happen,” he said.
If the Senate begins the trial next week, it will have to pass a resolution to set the rules of the trial. Schumer’s goal is to do so on a bipartisan basis, but the Democratic sources can be adopted with a majority of senators.
Schumer also pushed back on an argument from Senate Republicans that an impeachment trial for a former president was unconstitutional, noting legal scholars have said there is precedent for doing so.
“The Senate will conduct a trial of the impeachment of Donald Trump,” Schumer said. “It will be a full trial. It will be a fair trial. But make no mistake, there will be a trial, and when that trial ends, senators will have to decide if they believe Donald John Trump incited the insurrection against the United States.”
McConnell said Friday that the Senate should give Trump a “full and fair process” to mount his impeachment defense.
“This impeachment began with an unprecedentedly fast and minimal process over in the House. The sequel cannot be an insufficient senate process that denies former President Trump his due process or damages the Senate or the presidency itself,” McConnell said.
“Senate Republicans strongly believe we need a full and fair process where the former president can mount a defense and the Senate can properly consider the factual, legal, and constitutional questions at stake.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.
CNN’s Lauren Fox, Alex Rogers, Ali Zaslav and Jessica Dean contributed to this report.January 23, 2021 at 12:18 pm #1203997774
I’m gettinge a kick reading qanon, which is preferable to transparent msm.
I dont care if he’s Donald Duck. I’ll support a Nationalist over the Great Reset, Operation Lockstep and Agendas 21 and 30. No Thanks UN commies.
The Sunne in Splendour.
I prefer my roses whiteJanuary 25, 2021 at 1:05 pm #1204001213
Leahy, not Roberts, expected to preside over impeachment trial
(CNN) The contours of former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial are starting to take shape, with the Senate’s longest-serving Democrat expected to preside over the trial and Democrats still weighing whether to pursue witnesses during proceedings that could take up a chunk of February.
Chief Justice John Roberts will not be presiding like he did for Trump’s first impeachment trial, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the President pro tempore of the Senate, is expected to preside, the sources said. The Constitution says the chief justice presides when the person facing trial is the current president of the United States, but senators preside in other cases, one source said.
There are still two big looming questions over the Democrats’ impeachment case: Whether they will seek witnesses and how long the trial will take. The answers to both are still not known yet, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter.
But if the House impeachment managers seek witnesses, they want prospective witnesses to be cooperative, rather than threaten to fight in court over executive privilege, a snag that hampered Democrats’ efforts to seek witnesses the first time around.
The exact time frame of the trial itself, which will begin the week of February 8, is also unknown, but multiple impeachment managers have said they don’t think it will go as long as the 21 days of Trump’s trial in 2020. The expectation is still, however, that it will take up much of February and wrap up by month’s end, if not sooner.
The impeachment trial officially gets in motion Monday evening when the House impeachment managers will walk the impeachment article to the Senate, even though the substance of the trial has been put off for another two weeks.
The House’s transmission of the single impeachment article is the first of several ceremonial functions of the trial that will be completed this week, before the Senate will turn back to confirming President Joe Biden’s Cabinet and potentially taking up the President’s Covid-19 relief package.
The likelihood that Leahy will oversee the trial has raised questions about whether he will also be eligible to vote, but constitutional experts say that nothing would stop him from doing so.
“He’s a sitting senator, he still gets to vote. Nothing in the Constitution would preclude him from voting,” said Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor who has written extensively about impeachment.
Leahy told reporters Monday that he’s “up to the responsibility” of presiding, and his role will be to make sure “the procedures are followed.”
“I’m not presenting the evidence, I’m making sure the procedures are followed,” Leahy said when asked about being a frequent critic of the former President. “I don’t think there’s any senator who over the 40-plus years I’ve been here would say I’m anything but impartial in ruling on procedure.”
The Vermont Democrat declined to say when the decision was made that he would preside over the Senate trial.January 25, 2021 at 1:07 pm #1204001217
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Donald Trump’s Former Press Secretary, Announces Campaign for Arkansas Governor
Former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made it official on Monday that she is running for governor of Arkansas, posting an announcement video that has echoes of Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign.
“As governor, I will defend our right to be free of socialism and tyranny, your Second Amendment right to keep your family safe and your freedom of speech and religious liberty,” she said. “Our state needs a leader with the courage to do what’s right, not what’s political correct or convenient.”
She also refers to “far left and their allies at CNN or the New York Times,” an indication that at least part of her campaign will co-opt Trump’s attacks on the news media.
Sanders was White House press secretary from 2017 to 2019, the longest tenure of any of the four figures who were in that role during Trump’s term.
The video opens with an anecdote in which she went with Trump to Iraq to visit troops at Christmas.
She also notes that “I was the first White House press secretary to require Secret Service protection because of a credible violent threat against me.”
She says that “we have seen violence in our streets, at a congressional baseball practice and at our Capitol. This is not who we are as Americans. To remain free, we must have law and order, and resolve our differences peacefully.”
Sanders was referring to the 2017 shooting attack on Republican members of Congress during baseball practice, and this month’s siege on the Capitol. In the latter case, she did not mention that Trump was impeached again on charges that he incited the riot.
Sanders’ father, Mike Huckabee, was governor of the state from 1996 to 2007. The current governor, Asa Hutchinson, cannot run again because of term limits.
She won’t be the first former White House press secretary to seek elective office. After serving as press secretary for John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, Pierre Salinger was appointed to fill a vacancy to the U.S. Senate in 1964 but lost an election for a full term that year.January 25, 2021 at 1:11 pm #1204001228
Biden replaces controversial White House physician
Washington (CNN) President Joe Biden has replaced the controversial White House physician who offered misleading information about President Donald Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis last fall.
A White House official said Biden had selected Dr. Kevin O’Connor to replace Dr. Sean Conley as his doctor. It’s not uncommon for a president to name his own physician when taking office, though his two most recent predecessors each retained the incumbent doctor who had attended the men who served before them.
Conley generated controversy in the fall when he admitted to offering rosy descriptions of Trump’s condition because the White House wanted to project optimism. In reality, Trump suffered serious conditions like shortness of breath that required supplemental oxygen.
Biden has a long history with O’Connor, who served as his physician while vice president. He is a retired US Army colonel who served in the 82nd Airborne Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment, and the United States Army Special Operations Command.
He administered Biden’s physical in 2019 and prepared a report that deemed the then-candidate “healthy” and “vigorous.” At 78, Biden is the oldest newly inaugurated president in history.
A White House physician is responsible for medical care of the President, the first family and White House staff. They oversee a team of doctors and nurses that comprise the White House Medical Unit, which is headquartered in the ground level of the White House.
White House physicians travel wherever the President does, including on the Marine One helicopter and aboard Air Force One. They can frequently be seen walking a few paces behind the President, carrying a large medical bag. They also traditionally perform an annual physical and provide a summary for reporters.
Both O’Connor and Conley hold degrees in osteopathic medicine, one of the two degrees in the United States with which physicians can practice medicine — either as a doctor of medicine or a doctor of osteopathic medicine. About a quarter of US medical students train at osteopathic medical schools, according to the American Medical Association. Historically, doctor of osteopathic medicine programs have touted their methods as “more holistic.”
Conley drew scrutiny during Trump’s bout with coronavirus in the fall. He supervised a team of specialists at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Trump was treated.
At first, he did not disclose the President had received supplemental oxygen, and defended the decision by saying he wanted to “reflect the upbeat attitude of the team.”
“I didn’t want to give any information that might steer the course of illness in another direction, and in doing so it came off that we were trying to hide something,” Conley said.
He replaced Dr. Ronny Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who was nominated to be secretary of veterans affairs. Jackson later withdrew following a string of allegations that included he loosely handled prescription pain medications, was intoxicated during an overseas trip and created a toxic work environment. Jackson denied the allegations. He later ran for a Texas congressional seat as a Republican and won.
On Wednesday, Conley was seen departing the White House alongside Trump, who was making a final trip to Florida before his term ended.
This story has been updated with additional background information.
CNN’s Kaitlan Collins contributed to this report.January 25, 2021 at 1:19 pm #1204001244
GOP Sen. Rob Portman won’t run for reelection, saying it’s difficult to “break through the partisan gridlock”
(CNN) Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio announced Monday that he will not run for reelection after his current term in office ends in 2022, saying in a statement that the entrenched partisan gridlock in Washington was a factor in his decision.
The announcement will set off what could become a highly competitive race to fill the seat and will reshape the 2022 battlefield for control of the Senate. The news could also potentially pave the way for a crowded GOP primary field in a state won by former President Donald Trump in both the 2020 and 2016 presidential elections.
There is already speculation that Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, a close ally and vocal defender of Trump, could run. Other possible GOP candidates include: J.D. Vance, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” Josh Mandel, who dropped out of the 2018 GOP primary race to challenge Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, and Jon Husted, the state’s lieutenant governor.
A GOP source who has worked with the Portman team texted CNN: “There are two scenarios for the seat now: 1.) Jordan Runs and Clears the Field; 2.) Everyone in the State Runs.”
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is also seriously eyeing a Senate bid, a former Ohio GOP official said.
LaRose, who served as a Green Beret in Iraq as a member of the Special Forces, is a former Republican state senator. He largely financed his own bid as secretary of state, and his family is well established and funded, as he is the son of a beer distribution family company.
At least three Ohio GOP representatives are also interested in running for Senate following Portman’s announcement: Rep. Steve Stivers, Brad Wenstrup and Mike Turner, according to people familiar with their thinking.
On the Democratic side, one possible candidate could be Rep. Tim Ryan, who unsuccessfully ran for president in the 2020 Democratic primary. A top Democratic operative in the state told CNN they hope Ryan finally pulls the statewide trigger and runs. He had been thinking about governor, the source said, “but Senate clearly fits him better.”
Ryan tweeted Monday afternoon that while he has not made a decision yet, he is seriously considering a bid.
“I’m overwhelmed by supporters who are reaching out to encourage me to run for Senate. I haven’t made a decision yet but I’m looking seriously at it. Ohio deserves leaders who fight for working people,” he said.
In his statement, Portman said that partisan stalemate has grown worse and that played a role in his decision, saying, “I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision.”
“We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground. This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades,” he said, adding, “This is a tough time to be in public service.”
In announcing his decision, Portman also signaled he stands ready to work with the Biden administration as it attempts to win bipartisan support for the President’s economic rescue package responding to the pandemic.
“For many of the issues I am most passionate about, I will continue to make a difference outside of the Senate, beyond 2022. In the meantime, I am hopeful that President Biden will follow through on his inaugural pledge to reach across the aisle, and I am prepared to work with him and his administration if he does,” he said. “I was on the bipartisan call yesterday on a new COVID-19 package. I hope the Administration will work with us on a more targeted approach that focuses on things like vaccine distribution, testing and getting kids back to school.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reacted to the news on Monday by saying in a statement that “My friend Sen. Portman’s announced retirement in two years will be a big loss for the entire Senate.”
“Both the Republican conference and the institution as a whole will be worse off when Rob departs. Fortunately, in the meantime, we have two more years to continue drawing on his knowledge, his principles, and his dedication as we keep fighting for American families,” McConnell said.
GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina echoed that sentiment.
“Very, very sad to see that @senrobportman is not seeking reelection. Rob is one of the smartest, most sincere members of the Senate that I have ever known. This will be a major blow to the Senate as well as the Republican Party,” Graham tweeted.
This headline and story have been updated to include additional developments Monday.
CNN’s Annie Grayer, Sarah Westwood, Michael Warren and Dan Merica contributed to this report.January 26, 2021 at 4:59 pm #1204003992
Biden announces purchase of 200M vaccine doses
by MJ Lee, Kate Sullivan and Maggie Fox, CNN
Updated 5:40 PM ET, Tue January 26, 2021
(CNN) President Joe Biden announced a series of measures on Tuesday aimed at ramping up coronavirus vaccine allocation and distribution, including the purchase of 200 million more vaccine doses and increased distribution to states by millions of doses next week.
With those additional doses, Biden said there would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans — nearly the entire US population — by the end of summer or early fall.
He described efforts to combat Covid-19 as a “wartime undertaking.”
“We now have a national strategy to beat Covid-19. It’s comprehensive. It’s based on science, not politics. It’s based on truth, not denial, and it is detailed,” he said.
As part of the new efforts announced Tuesday, the US will buy 100 million more doses from Pfizer/BioNTech and 100 million more from Moderna — the two-dose vaccines that have been granted emergency use authorization by the US Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer and Moderna are working to step up production, and Biden said that the additional doses will be available this summer.
The new purchase will increase the planned Covid-19 vaccine supply from 400 million to 600 million, an official told reporters on a call on Tuesday ahead of Biden’s remarks.
The President also took action on Tuesday to increase the weekly vaccine supply to states, tribes and territories — upping the current 8.6 million doses to a minimum of 10 million doses weekly. Additionally, the White House will be providing three week vaccine supply look-ahead reports to states as opposed to one week look-aheads.
Biden’s Covid coordinator, Jeff Zients, informed governors on a call Tuesday afternoon that Covid vaccine allocations for states would increase by around 16% starting next week.
A White House document explaining the move says the Biden administration is committing to maintaining this as the minimum supply level for the next three weeks.
The new efforts come one day after the President said he expects the US will soon be able to vaccinate 1.5 million people a day, which is a notable increase from the administration’s previously stated target of 1 million per day. The President said that the US could surpass that initial target in about three weeks, and said that he thinks anyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get it by this spring.
Biden’s official goal on administering vaccines still remains 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office, multiple White House officials told CNN, after Biden raised the new 1.5 million doses a day aspiration. That initial goal is enough to cover 50 million Americans with vaccines that require two doses.
There have been about 22.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered to Americans as of Tuesday afternoon, according to data provided by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
About 3.3 million Americans have received two doses of a vaccine as of Tuesday afternoon, according to the CDC.
The President said Monday that the key factors involved in ramping up vaccinations are having enough of the vaccine, syringes and other necessary equipment and people administering them.
The vaccine supply and the question of whether there will be enough doses to go around has been a key concern for the Biden administration, CNN has reported.
Biden signed an executive order on his first full day in office to ramp up supplies for vaccinations. The order was part of a series of actions Biden took that day to address the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to devastate the nation and has claimed the lives of more than 421,800 Americans as of Tuesday afternoon.
The Biden administration believes it did not inherit a working federal coronavirus vaccine distribution plan from the Trump administration.
“The sad part is the last administration didn’t leave anything, didn’t leave a plan,” Biden senior adviser Cedric Richmond said on CNN over the weekend.
Before taking office, Biden was openly critical of what he described as a “dismal” rollout of the Covid vaccines under President Donald Trump.
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez and Jason Hoffman contributed to this report.January 27, 2021 at 2:03 pm #1204005487
GOP threatens filibuster for Mayorkas nomination to be DHS secretary
(CNN) Senate Republicans plan to object to any efforts to quickly confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security, further delaying his confirmation as the department grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, national security concerns and President Joe Biden’s ambitious immigration plans.
In confirming the GOP’s plans to filibuster, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill that “there’s a number of problems” with Mayorkas’ nomination.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pushed to have Mayorkas confirmed quickly, but Cornyn and other Senate Republicans argue that Mayorkas hasn’t been properly vetted on immigration issues and are calling for an additional hearing into his nomination.
The use of the filibuster — to stall nominations or legislation — has long been a favored tool of the minority party, something Schumer did often when trying to derail and delay the Republican agenda under then-President Donald Trump.
In recent days, continued use of the filibuster on legislation became a central sticking point over a resolution that would allow the 50-50 Senate to officially organize, but the stall tactic is unlikely to be gutted further in this Congress because of resistance from some moderate Democrats.
Republicans’ planned objections to Biden’s nominee to lead the Homeland Security Department means Schumer would have to take procedural steps to overcome a filibuster on Mayorkas. The Senate Democratic leader would need 51 votes in the Senate to overcome the filibuster, a process sure to consume several days of floor time unless an agreement is reached for a quicker vote.
The Senate Homeland Security Committee held an extensive hearing into Mayorkas’ qualifications to lead the department last week and voted Tuesday to move Mayorkas’ nomination forward.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri attempted to block Mayorkas’ quick consideration after the hearing, arguing in a statement that Mayorkas had inadequately explained how he will secure the US southern border.
In a letter Tuesday, Cornyn led seven other GOP senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including Hawley, in demanding a hearing for Mayorkas before their panel.
They argued that Mayorkas spoke about “immigration priorities at length” during his January 19 hearing proving that immigration issues will be a “top focus” of his, and that the Senate Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over immigration matters.
“All Members of the Committee should have the opportunity to hear from Mr. Mayorkas directly, and to publicly discuss with him his plans with respect to the Department’s immigration components and functions,” the Republican lawmakers wrote.
Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin, who is set to chair the Judiciary Committee, told CNN, “I don’t see why that’s necessary” and called the request for a hearing “totally political.”
While several of Biden’s nominees have been confirmed and have moved at a slower pace than some of his predecessors’ Cabinet picks, Republicans had not yet threatened to filibuster a nominee until Wednesday. Mayorkas is now the first.
The department has been without a Senate-confirmed leader since Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was ousted in early 2019.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CNN’s Geneva Sands and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.January 28, 2021 at 11:54 am #1204007020
First lady Jill Biden expected to take active role in immigrant family reunification
(CNN) The Biden administration’s planned task force aimed at reuniting children who were separated from their parents at the border under the Trump-era enforcement policies will include input from first lady Jill Biden, according to three sources familiar with the planning.
Biden is tasking her East Wing with taking an active role in the reunification project. Her interest in the task force could offer something of a stark contrast with former first lady Melania Trump.
Trump made her first trip to visit a border facility for children and families in Texas in June 2018 in the midst of the zero-tolerance separation controversy, but did so wearing a jacket emblazoned with the words, “I really don’t care. Do U?” The jacket spawned a news cycle of its own, drawing attention away from Trump’s objective for the visit, and helping create a public perception of a first lady disinterested in the issue. In an interview several months after her border trip, Trump called the separation of families, “unacceptable” and “heartbreaking.”
The current first lady’s upcoming involvement in the issue and its targeted task force will lend visibility to the mission of reuniting children with their parents, which remains a crisis for many families. Lawyers are still unable to reach the parents of 611 children who had been split from their families by US border officials between 2017 and 2018, according to the latest court filing. The Justice Department also officially rescinded the policy Tuesday in a memo to federal prosecutors, even though it had already been ended.
“As the first lady remarked on a ‘Charla’ with young Latinos earlier this week, her chief of staff, Ambassador Julissa Reynoso, will monitor the federal reunification effort given her background as a lawyer,” Biden spokesman Michael LaRosa told CNN on Wednesday, confirming the East Wing’s anticipated involvement. Reynoso has firsthand perspective, having moved to the United States with her family from a rural village in the Dominican Republic when she was a child.
A White House official said Jill Biden was especially impacted by her December trip to the Matamoros, Mexico, refugee camp across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
“It’s not who we are as Americans. We are a welcoming nation, but that’s not the message that we’re sending at the border. We’re saying, ‘Stop. Don’t come in,’ ” she said at the time after spending two hours on the ground at the camp.
Top officials at Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Services and the State Department are expected to lead the task force, one official familiar with the situation said.
President Joe Biden promised to announce the task force on day one of his administration, but he has yet to do so. The task force, however, is expected to be announced as early as later this week.January 28, 2021 at 11:59 am #1204007027
O’Rourke mulling run for Texas governor
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) said this week he is considering a 2022 gubernatorial run, setting up a potential challenge against incumbent Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R).
“It’s something I’m going to think about,” O’Rourke told Buzz Adams on Texas radio station KLAQ on Monday.
O’Rourke went on to hit Abbott’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, accusing him of having a “complete indifference” to steps local leaders are trying to take to save lives amid the public health crisis.
“This state has suffered perhaps more than any other in the midst of this pandemic, in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. And it is particularly galling to you and to me and everyone who is listening that El Paso in one of the hardest-hit states was, if not is, the hardest-hit city,” O’Rourke said.
“I want to make sure that we have someone in the highest office in our state to make sure that all of us are OK,” he said. “Whether I’m a candidate for governor or I support someone who’s a candidate for governor, I want to make sure that we have excellence in leadership and that excellence goes to every single part of the state, including ours.”
The Hill has reached out to Abbott’s team for comment.
O’Rourke came within less than 3 points of defeating Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) in the state’s 2018 Senate race, catapulting him onto the national political scene. O’Rourke then pursued a presidential bid but dropped out of the Democratic primary in late 2019.
Despite his two recent unsuccessful campaigns, O’Rourke is widely seen as a figure that could ultimately turn Texas Democratic.Not now
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