Good morning! It’s Friday, February 19, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 627 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,355 days away. I’m coming to you live from the WUTP bureau in Cancún (just kidding).
What’s next for the Biden agenda
On Wednesday, I wrote about how the first month of the Biden presidency has stacked up against his predecessors, in terms of Cabinet nominees confirmed (far behind), executive orders signed (far ahead), and pieces of legislation approved (lagging).
Now let’s look at what’s coming down the pike. Here’s what to watch next for the Biden agenda:
1. Stimulus package. President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal will be the top priority for congressional Democrats when they return from recess next week. The House Budget Committee will convene on Monday to mark up Biden’s proposal and combine the provisions marked up by nine committees last week into one piece of legislation, the “American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.”
After the Budget Committee is done, House leaders are aiming for a vote towards the end of next week, possibly over the weekend. The package will then go to the Senate, where Democrats face a number of potential pitfalls. First, the bill must be reviewed by the Senate parliamentarian, who will decide whether it complies with the chamber’s Byrd Rule, which dictates which pieces of legislation can be passed via reconciliation, the fast-track process Democrats are using to approve the package without Republican support.
If the parliamentarian strips out any provisions of the package, the slimmed-down version would have to pass in the Senate and then receive another vote in the House. According to Politico, Biden privately told a group of governors and mayors next week that he expects the minimum wage hike to $15 an hour, which is currently in the bill, will be removed by the parliamentarian on the grounds that it does not meet the Byrd Rule’s requirement for all provisions of reconciliation bills to have significant budgetary effects.
With a 50-vote majority, Senate Democrats must also keep their entire caucus in line behind the bill: a single defection will sink the package if it does not receive any Republican support. Biden is hoping to pass the bill by March 14, when the current $300 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits expire. The “American Rescue Plan” would establish $400 weekly unemployment aid through August 29, as well as send $1,400 direct payments to most Americans, $350 billion in funding to state and local governments, $170 billion for school reopenings, and $20 billion for a national vaccination program, among other provisions.
2. Immigration bill. Biden allies on Capitol Hill unveiled a sweeping immigration measure on Thursday that has the president’s backing. The “U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021” would create an eight-year path for citizenship for millions of people in the United States illegally.
The bill would also create an expedited, three-year path to citizenship for farmworkers, “Dreamers” who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children, and people with temporary protected status, who cannot return to their home countries because of wars or other disasters. Those eligible for the three-year path would also become immediately eligible for green cards, which would protect them from deportation as they seek full citizenship.
The legislation would be the first major immigration overhaul since 1986, although there have been several unsuccessful efforts in the decades since. “This time we are going to get it done,” Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA), the House sponsor of the bill, said Thursday.
But the legislation will face an uphill path in Congress when Democrats begin considering it after approving the stimulus package. With the legislative filibuster still in place for non-budgetary pieces of legislation, any immigration package would require 60 votes in the Senate, meaning a bill would need support from 10 Republicans. The package as written is widely seen as unlikely to receive that level of bipartisan support.
3. Unclear. After the stimulus and immigration efforts, it’s unclear which policy area Biden and his slim Democratic majorities will tackle next. According to the Washington Post, the White House is working on an infrastructure package that has already sparked divisions within various factions of the Democratic Party. The bill may end up being even pricier than the coronavirus relief package.
Gun control is also high on the priority list: Biden promised to introduce gun legislation on the first day of his presidency, but a bill has yet to materialize. According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House has begun outreach to gun control groups as they begin to write the package.
The House is also expected to consider a series of Democratic bills in the first week of March, after passing the stimulus package. Those bills include H.R. 1, which includes campaign finance, voting, and ethics reforms; the Equality Act, which would make sexual orientation and gender identity protected classes; and the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform measure.
Each of the bills is expected to die in the Senate due to the filibuster.
TEXAS: Power has been restored for millions of Texas who had been without it this week after widespread outages during a winter storm, but many are still without heat or water at their homes even as temperatures remain bitterly cold.
--- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has sparked controversy and calls for his resignation after flying to Cancún, Mexico, on Wednesday during the emergency in his home state. Cruz promptly returned on Thursday and expressed regret for the trip, which he said was planned for his daughters. “It was obviously a mistake,” the Texan told reporters. “In hindsight, I wouldn’t have done it. I was trying to be a dad.”
NEW YORK: The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn are investigating Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) for his handling of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Albany Time Union and other news outlets.
--- A top Cuomo aide privately admitted last week that the administration covered up the scope of the coronavirus death toll in nursing homes, leading to backlash in the state legislature and a partial apology from the governor. The scandal has been compounded by allegations from Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim that Cuomo threatened to “destroy” him after Kim called for an investigation into the nursing home matter.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION: President Biden is expected to announce today that the United States will contribute $4 billion to COVAX, the global program seeking to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to 92 lower-income countries. He will pledge that the $2 billion for the program that Congress appropriated in December will be sent by the end of this month, while another $2 billion will be sent over the next two years. Biden will make the announcement at a virtual meeting of G7 leaders taking place today.
--- The Biden administration took the first step towards restoring the Iran nuclear deal on Thursday, formally offering to join European nations in negotiating a new agreement with Tehran. The controversial Obama-era agreement, which former President Donald Trump withdrew from, lifted U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country reducing much of its uranium stockpile.
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Q: On Tuesday, you mentioned that the Republican senators who voted to convict Trump face censures from their home states. What exactly happens to them when they are censured? — Avraham Crane of Passaic, New Jersey
Q: Could you explain the actual effect of censure on a politician? — Jan Ball of Palm Beach, Florida
A: Each of the seven GOP senators who voted to convict former President Donald Trump last week are facing censure efforts from local Republicans back home. Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) received censures from their state parties, while Sens. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have received rebukes from county or district-level parties.
Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Pat Toomey (R-PA) are also facing censure efforts within their state parties; in Toomey’s case, a vote could come as soon as this weekend. Many of the 10 House Republicans who backed impeachment have faced similar efforts.
While the censures do provide some signs of where the bulk of Republican Party leaders are leaning in the post-Trump era — especially on the state and local levels — there are no actual consequences for most of these rebukes. The lawmakers will remain in office and they will remain Republicans. It is mostly just a symbolic way for Republicans back home to express their displeasure with how their representatives voted.
In the Senate, two of the seven are retiring in 2022, while four of the others will not face re-election until 2024 or 2026, mostly insulating them (for now) from any anger in their home states. (Only Murkowski will face voters in 2022, but she has insulation of her own, in the form of Alaska’s ranked-choice voting system.)
Of all the censures that have been slapped down, I’ve only seen one that came with an actual punishment: when censuring Burr, the Republican Party in Orange County, North Carolina, also took the added step of banning him from the premises of their party headquarters.
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President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 8 a.m. Then, at 9 a.m., he will participate in a G7 virtual meeting to “discuss plans to defeat the COVID-19 pandemic and rebuild the global economy.” At 11:15 a.m., he will deliver remarks on “the importance of our transatlantic ties” at a virtual event hosted by the Munich Security Conference.
Biden will then depart at 11:55 a.m. for Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he will arrive at 1:45 p.m. The president will tour a Pfizer manufacturing site in Kalamazoo and meet with workers who are producing the COVID-19 vaccine at 2:25 p.m. He will deliver remarks at 3:10 p.m. before departing at 3:50 p.m. and returning to the White House at 5:40 p.m.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff will travel to Los Angeles, California, where they will remain through the weekend. According to the Los Angeles Times, the getaway is Harris’ first extended visit to her home state in about a year. She will “handle chores, including packing belongings” but will not hold any public events.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will gaggle with reporters aboard Air Force One on the way to Kalamazoo.
U.S. public health officials will hold a press briefing on COVID-19 at 11:45 a.m.
U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry will join UN Secretary-General António Guterres at 3 p.m. for an event celebrating the United States’ reentry into the Paris climate agreement as part of the UN Association of the United States of America’s virtual 2021 Global Engagement Summit.
The Senate will briefly convene at 10:15 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The House is not in session.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold a press conference at 11:30 a.m. with members of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus to “denounce the recent spike in anti-Asian hate crimes and violence.”
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on “COVID-19 and the child care crisis” at 10 a.m.
- The House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security will hold a hearing on “a pathway for peace in Afghanistan” at 10:30 a.m. The witnesses will include former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford, who co-chair the U.S. Institute of Peace.
- The House Science, Space, and Technology Committee will hold a hearing on “the science of COVID-19 vaccines and encouraging vaccine uptake” at 11 a.m.
- The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis will hold a briefing with public health experts on “ensuring equity in coronavirus vaccinations” at 2:30 p.m.The Supreme Court justices will meet for their weekly conference.