Politics News

Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MICHELLE STODDART, LAUREN KING and KATE PASTOR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- This is Day 37 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Here is how events are unfolding. All times Eastern:

Feb 24, 7:04 pm
Vilsack sworn in as agriculture secretary via Zoom

Tom Vilsack was sworn in as the secretary of agriculture Wednesday evening in a ceremony the vice president said was her first via Zoom.

Harris was in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with a pool of journalists and Vilsack appeared on a large screen with his family.

"Congratulations, Mr. Secretary and to the whole family," Harris said after he was sworn in. "The president is so excited. We've got a lot of work to do and we'll do it together."

Vilsack is returning to a role he held in the Obama administration for eight years. He previously served two terms as Iowa's governor.

He was confirmed on Tuesday by a vote of 92-7.

Feb 24, 6:30 pm
Biden reverses Trump proclamation restricting immigration during pandemic

Biden has reversed former President Donald Trump's presidential proclamation restricting immigration during the COVID-19 pandemic citing the economy, saying it does not advance the interests of the United States.

"To the contrary, it harms the United States, including by preventing certain family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents from joining their families here. It also harms industries in the United States that utilize talent from around the world. And it harms individuals who were selected to receive the opportunity to apply for, and those who have likewise received, immigrant visas through the Fiscal Year 2020 Diversity Visa Lottery," Biden wrote in a proclamation of his own.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Feb 24, 5:09 pm
Biden signs executive order to secure US supply chains

Biden signed an executive order Wednesday that will begin a 100-day investigation into vulnerabilities in the supply chain of critical sectors including computer chips, large capacity batteries, active pharmaceutical ingredients and critical and strategic materials, including rare earth minerals.

Biden touted the move as something that will strengthen America for future challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, which revealed myriad flaws in the supply chain.

"This is about making sure the United States can meet every challenge we face in this new era," Biden said. "Pandemics, but also in defense, cybersecurity, climate change, and so much more. And the best way to do that is by protecting and sharpening America’s competitive edge by investing here at home."

In remarks before the signing, he called the subject one of few "where Republicans and Democrats agreed," having met earlier in the day with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Feb 24, 5:08 am
Top Republican floats alternative candidate to head OMB

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., a top Republican on the Appropriations Committee, is throwing his weight behind an alternative nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget: Shalanda Young.

Young was nominated by Biden to be deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Young was most recently the staff director at House Appropriations, and she and Shelby have a close working relationship.

“I believe she would be good in that role. She’s smart, she knows the process inside-out, and she’s an honest broker who has demonstrated the ability to work with both sides and get things done. She would have my support, and I suspect many of my Republican colleagues would support her, as well," Shelby said in a statement. "But that’s up to the Biden Administration.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about Shelby's support on Wednesday and the possibility of Young being a Neera Tanden replacement, but she made clear that the White House maintains support for Tanden.

-ABC News' Trish Turner

Feb 24, 4:17 pm
Manchin to support Haaland confirmation

Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., will vote to confirm Rep. Deb Haaland's, D-Ariz., nomination to serve as secretary of the interior, easing concerns that Haaland's appointment could be in jeopardy.

Manchin has been in close focus on this and other nominations this week, as the moderate Democrat has significant ability to jeopardize nominees in the evenly divided Senate.

Manchin has said he will oppose the nomination of Neera Tanden to the Office of Management and Budget and has not committed to a position on Xavier Becerra's nomination to lead the Department of Health and Human Services.

"I believe that every Presidential nominee and every Member of Congress must be committed to a new era of bipartisanship. That is the standard the overwhelming majority of Americans expect and deserve," Manchin said in a statement. "With respect to Representative Haaland and her confirmation hearing, while we do not agree on every issue, she reaffirmed her strong commitment to bipartisanship, addressing the diverse needs of our country and maintaining our nation’s energy independence."

-ABC News' Allison Pecorin

Feb 24, 4:15 pm
Biden extends national emergency over COVID-19

Biden has officially extended the national emergency declared over the COVID-19 pandemic beyond March 1. By law, the national emergency would have ended a year after it was declared unless the president took action to continue the order within 90 days of its expiration date.

"The COVID-19 pandemic continues to cause significant risk to the public health and safety of the Nation," Biden wrote in his letter to Congress. "More than 500,000 people in this Nation have perished from the disease, and it is essential to continue to combat and respond to COVID-19 with the full capacity and capability of the Federal Government."

The national emergency was initially ordered by former President Donald Trump on March 13, 2020, freeing up financial resources for the country as the pandemic took hold.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Feb 24, 3:48 pm
Psaki faces questions on child immigration policy

After an expanded detention facility for child migrants reopened in Carrizo Springs, Texas, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted Tuesday, “This is not okay, never has been okay, never will be okay - no matter the administration or party.”

In a press briefing Wednesday, Psaki attempted to cast the Biden administration’s efforts to manage immigration as a major improvement over President Donald Trump’s policies but didn’t fully address Ocasio-Cortez's criticism that such facilities shouldn’t exist at all.

Psaki said the administration had three options when it comes to child migrants: to send them back to their countries (which she said can be dangerous), to transfer them to a facility managed by the Department of Health and Human Services, or to put them in the care of families or sponsors "without any vetting." She said the administration has chosen the middle option.

“What we are doing is working as quickly as possible to process these kids into these HHS facilities, which have been revamped, which have medical and educational services available, so that we can then transfer them to families. That's what our approach is,” Psaki said.

Psaki would not commit to a request to allow media in to prove that children are treated humanely, citing privacy and security concerns. Psaki tried to explain the administration’s options in dealing with minors at the border and why the detention facilities have become a primary strategy.

“This is a difficult situation. It's a difficult choice. That's the choice we've made,” she said.

Psaki also attempted to defend delays in transferring children from facilities run by Customs and Border Protection, which often lack amenities, to Health and Human Service facilities that are intended for longer-term care. By law, children are supposed to spend no more than 72 hours in Customs and Border Protection facilities after initial apprehension.

“There were some delays last week because of weather, and because some of these facilities to safely move these kids to, did not have power and were not in a place where they could -- they had the capacity to take in these kids and do it safely. That is not our objective. That is not our goal," Psaki said. "So some, unfortunately, did stay four days, five days, or longer, but the objective is to move them as quickly as possible to the HHS sponsored facilities.”

-ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky

Feb 24, 3:33 pm
Biden meets with lawmakers about supply chain vulnerabilities

In keeping with the White House's focus of the day, Biden held a bipartisan Oval Office meeting Wednesday with House and Senate members ahead of signing an executive order mandating a review of critical U.S. supply chains.

"The last year has shown the vulnerability we have with some of the supply chains, including the PPE that we needed badly but had to go abroad to get. And there are current strategies," Biden said.

Biden praised the bipartisan effort to address the shortage of the chips for cars and said the group planned to discuss the problem, along with other shortage issues.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Feb 24, 2:54 pm
White House 'surprised' by number of J&J vaccine doses ready to ship

The White House was surprised to discover that Johnson & Johnson will only have about 3 to 4 million doses of its vaccine ready to ship once the FDA grants an emergency use authorization, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a press briefing Wednesday.

Johnson & Johnson had estimated it could ship 12 million doses at the end of February in a $1 billion contract signed with the federal government in August.

“We were surprised to learn that Johnson & Johnson was behind on their manufacturing. As you noted, it was kind of reported earlier to be about 10 million, and now it's more like 3 to 4 million doses that they would be ready to ship next week if they are moved through the FDA process, which is not yet concluded, just to note," Psaki said. "And we are going to continue to work with them on ensuring that that can be expedited.”

Despite the initial availability, Johnson & Johnson has said it expects 20 million doses to be available by the end of March and to meet its contractual obligation for 100 million doses by the end of June.

-ABC News' Sarah Kolinovsky

Feb 24, 2:33 pm
Harris swears in Thomas-Greenfield as UN ambassador

Veteran diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield was sworn in Wednesday morning as Biden's U.N. ambassador. Thomas-Greenfield, known for her "gumbo diplomacy", is a Louisiana native and child of the segregated South.

After being sworn in, Thomas-Greenfield tweeted saying she was "honored" to hold the post.

"Diplomacy is back. Multilateralism is back," Thomas-Greenfield said in the tweet. "America is back."

Feb 24, 11:55 am
160 CEOs ask Congress to pass COVID-19 relief

One hundred and sixty chief executive officers sent an open letter to congressional leadership Wednesday, urging lawmakers to pass "immediate and large-scale federal legislation to address the health and economic crises brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic" on a bipartisan basis.

The letter asks Congress to "to authorize a stimulus and relief package along the lines of the Biden-Harris administration’s proposed American Rescue Plan," perhaps leaving some room for negotiation on what the final package will look like. But the letter makes clear that major business CEOs, including the heads of Morgan Stanley, Visa, United Airlines, BlackRock, Comcast and Google are pushing for relief on the scale of Biden's plan.

"The American Rescue Plan provides a framework for coordinated public-private efforts to overcome COVID-19 and to move forward with a new era of inclusive growth. The country’s business community is prepared to work with you to achieve these critical objectives," the letter says.

Just Tuesday, though, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, one of the few Senate Republicans who has shown willingness to buck his party, criticized the $1.9 trillion bill in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

"The $1.9 trillion bill is a clunker. It would waste hundreds of billions of dollars, do nothing meaningful to get kids back to school, and enact policies that work against job creation. The Congressional Budget Office’s recent analysis of the plan found that more than a third of the proposed funding—$700 billion—wouldn’t be spent until 2022 or later, undermining the administration’s claim that the massive price tag is justified for urgent pandemic-related needs," Romney wrote.

Whether the pressure from big business will sway any Republicans in the Senate remains to be seen, but Wednesday morning's messaging from GOP lawmakers is pretty clear: They have no intentions of budging.

Feb 24, 11:40 am
WH to send out 25 million masks

The White House will send 25 Million masks to more than 1,300 Community health centers, food pantries and soup kitchens to deliver for vulnerable communities, it says.

The masks, which are “high-quality, washable, and consistent with the mask guidance from the CDC,” will be delivered by the Department of Health and Human Services, in partnership with the Department of Defense starting in March through May.

“As a result of these actions, an estimated 12 to 15 million Americans will receive masks. More than 25 million masks total will be distributed,” the administration said in the release.

Feb 24, 10:26 am
Blinken calls for reform in remarks to UN human rights council

In pre-taped remarks, Biden's new Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered his first address to the U.N. Human Rights Council since the U.S. moved to rejoin as an observer. Blinken said the U.S. will seek full-time membership for the 2022 term.

In his remarks, Blinken called for reform of the council, including members with anti-Israel bias and members with troubling human rights records. He even called out a few countries by name, including Russia, Iran, Venezuela and China -- all members. Blinken also noted America’s imperfect human rights record, citing discrimination and violence toward Black, indigenous and Asian Americans.

"I recognize that any pledge to fight for human rights around the world must begin with a pledge to fight for human rights at home," Blinken said. "People of color in the United States deal every day with the consequences of systemic racism and economic injustice."

Feb 24, 10:19 am
Biden, lawmakers to tackle supply chain in meeting

The president will hold a bipartisan meeting to discuss U.S. supply chains with House and Senate members in the Oval Office on Wednesday afternoon. Biden will later sign an executive order on the economy with Harris in attendance.

The order is expected to mandate a 100-day review of critical product supply chains in the U.S. focused on those for computer chips, large capacity batteries, active pharmaceutical ingredients and critical minerals and strategic materials, including rare earth minerals. The order is part of the administration's effort to secure domestic supply chains in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that highlighted vulnerabilities that currently exist.

Feb 24, 10:16 am
Trump's role in Jan. 6 siege looms over business of Washington: The Note

The first of what will be many congressional hearings on the Capitol siege revealed how much is still not known about what happened Jan. 6 -- even after an impeachment trial, evidence unearthed in scores of prosecutions and countless hours of videos of the attack itself. Perhaps the most obvious blind spot is what former President Donald Trump knew and what he did about it in real-time.

Tuesday's hearing raised a series of questions that directly involve the previous administration. Current and former law-enforcement officials aren't sure why FBI intelligence didn't make its way to the Capitol Police or why National Guard and Pentagon resources weren't faster to arrive when it became clear how awful the situation was.

Judge Merrick Garland plans to make Jan. 6 investigations his first priority after he becomes attorney general. And even with additional hearings Wednesday, Thursday and beyond, the concept of a bipartisan commission to investigate the events leading up to and during the siege is gaining traction on Capitol Hill.

Many of the most consequential questions rest with Trump -- assuming he is put in a position of having to answer them.

Feb 24, 9:38 am
Tanden nomination delayed amid criticism

Biden's pick for director of the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, was supposed to testify before the Senate Budget Committee Wednesday morning, however the committee postponed Tanden's confirmation hearing, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

In addition, a vote on the nomination in the Senate Homeland Security Committee has also been postponed, a spokesperson told ABC News that the delay was because, "members need more time to consider the nominee."

Moments after news broke that two Senate committees postponed their votes on Tanden's nomination, White House press secretary Jen Psaki defended Tanden in a Twitter thread, making clear the White House is standing by their nominee.

"Neera Tanden is a leading policy expert who brings critical qualifications to the table during this time of unprecedented crisis. She also has important perspective and values, understanding firsthand the powerful difference policy can make in the lives of those going through hard times," Psaki tweeted.


Neera Tanden is a leading policy expert who brings critical qualifications to the table during this time of unprecedented crisis.

— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) February 24, 2021


The nomination has been in trouble since lawmakers became critical of Tanden’s combative tweets aimed at Republicans and her effort to delete them before her nomination. Her nomination was in danger of being derailed when moderate Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced his opposition to her nomination, citing her temperament.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


artpipi/iStockBy SOO RIN KIM, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- As lawmakers and investigators dig into the roots of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, the question of who funded one of the galvanizing forces behind pro-Trump efforts to challenge election results remains shrouded in mystery.

The nationwide "Stop the Steal" movement represented one of the most vocal efforts to contest the outcome of the 2020 election. The name, coined in 2016 by Donald Trump's longtime political adviser, Roger Stone, resurfaced during the 2020 race in a new effort led by far-right activist Ali Alexander, who is now the self-proclaimed national organizer of the "Stop the Steal" movement.

Multiple public and private entities -- affiliated and unaffiliated with Alexander -- championed "Stop the Steal," and there were hundreds of "Stop the Steal" events in the weeks following the election, leading up to the Jan. 6 rally in Washington that preceded the attack on the Capitol.

Some of those who bankrolled the post-2020 election challenges are known. MyPillow CEO and avid Trump supporter Mike Lindell supported legal efforts to overturn the election results. Publix Super Markets heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli, a prominent Trump donor, reportedly helped pro-Trump groups fund the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse.

But beyond the limited information contained in news reports about privately funded efforts, not much else has been publicly revealed about the funding of organizers and events leading up to the Jan. 6 attack.

"As the investigation into the Capitol insurrection moves forward, lawmakers and investigators will almost certainly try to follow the money," said Brendan Fischer, the Federal Reforms Director of Washington-based ethics group Campaign Legal Center.

Shortly after Joe Biden was declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election, Alexander set up an entity named Stop the Steal LLC, according to attorney Baron Coleman, who registered the LLC on Alexander's behalf. As a privately held entity, the corporation is subject to very few disclosure rules.

But that's not the case with another "Stop the Steal" group. The Committee to Stop the Steal was set up as a political nonprofit just weeks before the 2020 election, with papers signed by a young law clerk from a California firm with links to Stone. The filings said the group's mission was to recruit poll watchers to "promote integrity in our electoral process."

As a tax-exempt nonprofit, the group is subject to the disclosure rules of the IRS, which requires such groups to publish details about their contributions and expenditures before and after an election, and through the end of the year. Such nonprofit disclosures are electronically filed and publicly available on the IRS website -- but no such documents from the Stop the Steal Committee are available on the site.

The group was set up by Ashley Maderos, whose now-deactivated LinkedIn page said she worked as a "provisional licensed attorney" at the Irvine, California, law firm of Jensen & Associates. Maderos is listed as the Committee to Stop the Steal's treasurer and custodian of records. Paul Rolf Jensen at one time represented Stone in a range of legal matters, including representing him and his earlier incarnation of the "Stop the Steal" group from the 2016 election in lawsuits brought by multiple state Democratic parties, alleging voter harassment. In several of those cases, federal judges rejected state Democrats' calls to restrain the Stop the Steal group's campaigns at polling places.

Jensen's name doesn't appear on the Committee to Stop the Steal's initial 2020 registration form to the IRS. The filing lists the organization's address as a UPS Store located near Jensen's offices. When reached by ABC News, Jensen declined to say whether Maderos works for his firm or whether his firm works for the Committee to Stop the Steal.

Nonprofits or their designated representatives are required by the IRS to produce copies of their contribution and expenditure reports upon request. Jensen declined, telling ABC News, "If you think I need to give you information, call a [expletive] cop." The following day, Maderos' LinkedIn page, which had indicated that she was a "provisional licensed attorney" at Jensen & Associates, was deactivated.

It’s unclear if there is any formal connection between the Committee to Stop the Steal and Jensen, who is not listed as an officer or an agent of the nonprofit in its initial IRS filing.

Salon, which first reported on the committee's missing disclosures on Friday, reported that when that publication called the law firm to inquire about the committee's filings, an unidentified employee of the firm said that Maderos no longer worked there, but would not say when she left, where she went, or what had become of the nonprofit group.

Neither Maderos nor Jensen & Associates have responded to further inquiries from ABC News.

A person familiar with the older, 2016 "Stop the Steal" organization, said the 2020 entity is essentially the same -- with "no formal connection" to Alexander's organization. And the source, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, said the Committee to Stop the Steal didn't file disclosure reports from 2020 because it was mostly dormant during the most recent presidential election, with no significant contributions or expenditures.

If in fact the committee didn't raise more than $25,000, it could be exempt from the filing requirements, campaign finance attorney Joe Birkenstock told ABC News. Or if the committee did not engage in any political activity leading up to the election, and instead operated only after the election, it may not have needed to comply with the IRS filing rules for political organizations, he said.

Birkenstock said that because he knows so little about the group's activities, he can't say whether those circumstances would have applied to the Committee to Stop the Steal.

The penalty for failing to file a contribution and expenditure report with the IRS on time would ultimately depend on the total amount of contributions and expenditures that did not get reported, according to IRS rules. Campaign finance attorney Caleb Burns told ABC News that in his practice, he has "not seen much in the way of IRS enforcement of these filing obligations."

In addition to the Committee to Stop the Steal, a similar-sounding group was formed after the election under the name Stop the Steal Political Action Committee. As a PAC, that organization falls under the reporting rules of the Federal Election Commission, not the IRS. It reported donations of $11,000, though it did not reveal the identities of its donors as it is required to do.

The PAC's treasurer, Patrick Krason, wrote in the filing that the organization was unable to gain access to donor information because its vendors stopped working with them after the Jan. 6 insurrection.

"This information is being refused to the PAC by the companies involved due to the companies choosing to unilaterally and without notice cancel the processing agreement and cut off all access to their platforms after the events of January 6," Krason wrote. He pledged to file an amendment with the information once the PAC obtains the donor information.

Krason told ABC News that he had not heard of the similarly-named nonprofit and that his PAC is not connected to it. He said his PAC was created as an independent expenditures group to challenge Republicans who voted against challenging the electoral votes, and that it never gave any money to Alexander's group.

Alexander, whose group was involved in the Jan. 6 rally, has sought to distance the Stop the Steal movement from the violent storming of the Capitol, saying that the chaos and civil unrest that resulted in five deaths was caused by miscommunication and confusion on the part of the rally's other co-organizers.

"In contrast to the chaos at the Capitol, the Stop the Steal movement for election integrity remained peaceful," Alexander wrote in a statement published on his Stop the Steal website.

"The premeditated actions of bad actors not only disgraced our Capitol but also disrupted both the Stop the Steal sponsored event at the Ellipse and the Stop the Steal organized event at Lot 8 on Capitol Hill permitted by US Capitol Police," wrote Alexander, who could not be reached by ABC News for further comment.

Stone never spoke at the Jan. 6 rally, but he promoted it heavily online, in media appearances, and in a speech to Trump supporters in Washington the night before, telling them the president's enemies sought "nothing less than the heist of the 2020 election."

But Stone has maintained that he played no role in "any unlawful acts" around the Capitol on Jan. 6, repeatedly saying that he "never left the site of my hotel until leaving for Dulles Airport" that afternoon. He has also decried attempts to ascribe to him the motives of the people around him.

"Any statement, claim, insinuation, or report alleging, or even implying, that I had any involvement in or knowledge, whether advance or contemporaneous, about the commission of any unlawful acts by any person or group in or around the U.S. Capitol or anywhere in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021, is categorically false," Stone said in a statement to ABC News.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


uschools/iStockBy LUKE BARR, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- In prepared testimony she's set to deliver Thursday before the House Appropriations Committee, the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief defends the actions of her department on Jan. 6, but admits the force was "overwhelmed by thousands of insurrectionists" who made it inside the Capitol and had "internal challenges" as the assault was underway.

"But, at the end of the day, the USCP succeeded in its mission. It protected Congressional Leadership. It protected Members. And it protected the Democratic Process. At the end of a battle that lasted for hours, democracy prevailed," the acting chief, Yogananda Pittman, is expected to tell the committee.

Pittman, who was the assistant chief of police of the department’s Protective & Intelligence Operations on Jan. 6, says she was responsible for member details and the Department’s Intelligence and Interagency Coordination Division (IICD).

She says the IICD came back with four "special assessments" of the situation ahead of Jan. 6 – all of which involved raw intelligence. Pittman says the final Jan. 3rd report concluded that militia members would be participating, would be armed, they’d target the joint session of Congress and "the threat of disruptive actions or violence cannot be ruled out."

The acting chief insists that while security officials were aware of that intelligence, it could not have predicted what occurred, adding that the Secret Service brought then-Vice President Mike Pence to Capitol hill.

"Although the Department’s January 3rd Special Assessment foretold of a significant likelihood for violence on Capitol grounds by extremists groups, it did not identify a specific credible threat indicating that thousands of American citizens would descend upon the U.S. Capitol attacking police officers with the goal of breaking into the U.S. Capitol Building to harm Members and prevent the certification of Electoral College votes," she says in her prepared remarks. "Nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partners include any specific credible threat that thousands of American citizens would attack the U.S. Capitol."

Pittman admits mistakes were made, including botched lockdown instructions and lack of use-of-force guidelines.

"We learned that despite the lockdown order simulcast over the radio, a lockdown was not properly executed," she explained.

Pittman says the department will review training on radio communications and lockdown procedures. One of the criticisms, mainly from the USCP union, is that leadership was not able to communicate with USCP officers who were fighting off the insurrectionists.

The acting chief also says that use of force guidelines were not clear.

"We also learned that officers were unsure of when to use lethal force on January 6th. We have provided guidance to officers since January 6th as to when lethal force may be used consistent with the Department’s existing Use of Force policy," she says.

She also notes that the "less lethal munitions" were not as successful in fending off intruders.

On Monday, former Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, who resigned in the wake of the assault, testified at a joint hearing by the Senate Rules and Senate Homeland Security committees that, after reviewing this intelligence, he increased the security precautions at the Capitol.

In her statement, Pittman says that, after reading the intelligence reports, the department increased member details from four to six, posted details outside of "certain" congressional leaders houses and equipped officers with assault weapons, deployed surveillance assets and worked to intercept "the radio frequency used by some demonstration groups and monitoring the communications of those groups."

In addition, Pittman says that the Department deployed USCP SWAT teams to monitor protesters and be on the lookout for firearms and restrict some access to the building.

In the end, all of this was for naught, she said.

"Despite the adjustment in its operations in response to the January 3rd Special Assessment, the Department was not prepared for the massive groups of violent insurrectionists that descended on the U.S. Capitol’s West Front just before 1:00 p.m. on January 6th," Pittman says. "While the Department was prepared to neutralize and remove individuals or groups engaging in civil disobedience or violence among the demonstrators, it was quickly overwhelmed by the thousands of insurrectionists (many armed) who immediately and without provocation began attacking officers, bypassing physical barriers, and refusing to comply with lawful orders."

Once the Capitol was breached, Pittman said the department’s focus turned to securing members and then to the physical security of the building.

Pittman walks through the difficulties in securing the open Capitol campus, noting that since 9/11 there has been a need to strike a balance between openness and security but adds that the department is currently reviewing a long-term solution.

"Even before September 11, 2001, security experts, including former USCP chiefs of police, argued that more needed to be done to protect the Capitol campus – although I doubt many would have thought it would be necessary to protect it against our own citizens," she says.

She does say the reviews will conclude Capitol security "must change and that the Department needs access to additional resources – both manpower and physical assets."

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel and Beatrice Peterson contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


uschools/iStockBy CHEYENNE HASLETT, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Vivek Murthy, President Joe Biden's nominee to serve as U.S. Surgeon General, plans to tell Congress on Thursday that his top priority, if confirmed, will be ending the pandemic -- which has taken the lives of seven of his own family members in the U.S. and India.

"This is a moment of tremendous suffering for our nation. More than half a million people have lost their lives to COVID-19, including beloved members of my own family," Murthy will tell Congress, according to a copy of his testimony first obtained by ABC News.

In January, Murthy lost his great uncle, who he was very close with, an aide said. A second relative in the U.S. also died from the coronavirus and five of his family members in India.

As "America's doctor," the potential surgeon general would play a central role in crafting the public message on the coronavirus, which has claimed more than 500,000 American lives.

"If confirmed as surgeon general, my highest priority will be to help end this pandemic, work I've been doing over the past year with state and local officials, schools and universities, businesses, health care providers, and others," Murthy is expected to say.

"I have seen first-hand the importance of providing clear, science-based guidance to Americans on how to protect themselves and others," he will say, echoing Biden's motto, to lead with science.

For the past year of the pandemic, Murthy has advised many companies on public health measures, including Netflix, Airbnb, Estee Lauder and Carnival, the cruise ship company that had outbreaks on two ships last January and February.

Critics and watchdogs have raised issues with more than $2.5 million Murthy made from speaking at private events and advising private sector companies during the pandemic, while supporters say he has properly recused himself and meets the ethics requirements.

Murthy also advised Biden's campaign during the early months of the pandemic and was co-chair of Biden's coronavirus advisory team during the presidential transition.

Murthy has known the president for over a decade, dating back to his first time serving as surgeon general in the Obama administration. He made history then as the youngest appointed U.S. surgeon general and the first of Indian descent.

Back in 2014, Murthy's confirmation for the role was more fraught than it's expected to be this time around. At the time, the National Rifle Association lobbied against his nomination because of comments he had made referring to gun violence as a public health problem.

"Murthy's record of political activism in support of radical gun control measures raises significant concerns about the likelihood he would use the office of surgeon general to further his preexisting campaign against gun ownership," the NRA wrote on its website in 2014.

On Thursday, the former surgeon general will focus on the need to avoid partisanship, sharing examples of traveling to Alaska and Oklahoma in 2016 to meet with Republican senators and talk about the opioid crisis, telling Congress that he "would welcome the chance to once again work hand in hand with Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle."

Murthy will also highlight the lessons he learned from his parents, who opened a medical practice in Miami -- lessons the Harvard- and Yale-educated doctor has learned from practicing medicine himself.

"I learned to listen deeply to the patient in front of me, to look beyond any labels, and to see that person in their fullest humanity, knowing they were someone's mother, father, grandparent, child, sibling or friend," Murthy is expected to say.

Murthy will testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which will likely advance his nomination to the Senate floor for a vote in the next few weeks. He is expected to be confirmed, but because Democrats hold a slim majority, Murthy, like all of Biden's nominees, cannot afford to lose a single Democratic vote without picking up Republican support.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Al Drago/Getty ImagesBy BENJAMIN SIEGEL, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Former President Donald Trump and his future with the GOP was the subject of an awkward clash Wednesday between two House Republican leaders.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy was unequivocal when asked if Trump should be speaking this Sunday at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference -- the large gathering of GOP and conservative leaders.

"Yes he should," McCarthy, who recently went to visit Trump in Mar-a-Lago, replied.

House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the third-ranking House Republican, who voted to impeach Trump and became his target, gave a different answer.

"That's up to CPAC ... I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party or the country," Cheney said as she stood behind McCarthy.

Rep. Steve Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican, who also has visited Trump in Florida, shook his head.

McCarthy, who was at the microphone, had a pained look on his face when Cheney made her comment.

"On that high note, thank you!" McCarthy said to end the news conference.

Should former Pres. Trump speak at CPAC?

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy: "Yes, he should."

GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney: "That's up to CPAC...following January 6, I don't believe that he should be playing a role in the future of the party, or country." pic.twitter.com/SdT9u2IniE

— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 24, 2021

McCarthy is slated to speak Saturday at the CPAC convention in Orlando, Florida.

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Al Drago/Getty ImagesBy MEG CUNNINGHAM, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he believes President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general could look into conspiracy charges surrounding former President Donald Trump's potential involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

“Certainly we know that the activities of this group, this mob, this insurrection are being held to account by the Department of Justice, over 200 have been arrested and 500 under investigation,” Durbin told Chief Washington Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein on ABC’s “Powerhouse Politics” podcast Wednesday.

In his Senate Judiciary confirmation hearing on Tuesday, attorney general nominee Merrick Garland told senators he plans to pursue leads “wherever the investigation takes us,” in response to a question from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., encouraging Garland to look “upstream” for connections.

Durbin said he interpreted Garland’s answer as not ruling out any potential players involved in the violence on Jan. 6.

“So as of the event, and everything that followed, there's an active investigation, been described as one of the most historic and complex investigations in the history of the Department of Justice, just to put it into perspective. But I took that upstream question to mean… what happened, what preceded this event? What planning? What type of conspiracy, if there was one? What was it that led to this and the different groups that seem to merge together on that day?” Durbin said.

Regardless of the investigation and potential criminal charges against Trump, which Durbin told Karl and Klein he didn’t feel comfortable making predictions about, he said he believes Trump will be held responsible.

“I think morally, politically, historically," Durbin said. "I think what I've read so far, there is clarity in connecting President Donald Trump with provoking and inciting that mob to its violence.”

Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that he'd like to see the 9/11 style commission being pursued to investigate Jan.6. focus on a rise in domestic terrorism.

“I think we're gonna follow the model with the 9/11 commission,” he said. "I think we ought to follow that model, and it'd be a good one.

“What are we doing about this rise in domestic terrorism? I have been pushing this issue long before January 6, because I can see it happening in Charlottesville and many other places, where groups inspired by white nationalist, white supremacist and far-right leanings, were becoming more militant and brazen in their activity,” he added.

Karl asked Durbin about his view of Sen. Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, and his announcement that he would vote against Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick to direct the Office of Management and Budget.

“With a 50-50 Senate, any person can stop the train,” Durbin said. “And in this situation, Joe, if he hasn't stopped that he slowed it down, because the White House and supporters of Neera Tanden have to find a Republican vote to replace him." He added that Tanden's confirmation is "still within the realm of possibility.”

Durbin said there must be outreach from the White House to members of the Senate as the process of confirming Biden’s nominees goes forward. He noted that the pressure was on for Biden to prove his negotiating skills, but that the White House is still in “startup mode.”

“They are also in the startup mode, and a new president right off the bat has to show his skills in dealing with Congress to put together his team, his Cabinet...I have asked in the most general way, whether some of these Republicans were consulted. And the White House has said it'd become increasingly difficult to get through the staff to the member,” he said.

“So I don't know where the blame lies. But I will just say, the bottom line is this. There has to be an outreach by the White House to every senator who could conceivably support their nominees and an offer to discuss it. That is just basic Senate 101. And I hope that if it hasn't happened to this point, it will from this point forward,” he added.

Manchin also said he does not support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, which is currently a part of Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Durbin said passing the wage increase will be a difficult fight, but one that is overdue.

“If it is permitted in the reconciliation bill, I hope that debate goes forward. I'm not suggesting that it's going to be easy. In fact, it may be a problematic issue. But we shouldn't walk away from this,” Durbin said.

“This is long overdue," he said. "And I'm willing to be open and open-minded when it comes to suggestions on how to do it differently.”

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Willowpix/iStockBy LUCIEN BRUGGEMAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- Postmaster General Louis DeJoy on Wednesday offered a sobering review of the mail agency’s finances and performance capabilities but reaffirmed his intention to overhaul the agency and remain at its helm, telling one Democratic lawmaker: "Get used to me."

Tapped to lead the Postal Service last summer, DeJoy’s tumultuous tenure has been marked by intense partisan scrutiny and a reform effort that slowed mail deliveries across much of the country. DeJoy apologized Wednesday for "unacceptable" mail delays during the holiday season.

"During this peak season, we fell far short of meeting our service targets. Too many Americans were left waiting weeks for important deliveries of mail and packages," DeJoy told lawmakers. "This is unacceptable, and I apologize to those customers who felt the impact of our delays."

Wednesday’s hearing before the House Oversight Committee provided lawmakers a venue to air simmering grievances about the 2020 election and ongoing mail service delays. In between partisan bickering, DeJoy sought to promote a forthcoming 10-year strategic plan, which attracted tentative approval from high-profile members on both sides of the aisle.

While the Postal Service remains one of the nation’s most popular federal agencies, its leader became a political lightning rod ahead of the 2020 presidential election, when Democrats accused DeJoy – a longtime GOP donor – of deliberately delaying mail in a bid to undermine mail-in ballots, which were largely expected to support Democratic candidates. DeJoy and the Postal Service vehemently denied those charges.

During Wednesday’s hearing, lawmakers peppered DeJoy with questions about his plan to resurrect the ailing mail agency. But some of the most intense rhetoric surrounded the November election – a sign that the incoming administration’s message of unity may stop at the fences surrounding the U.S. Capitol.

At one point, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, called the controversy over mail-in voting a politically motivated “charade” manufactured by Democrats to sway voters. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., fired back: "I didn’t vote to overturn an election. And I will not be lectured by people who did about partisanship."

Despite moments of combative political bickering, many committee members did aim tackle many legitimate concerns with the agency, which is facing a "dire financial trajectory," DeJoy said.

Most notably, DeJoy pitched a 10-year strategic plan that includes a pledge to maintain six- and seven-day delivery and overhaul its infrastructure –- including a $482 million investment in a new fleet of 165,000 trucks, a model of which it unveiled on Tuesday.

DeJoy said he would release the full plan by the end of March.

Despite DeJoy’s deep unpopularity among Democrats, the incoming Biden administration has been unable to replace him. That power lies with the Postal Service's governing board -- whose six sitting members were all appointed by President Donald Trump as a result of a Republican-controlled Senate blocking a slate of President Barack Obama's nominees.

The current slate of governors has expressed support for DeJoy and ignored repeated calls to remove him as postmaster general.

As a result, Democrats and influential mail union leaders have publicly pressured President Joe Biden to appoint new governors, who would need Senate approval. Last week, more than 70 congressional Democrats urged Biden to nominate new governors "as expeditiously as possible" to "seriously consider whether the current Postmaster General is suitable to continue in his role."

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danielfela/iStockBy QUINN OWEN, ABC News

(CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas) -- A federal judge has extended the block on the Biden administration’s attempt to pause deportations.

When U.S. District Court Judge Drew Tipton initially put a hold on the deportation pause last month, it marked the first major legal setback for President Joe Biden, who has proposed sweeping changes to the immigration system. Biden has put forward a sprawling legislative proposal that includes a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants who would be otherwise be subject to deportation. Biden had also ordered a 100-day moratorium on deportations.

Lawyers for the administration argued the pause was needed to reassess U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policies. But ICE recently announced it was adjusting those policies -- despite the injunction against the pause -- with new priorities for arrests and deportations. The directive to establish new enforcement priorities was made in Biden's first week in office by Acting DHS Secretary David Pekoske.

Tuesday's ruling, also by Judge Tipton, does not bar ICE from carrying out fewer arrests or deportations per the new guidelines. But the injunction doesn't allow for a complete pause, either.

Terrorism or espionage suspects, aggravated felons and anyone who crossed the border illegally after Nov. 1, 2020 will be a top priority. ICE agents in the field are required to get approval from a supervisor before making any other arrests.

The Texas Attorney General’s office, which filed the lawsuit against the Biden administration, said the state would incur more costs by having to detain immigrants who would have otherwise been deported.

It also argued that the cost of providing temporary education to unaccompanied immigrant minors was too high. Tipton, a Trump appointee, agreed in issuing the preliminary injunction.

The court found that the pause would delay removals of about 1,400 unaccompanied minors and 22,000 unauthorized immigrants with criminal records.

The court's injunction will remain in place until an additional court order is made. It was unclear if the Biden administration will appeal the ruling.

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden's embattled nominee Office of Management and Budget Director, Neera Tanden, faced another set back in her confirmation battle Wednesday morning, with a vote on her nomination in the Homeland Security Committee postponed "because members need more time to consider the nominee," a Democratic committee aide said in a statement.

"The president deserves to have a team in place that he wants, and we're going to work with our members to figure out the best path forward," the aide continued.

The Senate Budget Committee also delayed a confirmation hearing, two sources with knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

While the delay underscores the continued trouble surrounding Tanden's nomination, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted Wednesday morning the administration was not planning to pull the nomination.

"Neera Tanden is a leading policy expert who brings critical qualifications to the table during this time of unprecedented crisis," Paski tweeted. "She has a broad spectrum of support, ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to labor unions, and has a strong record of working with both parties that we expect to grow in President Biden's cabinet as the first South Asian woman to lead OMB."

Biden, while seeming to acknowledge it would take some effort, said Tuesday that he still saw a path forward for Tanden, despite bipartisan pushback that has thrown her hopes for confirmation into question.

"We're going to push. I still think there's a shot -- a good shot," Biden told reporters Tuesday afternoon, echoing Psaki, who said that it was the White House's expectation that Tanden would be confirmed earlier that day.

Tanden's confirmation came into question Friday, when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., announced that he would break with his party and vote against Tanden's nomination, citing past tweets with strong language critical of Republican members of Congress and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., many of which were deleted prior to her nomination.

Since then, the list of moderate Republicans opposing Tanden for the role has continued to grow. Still, Psaki told reporters during Tuesday's briefing the White House is not considering pulling the nomination, which could be the first of his to fail without 50 votes in the Senate.

"There's one candidate to lead the budget department, her name is Neera Tanden," Psaki said.

She went on to outline Tanden's outreach ahead of the Senate confirmation vote, saying Biden's nominee has had 44 meetings with senators of both parties, 15 of which have happened since Friday.

"She's committed to rolling up her sleeves, having those conversations, answering questions as they come up, reiterating her commitment to working with people across the aisle," Psaki said.

The White House was also working behind the scenes to help get Tanden's confirmation across the finish line, Psaki said, telling reporters Monday that they were "working the phones," to reach out to Democrats and Republicans alike on Tanden's behalf.

But it's not clear who exactly the White House is targeting in the outreach efforts, after several moderate Republicans seen as possible swing votes said that they had not spoken with the administration about Tanden's nomination.

A GOP aide told ABC News on Monday that Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, had not spoken to either the White House or Tanden about the nomination battle, and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, a former OMB director himself, told reporters that the nominee did not even come up in any of his recent discussions with the administration despite the appointee's fate hanging by a thread.

Both senators said they did not plan to vote for Tanden.

"Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency. Her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend," Collins said in a statement.

Portman announced his opposition Monday afternoon, saying in a statement, "the tone, the content, and the aggressive partisanship of some of Ms. Tanden's public statements will make it more difficult for her to work effectively with both parties in this role."

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, also announced his plans to vote against Tanden's confirmation, which appears to leave her success or failure in the hands of a lone Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski.

The senator from Alaska told ABC News on Monday that she too had not spoken with the White House about Tanden and was still mulling over her decision.

When pressed if the White House had made an effort to reach out specifically to the group of moderate Republicans, Psaki demurred.

"People here are working the phones, and we're just not going to provide day-by-day updates on exactly each senator and office that we've communicated with, but they can communicate on their own, of course, if they've been reached out to or -- you know -- or what communication they've had," she said.

Murkowski said Wednesday that she's since spoken to the White House but remains undecided as she still has a lot of "homework" left to do -- especially after she was alerted to a tweet from Tanden that was critical of her.

"I suggested to the White House that my colleagues were being very critical of the statements and rightly so I think some of them were clearly over the top," Murkowski said. "It seems that in this world we've kind of gotten numb to derogatory tweets. I don't think that's a model that we want to send to anybody."

Sanders, who heads the Budget Committee, was candid about the decision to postpone the vote.

"I think there’s no secret she’s lacking the votes right now and she’s working hard to try to get the votes," he said.

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., painted a bleak picture of Tanden's prospects.

"I'm not saying she's a smoked turkey but the smoker is heating up," Kennedy said Wednesday. "It's not just her tweets its what those tweets manifest."

"I think there is concern by both Republicans and Democrats that she will be overtly political and that her allegiance is not to America and it's not to President Biden it is to Secretary (Hillary) Clinton," he added.

If confirmed, Tanden would be the first woman of color to serve as OMB director.

Several groups reiterated their support for Tanden despite the narrow path, including the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, which sent a letter to all 100 senators reaffirming their support for Tanden Monday.

Top Democrats have also criticized Republicans' objections to Tanden over her Twitter use as a double standard in light of former President Donald Trump's use of the social media platform during his time in office.

"For Republicans who looked the other way with the nastiest of tweets from their president, their leader -- to now say Neera Tanden can't get in because of her tweets is a little bit of a contradiction," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., also stood by Tanden.

"The idea that the Republicans are going to complain about someone that has sharp elbows on Twitter is pretty outrageous," Warren said Wednesday.

ABC News' Benjamin Siegel and Sarah Kolinovsky contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MOLLY NAGLE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden will sign a new executive order Wednesday mandating a 100-day review of critical product supply chains in the U.S. focused on those for computer chips, large capacity batteries, active pharmaceutical ingredients and critical minerals and strategic materials, including rare earth minerals.

The order is part of the administration's effort to secure domestic supply chains in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic that highlighted vulnerabilities that currently exist.

“We're going to get out of the business of reacting to supply chain crises as they arise, and get into the business of getting ahead with future supply chain problems,” an administration official said on a call previewing the executive order.

“This problem is not going to be solved by government acting alone, or the private sector acting alone. It will require a new commitment to public-private partnerships that demonstrate the tremendous potential that can be realized when you listen to the voices of communities and workers,” the official said.

In addition to the 100-day review of four supply chains, Biden’s executive order will also call for six sector-specific supply chain reviews, including defense, public health and biological preparedness, energy and food production.

Officials said these reviews will be completed within a year, but did not have a timeline for implementing changes as a result from the reviews.

The officials acknowledge that the United States' reliance on competitors for certain products was one problem that exists, but repeatedly shot down the idea that the order was focused on China and its foothold on many essential products.

“We really do see this as a resilient supply chain executive order, not a China executive order, though clearly one of the vulnerabilities we have in supply chains is the potential for competitors, strategic competitor nations to try to use control of our supply chains against us," an official said.

"So you know that is certainly one of the vulnerabilities we are looking at, but by no means, as we were talking about earlier, is the only one," the official said.

Officials also stressed that building up America’s supply chains would not mean America going it alone, but would see the country work with allies as part of the efforts to address weaknesses overall.

In addition to signing the executive order, Biden will also hold an Oval Office meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss the issue, according to his daily schedule.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted some vulnerabilities in U.S. supply chains, including the ongoing shortage of semiconductor “chips” for automobiles.

According to the Semiconductor Industry Association, the auto industry reduced production in the early months of the pandemic while demand dropped for cars but surged for chips used in computers and equipment needed for distance learning and working from home.

However, demand for chips for cars increased at a faster pace than expected, leading to the current shortage of supplies to produce the chips. Officials said the administration is actively engaging with automakers to address the issue.

“I think there are a bunch of lessons that we can take from the work we've been doing on the auto chip shortage that'll be more broadly applicable,” an advisor said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Pete Marovich/The New York Times/Bloomberg via Getty ImagesBy CONOR FINNEGAN, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- The U.S. and Canada will host a "high-level summit" on Wednesday about climate change, according to U.S. officials, who described it as the first diplomatic initiative for the Biden administration as it seeks to put the issue back at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda.

That move was welcomed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday, who met virtually with President Joe Biden in the U.S. president's first bilateral meeting.

"U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years" on climate change, Trudeau said, adding it was "nice when the Americans are not pulling out all references to climate change and instead adding them" into their joint statements after their meetings.

During Wednesday's summit, co-hosted by Biden's special envoy for climate John Kerry, Canada is expected to announce a commitment to boost its target to reduce its carbon emissions, the U.S. officials said, while the Biden administration plans to release the U.S. target by Biden's climate summit on Earth Day.

After his meetings with Trudeau on Tuesday, Biden said the two countries committed to "up the ante" on climate change and "spur other countries to raise their own ambitions."

The move is a first diplomatic step for the Biden administration as Kerry urges greater action to tackle the "climate crisis" and begins reengaging countries, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations on the issue.

Canada is working "in partnership with us in creating ambition in this decade, not just bilaterally, but with all the other major economies in the rest of the world," a Kerry adviser said.

In increasingly urgent tones, Kerry has sounded the alarm about the need for action beyond the Paris climate accord, which he helped negotiate during the Obama administration. Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the non-binding deal, but Biden re-entered the deal on his first day in office -- formally rejoining last Friday.

"We are absolutely, clearly, without question inside the decisive decade," Kerry said Friday. "It's what people will do in the next 10 years that matter."

Kerry and Canadian Minister of Environment and Climate Change Jonathan Wilkinson will co-host Wednesday's meetings, and the talks will also focus on monitoring and addressing shared environmental threats and on aligning U.S. and Canadian policies and regulations on oil and gas, transportation and other sectors.

Biden has previously announced plans to host a major summit of world leaders to discuss climate change on Earth Day. Kerry said Friday it will include the world's major carbon emitters and climate change's most urgent victims so far, including Bangladesh and Pacific island countries facing rising sea levels.

"The president has a deep commitment to this issue and is looking to a core, longstanding close partner and ally to work together to make sure that this summit is a success," the adviser said, and the COP26 summit in November is too.

The officials declined to say whether there would be other similar high-level meetings before Biden's Earth Day gathering, including whether Kerry has spoken to his Chinese counterpart.

But the Kerry adviser told ABC News that the former secretary of state and presidential candidate is "talking to every major economy and reaching out comprehensively on this. ... We have lots of dialogues underway in parallel with the run-up to this summit," including re-launching the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate, which the Obama administration initiated in 2009 and that last met in July 2015.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Seven weeks after an emboldened pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election results, the Conservative Political Action Conference being held this week in Orlando, Florida, is shaping up to be an event that leans into the 2020 election conspiracy theories rather than rebukes them.

The influential annual right-wing conference will host former President Donald Trump's first public appearance since leaving office last month, as Trump continues to push baseless claims that the election was "rigged" and "stolen."

Trump's speech in Orlando is set to focus on the future of the Republican Party and President Joe Biden's immigration policy, a source familiar with the plans told ABC News. However, Trump very rarely sticks to the script -- and a series of friendly TV interviews last week in which he continued to claim that he won the election suggests that the former president is still itching to relitigate his 2020 loss.

And while Republicans are gearing up for the 2022 midterm elections, CPAC will feature panels packed with speakers who were on the front lines pushing to overturn the 2020 election results based on discredited conspiracy theories that helped fuel the Jan. 6 attack. The conference is run each year by American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who himself helped lead the former president's effort to overturn the election results.

The speaker list has already sparked controversy in the days leading up to the event, leading the convention -- which this year has the theme "America Uncanceled" -- to cancel an appearance by conservative YouTuber Young Pharaoh over anti-Semitic comments posted online.

"We have just learned that someone we invited to CPAC has expressed reprehensible views that have no home with our conference or our organization," CPAC officials said on Twitter. "The individual will not be participating at our conference."

Pharaoh responded on Twitter after the announcement, calling the decision "#CENSORSHIP AT ITS BEST!"

Agenda on 'protecting elections'

Over the four-day event, CPAC will feature a seven-part series of panels on "protecting elections," according to a newly released schedule. The series will include a presentation by former Congressman and Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz titled "The Left Pulled the Strings, Covered It Up, and Even Admits It," and another titled "Other Culprits: Why Judges & Media Refused to Look at the Evidence," featuring Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), a leading voice in Congress who supported Trump's efforts to overturn the election results and told the crowd at the Jan. 6 rally to "start taking down names and kicking ass."

When asked for details about the conference's agenda, CPAC spokesperson Ian Walters referred ABC News to a Time magazine article on the aftermath of the election, which does not provide evidence of widespread voter fraud or the election being "stolen" as Trump and his allies have claimed, but instead focuses on what it describes as a "vast, cross-partisan campaign to protect the election."

Walters did not respond to follow-up questions about speakers scheduled to appear and other specific panels.

Over the weekend the conference also announced the addition of featured speaker Cleta Mitchell, a longtime conservative lawyer who, as one of the former president's attorneys, was on the Jan. 2 hour-long phone call when Trump urged Georgia election officials to "find" enough votes to overturn the state's presidential results. Earlier this month, the Georgia Secretary of State's office announced it had formally launched an investigation into Trump's phone calls to state election officials.

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, is also scheduled as a featured speaker this week. Martin, who attended "Stop the Steal" rallies leading up the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, tweeted, "We will not allow them to steal this election!" and shared images from a Nov. 21 "Stop the Steal" rally in Atlanta.

Another speaker slated to appear, Angela Stanton-King, has a history of pushing conspiracy theories linked to QAnon -- and just days after the Capitol attack she posted a photo pushing the baseless conspiracy that the riot was "staged."

Others who worked closely with the former president and his team following the 2020 election are also set to appear, including former Trump campaign adviser David Bossie, who briefly led the president's post-election legal effort and is set to speak on a panel titled "Shining a Light on the Left's 2020 Shadow Campaign." Following the election, Bossie held a press conference in Phoenix along with Arizona Republican Party Chairwoman Kelli Ward, where they complained about Fox News calling Arizona for Biden.

Former Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a loyal Trump supporter and the co-chair of the Trump campaign in Nevada, will also speak on a "protecting elections" panel. Laxalt, who was at the forefront of efforts to overturn the election in Nevada, appeared at a news conference in Las Vegas pushing allegations of widespread voter fraud alongside CPAC's own Matt Schlapp and former acting Trump intelligence chief Ric Grenell, who will also speak at CPAC this week.

Appearing on CNN Monday night, just days before the start of the conference, Schlapp reiterated his stance that the election had been stolen, despite Trump and his allies suffering legal losses in 60 election-related cases.

"Just because you fail in court doesn't mean you don't have a good case," Schlapp told CNN.

Schlapp, the husband of longtime Trump aide Mercedes Schlapp, was rewarded for his loyalty during Trump's last weeks in office with a seat on the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board. Schlapp's lobbying firm reportedly brought in $750,000 in the last two weeks of 2020 to lobby for a presidential pardon for Parker Petit -- but Trump did not grant the request before leaving office.

Several other CPAC speakers this year worked with the "Stop the Steal" group to protest the election results at events around the country, including political commentator Shemeka Michelle, conservative activist Scott Presler, and Rep. Paul Gosar.

David Bostic, an organizer for "Stop the Steal," posted on social media that he also plans to attend CPAC this week. A close ally of "Stop the Steal" leader Ali Alexander, Bostic downplayed the Capitol attack that followed the rally, tweeting, "If you're calling a couple hundred agitators entering the US Capitol a 'coup' then you are dumb."

COVID-19 looms for second year

Last year's CPAC, held at its usual location in Maryland, took place as the novel coronavirus was just starting to spread across the country -- and within a week, the event became ground zero for the infection of Washington's political world.

On March 7, a week after the event, the American Conservative Union confirmed that an unnamed attendee had tested positive for COVID-19 after coming in direct contact with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.), and incoming White House chief of staff Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), prompting all of them to self-quarantine.

Now, more than a year into the pandemic, the Maryland resort that usually hosts the event is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 -- so the event is being held this year in Florida, where state officials have pushed back against numerous COVID-19 protocols.

According to both a CPAC spokesperson and a Hyatt spokesperson, the conference will operate in lockstep with Orange County ordinances that require facial coverings with rare exceptions. Masks will be provided for guests who don't have them, and if an attendee refuses to comply, they will be asked to return to their room or to leave the event entirely.

Several speakers, including the former president, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, and freshman Rep. Lauren Boebert, have flouted mask restrictions and defended those who have refused to wear them.

This year's event comes just days after the U.S. surpassed half a million COVID-19 deaths.

The conference is scheduled to take place Thursday through Sunday, with Trump scheduled to speak on the final day.

As in 2020, Trump will arrive at the event fresh off an impeachment acquittal by the U.S. Senate -- but for the first time in four years, he won't be attending as president.

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(WASHINGTON) -- Razor wire on fencing and National Guard troops still in place on Capitol Hill on Tuesday are haunting reminders of the deadly assault on Jan. 6 that left 140 police officers injured and five people dead.

The fallout from the attack continued as the Senate held the first public meeting into security failures as part of a joint investigation by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee.

Top officials responsible for security at the Capitol on Jan. 6 testified and three of them -- former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund, former Senate Sergeant at Arms Michael Stenger and former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving, -- resigned in the immediate wake of the attack.

Also testifying was the Metropolitan Police Department's acting chief, Robert Contee. His agency provided backup for the Capitol security force that was overrun by the pro-Trump mob.

The first witness, though, was Capitol Police Capt. Carneysha Mendoza, who gave a first-hand account about the brutality of the assault.

When she arrived at the scene, Mendoza told lawmakers, she immediately noticed, as a military veteran, a heavy smoke-like residue that she identified as military-grade CS gas. "The rioters continued to deploy CS into the Rotunda. Officers received a lot of gas exposure, which is worse inside of the building rather than outside because there is nowhere it could go. I have received chemical burns to my face that still have not healed to this day," she said.

She said she was in engaged in the battle for almost four hours and that even if Capitol Police had 10 times the number of officers, they would have been overmatched.

“As an American and as an Army veteran, it is sad to see us attacked by our fellow citizens. I'm sad to see the unnecessary loss of life. I'm sad to see the impact this has had on Capitol Police officers. And I'm sad to see the impact this has had on our agency and on our country," she said.

After she spoke, the Capitol security officials defended their actions and pointed fingers elsewhere but agreeing the attack was planned.

In his opening statement, Sund called the attack on the Capitol "the worst attack on law enforcement and our democracy" that he’s seen in his 30-year-career and laid blame on various federal agencies for poor preparation, not the Capitol Police.

"Based on the intelligence that we received, we planned for an increased level of violence at the Capitol and that some participants may be armed. But none of the intelligence we received, predicted what actually occurred," Sund said.

The former chief said that "extensive" preparations were put in place ahead of the riot including "intelligence and information sharing with our federal and local partners, and department officials, implementing significant enhancements for Member protection, the development of extensive operational enhancements to include the additional posting of officers around and inside the congressional buildings, a significant civil disobedience deployment, and an expanded perimeter, and the distribution of additional protective equipment for the officers."

Sund said as late as Jan. 5 there was a meeting with top intelligence officials including the FBI – and they provided no new intelligence.

Homeland Security Committee Chairman Gary Peters, highlighting communication failures, asked Sund about a Washington Post account that "the FBI Norfolk field office issued a threat report on January 5th that detailed specific calls for violence online in connection with January 6th including that protesters, quote, 'be ready to fight,' end quote, and, quote, 'go there ready for war,' end quote."

Sund testified he never saw the threat warning email, which he said had gone to an officer on the joint terrorism task force the night before the assault and that he learned of it only on Monday. The House and Senate sergeants at arms said did not get the email either.

"We properly planned for a mass demonstration with possible violence, what we got was a military-style coordinated assault on my officers and the violent takeover of the Capitol building," Sund said.

Stenger, the former Senate sergeant at arms, speaking publicly for the first time, said in his opening remarks that Washington, D.C., is a "unique environment" for law enforcement in the region and said everything should be reviewed.

"There is an opportunity to learn lessons from the events of January 6th. Investigations should be considered as to funding and travel of what appears to be professional agitators. First Amendment rights should always be considered in conjunction with professional investigations," he said.

Contee, in his opening remarks, noted that his police officers are barred from making arrests on Capitol grounds but based on the experience of prior demonstrations they knew violence was a possibility. He, too, made clear that MPD intelligence did not predict what occurred on Jan. 6.

"The District did not have intelligence pointing to a coordinated assault on the Capitol."

Contee noted pipe bombs were found outside of the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee headquarters nearby the day before. He said his department had four objectives when they responded on Jan. 6: stopping rioters, securing the perimeter, allowing Congress to resume business and making arrests.

He said he was "stunned" by the U.S. Army’s response, saying military officials were "reluctant to send the D.C. National Guard to the Capitol."

"While I certainly understand the importance of both planning and public perception – the factors cited by the staff on the call – these issues become secondary when you are watching your employees, vastly outnumbered by a mob, being physically assaulted," he said.

Contee says he was "shocked" that the Army did not more quickly agree to deploy the National Guard.

"The Army staff responded that they were not refusing to send them, but wanted to know the plan and did not like the optics of boots on the ground at the Capitol," he said.

Pentagon officials dispute his characterization and say the request was handled appropriately.

During his opening statement, Irving, the former House sergeant at arms, also speaking publicly for the first time, told lawmakers that he spoke with Sund and Stenger on Jan. 4 about using 125 unarmed National Guard troops to work traffic duty near the Capitol to free up Capitol Police officers.

Irving said the idea of "optics" did not play a role in his decision not to station National Guard troops at the Capitol beforehand, saying the intelligence he received didn't warrant it.

"Let me be clear, optics, as portrayed in the media, played no role whatsoever in my decisions about security. And any suggestion of the contrary is false. Safety was always paramount when making security plans for January 6th. We did discuss whether the intelligence warranted having troops at the Capitol, and our collective judgment at that time was no—the intelligence did not warrant," Irving said

A dispute on a key point -- when the National Guard was requested -- arose when GOP Sen. Roy Blunt asked Irving about his statement that he approved the assistance as soon as Sund asked for it.

"Mister Sund stated that he asked for the National Guard assistance at 1:09, and you approved -- it was approved at 2:10. Why would it take an hour to approve National Guard assistance on your part in that moment of crisis?"

"Senator, from my recollection, I did not receive a request for approval for National Guard until shortly after 2 p.m.," Irving answered.

"All right. Let me get that straightened out, Blunt responded. "Mr. Sund, do you know when you asked for National Guard assistance? Was it 1:09 or:0 2 p.m.?"

"It was 1:09, sir," Sund answered.

"Sir, I have no recollection of a conversation at that time," Irving then told Blunt. "I was on the floor during the Electoral College session."

Lawmakers said they will use the hearing to determine what security is needed in Washington moving forward.

The committee chairs, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., said another hearing will include representatives from the Department of Defense, FBI, Homeland Security, and other agencies. Lawmakers from both parties said they want to prevent incidents like the siege from ever happening again.

Earlier this month, ABC News obtained a copy of a letter sent by Sund, who said the intelligence leading up to the event didn’t indicate it would become as violent as it did.

"Perfect hindsight does not change the fact that nothing in our collective experience or our intelligence – including intelligence provided by FBI, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and D.C. Metropolitan Police (MPD) – indicated that a well-coordinated, armed assault on the Capitol might occur on Jan. 6," Sund wrote.

In his letter, he wrote intelligence officials indicated Jan. 6 would be similar to previous mostly peaceful post-election demonstrations in November and December.

Sund said he directed the Capitol Police to have every sworn officer working, and activated seven Civil Disturbance Unit platoons, which included approximately 250 officers. Four of those platoons were equipped with helmets, protective clothing and shields.

On Jan. 5, Sund hosted a virtual meeting focused on the Jan. 6 event as well as the inauguration. "During the meeting, no entity, including the FBI, provided any intelligence indicating that there would be a coordinated violent attack on the United States Capitol by thousands of well-equipped armed insurrectionists," Sund wrote.

"There is no question there were colossal breakdowns in the intelligence gathering and security preparations leading up to the events of January 6, as well as during the coordination and response efforts once the attack got under way." Peters said.

In his opening remarks, the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, remembered Capitol Police officer Howard Liebengood, who days afterward died by suicide. "No officer was more dedicated to the mission of the Capitol Hill Police Department admission and duty to serve and protect. And I'm proud to call him a friend," Portman said.

Portman added he wants to know why "the Capitol was overtaken in a matter of hours, we need to know whether Capitol Police officers were properly trained and equipped to respond to an attack on the Capitol, and if not, why not. And we need to know why the Capitol complex itself was so vulnerable and insecure, that it could be so easily overrun."

As the hearing ended, Klobuchar slammed all those involved, citing the intelligence and communications breakdown about the FBI warning and "the delays in the providing a request for National Guard assistance, both from the Capitol Police Board and the Department of Defense. The fact that the sergeants at arms were focused on keeping the members safe in both chambers while the chief was trying to get some emergency approval. To me, you can point fingers, but you can also look at this as a process that is not prepared for a crisis."

ABC News' Jack Date and Trish Turner contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Official White House Photo by Adam SchultzBy MICHELLE STODDART and LAUREN KING, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- This is Day 35 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

Here is how the hearing is unfolding. All times Eastern:

Feb 23, 8:37 pm
House to vote on COVID relief Friday

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced that lawmakers will vote Friday on the president's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan.

Once approved, the legislation heads to the Senate for consideration.

-ABC News' Mariam Khan and Benjamin Siegel

Feb 23, 7:31 pm
Vote to rename post office delayed over election results vote

Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., took to the House floor on Tuesday to speak in favor of his bill to name a Tupelo post office after U.S. Air Force Col. Carlyle “Smitty” Harris, a Vietnam prisoner of war who was held in the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."

The uncontroversial measure was slated to pass under the suspension of the House rules -- with debate expedited because it had the support of two-thirds of the chamber.

But in a surprise move, Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., blocked the measure, and instead forced the House to take a recorded vote on the bill Tuesday evening.

The reason? Kelly voted to overturn the election results on Jan. 6.

"As Representatives working every day on behalf of the American people, Rep. Casten believes that working with members regardless of political party is at the core of good public policy," Casten's chief of staff Cara Pavlock said in an email obtained by ABC News. "As a general matter, he does not suggest this action against members with whom we merely disagree, but that willingness to collaborate can only extend so far and to those that also hold the core value of upholding democracy."

"The vote to overturn the election results in the midst of a violent insurrection was a bridge too far," Pavlock wrote, adding that Casten also planned to vote against the post office renaming for that reason.

The bill did pass on a vote of 406-15.

The minor procedural dustup is one of many reminders of how Congress is still grappling with the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot and that lawmakers are still coming to terms with how to approach colleagues who supported and amplified former President Donald Trump's efforts to undermine the results of the 2020 election.

-ABC News' Benjamin Siegel

Feb 23, 6:27 pm
Lawmakers honor of the more than 500K who died of COVID-19

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and other members of Congress gathered outside the U.S. Capitol to observe a moment of silence for the more than 500,000 Americans who died of COVID-19.

Feb 23, 5:31 pm
Biden holds first bilateral meeting with Canadian prime minister

Biden held his first bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday afternoon, immediately telling Trudeau that he wishes the meeting could have been held in person.

“I wish I could reciprocate the hospitality you gave me when I visited Ottawa as vice president in 2016. The sooner we get this pandemic under control, the better, and I look forward to seeing you in person in the future,” Biden said, seated at the head of the table between American and Canadian flags.

Biden reiterated the close relationship, saying there is “no closer friend” for the U.S. than Canada.

In his brief remarks, Biden spoke about their discussion at the G-7 virtual meeting Friday, recalling his message about democracy and the need to protect and prioritize it, a veiled swipe at his predecessor.

Trudeau welcomed the U.S. back to the world stage, saying the country’s leadership has been “sorely missed” and threw his own veiled swipe at the Trump administration over the repeated times it removed references to climate change from joint statements.

Seated at the table with Biden were Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

In her remarks, Harris brought up the time she spent living in Canada as a teenager while her mother taught at McGill University in Montreal. She said she looks forward to working on shared challenges, including COVID-19, climate change, and Russia and China.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland took a moment to address Harris’ historic role as a “Madam Vice President.”

“I have to tell you, your election has been such an inspiration for women and girls across Canada, especially Black women and girls, and South Asian women and girls. So many of them have told me that directly,” Freeland told Harris.

As the press was being sent out of the room, Biden said that he took five years of French in school, but did not retain any of it, saying when he attempted to speak it he’d “make such a fool of himself.”

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Feb 23, 5:29 pm
Schumer 'begged' Dems to vote for COVID-19 relief bill

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, in a remarkably candid moment, told reporters that during a closed-door lunch with his caucus Tuesday, he made a strong pitch for them to set aside differences over specific policies like the minimum wage hike and just vote for the president's COVID-19 relief bill.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., then went a bit further after Schumer left the room and said the majority leader had "begged" his members to drop their opposition, emphasizing that the relief bill is Biden's signature legislation, and they need to stick together.

"He's begging all of us -- despite disagreements people may have -- this is the Administration's signature bill...And we need to stick together," Durbin recounted.

Some moderate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have expressed concern about a $15 per hour minimum wage hike included in $1.9 trillion relief proposal. Manchin said an $11 an hour increase would be more appropriate for his state.

Republicans have hammered Democrats for forcing the increase on businesses suffering under the economic strains of the pandemic, but supporters of the wage increase -- a doubling of the current federal minimum wage -- note that the Biden plan is implemented over a five-year period.

GOP Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Utah's Mitt Romney introduced a plan Tuesday that would increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2025 with a mandatory requirement that businesses implement E-Verify to ensure undocumented workers do not receive the increase.

The GOP proposal is not expected to be adopted as Democrats speed toward passage of the overall Biden plan.

-ABC News' Trish Turner

Feb 23, 4:09 pm
Tom Vilsack confirmed as secretary of agriculture

The Senate has confirmed Tom Vilsack to serve as secretary of agriculture, in a 92-7 vote.

Sen. Bernie Sanders voted with six Republicans against Vilsack, who had the same role under former President Barack Obama.

-ABC News' Benjamin Siegel

Feb 23, 3:54 pm
McConnell to support Garland's confirmation as AG

A spokesperson for Republican Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed reports to ABC News that McConnell intends to support the nomination of Merrick Garland to serve as attorney general.

McConnell's support for Garland was first reported by Politico.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday wrapped up two days of hearings on Garland's nomination. The committee is scheduled to hold a vote on the nomination on March 1.

McConnell's support for Garland is in stark contrast to his 2016 efforts that successfully kept Garland from the Supreme Court bench.

-ABC News' Allison Pecorin

Feb 23, 3:39 pm
McConnell doubles down against COVID-19 relief proposal

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doubled down on his position that the COVID-19 proposal from Democrats is far too large, not targeted enough and flies in the face of bipartisanship during a press conference Tuesday.

"We think this is dramatically more money than is required at this particular juncture. It also includes a number of things that have absolutely nothing to do with COVID relief," McConnel said. "And so it will be controversial."

McConnell said his conference is united Tuesday in "opposition to what the Biden administration is trying to do," arguing that Biden, who campaigned as a moderate, has been pushing far-left policies since his administration began, calling Biden's "a totally partisan approach to COVID relief."

-ABC News' Allison Pecorin

Feb 23, 3:32 pm
Biden announces nomination for director of U.S. Office of Personnel Management

Biden on Tuesday announced Kiran Ahuja as his nominee for director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, where she previously served as chief of staff during the Obama administration.

-ABC News' Molly Nagle

Feb 23, 2:42 pm
Biden meets virtually with Black essential workers

Biden and domestic policy adviser Susan Rice met virtually with Black essential workers on Tuesday, including health care workers, child care workers and others from across the country to thank them for their work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"You are heroes and your service, we honor. A disproportionate number of Black Americans serve as front-line workers and as first responders, putting yourselves at greater risk of contracting COVID-19," Rice said. "And one in four deaths from COVID-19 have been those of Black Americans, and so during this Black history month, we wanted to say thank you, to lift up your voices, and your service and your needs."

Biden listened to the participants and asked questions. He also touted his administration's COVID-19 relief bill, talking about how it would help industries and individuals. Biden said his administration is focusing on the needs "particularly of the most left behind community, the African American community."

Feb 23, 1:58 pm
Haaland outlines plans for clean energy amid pushback

Biden’s nominee for secretary of the interior, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-Ariz., appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the first round of questioning in her confirmation hearing Tuesday.

Haaland introduced herself in the native language of the Laguna Pueblo and thanked her family, her partner and her ancestors. She also acknowledged that the hearing was taking place on the native lands of the Anacostia, Piscataway and Nakochtank tribes.

She said her priorities would be valuing career employees at the Department of the Interior and promoting clean energy. For Native American communities, she said she would focus on bringing broadband access to them and addressing the high number of missing and murdered Native American women. She also talked about her support for a modern Civilian Conservation Corps as a way of offsetting potential job loss from a transition to cleaner energy.

“But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed," she said in her opening statement. "Together we can work to position our nation and all of its people for success in the future, and I am committed to working cooperatively with all stakeholders, and all of Congress, to strike the right balance going forward.”

Throughout the hearing, when questioned about her past statements and positions, Haaland said that if confirmed she would be advancing Biden’s interests. She dodged a question about her stance on fracking, saying the president does not support a fracking ban.

In his opening statement, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said he was troubled by Haaland’s “radical” views, a sentiment also expressed by other Republicans on the committee. He said he would oppose Haaland’s nomination. During his questioning, Barrasso pressed Haaland on an October tweet that said Republicans don’t believe in science.

The committee will be back Wednesday at 10 a.m. for the second round of questioning.

-ABC News' Adia Robinson

Feb 23, 1:39 pm
Becerra's 1st hearing finishes with little drama

The first hearing for Biden's pick to head the Department of Health and Human services, Xavier Becerra, ended Tuesday afternoon with little drama or contentious back-and-forths with Republicans despite their clear opposition to him on policy issues like abortion and health care.

Democratic senators highlighted Becerra's potential to make history as the first Latino to lead the department and his experience leading massive departments and in policy as a congressman for 24 years.

Only a handful of Republicans told Becerra to his face that they didn’t think he had the public health experience for the job, one of the key criticisms ahead of the hearing.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sharply criticized him to reporters as the hearing was ongoing. But McConnell’s remarks were a reminder: Being cordial at a hearing doesn’t mean Republicans are going to vote for Becerra.

Becerra will head to the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday at 2 p.m, which will advance a vote on his confirmation to the Senate floor.

Feb 23, 1:05 pm
White House continues to back Tanden, despite some GOP opposition

The White House continues to back Neera Tanden, Biden's pick to oversee the Office of Management and Budget, despite criticism from Republicans about her tweets that have been critical of conservatives.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked during a press briefing Tuesday if there were other people in consideration for the position, and she said there is only "one candidate" and that is Tanden.

"She has had 44 meetings now with senators of both parties, she's spoken with 15 senators from both parties since Friday," Psaki said. "Some of those were repeats of people she had spoken with previously but, as I noted yesterday, she's committed to rolling up her sleeves, having those conversations, answering questions as they come up, reiterating her commitment to working with people across the aisle."

Feb 23, 12:31 pm
Senate confirms Biden's pick for UN ambassador

The Senate has confirmed Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a retired career ambassador and former top U.S. diplomat for Africa, as ambassador to the United Nations. The final vote was 78-20, with top Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voting in favor.

Thomas-Greenfield is the eighth official and the first Black woman confirmed to Biden's Cabinet. The U.S. will assume the presidency of the U.N. Security Council on Monday for the month of March, and Thomas-Greenfield will now be in place for that term, as the U.S. sets the agenda for the U.N.'s highest body.

Her nomination had been held up by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who accused Thomas-Greenfield of "moving towards and embracing the Chinese Communist Party" because of a speech she gave at a historically Black college in Georgia that was co-hosted by its Confucius Institute, a Chinese government-funded program that promotes the CCP as part of a language and cultural curriculum. However, Thomas-Greenfield said she regrets accepting the invitation and would not do it again, adding she was "appalled" by the Confucius Institute's treatment of poor Black Georgians.

Feb 23, 12:25 pm
Biden plans trip to Texas on Friday in wake of deadly storms

Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Houston, Texas, on Friday, the White House announced.

The president will visit the state in the aftermath of the catastrophic winter storm that left millions of Texas residents without power and water and killed at least 30 people in the state.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the president was considering a trip but was cognizant of the burden and additional resources that a presidential visit can bring.

Biden has already approved a major disaster declaration for the state, opening up federal funds to 77 of the state's 254 counties.

Feb 23, 11:41 am
Witnesses to testify for Garland

On the second day of Judge Merrick Garland's confirmation hearing, the nominee will not testify but five witnesses will testify virtually about his nomination and credentials. Those witnesses include Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Josh Blackman, South College Texas of law professor, Andrea Tucker, a mother in D.C., whose twin children Garland tutors, Ken Starr, former solicitor general and U.S. circuit judge, and Donna Bucella, former director for Executive Office of U.S. attorneys.

Garland emerged virtually unscathed after Monday's hearing, earning praise from senators on both sides of the aisle as he fielded questions on domestic terrorism, racial justice issues and restoring independence to the Justice Department, among other topics.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., did express concern over what they described as Garland's unwillingness to pledge that he will not fire special counsel John Durham without proper cause, a commitment they note former attorney general William Barr made during his confirmation hearing about then-special counsel Robert Mueller.

Garland repeatedly emphasized that because he had no knowledge of Durham's investigation he wanted to meet with him first before making a decision but said that because Durham hasn't yet been fired in the new administration he sees no reason to doubt that decision.

Other Republicans, like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., appeared to grow frustrated over Garland's unwillingness to engage on questions about his views on immigration policy. Garland said he was not completely aware of Biden's immigration policy proposals so declined to wade into the issue.

Feb 23, 11:30 am
Biden's pick for HHS gets praise from Dems, but some are 'not sold'

The first day of hearings for Biden's pick for secretary of health and human services, Xavier Becerra, kicked off with glowing praise from Democrats, who heralded his experience, and criticism from Republicans, who think his resume is a detractor.

Both Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., who introduced Becerra, highlighted his potential to make history as the first Latino to lead the department and his experience leading massive departments and in policy as a congressman for 24 years. But Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he is “not sold” Becerra has the “necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment.”

Becerra, in his opening statement, said he was committed to working in a bipartisan way.

“No one understands your states and communities better than you. We may not always agree, but if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed, I will always listen to you and keep an open mind, find common cause, and work with you to improve the health and dignity of the American people,” Becerra said.

Becerra laid out his "vision" for the department with three goals: make COVID-19 treatments more accessible, bring down the cost of health care and restore faith in public institutions by putting science first.

Feb 23, 10:46 am
Biden to thank Black essential workers, meet with Trudeau

On Tuesday afternoon, the president will meet virtually with a group of Black essential workers to thank them for their critical roles during the pandemic.

Then, Biden will participate in his first bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and after give a statement on the meeting.

Feb 23, 10:12 am
Three Biden nominees considered by Senate

Three of Biden's picks for key administration positions have hearings before Senate committees Tuesday. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider Debra Haaland for secretary of the Interior. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee will consider Xavier Becerra to serve as secretary of health and human services.

And the Senate Judiciary Committee will resume its hearing, which began Monday, to consider Merrick Garland for attorney general.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty ImagesBy JUSTIN GOMEZ and MOLLY NAGLE, ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden held his first bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday afternoon and reiterated the close relationship between the the two countries, saying there was "no closer friend" for the U.S. than Canada.

In his brief remarks, Biden spoke about their discussion at the G-7 virtual meeting Friday, recalling his message about democracy and the need to protect and prioritize it -- a veiled swipe at his predecessor.

"We spoke about this at the G-7, but it's worth saying again: I believe the leaders of the major democracies, we have -- or, as leaders of major democracies, we have responsibility to prove that democracy can still deliver for our people," Biden said.

"There are a lot of leaders around the world who are trying -- that's how we're going to win the battle for the future," Biden added.

Trudeau welcomed the U.S. back to the world stage, saying the country's leadership has been "sorely missed," and threw his own veiled swipe at the Trump administration over the repeated times they removed references to climate change from joint statements.

Seated at the table with Biden were Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.

In her remarks, Harris brought up the time she spent living in Canada as a teenager while her mother taught at McGill University in Montreal. She said she looks forward to working on shared challenges, including the coronavirus pandemic, climate change and Russia and China.

"We are neighbors. We are friends, as a country. And the challenges that we face, not only are -- as we've said about COVID and climate change -- also as the president will talk about and has mentioned, our challenges in terms of China and Russia, and what we can do in terms of working together on that and working together in term of strengthening and modernizing the U.N. and WTO," she said.

Biden and Trudeau are also expected to make remarks following the meetings.

This is a developing news story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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