The latest on the Biden presidency and Trump impeachment trial

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 9:29 PM ET, Tue January 26, 2021
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1:05 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden's immigration bill is "not an all or nothing process," White House official says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The immigration bill that President Biden sent to Congress is the priority for the administration, however, a White House official told CNN, “We recognize that it’s not an all or nothing process.”

The expectation is that leaders from both chambers and both parties will work together on a package, and the final legislation could be different.

“Our posture is that we are committed to this bill and we want leaders to start working at it but also recognize the legislative process for anything is not all or nothing,” the official said.

In addition to legislative means, Biden is expected to take executive actions on immigration as soon as Friday, according to a draft calendar sent to administration allies and obtained by CNN.

Biden is expected, per the draft, to sign an executive order on regional migration and border processing that will address root causes of migration from Central Americans and rescind Trump-era policies. He will also create a task force to reunify families separate at the US-Mexico border, and he will direct a review of the Public Charge Rule.

1:11 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden nominee approved by Senate Homeland Security committee

From CNN's Manu Raju

Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate confirmation hearing on January 19.
Alejandro Mayorkas testifies during a Senate confirmation hearing on January 19. Joshua Roberts/Pool/Getty Images

President Biden's pick for Senate Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, was approved by the Senate Homeland Security committee by a vote of 7-4. This sets up a floor vote as soon as this week. 

The Cuban-born Mayorkas, was among Biden's earliest announced nominees and would be the first Latino and immigrant to serve at the helm of the department.

He'll be expected to swiftly begin rolling back Trump administration immigration policies, while juggling response to a global pandemic, threats to the homeland, and restoring a department that's been rattled by leadership turnover and vacancies for the better part of the last four years.

CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Geneva Sands contributed reporting to this post.

1:01 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Senate confirms Antony Blinken as Biden's secretary of state

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Jennifer Hansler

Antony Blinken testifies during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, January 19.
Antony Blinken testifies during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday, January 19. Alex Edelman/Pool/AP

President Biden's pick for Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, was confirmed by the Senate with a vote of 78-22. 

With Blinken's confirmation, Biden now has a number of key members of his national security team in place. His Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines was confirmed on Inauguration Day and his Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was confirmed last Friday.

The new top US diplomat, a long-time aide to Biden, faces the challenges of restoring America's standing in the world and reinvigorating a department where many felt demoralized under the past administration.

12:50 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Here's what we know about the executive orders on racial equity that Biden will sign today

From CNN's DJ Judd

President Biden is set to unveil a collection of four executive actions aimed at racial equity today, a senior administration official told reporters on a call.

The orders are aimed at “mandating a whole of government initiatives to embed racial equity across federal policies, programs and laws, starting with a review of federal policies and institutions to dismantle systemic racism where it exists, and to advance equity where we aren't doing enough," according to the administration.

The four topics of today’s executive actions will be:

  • Advancing fair housing
  • Reforming the incarceration system to stop the use of private prisons
  • Reaffirming the federal government’s commitment to Tribal sovereignty and consultation
  • Combating xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Central to the initiative is a focus on data collection—the official pointed to a Jan. 20 executive order mandating the formation of a Data Working Group, telling reporters, “Simply put, the federal government needs new tools to assess where inequities exist, because so often policies appear neutral on their face, but deliver services and benefits inequitably."

This person added: "In many instances we are not sufficiently parsing the data so that we're able to determine who is actually benefiting from what or who is not benefiting from what.”

Immediate priorities from today’s executive actions, which the administration described as, “substantially an economic agenda,” include, “ending health disparities, education, job creation, raising incomes, and criminal justice reform.”

While previous administrations have had “an interest in advancing justice and equity,” the official acknowledged, “never before has there been this whole of government approach, where every part of the White House, every agency in all of its work, not in a silo, not in a, you know, an Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion but throughout everything they do, are mandated to consider and advance equity and be held accountable for it,” pointing to overlap with Covid-relief policy, economic policy and environmental policy.

And administration official called the “tone and the orientation” of the previous administration with respect to Asian and Pacific Islanders “quite offensive and dangerous.”

“The particular xenophobia propagated by the previous administration against Asian Americans must be acknowledged and addressed,” the official told reporters Tuesday, “And that's why today, President Biden will establish that it is the policy of his administration to condemn and denounce anti-Asian bias and discrimination. He’ll also task the Department of Health and Human Services, with providing, with producing best practices to eliminate anti-Asian bias in the federal government's Covid-19 response and directs the Department of Justice to partner with Asian American and Pacific Island communities to prevent bullying, harassment, and hate crimes.” 

On ending contracts with private prisons, the administration dismissed cost implications, telling reporters, “That was not the motivating factor, the motivating factor, however, was the fact that private prisons are not only encouraged profiteering off of human lives but more importantly, I've been shown by the Department of Justice inspector general’s report to be subpar in terms of safety and security for those incarcerated.”

On housing, the official pointed to the role the federal government has played across housing discrimination, indicating the administration’s focus on housing reform, addressing everything “from redlining to mortgage discrimination, to destructive federal highway construction."

Finally, asked on the role the Vice President Kamala Harris will play, the official told reporters, “Vice President Harris and her team have been very much involved in the work of equity and racial justice as you would imagine, and her team has been fully a partner in our efforts to formulate both the policies, and the steps that will be taken to implement them."

12:51 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Harris ceremoniously swears in Yellen as the first female treasury secretary

From CNN's Anneken Tappe, Betsy Klein and Matt Egan

Pool
Pool

Vice President Kamala Harris administered a ceremonial oath of office to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen at the White House. 

Both made history for being the first women to hold their current roles. 

The ceremony took place on the East side of the White House, facing the Treasury Department.

“Congratulations, Madam Secretary,” Harris said, laughing and clapping as she stood over six feet away from Yellen and her husband George Akerlof and son Robert Akerlof. 

“Thank you for all you do… and thank you to your family,” Harris said as pool was escorted out.

Yellen is the first woman to lead the Treasury Department, and the first person to serve as treasury secretary, chair of the Council of Economic Advisors and chair of the Federal Reserve, according to the office of the vice president.

As head of the Treasury, Yellen will be tasked with shepherding President Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan through Congress and overseeing its execution.

The plan includes $1,400 stimulus checks, expanded unemployment benefits, and increased funding for Covid-19 vaccinations and testing.

Watch the moment:

12:08 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

McConnell says scrapping the filibuster would put the Senate in "scorched earth" territory

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Ting Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Ting Shen/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said from his perspective, getting rid of the filibuster means the Senate would be in “scorched earth” territory.

“If this majority went scorched-earth, this body would grind to a halt like we’ve never seen. Technically, it takes collegiality and consent for the majority to keep acting as the majority at any time they do not physically have a majority. In a scorched-earth, post-nuclear Senate that’s 50-50, every Senate Democrat and the Vice President could essentially just block out the next two years on their calendar,” McConnell said in his floor remarks today, warning that Senators would have to be in session all the time.

McConnell said that there would have to be quorums and roll call votes on every order of business essentially grinding business “to a halt like we’ve never seen.”

In his floor speech, McConnell also reminded his colleagues that he defied former President Trump’s demands to get rid of the filibuster when Republicans were in control, as part of his case for why Democrats should preserve the filibuster now.

“When I could have tried to grab this power, I turned it down, told President Trump no repeatedly. Because the nation needs us to respect the framer’s design and the Senate’s structure," McConnell said. 

Some context: On Monday evening, McConnell finally allowed a Senate power-sharing deal to advance. The deal had been held up by McConnell seeking assurances that the Democrats would not try to remove the filibuster.

He finally relented after two moderate Democratic senators – who have long opposed gutting the filibuster – reiterated their views, allowing him to argue that they were sufficient to resolve his concerns since Democrats would lack the votes to change the rules. This deal now allows Democrats to take control of key committees in the chamber. 

11:25 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Senate will advance Covid bill with or without Republican support, Majority Leader says

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said now there’s an organizing resolution between the now-majority Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate, “we’re finally able to get the Senate up and running.”

“Last night the Republican Leader dropped his demand for additional provisions on the organizing resolution and will agree to the 2001 rules that last governed the 50-50 Senate, exactly what the Democrats proposed from the start,” he said in remarks from the Senate floor this morning. “My only regret is that it took so long.”

Schumer also sounded a bullish note on a Covid-19 relief funding bill, suggesting that Democrats will press ahead despite headwinds. 

“I understand that recent opposition from the political right has increased now that there’s a Democrat in the White House. But the pandemic doesn’t particularly care that there’s been a change in administration. The needs of our country are still great. And the urgency to act is clearer than ever,” he said. “No doubt Congress has passed substantial relief, but we are nowhere close to filling the Covid-sized hole” of $17 trillion dollars the economy has lost, citing a CBO report.

“We want to work with our Republican colleagues to advance this legislation in bipartisan way, but the work must move forward, preferable with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must.” 

Finally, Schumer praised the upcoming confirmation vote for Anthony Blinken to serve as the next Secretary of State, saying “he’s the right man for the job.”

“Once confirmed, Mr. Blinken will also inherit a State Department workforce in desperate need of a leader that knows that everyone on the team plays a critical role in advancing America’s interests abroad,” he said. “Under President Trump, our nation’s diplomats and State Department civilians were relegated to the sidelines, and too many positions in the State Department were left vacant or relegated to irrelevance. So none of this will be easy, but I’m confident that Mr. Blinken is exactly the right person for the job.”

Schumer said that following Blinken’s confirmation, “both parties must continue working together” and thanking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his cooperation in confirming the nominees, and suggesting that he will tee up two more votes this week, for Pete Buttigieg and Alejandro Mayorkas.

“The pace must continue this week with the confirmation of the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Transportation,” he said.

11:04 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden set to put a hold on new oil and gas leases on federal land, source says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden is set to order a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with his plans.

The move is expected to be the most prominent in a list of climate actions he'll take on Wednesday, including elevating climate change as a national security issue. It will fulfill one of Biden's campaign pledges.

The halt on new leases would apply to federal land and water areas, but wouldn't affect existing leases. It would allow the administration to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program.

The moratorium expands the 60-day moratorium that Biden signed on his first day in office on Wednesday.

Jim Sciutto reports:

11:25 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

GOP senator may force test vote on whether Senate impeachment trial is constitutional  

From CNN's Manu Raju

Sen. Rand Paul speaks during a hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on December 16, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Rand Paul speaks during a hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on December 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Greg Nash/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, may try to force a procedural vote as soon as today on whether the Senate trial of former President Trump is constitutional, according to a GOP source familiar with the matter. 

Senators will be formally sworn in as jurors later today, though the trial won't get into full swing until the week of Feb. 8.

Republicans have raised questions over the constitutionality of former President Trump's impending trial in the Senate. Trump is the first president to be impeached twice and would be the first ex-president to have his impeachment tried in the Senate while out of office.

A Congressional Research Service report from November 2019 cites – as precedent – the 1876 impeachment trial of Secretary of War William W. Belknap, who was tried and acquitted even after he'd resigned his office. The Senate ultimately upheld its authority to try Belknap even after his abrupt resignation – though some senators who voted to acquit indicated they did so because they felt the Senate lacked jurisdiction over Belknap once he was no longer in office.

Read more about impeachment and what scholars say here.