Biden focuses on the climate crisis

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes, Veronica Rocha and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 8:46 PM ET, Wed January 27, 2021
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6:18 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Senate will vote to break filibuster on Biden's Homeland Security pick on Thursday

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Ali Zaslav 

The Senate has scheduled a procedural vote to break the filibuster of President Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, at 1:45 p.m. Thursday, according to the Senate Gallery. 

This should set up a final confirmation vote next week on Monday or Tuesday, but that is not scheduled yet.

About the filibuster: The use of the filibuster — to stall nominations or legislation — has long been a favored tool of the minority party, something Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did often when trying to derail and delay the Republican agenda under then-President Trump. In recent days, continued use of the filibuster on legislation became a central sticking point over a resolution that would allow the 50-50 Senate to officially organize, but the stall tactic is unlikely to be gutted further in this Congress because of resistance from some moderate Democrats.

Republicans' planned objections to Biden's nominee to lead the Homeland Security Department means Schumer would have to take procedural steps to overcome a filibuster on Mayorkas. The Senate Democratic leader would need 51 votes in the Senate to overcome the filibuster.

4:42 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Biden names rear admiral as acting US surgeon general

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins 

Rear Admiral Susan Orsega
Rear Admiral Susan Orsega United States Public Health Commissioned Corps

President Joe Biden's administration has selected nurse practitioner and Rear Admiral Susan Orsega to serve as the nation’s acting surgeon general, a development now listed on the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) website. 

Her appointment is temporary until the Senate takes up the nomination of Biden's formal nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as surgeon general during the Obama administration.

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners applauded the appointment, noting she is a "nurse practitioner (NP) and AANP Fellow, has served as the Director of Commissioned Corps Headquarters (CCHQ) at the Office of the Surgeon General, US Department of Health and Human Services since March 2019."

3:52 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Schumer takes procedural steps to shut off debate on nomination of secretary of homeland security

From CNN's Manu Raju and Veronica Stracqualursi

Senate TV
Senate TV

Chuck Schumer, for the first time as Senate majority leader, took the procedural steps necessary to overcome a GOP filibuster.

He just filed cloture to shut down debate on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to lead the Department of Homeland Security, something that will require 51 Senate votes.

Democrats will get the votes needed, but it will take days until the final confirmation vote unless agreement is reached for a quicker vote. The timing on the vote is not set yet.

CNN reported earlier today that Senate Republicans planned to object to any efforts to quickly confirm Mayorkas, further delaying his confirmation as the department grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic, national security concerns and President Biden's ambitious immigration plans.

In confirming the GOP's plans to filibuster, Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas told reporters Wednesday on Capitol Hill that "there's a number of problems" with Mayorkas' nomination.

3:45 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Biden's secretary of defense expresses support for new climate actions

From CNN's Ellie Kaufman

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images 
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III released a statement expressing his support for President Biden’s efforts on addressing the climate crisis with a series of executive actions signed today.

“I fully support the President’s direction today to include climate considerations as an essential element of our national security and to assess the impacts of climate change on our security strategies, operations, and infrastructure,” Austin said in the statement.

Austin said the department would “immediately take appropriate policy actions to prioritize climate change considerations in our activities and risk assessments.”  

The department will include “the security implications of climate change in our risk analyses, strategy development, and planning guidance,” Austin added. 

3:07 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Biden's energy secretary pick faces tough questions on the President's drilling moratorium

From CNN's Liz Stark

Graeme Jennings/Pool/AFP/Getty Images
Graeme Jennings/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

As President Biden unveils new climate executive actions Wednesday, his pick to lead the Department of Energy, Jennifer Granholm, faced tough questions during her nomination hearing from lawmakers concerned about the impact on American workers. 

GOP Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming pressed Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, about Biden’s climate executive actions.

He asked if the Biden team sought her counsel on last week’s memorandum placing a 60-day moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. Granholm said she “knew that it was coming,” adding that it was part of Biden’s campaign promise. Asked if she encouraged Biden to issue the action, Granholm said she “didn’t have a specific conversation with him about it myself.”

Pointing to the moratorium’s impact on the economy and jobs, Barrasso asked how this executive action is “consistent” with Biden’s goal of unifying the country and helping the economy grow.

Granholm, who is a former CNN contributor, stressed that “we don’t want to see any jobs sacrificed,” and noted that current licenses “are not going to be disrupted, they will continue to operate.”

Republican Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi also expressed concerns about job loss due to Biden’s executive action pausing new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters. 

Asked to respond to Hyde-Smith’s constituents who may lose their jobs, Granholm noted the moratorium on new leases is “prospective and does not apply to those who are currently operating.” 

“The Biden administration is not going to take their jobs away on existing leases,” Granholm stressed.

Some Democratic lawmakers, such as West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, also voiced concerns from his constituents who are worried about the energy transition leaving American workers behind in a state with a long coal-mining tradition. “Right now there are a lot of concerns that we’re hearing coming out of President Biden’s executive orders,” Machin said, adding, “People are very much concerned they’re going to leave us behind again.”

Granholm emphasized, “I cannot tell you how important this is to me personally, is to make sure that we do not leave people behind,” pointing to her experience creating jobs as governor of Michigan.

On job creation, Granholm also said during the hearing that the president has put together “a sort of SWAT team inside of the federal government to focus on communities that have powered America.” 

2:18 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Biden says Trump "picked big oil companies over American workers" with regulation rollbacks

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

The Trump administration sided with “big oil companies over American workers” with rollbacks of vehicle emissions standards, President Biden said Wednesday, taking a shot at his predecessor during the rollout of his new climate and jobs plan. 

“When the previous administration reversed the Obama/Biden vehicle standard and picked big oil companies over American workers, the Biden/Harris administration will not only bring those standards back, we'll set new ambitious ones that our workers are ready to meet,” Biden said, ahead of signing another round of executive orders at the White House.

The President pointed to a surge in electric vehicle charging stations across the country and “American consumers switching to electric vehicles through rebates in the Senate.”

He said those changes were leading to “residents in our cities and towns breathing cleaner air and fewer kids living with asthma and dying from it.” 

On Monday, Biden signed an executive order on the federal government transitioning to “zero emission vehicles that are made and sourced by union workers right here in America.” 

In addition to his regulation rollbacks, former President Trump also tried to take away California's right to set its own auto emissions rules in 2019, but California and other states sued to stop that from happening.

2:05 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Biden ties his climate change action to job creation

From CNN's Besty Klein

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

As President Biden began comments Wednesday on climate change, he sought to tie his strategy and executive actions to American jobs.

“Today is climate day at the White House, which means that today is jobs day at the White House,” Biden said.

He continued, “We're talking about American innovation, American products, American labor. We're talking about the health of our families and cleaner water cleaner air and cleaner communities. We're talking about national security, American leading the world in a clean energy future. It's a future of enormous hope and opportunity. It's about coming to the moment to deal with this maximum threat that we exist with as now facing us, climate change, with a greater sense of urgency."

As CNN’s Kristen Holmes reported earlier Wednesday, the President is expected to address creating clean energy jobs quickly.

During today's remarks, Biden said the government approach to climate change needs to be "bold," and he said that includes "helping revitalize economies of coal, oil and gas communities" and create "new good paying jobs" in those communities.

Many critics of Biden’s decision to shut down the Keystone Pipeline cite the tens of thousands of jobs that will be lost with the shutdown.

One of the executive actions Biden will sign will establish a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative to put Americans to work with jobs that include restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation and protecting biodiversity.

"We're not going to ban fracking. We'll protect jobs and grow jobs including through stronger standards by controls from methane leaks and union workers willing to install the changes," Biden said today.

2:07 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Happening now: Biden delivers remarks and signs executive actions to combat climate crisis

From CNN's Elise Hammond, Maegan Vazquez and Kate Sullivan

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

President Biden is delivering remarks now from the White House and will sign several executive actions related to the climate crisis.

This includes one that would direct the secretary of the interior to pause on entering into new oil and natural gas leases on public lands or offshore waters.

"It's a future of enormous hope and opportunity. It's about coming to the moment to deal with this maximum threat that is with us now, facing us, climate change, with a greater sense of urgency. In my view, we've already waited too long to deal with this climate crisis. We can't wait any longer," Biden said in his opening remarks.

"It's time to act," he added.

The ambitious climate plan Biden discussed during the presidential transition seeks to increase public investments for green infrastructure and end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035 and proposes broader public investment in green infrastructure, including $2 trillion for clean energy projects.

"I might note parenthetically, if you notice the attitude of the American people toward greater impetus on focusing on climate change and doing something about it has increased across the board, Republican, Democrat and independent. That's why I'm signing an executive order to supercharge the administration's ambitious plan to confront the existential threat of climate change. It is an existential threat," Biden said today.

More on today's orders: Biden will establish the climate crisis as an "essential element of U.S. foreign policy and national security." The order instructs the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, to prepare a national intelligence estimate on the security implications of the climate crisis and directs all agencies to develop strategies for integrating climate considerations into their international work.

Biden will also reestablish the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and form the National Climate Task Force, which will be composed of leaders across 21 federal agencies and departments.

5:19 p.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Psaki disputes White House is reluctant to weigh in on impeachment, but says focus is on the job

From CNN's Allie Malloy

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said President Biden continues to respect the role Congress is playing in the impeachment trial of former President Trump, but did not answer whether Biden sees censure as a viable alternative to impeachment.

“The president certainly respects the role that Congress has,” Psaki said after she was asked about all but 5 senators voting for Republican Sen. Rand Paul's motion to force a vote on the constitutionality of the impeachment trial.

When asked why the administration was reluctant in weighing in on impeachment, Psaki disputed that was the case saying that Biden’s “focus is on delivering what the American people elected him to do.”

“We’ve weighed in many times- the president has been asked about the issue, we put out a statement when the House put out a vote- voted on impeachment. But his focus is on delivering what the American people elected him to do,” Psaki said.