Biden focuses on health care

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

Updated 8:02 PM ET, Thu January 28, 2021
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7:29 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Biden chief of staff says Covid-19 relief bill is "gaining a lot of momentum on Capitol Hill"

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal 

President Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain said the White House “absolutely” rejects the idea that the President’s Covid-19 relief proposal is “dead in the water.”

“I just disagree flatly,” Klain said Thursday when asked during an interview with CBS about that characterization of the bill. “I think it’s gaining a lot of momentum on Capitol Hill.” 

Klain also defended one controversial aspect of the proposal; increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“As the President said when he was running for president, it's great that people bang pots and pans for essential workers, but we shouldn't just praise them we should pay them,” Klain said. “There are people risking their lives right now to deliver groceries, to stock shelves, to deliver packages to people's houses. Those people working hard, putting their lives on the line, should be able to work for 40 hours a week and not be in poverty.”

6:04 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Many Democrats signal push for a swift trial as short as "a matter of days"

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Lauren Fox, with Clare Foran 

As it looks increasingly likely that former President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial will end in acquittal, many Democrats are hoping for a swift trial as short as “a matter of days” — and are ready to move on key items of President Biden’s agenda, starting with delivering a $1.9 trillion Covid relief package.  

“I think that there should be a trial and it can be relatively expeditious, a matter of days, not weeks,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Democrat from Connecticut to CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Thursday.  

Democrats are sensitive to ensuring Trump has a full trial with clear evidence. But they worry a long trial will compete for floor time with Biden’s long list of legislative priorities — like his large Covid relief package — and getting his Cabinet and other top government officials confirmed.   

Democrats are also arguing that because there is only one article of impeachment — incitement of insurrection — and lawmakers all witnessed the events firsthand, the proceedings should be able to move quickly.  

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez said “I don’t think based upon the limited nature of the impeachment article that it should take anywhere near the last impeachment (trial)” — which took almost three weeks.  

“This is a much less complicated set of facts than when we were dealing with Ukraine,” added Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy, referring to Trump’s first Senate impeachment trial where he was charged with two articles of impeachment, one for pressuring Ukrainian officials to investigate his political rival, at the time, Biden.  

It’s not yet clear how long Trump’s impeachment trial will last — and the length will depend, in part, on how long House impeachment managers take to present their case, how long Trump’s defense team takes to respond, and when senators are ready to vote on a final judgement.  

“The House has to make a decision about how much time it's gonna take and what evidence it wants to put forward” and Trump’s legal team “has to get at least equal time, and probably more so that the fairness of the proceeding’s assured,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat from Rhode Island, told reporters on Wednesday.   

Now that Democrats have won the presidency, House and Senate, they’re anxious to start moving on Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief legislation after settling for a smaller stimulus package in December, which Democratic leaders said was just a start.  

“To do a trial knowing you'll get 55 votes at the max, seems to me to be not the right prioritization of our time right now. Obviously we do a trial, maybe we can do it fast, but my top priority is Covid relief... and getting the Biden Cabinet approved,” said Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine.   

“I would hope that we deal with that as quickly as possible to start addressing the needs of working families,” said Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday.  

Sen. Brian Schatz, Democrat from Hawaii, said Thursday there’s “no reason” Trump’s trial should take weeks when “we don't even have a full complement of a Biden Cabinet nominees who have been confirmed.”  

Many Democrats also argue since the senators themselves were witnesses to the attack — there may not be a need to drag out the trial longer than a few days or a week.  

Whitehouse also speculated Wednesday that perhaps it’ll be in Trump’s best interest, as well, to have a quick trial.

“It may very well be perceived by Trump's team and to be in his interest to minimize, minimize, minimize, rather than draw him out and continue the emphasis on this sort of episode,” he added. 

Numerous Democrats and Republicans alike have pointed to the vote on Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s point of order to vote on the constitutionality of Trump’s impeachment trial on Tuesday as an indicator for how the trial’s final vote will likely land. Only five Republicans joined all Democrats to kill Paul’s motion and there is no sense that anywhere close to 17 Republicans could get to yes at this point. 

3:41 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

White House confirms Biden's immigration actions pushed to next week

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez and Maegan Vazquez 

 Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during Thursday’s press briefing that President Biden’s actions on immigration are being pushed back to next week.

CNN reported earlier Thursday that though White House officials discussed having Biden sign a round of immigration-related executive orders as soon as this Friday, it appeared likely those will be pushed until next week.

“In terms of our overarching agenda and approach to immigration — you know, there was an early … draft version of … what our executive order plan and schedule looked like. And that was early and was draft and was not accurate. But I will tell you: get some sleep this weekend. We'll have more to say next week on immigration — the President will. So we'll have more to report out to you in the next couple days,” Psaki said.

Psaki wouldn’t say outright whether a federal judge’s recent decision to block Biden’s deportation pause played a role in the delay. 

According to a draft calendar document viewed by CNN's Betsy Klein, Biden was expected to center on immigration on Friday with executive orders on regional migration and border processing, the US refugee policy and the establishment of a family reunification task force, as well as an executive order directing immediate review of the Public Charge Rule.

Biden kicked off his term last week by signing out a series of immigration executive actions, moving swiftly to undo many Trump administration policies and ending the national emergency that diverted millions of dollars to the border wall.

Watch here:

2:30 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Senate breaks filibuster of Biden's Homeland Security nominee

From CNN's Clare Foran and Ted Barrett

The Senate just voted 55-42 to break a GOP filibuster and advance the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be President Biden's secretary of Homeland Security.

The vote came after Republicans objected to efforts to quickly install a critical leader of the country's national security apparatus.

Now that the nomination has cleared that procedural hurdle, a final vote on confirmation is on track for Monday evening.

Several Republican senators crossed party lines to vote with Democrats in support of breaking the filibuster, including Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito.

Portman is set to be the ranking member for the Senate Homeland Security committee, while Capito will be ranking member of the Homeland Security subcommittee for the Senate appropriations committee.

5:11 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Biden says passing Covid relief is top priority when asked about health care legislation

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal, Tami Luhby and Katie Lobosco

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

Asked when he was going to put forward health care legislation, President Biden made it clear his priority is getting a coronavirus relief package through Congress. 

“We got a lot to do,” Biden said from the Oval Office Thursday, shortly after signing two executive orders on healthcare, “and the first thing I’ve got to do is get this Covid package passed.”  

He didn’t directly answer when the reporter followed up and asked if getting the relief legislation passed would require him to break it up into smaller bills to address some Republican lawmaker’s concerns about the price tag. 

“No one requires me to do anything,” he said, with a smile. 

More on Biden's Covid package: Billed as the American Rescue Plan, the package augments many of the measures in Congress' historic $3 trillion coronavirus relief bill from March and in the $900 billion legislation from December, which was scaled back to garner support from Senate Republicans.

Biden's $1.9 trillion proposal includes bigger stimulus checks, more aid for the unemployed and additional support for small businesses, states and local governments. It also includes increased funding for vaccinations and testing.

Now that Democrats control both chambers and the White House, Biden is pushing for the big steps he says are needed to address immediate needs and control the coronavirus pandemic.

Watch here:

3:47 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Biden just signed an executive order on Obamacare. Here's what it means for you. 

From CNN's Tami Luhby

Pool
Pool

President Biden has promised to make health care more affordable and available. His executive order today takes one immediate step in that direction.

As a result of his action, the Department of Health and Human Services is set to reopen enrollment on the federal Affordable Care Act exchange between Feb. 15 and May 15.

This would give Americans who missed the most recent sign-up period, which ended Dec. 15, access to Obamacare policies — and to federal assistance to pay for them. Roughly 15 million uninsured people could benefit, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly 9 million of them could qualify for free or subsidized coverage, according to the Foundation. Individuals making up to about $51,000 and families of four earning up to about $104,800 are eligible for subsidies.

Some 36 states use the federal exchange, healthcare.gov, for enrollment. But most, if not all, of the states that run their own marketplaces are also expected to launch special sign-up periods, according to a White House official.

Still, it's unclear how many people will take advantage of the chance to select an Obamacare policy.

The Biden administration is promising to conduct a "robust outreach" effort to make these folks aware of the opportunity and help them sign up, the official said. It will include paid advertising, direct outreach to consumers and partnerships with community organizations.

Watch here:

3:50 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Happening now: Biden delivers remarks and signs executive order to reopen Affordable Care Act enrollment

From CNN's Tami Luhby and Betsy Klein

Pool
Pool

President Biden just signed two health care executive actions, including one reopening enrollment on the federal Affordable Care Act exchanges.

Biden said the orders are aimed at undoing "the damage Trump has done."

"There's nothing new we're doing here other than restoring the Affordable Care Act and restoring the Medicaid to the way it was before Trump became President," Biden said from the Oval Office. Biden said Trump made both programs “more inaccessible, more expensive, and more difficult for people to qualify.”

Open enrollment on the federal exchanges, which the Trump administration cut in half to six weeks, ended on Dec. 15. But Biden has the power to reopen sign-ups, which will allow the uninsured to select policies under a special enrollment period.

Biden's order will call on the Department of Health and Human Services to reopen enrollment on healthcare.gov, which serves 36 states, to those who need coverage from Feb. 15 until May 15. The agency is expected to do so today, according to a White House official.

"As we continue to battle Covid-19, it's even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to health care," Biden said.

Biden will also sign measures aimed at:

  • Strengthening Medicaid, a health coverage program used by low-income adults, people with disabilities, children, the elderly and others.
  • Rescinding the so-called Mexico City Policy, which bans the US government from funding foreign nonprofits that perform or promote abortions.
  • Reviewing the Title X abortion referral restrictions.

Read more about his executive actions here.

Watch here:

1:13 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

GOP senator says there’s “plenty of accountability” for Trump without trial conviction

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

CNN
CNN

Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, said he is confident former President Trump will not be convicted in the upcoming impeachment trial. 

Barrasso told CNN’s John King that a large number of Republicans would not vote to censure Trump.

“45 Republicans voted that it is unconstitutional to try a president — a former president, a citizen — for impeachment at this point. There is not going to be a conviction,” he said. 

“There's plenty of accountability. This president is the only president in the history of the nation to be impeached twice. Now, that's going to be in the history books forever,” Barrasso added. 

Barrasso accused Democrats of staging “a partisan crusade” with the impeachment trial, adding that it is “vindictive.” 

“They're saying that is even higher priority than focusing on getting people back to work, getting kids back to school, getting relief out there. They're saying it's a higher priority than allowing President Biden to put his Cabinet in place,” he said. 

Barrasso added that lawmakers have been receiving threats and warned that he believes impeachment is “going to pour more gasoline on the fire.”

Watch:

1:24 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

The Affordable Care Act will be front and center today. Here are key things to know about the law. 

From CNN's Tami Luhby

President Biden is expected to reopen enrollment on the federal Affordable Care Act exchanges today as part of a series of executive actions related to health care that he will sign at a 1:30 p.m. ET event at the White House.

It will be Biden's first move toward delivering on his campaign promise to bolster the landmark health reform law that he championed as vice president. And it comes as more Americans could be facing the loss of coverage because of the pandemic-fueled economic downturn.

Here are some key things to know about where things stand with the law, and the changes Biden wants to make:

  • Open enrollment on the federal exchanges – which the Trump administration cut in half to six weeks – ended on Dec. 15. But Biden has the power to reopen sign-ups, which will allow the uninsured to select policies, under a special enrollment period.
  • Biden's order calls on the Department of Health and Human Services to reopen enrollment on healthcare.gov, which serves 36 states, to those who need coverage from Feb. 15 until May 15. The agency is expected to do so on Thursday, according to a White House official.
  • Former President Trump refused to take this step last year, despite heavy lobbying from elected officials of both parties and the health care industry. Eleven states that run their own Obamacare exchanges, along with the District of Columbia, allowed their uninsured residents to obtain coverage outside the usual time frame. Most, if not all, are also expected to reopen their enrollment, the White House official said.
  • Reopening enrollment is a much easier lift, though it's unclear how much impact it will have. Anyone who loses job-based health insurance coverage is already eligible to sign up on the exchanges within 60 days of becoming uninsured. Enrollment in the first five months of 2020 jumped 46% compared to the same period the year before, the Trump administration said in June.
  • During the most recent open enrollment period, overall Obamacare sign-ups for 2021 coverage increased when comparing the 36 states participating on the federal exchange both this year and last year — the only time that happened under Trump. But the number of new consumers for 2021 slid somewhat.
  • Nearly 9 million people could get free or subsidized bronze plans on the Affordable Care Act exchanges during a special enrollment period, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis released Wednesday. Bronze plans typically have lower premiums, but higher deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. A total of about 15 million uninsured people could shop for coverage on the exchanges, Kaiser said.

Read more about today's executive actions here.