The latest on the Biden presidency

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

Updated 8:10 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021
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6:08 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Biden signs three executive orders on immigration. Here's what they will do.

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

President Joe Biden signs an executive order on immigration, in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday, February 2, in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden signs an executive order on immigration, in the Oval Office of the White House on Tuesday, February 2, in Washington, DC. Evan Vucci/AP

President Joe Biden has signed three executive orders that take aim at his predecessor's hardline immigration policies and try to rectify the consequences of those policies.

They will build upon the actions taken in Biden's first days in office and begin to provide a clearer picture of the administration's immigration priorities.

"My grandfather would say by the grace of God and goodwill of the neighbors, we'll reunite these children and re-establish our reputation as being a haven for people in need," Biden said after signing the orders.

Here's what they will do:

  • Create a task force that would reunify families: The task force will be chaired by the Department of Homeland Security secretary. The goal will be to find parents separated from their children under the former administration. The task force will also give regular reports to the President, including one containing recommendations.
  • Address the root cause of migration: This executive order will focus on providing support to Central America to stem the flow of migrants to the US-Mexico border and provide other pathways to migrate to the US without journeying north. This includes things like providing aid to combat corruption and taking a series of actions to restore the asylum process.
  • Review the legal immigration system: This order will work to promote immigrant integration and inclusion, according to the White House, and re-establish a Task Force on New Americans. It will also spur a review of the public charge rule which makes it more difficult for immigrants to obtain legal status if they use public benefits such as Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.

Hours into his presidency, Biden moved to swiftly undo many Trump administration policies in a series of executive actions. But his administration has already faced legal hurdles in implementing those policies.

5:24 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Senate continues to haggle over power-sharing agreement

From CNN's Manu Raju

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are still haggling over final details on a power-sharing agreement. They are debating in part committee budgets, according to senate officials familiar with the talks.

The issue has a real impact because Democrats can’t chair the committees until the Senate passes new rules for this Congress. Otherwise they will operate under last Congress’ rules when the Senate GOP had the majority and controlled the committees.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is still chairing Senate Judiciary Committee until the agreement is approved, defended his refusal to schedule a hearing for Merrick Garland as attorney general. He said the Democrats need to schedule a two-day hearing like past attorney general nominees — but incoming chairman Dick Durbin wants it on Feb. 8, the day before the impeachment trial takes place.

“It’s me standing up for the way the committee has worked,” Graham told CNN, defending his move to block the Feb. 8 hearing.

McConnell has leverage because Schumer needs 60 votes to overcome any filibuster to advance the power-sharing agreement. 

He also needs unanimous consent to schedule the vote.

4:06 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Defense secretary dismisses hundreds of members of Pentagon advisory boards, including late Trump picks

From CNN's Barbara Starr, Ellie Kaufman and Oren Liebermann

General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his conformation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense on January 19 in Washington.
General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his conformation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense on January 19 in Washington. Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has dismissed hundreds of members of 42 Pentagon advisory boards, including controversial late appointments by the Trump administration, as the Pentagon announced a review of the membership of the boards Tuesday. 

The announcement comes after the Trump administration appointed several loyalists to advisory boards in the final months of his administration, including former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie who served as Trump’s deputy campaign manager. 

The Pentagon took no pains to hide the fact Austin took the action because of concerns the Trump administration had openly packing some boards with loyalists.

“The secretary was deeply concerned with the pace and the extent of recent changes to advisory committees and this review will allow him to get his arms around the purpose of those boards and to ensure that these boards are providing the best advice to department policies,” chief Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said.

The Wall Street Journal was first to report Austin's decision. 

Current members being told to step down are only those appointed by the Pentagon and not those appointed by the White House or Congress. For example four people appointed by the Department of Defense to a congressionally mandated commission on stripping the names of confederate generals from military bases will be removed but others on that panel to be appointed by Congress will remain.

A review of all the boards, and whether they are still needed, will now be the focus before new members are named. 

“There’s no question that the frenetic activity that occurred to the composition of so many boards in just the period of November to January deeply concerned the secretary and certainly helped drive him to this decision,” Kirby added.

“Our stewardship responsibilities require that we continually assess to ensure each advisory committee provides appropriate value today and in the future, as times and requirements change,” Austin said in a memo to the department.

The 42 advisory boards cost taxpayers potentially millions of dollars each year and some of their work is believed to be potentially redundant which added to the need for the review.               

The action effectively removes, for now, several hundred people serving on boards who advise on everything from defense policy, science, innovation, health issues, coastal engineering, sexual misconduct and diversity and inclusion. 

More background: In December, CNN reported that former President Trump purged a Pentagon business advisory board and replaced its members with his former campaign manager and deputy campaign manager, neither of whom have served in the military or have any apparent experience with the defense industry.    

One Trump loyalist expected to keep her advisory role is Kellyanne Conway who Trump named to the Air Force Academy of Visitors. Seats on that board are controlled by the President so the Austin memo does not cover those panels where the White House names members.

3:50 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Senators say Biden will move quickly on relief package and won't let talks drag on

From CNN's Ali Zaslav and Manu Raju

Senate Democrats say there was no dissent during a virtual caucus lunch meeting Tuesday with President Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Covid relief — one day after Biden met with 10 Republican senators to start discussing a potential relief agreement.

Biden did not discuss lowering the price tag of the $1.9 trillion relief package, but said he’d continue to talk to Republicans, while at the same time pushing ahead to get a relief bill done as quickly as possible.

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons, a close Biden ally, characterized the President as suggesting he would not allow talks with Republican senators to drag on.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin said after the call, his Democratic colleagues were very happy with Biden’s “compassion and consideration.”

“Oh my goodness... I think they’re all tickled to death that he's showing that type of compassion and consideration,” he said. 

Asked if there were any frustrations from Democrats on the call after Biden met with GOP senators Monday to try to work toward a bipartisan deal, Manchin said: “I think they're all impressed because basically he understands how this place is supposed to work and him showing the consideration and bringing people together spending two hours with our colleagues.”

Sen. Ben Cardin echoed Manchin’s remark, and said the call was “excellent.”

3:40 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Senate confirms Mayorkas as Homeland Security secretary

From CNN's Clare Foran

Mark Makela/Getty Images
Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security secretary, the first Latino and immigrant to serve at the helm of the department. The close divided vote was 56-43.

The confirmation will fill a critical role in the new administration. Mayorkas will be expected to swiftly begin rolling back Trump administration immigration policies while juggling the response to a global pandemic, national security threats, and restoring a department that's been rattled by leadership turnover and vacancies in recent years.

Mayorkas is the first Biden nominee who met a Republican filibuster, and his confirmation vote comes after the Senate voted Thursday to break a GOP filibuster and advance the nomination.

Mayorkas is expected to be ceremoniously sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris this afternoon after Biden signs a round of immigration-related executive orders.

Here's a look at the Cabinet nominees that have been confirmed so far.

3:37 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Biden administration prepares to open overflow facility for migrant children

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

The Biden administration is opening up an overflow facility for unaccompanied migrant children apprehended at the US-Mexico border, the federal agency tasked with the children’s care told CNN in a statement.  

The Health and Human Services Department will reactivate a facility in Carrizo Springs, Texas, that can accommodate approximately 700 children, though more capacity may be added if necessary.

The reactivation of the facility comes amid an increase in apprehensions of unaccompanied children on the southwest border and reduced capacity limits at other facilities due to Covid. The move also comes as President Biden prepares to roll out new immigration executive orders tackling migration to the US southern border.

Unaccompanied children who cross the border are taken into custody by the Department of Homeland Security and referred to the Department of Health and Human Services. While in care, case managers work to place a child with a sponsor in the United States, like a parent or relative.

The facility in Carrizo, Texas, will be used for children who are medically cleared from Covid-19 quarantine and will not be used for children under the age of 13, in line with agency policy, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the agency within HHS that is responsible for the care of migrant children. 

“HHS is mindful of these children's vulnerability, and our priority is the safety and wellbeing of each child in our care. HHS anticipates the need to start placing children at Carrizo Springs in 15 days or soon after,” the agency said in a statement, citing limited capacity due in part to Covid-19.

3:38 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

US has not spoken to Iran since Biden took office, State Department says

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

Neither State Department special envoy for Iran Rob Malley nor any other State Department official has spoken to any Iranian officials since the Biden administration took office, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, who added that the US is a long way from negotiating directly with Tehran.

Price also seemed to dismiss the suggestion by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that EU foreign policy Josep Borrell could serve as an intermediary to “synchronize” both the US and Iranian return to compliance with the nuclear deal.

Speaking at the State Department press briefing, Price said President Joe Biden’s position on the Iran nuclear deal has been “very clear” – “if Iran comes back into full compliance with his obligations under the JCPOA the United States would do the same. And then we would then use that as a platform to build a longer and a stronger agreement that also addresses other areas of concern.”

Price noted that they are "a long way from that."

"Iran has distanced itself from compliance and a number of fronts and there are many steps in that process — I mentioned a couple of them: consulting with our allies, consulting with our partners, consulting with Congress, before we're reaching the point where we're going to engage directly with the Iranians and willing to entertain any sort of proposal, especially since we've been very clear about what the proposition we have put on the table,” he said.

 Watch the moment:

3:00 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Schumer: If Trump legal team repeats election fraud lie, GOP must "realize that they have no argument"

From CNN's Clare Foran, Ryan Nobles and Kristin Wilson

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a press conference at the US Capitol on February 2 in Washington, DC.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks during a press conference at the US Capitol on February 2 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

CNN’s Ryan Nobles asked Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer how concerned he is that the former President’s legal team will once again bring up debunked conspiracy theories about the past election and make that a part of his impeachment defense.

Schumer argued that if they pursue that path, he hopes Senate Republicans see that even the President’s own legal team has no legitimate argument in his defense.

“Well I hope if they tried to do that and couldn’t answer the defense that Republicans would see that and realize that they have no argument against the charges brought by the House managers,” Schumer said.

Schumer also said that, "Joe Biden is totally on board with using reconciliation. I’ve been talking to him every day. Our staffs have been talking multiple times a day. And I believe that we will pass the resolution this afternoon."

On an organizing resolution, Schumer said, “There was a setback when Leader McConnell made extraneous demand, trying to tell our caucus how to run things even though we were in the majority, but we are making progress and we’re getting close.”

2:40 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

White House will bring back visitor logs but not for virtual meetings

From CNN's Betsy Klein 

Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images
Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House will reinstate the regular release of visitor logs, but does not have plans to do so for virtual meetings taking place during the pandemic. 

“Our pledge is to be – venture to be – hope to be the most ethically stringent government in history, and we've put in place, he's put in place a number of steps and policies to deliver on exactly that. You're right that there are not currently many visitors. At some point, hopefully, there will be and we will be returning to the release of those visitor logs,” she said at a news briefing Tuesday, noting that that “was not the case during the prior administration.”

However, she said, “At this point, there's not a discussion of making virtual meetings part of what's released.”

It’s unclear when the process of releasing those logs will begin in earnest, with CNN reporting earlier this week that outside visitors are limited to those with a distinct need to be on campus – such as classified meetings that cannot occur virtually, physical repair work, or a direct request of a principal, per a White House official.

Asked whether the White House could say whether there were any visitors of note logged during the Trump administration in the lead-up to the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Psaki said she was unsure if the Biden administration has access to the Trump administration’s visitor logs but would ask her team if they did or if there is a plan to look at them. She said she was unaware if it was technically possible.