The latest on Congress as GOP tensions rise

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

Updated 8:04 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021
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6:55 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

House GOP leader says he made offer to Democrats to move Greene to new committee

From CNN's Manu Raju, Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles 

McCarthy leaves a GOP meeting at the U.S. Capitol on February 03,  in Washington, DC.
McCarthy leaves a GOP meeting at the U.S. Capitol on February 03, in Washington, DC. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters Wednesday that he made an offer to Democrats to move Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her current committee assignments to the Small Business Committee.

“When the Democrats contacted me, their complaint was that Marjorie’s comments, which I disavow. I think they are wrong," McCarthy said. "This was before she was ever elected. They were concerned about her being on Ed, Workforce and Labor. And, Marjorie’s also a small business owner. Move her to small business. I made that offer to Democrats and they chose to do something that Congress has never done, and if they are going to pick people based on what they said before are they going to hold them to the same standard to what people said now?"

McCarthy also told reporters tonight that no final decision has been made about whether or not the GOP conference will vote tonight on Rep. Liz Cheney’s future in leadership, saying, “We’ll let you know.”

During the conference tonight, a source familiar with the ongoing discussion told CNN that Rep. Adam Kinzinger “unleashed hell” on McCarthy for spending more time defending Greene than Cheney. The thrust of his comments were about how McCarthy has made it look like he was choosing the extreme wing of the party over people like Cheney. 

As Cheney emerged from the conference meeting to take votes on the floor, she did not offer much about what transpired behind closed doors.

“Everything is going really well I’m not going to answer any questions until it’s over,” she said. 

6:39 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Democratic congressman: McCarthy should "do his own work" in punishing Marjorie Taylor Greene

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

CNN
CNN

Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn said it should not fall to Democrats to take action against GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, saying GOP Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy should be the one to strip her of her committee assignments. 

"I do have some feelings about whether or not we ought to do McCarthy's work," said Clyburn, as he and fellow Democrats on the House Rules Committee prepared to force a floor vote on Thursday on a resolution to remove the Georgia congresswoman from her committee assignment

"He ought to do his own work," Clyburn added. 

The third ranking Democrat's comments came after McCarthy broke his silence on Wednesday, suggesting Republicans would not move to strip Greene from her committee assignments, effectively forcing Democrats to take action on their own.

Clyburn, however, also suggested he was resigned to House leadership's decision not to take action against the freshman lawmaker.

"This is a failure of leadership," he said. "...I don't know why he thinks it is good to have a woman with her views on the education committee. But if that's the way they'd like for it to be, so then so let it be."

5:27 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

McCarthy says Democrats are choosing to "raise the temperature" instead of coming together regarding Greene

From CNN's Manu Raju and Kristin Wilson 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene walks through the hall as she enters her office on Capitol Hill on February 3, in Washington, DC.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene walks through the hall as she enters her office on Capitol Hill on February 3, in Washington, DC. Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is breaking his silence in his latest statement regarding Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene who is facing backlash for extreme comments she made before winning her seat.

His statement is the clearest sign yet that they aren’t going to strip the Georgia congresswoman of her committee assignments and will let Democrats do it on the floor tomorrow. 

"I understand that Marjorie’s comments have caused deep wounds to many and as a result, I offered Majority Leader Hoyer a path to lower the temperature and address these concerns. Instead of coming together to do that, the Democrats are choosing to raise the temperature by taking the unprecedented step to further their partisan power grab regarding the committee assignments of the other party," McCarthy said in his statement.

What's next: The House Rules Committee has approved a rule that will govern debate over the resolution to strip Greene of her committee assignments.

Barring any developments from the Republican conference, McCarthy or the Steering Committee, the resolution will be brought to the floor.

3:22 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

McCarthy has not yet indicated to GOP Steering Committee whether they will strip Greene from her spot

From CNN's Manu Raju

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy just met with members of the GOP Steering Committee — which can decide committee assignments — and members left uncertain whether the conference will strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her positions or let the House do it tomorrow.

Asked if he knew where McCarthy stood on the question of stripping Greene from committee, Rep. Jodey Arrington told CNN: “I don’t. I only know what I read in press reports.”

Multiple GOP members also say it’s unclear if McCarthy will allow the conference to vote today on whether to keep Rep. Liz Cheney in leadership.

Ahead of this afternoon’s meeting where her leadership position is expected to be a subject of tense debate, Cheney just walked out of McCarthy’s office.

Asked if she thought there would be a vote this afternoon to strip her from the spot, Cheney declined to comment to CNN and said she would speak later.

One member of GOP leadership said he expected the leadership team to close ranks behind Cheney today — including McCarthy.

3:10 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Hoyer does not think stripping Greene of committees would set a bad precedent

From CNN's Annie Grayer and Daniella Diaz

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer explained on a call with reporters the thinking behind the vote stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments.

"She has placed many members in fear for their welfare and she has attacked and made incendiary remarks prior to but also during her term as a member of Congress with respect to the safety and welfare of the Speaker of the House and others in the House. And we believe she also gave aid and comfort to those who led an insurrection" Hoyer said. "The language that she has used, in many respects, goes far beyond the remarks that Steve King made through the years." 

Hoyer said he would keep his call with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy private, when asked what McCarthy proposed during their phone call, but defended the precedent Democrats would be setting if they strip a member of a minority party of their committee assignments.

"I've been in the Congress for 40 years, I can't remember, I’ve thought about it, any situation that I believe is analogous to what Ms. Greene has done,” he said. "I don't think this is a precedent because I think the fact pattern that exists is an extraordinary fact pattern.”

Hoyer said that Greene having “no intention of modifying her behavior” makes the need to remove her from committee even more pressing. 

On the timing of a vote on this, Hoyer told reporters “we think we need to move quickly on this” pointing to the rules meeting that is happening on Wednesday afternoon. In an earlier statement, Hoyer had said the resolution would come to the floor tomorrow, but told reporters during the call, “I haven't scheduled that bill yet, we're waiting for the recommendations of the committee.”

If the resolution does come to the floor tomorrow, Hoyer said “I would hope that we would have significant bipartisan support.”

2:53 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

White House press secretary criticizes GOP Covid-19 relief counterproposal and draws sharp distinctions

From CNN's Kate Sullivan 

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday criticized the counterproposal Covid-19 relief bill offered by 10 Republican senators and drew sharp distinctions between the Republicans’ roughly $618 billion relief bill and President Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal.  

Psaki said the bill offered by the Republican senators “would give unemployed Americans less money and therefore less certainty."

She said the President on Wednesday had a “productive conversation on the status of legislative proceedings on the package” with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democratic Senate committee chairs at the White House. Psaki said Biden and the Democratic senators were in agreement “over the need to go big” with the Covid-19 relief proposal. 

Psaki said Biden and the Democratic senators agreed on several aspects of the bill, including the $1,400 stimulus checks, providing enough funding for vaccines, and providing immediate relief to those facing eviction and food shortages. She said Biden and the Democratic senators “also agreed to continue working to find areas of bipartisan agreement in an effort to integrate ideas and make the process as bipartisan as possible.”

Here are some of the areas Psaki says the White House believes the Republican’s plan doesn’t go far enough: 

  • Direct stimulus payments: “The President's plan would fulfill his pledge to finish getting $2,000 checks to hard-hit Americans and ensure that, for example, a kindergarten teacher making $60,000 a year isn't left without additional support. Their plan wouldn't provide that teacher with direct relief,” Psaki said. 
  • Federal unemployment: “The President's plan would give Americans who are out of work through no fault of their own a $400 weekly supplement and the certainty that it would last through the worst of the pandemic. Their plan would give unemployed Americans less money and therefore less certainty," she said.
  • Funding for state and local governments: “The President's plan would keep hundreds of thousands of teachers, cops, firefighters, paramedics, and other public servants on the job. Their plan offers no money to state and local governments to keep people on the front lines of this fight employed,” Psaki said. 
  • Eviction protection: “The President's plan would also assist the millions of families who are … behind on their rent and facing potential eviction. Their plan wouldn't offer any support to these families," she said.
2:30 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

White House press secretary says Space Force has "full support" of administration

From CNN's Allie Malloy

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the United States Space Force has the full support of the Biden administration, following criticism that she had mocked the service branch in her briefing Tuesday.

Psaki also told reporters that the administration is “not revisiting the decision to establish a Space Force.”

“The desire for the Department of Defense to focus greater attention and resources on the growing security challenges in space has long been a bipartisan issue,” Psaki said Wednesday.

Some background: In the briefing Tuesday, Psaki appeared to mock the Space Force telling reporters: “Wow, Space Force. It’s the plane of today." 

When asked whether she would apologize for her earlier comments, Psaki pointed to a tweet she sent Tuesday inviting the members of Space Force to the White House and briefing room.

2:21 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Trump's impeachment lawyer says he'll focus on "technical" defenses at trial

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

Former President Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer Bruce Castor told a Pennsylvania radio station on Wednesday that he plans to focus on “technical” defenses of Trump during next week’s impeachment trial and will not make claims the election was stolen. 

Castor told KYW Newsradio that he was not pressured to try to defend Trump’s false and baseless claims about widespread election fraud, saying he made clear when he was vetted for the job that he “wasn’t interested in using anything other than technical defenses.”  

“There are plenty of questions about how the election was conducted throughout the country, but that’s for a different forum. I don’t believe that’s important to litigate in the senate trial, because you don’t need it,” Castor said. 

Of course, while the legal filing that Castor and David Schoen filed on Tuesday defending the President didn’t claim the election was stolen, it did embrace some of Trump’s false claims about the election.

The filing claimed that “insufficient evidence exists upon which a reasonable jurist could conclude that the 45th President’s statements were accurate or not, and he therefore denies they were false.”

Castor was named to Trump’s legal team on Sunday after five of Trump’s lawyers left the team the day before over a strategy disagreement after Trump wanted them to falsely argue there was mass election fraud. 

Castor said the impeachment defense plans to focus on the argument that the Senate doesn’t have jurisdiction to try Trump because he’s no longer in office, as well as that Trump’s speech on Jan. 6 ahead of the Capitol riots did not meet the criminal definition of incitement and was protected by the First Amendment. 

“Just because somebody gave a speech and people got excited, that doesn’t mean it’s the speech-makers fault – it’s the people who got excited and did what they know is wrong that are at fault,” Castor said. “That’s the focus that we’re going to take.” 

2:07 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

White House press secretary suggests there's bipartisan agreement on funding for small business

From CNN's Betsy Klein 

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

CNN’s Phil Mattingly pressed White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on the space for bipartisan agreement in a Covid-19 relief deal as Republicans and Democrats appear to be far apart on a stimulus package during Wednesday's press briefing. 

Psaki initially cited small businesses before going on to claim that the “bill itself is bipartisan.”

“Well you know an area where there’s agreement is funding for small business, and that's something of course Democrats and Republicans want to do. Our view is that this bill itself is bipartisan. 74% of the public support it, Republicans and Democrats, independents across the country,” Psaki said. 

She continued, “And there is agreement that it's important to work with many Republicans and Democrats who fall in different parts of the political spectrum to put their ideas forward and consider them,” going on to say there’s “openness” to that at the White House. 

Mattingly also asked Psaki about reports of daylight between the President and his staff on negotiations, which she dismissed, calling some of the reports “ludicrous.”

“There is no one who's going to tell him what to do, or hold him back from his commitment to delivering relief to the American people,” Psaki said.