Biden's first full day in office

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

Updated 9:48 PM ET, Thu January 21, 2021
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10:59 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Happening now: Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg testifies before Senate 

From CNN's Alex Rogers, Donald Judd and Dan Merica,

Stefani Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Stefani Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pete Buttigieg is testifying now before a Senate panel on considering his nomination for transportation secretary, putting the former South Bend, Indiana, mayor on the path to becoming the first Senate-confirmed LGBTQ Cabinet secretary.

"We need to build our economy back, better than ever," Buttigieg said in his opening remarks. ""The Department of Transportation can play a central role in this, by implementing President Biden's infrastructure vision creating millions of good-paying jobs, revitalizing communities that have been left behind, enabling American small businesses, workers, families and farmers to compete and win in the global economy, and tackling the climate crisis."

The nominee vowed to "work every day for the department to meets its mission of ensuring safety."

Some background: Buttigieg often spoke about infrastructure on the campaign trail from the perspective of a small-town mayor, arguing that local governments like the one he once ran needed people in Washington who understood their needs and issues.

Buttigieg is expected to play a central role in President Biden's push for a bipartisan infrastructure package.

During the campaign, Biden proposed spending $1.3 trillion over 10 years to build schools, roads, bridges, railroads and pipes, expand broadband access and usher in a "100% clean energy economy."

Some top Democrats believed that Biden wanted to get Buttigieg, 39, a top post as a way to elevate a rising star in the Democratic Party. Buttigieg's future aspirations are no secret, but the former mayor's political future in his conservative home state has long been a roadblock.

10:02 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

House Democrat says they have the votes to approve a waiver for defense secretary pick

From CNN's Manu Raju

Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images
Greg Nash/Pool/Getty Images

House Democrats say they have the votes to grant the waiver for Lloyd Austin to serve as defense secretary. That's according to what House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn indicated on a caucus call, sources tell CNN. The vote is today.

Remember: Austin needs to be granted a waiver from a law requiring a defense secretary to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job. He retired in 2016.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also told his colleagues to plan for floor votes on President Biden’s plan to bolster Covid-19 vaccinations during the week of Feb. 1.

10:03 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Happening now: Biden participates in a virtual prayer service with the Washington National Cathedral

President Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff are joining a virtual Presidential Inaugural Committee (PIC) and Washington National Cathedral prayer service.

The program will include prayers, readings, blessings and hymns from interfaith leaders to "mark the beginning of a new national journey that restores the soul of America, brings the country together and creates a path to a brighter future," according to a press release.

“The National Prayer Service is an important tradition for our nation and for President Biden, who has always been a man guided deeply by his faith," PIC CEO and Delaware State University President Tony Allen said in the press release.

Later on in the day, Biden will deliver remarks at 2 p.m. ET on his administration's coronavirus response and he will sign executive orders. Harris is expected to attend the event. The White House press secretary and Dr. Anthony Fauci will answer questions at 4 p.m. ET.

9:30 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Biden's director of national intelligence will be sworn in at the White House this morning

From CNN's Alex Marquardt

Avril Haines will be sworn in as the director of national intelligence at the White House this morning, according to a spokesperson from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The Senate confirmed President Biden's first Cabinet nominee Wednesday evening, voting to approve his pick for DNI, Avril Haines, on his first day in office.

Haines' confirmation as the first woman to lead the US intelligence community, was approved in the Senate by 84 to 10.

9:26 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Biden confirmation team feels "confident" about Defense secretary nominee's waiver 

From CNN's Jessica Dean

The Biden team is feeling confident this morning about the prospect of retired Gen. Lloyd Austin receiving a waiver to serve as Secretary of Defense when the House votes later today, according to a source familiar. 

The source confirmed the Biden team believes it is seeing progress as more members announce their support for the waiver. 

What this is about: Austin needs to be granted a waiver from a law requiring a defense secretary to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job.

Austin, who retired in 2016, has been reaching out to top House and Senate lawmakers who will have to agree to pass legislation to grant the waiver, something approved only twice before in history, including for James Mattis to run Donald Trump's Pentagon in 2017.

9:38 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

The Oval Office got a Biden makeover. Here are some of the American heroes now surrounding his desk. 

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

The press got its first glimpse of President Joe Biden's Oval Office on Wednesday, showing how in a matter of hours the office has visibly transformed in both dramatic and subtle ways to reflect the taste and politics of the officeholder.

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Biden made some changes to the office's artwork. A portrait of Andrew Jackson, to the left of the seat at the Resolute Desk, has been replaced with a portrait of Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis. Like other works routinely lent to the White House, the portrait appears to be on loan from the Smithsonian Institution's National Gallery of Art.

The Washington Post, which got a first look at the Oval's new interior decorations, reported that the Franklin portrait and a nearby moon rock set are meant to represent Biden's interest in science.

A bronze bust of Latino civil rights leader Cesar Chavezcreated by artist Paul Suarez, was also placed on the credenza behind his desk.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chavez sought to bring awareness to the harsh conditions of farmworkers in the US and fight for better wages. The prominent inclusion of his bust in the West Wing came the same day that Biden proposed immigration legislation that would allow undocumented farmworkers to qualify to apply for green cards immediately.

Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the labor leader's granddaughter, is Biden's director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

Though not entirely visible to television cameras, the Post reported that "busts of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy flank a fireplace in the office" — in an apparent nod to their efforts in the civil rights movement.

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

There are also busts of Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt and an Allan Houser sculpture depicting a horse and Chiricahua Apache rider. The sculpture, the Post said, once belonged to the late Sen. Daniel Inouye, a Democrat representing Hawaii.

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

Alex Brandon/AP
Alex Brandon/AP

The Post report says other parts of the office now feature paintings of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton and a bust of Daniel Webster, a former senator who defended the Union. A bust of Winston Churchill has been removed from display.

9:13 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Many White House staffers working from home as Biden's team implements workplace Covid-19 precautions

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Unlike the Trump administration, many of Biden's staffers will continue working from home in the coming days and weeks.

Officials say they received new government computers and phones that were activated at noon on Wednesday that will allow them to conduct official business from living rooms, kitchens and home offices.

While many of the West Wing's individual offices have been assigned, the building will not be at capacity as it was for much of last year, despite the pandemic.

The few places that did implement some work from home requirements under Trump, like the National Security Council, will continue having officials work remotely.

This doesn't include Biden's top staffers like chief of staff Ron Klain and press secretary Jen Psaki, who were in the building yesterday when Biden arrived for the first time.

But other mid-level and lower-level staffers will work from home, a departure from the Trump aides who mostly continued coming to work without wearing masks.

As Psaki said during her press briefing on Wednesday, all staffers entering the complex will be required to undergo a Covid-19 test, wear an N95 mask and adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Plexiglass barriers were also mounted on desks in the West Wing, something Trump officials had resisted.

9:07 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

House Democrats could deliver impeachment article as early as Friday

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Manu Raju

House Democrats are in discussions to send over the article of impeachment to the Senate as early as Friday, two sources say, but a complicating factor remains the fact that former President Donald Trump still does not have a lawyer to represent him in a Senate trial.

“The articles could be walked over Friday,” one source told CNN. 

There are also discussions about how to ensure a trial can move quickly and not overwhelm the Biden agenda, but ultimately no timing has been finalized. Trump’s lack of lawyer underscores the chaos that the former president is still injecting on Capitol Hill even after he left Washington Wednesday. 

Democrats want to make sure that the trial looks fair given the fact that Democrats are hoping to convince some Republican senators to vote to convict Trump. The fear is that moving ahead without Trump having a lawyer could make it harder to convince Republicans the process was fair.  

9:02 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

House will vote on waiver today to allow Biden's defense secretary pick to serve in role

From CNN's Clare Foran

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/AP

The House is expected to vote Thursday on a waiver to permit retired Gen. Lloyd Austin to serve as secretary of defense in the Biden administration.

Austin, who would be the first African American to run the department, needs to be granted a waiver from a law requiring a defense secretary to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job.

President Joe Biden's pick for defense secretary will, in effect, have to win two votes: one from both chambers of Congress to grant the waiver and another from the Senate to confirm him for the position.

CNN has previously reported that Austin, who retired in 2016, has been reaching out to top House and Senate lawmakers who will have to agree to pass legislation to grant the waiver, something approved only twice before in history, including for James Mattis to run Donald Trump's Pentagon in 2017.

Congressional Democratic leaders are trying to move swiftly to confirm Cabinet members and other key officials following Biden's inauguration on Wednesday.

A schedule update from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's office earlier this week announced that the House is expected to consider the legal exception needed to appoint Austin as secretary of defense on Thursday.

To win the waiver and confirmation, Austin must overcome objections from some lawmakers to allowing a recently retired general to assume the top civilian post at the Pentagon.

He addressed those concerns directly at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon, saying, "If confirmed, I will carry out the mission of the Department of Defense, always with the goal to deter war and ensure our nation's security, and I will uphold the principle of civilian control of the military, as intended."