March 9, 2021

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Politics live updates: Senate clears way to pass COVID relief, Biden to huddle with Democrats

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President Joe Biden will meet with House Democratic leaders and deliver remarks on the economy on Friday as his administration presses Congress to pass his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

The Oval Office meeting, which also will include the Democratic leaders of House committees working on COVID relief, comes just hours after the Senate set the stage for passage of the package, possibly by the end of the month.

The Senate voted 51-50 along party lines early Friday morning to approve a budget resolution, paving the way for Biden’s American Rescue Plan to become law. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, cast the tie-breaking vote.

After the meeting with Democrats, Biden will speak about the economy and the need for the rescue package in an address from the White House State Dining Room.

Biden isn’t budging from his demand for $1.9 trillion in COVID relief, arguing the package is needed to help Americans recover from the economic fallout of the pandemic. His proposal calls for another round of direct $1,400 payments to millions of Americans, $130 billion to reopen the nation’s schools, $350 billion in aid to state and local governments, $160 billion for vaccine testing and equipment, $50 billion for grants and loans to businesses and raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted talks on a COVID relief stimulus plan with 10 Republican senators, including Mitt Romney (R-UT), Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), in the Oval Office at the White House February 01, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Ten Senate Republicans are pushing a smaller $618 billion proposal that would scrap the aid to state and local governments, reduce the stimulus checks from $1,400 to $1,000 and remove Biden’s proposal to boost the minimum wage.

– Michael Collins and Ledyard King

Senate clears way for COVID relief package

The Senate early Friday morning set the stage for the passage – possibly by the end of this month – of a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package that President Joe Biden is pushing.

The 51-50 vote to approve a budget resolution, paving the way for Biden’s American Rescue Plan to become law, fell along party lines with every Democrat in favor and every Republican opposed. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, broke the tie at 5:23 a.m.

“In the early hours of this morning, the Senate took a critical step towards providing our health care heroes, unemployed workers, small businesses, schools, state and local governments, and American families who are trying to make ends meet, the big and bold assistance they’ve been asking for,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a statement following the vote.

The resolution allows Democrats to use a process known as “reconciliation,” which allows budget-related bills to bypass a Senate filibuster. Without it, Democrats would need at least 60 votes – which would require at least 10 Republicans – a tall order given the opposition from GOP lawmakers.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., goes back to her office after speaking on the floor of the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021.

Republicans objected to the bill on several grounds: It was too big for a nation already dealing with spiraling debt; it included an increase to the federal minimum wage that would kill jobs: and the aid from previous stimulus bills had yet to be fully exhausted.

“We passed a $900 billion bill in December and only 20% of the money that we appropriated is even out the door yet,” Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said.

Committees in the House and Senate will now start working on several aspects of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which would provide $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, provide $160 billion to distribute COVID tests and vaccines, and provide hundreds of billions to cash-strapped state and local governments to stay afloat and open schools.

– Ledyard King

House removes Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees

The Democratic-led House on Thursday voted mostly along party lines to remove Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her two committees following a charged floor debate rife with finger-pointing and threats of repercussions.

The vote was 230-199, with 11 Republicans joining every Democrat in stripping her from the Education & Labor Committee and the Budget Committee for a litany of incendiary, conspiratorial and menacing social media posts before she was elected.

The floor debate in a chamber already riven by division and mistrust turned raw, as lawmakers took turns arguing not just about Greene’s particular conduct but what it said about House members who demanded – or objected to – her punishment.

More:House removes Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees

Faced with the loss of her committee assignments, Greene came to the floor earlier Thursday to disavow some of her previous incendiary posts on social media in a last-ditch effort to avoid punishment.

Though she expressed some regret, Greene never apologized during a speech on the House floor.

— Ledyard King and Nicholas Wu

Trump says he won’t testify at Senate impeachment trial

Former President Donald Trump said Thursday he will not testify in the Senate impeachment trial, denying a request from Democratic prosecutors who want him to answer questions under oath.    

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a former constitutional law professor leading the Democrats’ case, wrote a letter to Trump saying his response to the article of impeachment earlier this week had “denied many factual allegations,” and therefore Democrats requested he testify as early as next Monday and no later than next Thursday.

“If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021,” Raskin wrote, referring to the Capitol riots last month.

Impeachment trial:Trump says he won’t testify, denying Democrats’ request

Vice President Kamala Harris sits in the chair on the Senate floor to cast the tie-breaking vote, her first, Friday, Feb. 5, 2021 at the Capitol in Washington. The Senate early Friday approved a budget resolution that paves the way for fast-track passage of President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan without support from Republicans.

Trump’s attorneys responded to the request by blasting it as a “public relations stunt.” In a letter to Raskin and House prosecutors, Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen argued that needing testimony from the former president shows Democrats “cannot prove your allegations against the 45th President of the United States, who is now a private citizen.”

“The use of our Constitution to bring a purported impeachment proceeding is much too serious to try to play these games,” the attorneys wrote.

Ali Pardo, a spokeswoman for Trump, clarified to USA TODAY the former president had no intention of going under oath as part of the trial.

— Nicholas Wu, Bart Jansen and Christal Hayes

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