By MICHELLE STODDART, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — Thursday is Day 44 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Here is how the day is unfolding. All time Eastern:
Mar 04, 7:55 pm
Biden officials to visit southern border, trip details minimal
Biden is sending senior members of his team to the southern border to see first-hand the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the border — but beyond the reason and the existence of the trip, the White House is not revealing any additional details.
White House spokesperson Vedant Patel told ABC News in a statement that the president has asked these senior members of his team to travel there “in order to provide a full briefing to him on the government response to the influx … and an assessment of additional steps that can be taken to ensure the safety and care of these children.”
“Out of safety, security, and privacy concerns the date and time of this visit will remain confidential but the White House will provide a read out of the visit once it concludes,” Patel continued.
Mar 04, 5:30 pm
Biden thanks and congratulates NASA’s Perseverance team
Biden thanked and congratulated the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) team involved in the successful landing of the Perseverance rover on Mars in a video call Thursday evening.
The president sat at the desk facing a large monitor, another one over his shoulder. He took no questions, but spoke at length with the NASA team, thanking them for all their work and everything they’ve done to inspire and bring hope to the nation.
“You feel like you’re living a dream. You’ve created a dream for millions of young kids and Americans. You all did this,” Biden said.
He said the team had restored “a dose of confidence in the American people” and that it was a result of their belief in “science and hard work.”
“It’s bigger than landing on Mars,” the president said. “It’s about the American spirit. And you did it. It matters. Democracies have to show how they can run better than autocracies. I can’t tell you how much I believe historians will write about what you did at the moment you did it. You should take great pride in it. We can land on Mars. Beat a pandemic, with science. God only knows what will come from this. I just wanted to thank you. Tell you I am so proud of you. Not a thing we cannot do when we set our minds to it.”
NASA’s Perseverance rover successfully touched down on Mars in late February. It was one of the agency’s most ambitious deep-space missions designed to search for signs of ancient life on the planet.
Present were members of the team including Michael Watkins, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Swati Mohan, guidance and controls operations lead of Mars 2020, Luis Dominguez, deputy electrical lead of Mars 2020, Matt Smith, spacecraft systems engineer and Researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Annalise Sundberg, Assembly, Test, & Launch Operations systems engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Also on the call were more than 6,080 employees of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from across the country.
-ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce and Sarah Kolinovsky
Mar 04, 3:53 pm
Security review recommends hiring 1,000 new Capitol Police officers
A Capitol security review will recommend adding roughly 1,000 new Capitol Police officers to the force and improving infrastructure around the Capitol Hill complex, according to an executive summary obtained by ABC News.
The draft report — shared with congressional leaders and relevant committees — recommends replacing the temporary, razor wire-topped fencing around the House and Senate office buildings with mobile and retractable fencing that could still “enable an open campus,” absent any threats. It also recommends empowering the Capitol Police chief to request assistance from federal law enforcement and the D.C. National Guard in an emergency, to avoid the extensive delays that plagued the response to the Jan. 6 riot.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that lawmakers will review the draft and “hear what the security folks have to say” before proposing any changes to the Capitol’s security apparatus.
The review, details of which were first reported by CNN, also recommends establishing a permanent quick reaction force to be on standby in Washington to supplement Capitol Police and local law enforcement when needed, suggests that Capitol Police maintain civil disobedience units when Congress is in session and consider reestablishing a mounted unit that could help patrol the Capitol grounds.
-ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel
Mar 04, 3:26 pm
Senate begins consideration of COVID relief bill
The Senate is taking up the COVID relief bill after Vice President Kamala Harris came to the floor to break the tie.
Republicans who claim the bill is massive and won’t address issues related to the pandemic have set the stage for a lengthy series of procedural measures designed to slow down momentum.
Democrats, however, are projecting that they will hold together and vote unanimously in favor of the aid after Biden made concessions to appease the moderates.
“We’re going to just keep drinking coffee and getting this thing done,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said.
-ABC News’ Allison Pecorin and Trish Turner
Mar 04, 2:48 pm
Biden wants America to ‘lead the world’ in infrastructure
Biden, Harris, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and bipartisan lawmakers on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee including committee chair Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and ranking member Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., were meeting Thursday in the Oval Office about a major infrastructure reform bill.
Passing the legislation, which could be Biden’s moonshot, was something his predecessors, former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, set out to accomplish but did not.
“It not only creates jobs but it makes us a hell of a lot more competitive around the world if we have the best infrastructure in the world,” Biden said.
The meeting comes the same week that the American Society of Civil Engineers gave American infrastructure a C- score on its 2021 Infrastructure Report Card, which is up from a D+ in 2017.
Mar 04, 2:45 pm
Biden says he’s comfortable narrowing direct payment eligibility in COVID-19 relief bill
As the president was set to meet with bipartisan members of the House Transportation Committee on his infrastructure priorities on Thursday, ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce asked Biden if he’s comfortable with limiting the number of Americans who receive direct payments under his COVID-19 relief bill, reflecting the new income cap of $80,000 for individuals.
“Are you comfortable with having to limit the direct payments?” Bruce asked. Biden confidently responded, “Yes.”
Asked if he’s reaching out to Republicans in the Senate who are trying to slow down the bill, Biden said “I’ve been talking to a lot of my Republican friends in the House and the Senate, continue to do that. And we’ve met, had a number of meetings with Republicans on the Coronavirus bill — and House, Senate, a combination of both. So, we’re keeping everybody informed.”
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky
Mar 04, 2:16 pm
Psaki refuses to give Trump administration credit on vaccine groundwork
In an exchange that clearly struck a nerve during a press briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki flatly refused to give the Trump administration any credit for the vaccine rollout.
“I don’t think anyone deserves credit when half a million people in the country have died of this pandemic,” Psaki said in response to ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce.
“What our focus is on, and what the president’s focus is on when he came into office just over a month ago, was ensuring that we had enough vaccines. We have that — we’re going to have them now. We had enough vaccinators, and we had enough vaccine locations to get this pandemic under control. There’s no question, and all data points to the fact that there were not enough of any of those things when he took office,” she said.
Asked if the Trump administration deserves more credit for initiating vaccine rollout, press sec. Jen Psaki tells @marykbruce, “I don’t think anyone deserves credit when half a million people in the country have died of this pandemic.” https://t.co/d9xpp72Lx5 pic.twitter.com/njT1WxUcUq
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) March 4, 2021
Bruce pressed Psaki on whether the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed deserves some credit for work in beginning development, manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine, citing former Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary Admiral Brett Giroir, who recently vented frustration about the Biden administration’s repeated claims that the Trump team left it empty-handed. But Psaki pushed back strongly.
“We are open-eyed about the challenge we continue to live under, and that’s why he has been focused every single day and doing everything possible to get the pandemic under control. But there were shortages in all of those areas which were preventing us from moving forward on getting the pandemic under control,” Psaki said.
In the past, Biden himself has acknowledged the Trump administration’s efforts, saying in January, “We want to give credit to everyone involved in this vaccine effort and the prior administration and the science community and the medical sphere…for getting the program off the ground.”
-ABC News’ Sarah Kolinovsky
Mar 04, 1:51 pm
First lady to visit West Coast military bases next week
Following her East Coast school swing, first lady Jill Biden will head to the West Coast on Tuesday and Wednesday to visit military bases in Washington state and California to connect with military families.
“These visits are part of the First Lady’s on-going efforts to listen and learn directly from military families about the unique challenges they are facing and the support they need, especially during the pandemic,” the White House said in a statement about the trip.
Mar 04, 1:48 pm
WH addresses Biden’s remarks about states repealing public health measures
ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday about Biden’s pandemic response, including his reaction to the governors of Texas and Mississippi eliminating mask mandates and allowing businesses to open at 100% capacity.
Bruce asked Psaki about the president saying those moves represented “neanderthal thinking” and asked whether that stance would help convince people to follow health measures.
Psaki said the president’s comments were a “reflection of his frustration and exasperation” — a year into the pandemic — with decisions not consistent with science.
She also responded to a question about whether the White House would recommend people not travel to states like Texas and Mississippi as a result of those states’ policies.
“We are going to continue to use every method of the bully pulpit at our disposal to convey directly to people living across the country, including in many of these states, that mask-wearing, social distancing getting access to the vaccine is the path to go back to normal,” Psaki said.
Mar 04, 1:18 pm
VA Secretary says ‘supply’ is biggest challenge to vaccinating vets
Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Denis McDonough joined the White House press briefing on Thursday to discuss the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on veterans and the ongoing efforts to get veterans vaccinated.
“Countless veterans have lost jobs, closed businesses, home-schooled their own children, and faced uncertain prospects while our nation grappled with the pandemic,” McDonough said. “And like the rest of the country, many veterans were directly affected by the deadly virus, with more than 230,000 veterans in our care infected by it and, sadly, 10,605 dying from the disease.”
McDonough says that even though the VA has infrastructure to get the vaccines out the greatest challenge is “supply.”
“So the big challenge for us is supply. From what I hear from our [doctors] is, from the moment we get it, our allotments are in arms within two to three days,” McDonough said.
Mar 04, 1:02 pm
Biden called off 2nd airstrike in Syria, official confirms
In addition to the U.S. airstrike last week of an Iranian-backed militia compound in Syria, another location associated with the militia in eastern Syria was supposed to be targeted, a U.S. official confirmed to ABC News Thursday, but Biden called off the strike after the presence of women and children could not be ruled out.
Biden had approved targeting both locations last Thursday morning, but later in the day, aerial reconnaissance observed women and children entering and leaving the second location.
That movement led to concerns by military officials that they could not conclusively rule out the presence of women and children at the location when the airstrike was to have occurred in the middle of the night local Syria time.
The military’s concerns were communicated up the chain of command and Biden called off the strike on the second location.
Mar 04, 12:15 pm
Pelosi talks Capitol security amid threat
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi discussed at her weekly press conference Thursday possible plots planned for the same day that pose threats to the Capitol, explaining the reasons the House voted on a policing bill named for George Floyd late Wednesday night rather than Thursday morning as originally scheduled.
“So it was really just as a convenience and, frankly, there are a lot of us,” Pelosi said, referring to the size of the House compared with the Senate, which is in session Thursday. “We’re at least four times more people, and therefore, all that that implies in terms of numbers of people in the Capitol, if in fact there’s any troublemakers around, and it made sense.”
Pelosi also responded to questions from reporters about the possibility of adding more security, saying she recognizes it is going to take more funding to secure the Capitol.
“It’s going to take more money to protect the Capitol in a way that enables people to come here, children to come and see our democracy in action, all of you to cover what happens here safely, members to be comfortable that they are safe when they are here, and not be concerned about what happened last time,” Pelosi said.
Mar 04, 11:04 am
Haaland’s nomination moves to Senate with support from moderates
The Senate Energy committee advanced Rep. Deb Haaland’s, D-Ariz., nomination on Wednesday morning to serve as secretary of the interior to the Senate floor. Haaland was reported favorably out of the committee by a vote of 11-9. If confirmed, she will be the first Native American Cabinet secretary.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, was the only Republican on the committee to vote in her favor. While Haaland earned scant Republican support in committee, there is a clear path emerging for her confirmation with several moderate members, including Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V. Support from moderates eases concerns that Haaland would face a more challenging road to confirmation.
Haaland has been a controversial choice with some GOP senators for her support of the Green New Deal and her opposition to fossil fuel projects including the Keystone Dakota Access pipeline. Her nomination will now be taken up for a vote of the full Senate. The timing of the final confirmation vote is not yet clear.
Mar 04, 9:14 am
Biden praises House passage of voting rights bill
Biden released a statement Thursday morning praising the House for passing the “For the People Act,” which Democrats say would protect voting rights. Democrats have pushed for the bill as GOP-controlled legislatures in Georgia and other red states scramble to change voting laws after the 2020 presidential elections.
“In the wake of an unprecedented assault on our democracy; a coordinated attempt to ignore, undermine, and undo the will of the American people never before seen in our history; and a new wave of aggressive attacks on voting rights taking place in states across the country, I applaud Speaker Pelosi and the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021,” Biden said.
The would automatically register Americans to vote, restore the right to vote for felon and expand absentee and early voting. Biden, in the statement, also praised that the bill would curtail “outrageous gerrymandering” and the right for the Justice Department to crack down on racially motivated voting laws.
The bill is expected to hit a roadblock in the Senate, where Democrats will need to win the support of 10 Republicans to get the bill on to Biden’s desk. Still Biden stressed that he “look forward to signing it into law after it has passed through the legislative process, so that together we can strengthen and restore American democracy for the next election and all those to come.”
Mar 04, 8:58 am
Biden sets sights on infrastructure
Biden, Harris, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg meet with bipartisan House members in the Oval Office this afternoon. As Biden gets ready for his final push for COVID-19 relief, he is setting his sights on his next big legislative goal: infrastructure.
But tackling that will be no small feat for Biden. Infrastructure was something former President Donald Trump wanted to tackle, even pitching a $1.5 trillion plan, but was never able to achieve. The American Society of Civil Engineers released the 2021 Infrastructure Report Card this week, published every four years, and gave American infrastructure a C- grade for the first time in 20 years. That’s up from a D+ in 2017.
After that meeting, the president will participate in a virtual call to congratulate the NASA Perseverance team on the successful Mars landing. White House press secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:45 p.m., and will be joined by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough.
Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.