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Biden makes first presidential trip as Trump attacks McConnell

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President Joe Biden is making the first official trip of his presidency to take part in a Wisconsin town hall on the government's COVID-19 pandemic response. CBS News chief congressional correspondent Nancy Cordes and Boston Globe deputy Washington bureau chief Liz Goodwin spoke to "Red and Blue" host Elaine Quijano about the future of Biden's $1.9 trillion aid proposal, and former President Donald Trump's attacks on his party's leaders.

Video Transcript

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ELAINE QUIJANO: Hi, everyone. I'm Elaine Quijano. It's good to be with you. Thanks for joining us. The House is moving toward finalizing their version of the next coronavirus relief bill as President Biden makes the first official trip of his term to promote the $1.9 trillion package. Mr. Biden is flying to Milwaukee to take questions at a town hall on the pandemic, as well as to promote his American rescue plan proposal.

On Tuesday, he ordered a moratorium on home foreclosures and offered delayed mortgage payments through the end of June. It applies to those with federally-backed mortgages. The president previously continued a pause on evictions through the end of March.

House Democratic leadership aides confirm the chamber plans to vote on the bill next week. The House version will include a provision increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next four years. It's raising some questions about its fate in the Senate. We'll have more on that in a moment.

But first, congressional Democrats are moving forward with plans to create a commission to study last month's attack on the Capitol. Without his social media, former President Trump has resorted to issuing written statements since his impeachment trial acquittal this weekend. This evening, he attacked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as a, quote, "dour, sullen, and unsmiling political hack, and if Republican senators are going to stay with him, they will not win again."

He continued, saying, "Where necessary and appropriate, I will back primary rivals who espouse Making America Great Again and our policy of America First." It comes after McConnell gave interviews saying he's more focused on electability than backing the same candidates as the former president. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump still faces a number of legal challenges on the local level. Our reporter Graham Kates will be here later in the hour to tell you about that. This afternoon, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki declined to say if the Biden Justice Department could pursue the former president.

JEN PSAKI: That will be up to the Department of Justice to determine. We're doing something new here, and there's going to be an independent Justice Department to determine what any path forward in any investigation would look like. I am not going to speculate on criminal prosecution from the White House podium. We-- the president is committed to having an independent Justice Department that will make their own decisions about the path forward.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Nancy Cordes and Liz Goodwin join me now. Nancy is CBS News chief White House correspondent, and Liz is the deputy Washington bureau chief for "The Boston Globe." Welcome, Nancy. Welcome, Liz.

So Nancy, let's start with President Biden's trip to Wisconsin. It was a state he flipped narrowly in November. Here's Press Secretary Psaki's explanation on why the president chose Wisconsin.

- Is there any particular reason Wisconsin was chosen as the site of tonight's town hall?

JEN PSAKI: You don't like Wisconsin?

- No. I--

JEN PSAKI: It's a little cold. I looked it up this morning. Wisconsin is a state where, clearly, there are Democrats, Republicans, independents, as we saw from the final outcome of the vote in November, people who have different points of view on a range of issues. And it was a state that-- where people have been impacted by the pandemic.

They've been impacted by the economic downturn. The president felt that he could have a good conversation with people about the path forward, and also even people who disagree with him. So it was not more complicated than that.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So Nancy, we heard her answer there. But why do you think Wisconsin might have been President Biden's choice? And has the White House commented on traveling for a political event in the middle of a pandemic?

NANCY CORDES: Well, what the White House press secretary has said in the past when we've asked her about traveling is that while the White House is recommending that everyday Americans avoid travel, if they can, during this pandemic for safety reasons, the president is a little bit of a different story. He travels on his own plane, obviously. Everyone who travels with him is tested. He himself has gotten the vaccine. So they argue that that is a different situation, that he is the commander-in-chief and needs to have the flexibility to travel, when necessary.

As for Wisconsin and why that particular state, well, as you pointed out, it is a swing state. And the case that the White House is making is that this COVID relief bill, which he is going there to try to sell, is not just popular with blue state voters, with Democrats, but it's popular across the political spectrum, both with swing voters and Republican voters, but even with some Republican office holders back in those home states, governors and mayors.

And the case that the White House is trying to drive home to Republican legislators here in Washington is hey, get on board. A lot of your Republican voters like this idea. And recent polling has borne that out. And so now that the specter of impeachment has finally been lifted and the Biden administration can-- can get some attention back for its priorities, that's why he's heading out to Wisconsin. He'll be making the case there tonight, and then in Michigan, another swing state, on Thursday.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So Liz, Congress can now focus on COVID relief negotiations without also dealing with an impeachment trial. Pandemic unemployment benefits expire for millions in a month. How quickly are they hoping to pass a bill?

LIZ GOODWIN: Well, House Democrats are saying they hope to pass this bill as soon as next week, because, as you said, some of this aid is running out. The unemployment benefits would extend into the fall, so that would buy them a lot of time. It's a significant aid package that really would address Americans' needs for many months, and they're hoping to move quickly on it.

There could be some wrinkles though, however. As you were talking about earlier, they want to add a $15 minimum wage, which sets up some complications once it gets kicked over to the Senate. So just because the House-- even if the House manages this ambitious schedule of passing their version of the bill next week, that doesn't mean that the Senate will then take what they did and just pass it and it'll be law. There will likely be some back and forth between them that could drag the process out a bit further. And Nancy, on that point, when it comes to this minimum wage, $15 per hour minimum wage increase, how concerned is the Biden administration about pushback from Democrats on this?

NANCY CORDES: Well, they know that they're going to get pushback either way. If they leave it in, eventually they will get pushback from some moderate Democrats, particularly in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who have flatly stated they don't believe it belongs in the bill, and the White House needs their votes in order to pass this package.

On the other hand, if they were to strip it out, they would get pushback from progressives in their party, particularly in the House, who are insistent that it should stay in the package. The good news for the White House is that they don't have to make this decision just yet. They can leave it in for now. They can show progressives that it is something that they're committed to.

And then if they need to remove it for-- because of the political realities of getting this bill through the Senate, they can always strip it out. And they can even try to use it as a bargaining chip to say, well, if we get rid of the minimum wage, will you agree to compromise on XYZ? And so there's no harm to leaving it in right now. But I think everyone acknowledges that at the end of the day, the votes most likely aren't there to keep it in the final version.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, Liz, ultimately, it'll be up to a person rarely in the spotlight to determine if the minimum wage increase makes the bill, the Senate parliamentarian. What does that process look like?

LIZ GOODWIN: Yeah, so in order to pass this bill without the 60 votes in the Senate that's traditionally needed for major legislation, Democrats are using this process called reconciliation, and that's a process where you only need 50 votes. So they could pass this massive COVID relief bill with just Democrats, with just all 50 Democrats plus Vice President Harris being the tiebreaker. But there's some rules that come along with that process, namely the Byrd Rule, and it basically limits what you can do.

So the bill should be related to revenue and spending, have a budgetary effect, and you have to prove that the measure you're trying to pass isn't just incidentally it kind of affects spending. It's, like, sort of the main purpose should be budgetary, or a big part of it should be budgetary. And so with the $15 minimum wage, what some critics are saying is even if it might affect revenue in the sense that it's-- the CBO says it would actually raise the federal deficit by more than $50 billion over time, that's not really, like, the main point of it, or a big part of it. And that's why the parliamentarian would have that decision to make should they include it, should they not, if it gets that far, if the minimum wage actually makes it into the final House bill.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, Nancy, as the Biden administration works on COVID relief, they're also working on immigration reform. What have you learned about how they want to approach that?

NANCY CORDES: Well, they want to approach it quickly. They may introduce legislation dealing with immigration sometime this month. They are already working with point people in the House and the Senate basically to turn the outline that the president issued his very first days in office into real legislation.

And so Bob Menendez in the Senate is spearheading that process. He's the senator from New Jersey. And then Linda Sanchez of California is spearheading the process in the House. And it appears that they want to move quite quickly.

The big debate right now is whether you try to do this all in one fell swoop, and that would be creating a pathway to citizenship for about 11 million people, a way for them to earn that citizenship, modernizing the immigration system, providing protections for Dreamers, those young people who are brought here illegally through no fault of their own, a way to deal more effectively with mass migration. Do you try to tackle all of those things, some of which are quite controversial in their own right, do you try to tackle them all in one big bill and jam it through the House and the Senate? Or do you try to take a piecemeal approach, start with something that's broadly popular and kind of build momentum from there?

You know, we've seen Congress fail time and time again to pass a big, hulking immigration reform bill. It has stalled out for any number of reasons. So there is a thinking now that perhaps taking this piecemeal approach might be more effective legislatively. And so that's the debate that's being had right now.

I asked Jen Psaki about that approach today. She wouldn't commit to-- to one approach or the other. But she did argue that the White House views its immigration proposals in their entirety and wants to see all of them get past the finish line, an indication that perhaps the White House might prefer an overall immigration reform bill approach rather than taking it step-by-step.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Interesting to hear, because, as you know, immigration is just one of those issues that has stymied presidents of both parties who have tried to get things done in the past. So it will be fascinating to watch how that evolves. Meantime, Liz, the NAACP and Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson are suing former President Trump, accusing him of violating the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. What are they hoping for?

LIZ GOODWIN: Yeah, I think this lawsuit in a lot of ways-- I mean, Congressman Thompson is seeking damages for his experience on January 6. But what the NAACP is saying is it's not so much about those damages or about this one congressman and whatever representatives join the suit, it's more about sending a message to the president, who was-- was acquitted this weekend on charges of inciting that riot, that mob. It's sending a message that you didn't get away with it, basically. They're hoping that they can inflict some pain on the president for his role on that day through this lawsuit or through whatever way they can.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, Liz, a new poll from Politico and the Morning Consult shows former President Trump, as the leader in a hypothetical 2024 Republican primary, he's the choice of more than half of respondents, followed by former Vice President Mike Pence, and then Donald Trump Jr. What role does the former president play in the party's future, as he is issuing a new statement about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell?

LIZ GOODWIN: Yeah, I think that's a great question, and it's one that the party has been wrestling with since January 6. Polls have shown not only is Trump leading the primary field among Republican voters, but his popularity is also creeping up with them over time. There was a bit of an exodus from him right in the beginning, and that seems to be fading. And his power-- he still retains this power over the base.

Mitch McConnell was clearly hoping to chart a different path for Republicans. He was trying to break with Trump and show that there could be a different way for the rest of the party with his speech on January 6 and his comments since. But that is-- you know, it just doesn't seem to be where the voters are at. And if the voters aren't there, the representatives get scared. They don't want to get a primary. They don't want to lose their seat.

And yet Trump's statement today on Mitch McConnell was just absolutely blistering. It's-- you know, it was just almost like a screed against him. He's very-- even though McConnell did not vote him guilty over the weekend, he did give a very strong statement, as he has from the beginning, saying that Trump's actions were very wrong, and that was enough to make the former president very livid.

And in this statement, he basically claims credit for McConnell's victory, Senate victory in Kentucky, and all kinds of other things. So Trump is definitely trying to maintain that position as a different-- as the center of power of the Republicans, which is very much in contrast and opposition to McConnell's center of power.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Yeah, and a story very much to be continued. Nancy Cordes and Liz Goodwin, always great to see you both. Thank you very much.