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President Biden focused on the United States' relationship with Mexico in his first meeting with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador since entering the White House. CBSN political reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns and NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith spoke to "Red and Blue" host Elaine Quijano about the meeting, plus the ongoing debate over COVID relief and former President Donald Trump's first speech since leaving office.
ELAINE QUUANO: Hi, everyone. I'm Elaine Quuano. It is good to be with you. Thanks for joining us. President Biden met virtually Monday evening with Mexico's President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. It's President Biden's second one-on-one meeting with a foreign leader after Canada's prime minister last week. The White House says it is looking to repair the two countries' relationship after the Trump administration's restrictive immigration policy.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas joined their call. He said earlier that migrant children separated from their families will be able to unify in the US, and that the government is working on pathways to allow them to stay. Here's how President Biden presented the task of mending ties.
JOE BIDEN: The United States and Mexico are stronger when we stand together. There's a long and complicated history between our nations that haven't always been perfect neighbors with one another. But we have seen over and over again the power and the purpose when we cooperate. In the Obama-Biden administration, we made a commitment that we look at Mexico as an equal, not as somebody who is south of our border. You are equal, and what you do in Mexico and how you succeed impacts dramatically on what the rest of the hemisphere will look like.
ELAINE QUUANO: This afternoon White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the US would not share its COVID vaccine supply with Mexico. Lopez Obrador has called the current global distribution system quote, totally unfair as he pushes for more developed countries to help other nations. When asked about sharing vaccines, President Biden told a reporter, "We're going to talk about that." It comes as the first shipment of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccines were shipped out nationwide Monday. It's the third vaccine to be authorized for emergency use in the US.
There's also been some movement on a COVID relief package. Over the weekend the House of Representatives passed President Biden's $1.9 trillion plan on a party line vote. If passed in the Senate, the bill would send $1,400 direct payments for those who qualify and expand unemployment aid. It also sets aside billions for vaccine distribution, schools, and rental assistance.
For the latest let's bring in Caitlin Huey-Burns and Tamara Keith. Caitlin is CBSN's political reporter, and Tamara is an NPR White House Correspondent and co-host of the NPR "Politics" podcast. Welcome to you both. Happy Monday. A busy week ahead here.
Caitlin, let's start with the COVID relief bill. So it's heading to the Senate. After the chamber's parliamentarian ruled against Democrats' attempts to tie a minimum wage increase in their bill, is there a Plan B for Democrats?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: That's right. That ruling by the parliamentarian threw a big wrench into the Democrats' hopes for getting a minimum wage bill passed, so they quickly moved on to a Plan B, which would be to kind operate within the tax code. And what they were proposing to do would have been to penalize large companies-- they say places like Amazon or Walmart-- who paid their workers low wages while offering some incentives, some tax incentives for smaller businesses who pay their workers more.
But as our Nancy Cordes reported earlier today, that has also run into some hurdles and looks to be sidelined for now given the complications around the clock and around the idea that this wasn't something, really, that the Biden administration had been pushing. So that appears to be off the table for now.
Meanwhile, you have progressives really animated and angry about this because they have been wanting to get an increase in the federal minimum wage for some time now. They thought that if Democrats controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House, that they could get that policy passed, and now they are seeing the limits to that.
So you've been hearing some calls for the elimination of the filibuster, getting rid of that threshold for passing policy. That also appears to be an uphill climb in the Senate, considering that people like Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema haven't voiced a real support for filibuster reform. And you could expect that Manchin would be opposed to such thing.
But there is some room for possibly some bipartisan support for increasing the minimum wage in some form. Josh Hawley, conservative Republican, introduced a measure that would say that companies that make over $1 billion would have to pay their employees a $15 minimum wage. Then you have a proposal by Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton to increase the minimum wage to $10 an hour, well below the $15 an hour. But they would tie that to immigration reform.
So while there appears to be some bipartisan support for increasing the minimum wage, there is no agreement on the number, and attaching it to other things is not something that is likely to sit well with progressives. So kind of back to the drawing line on that, and we'll see kind of if this pressure on filibuster reform gains traction after this COVID relief bill passes.
ELAINE QUUANO: In fact, Tamara, a group of house progressives is actually pushing Vise President Harris, who is president of the Senate, to overrule the Senate parliamentarian, and that would allow senators to pass the minimum wage increase with a simple majority. Tamara, is that within the vice president's power?
TAMARA KEITH: It is not clear that it is, and it's not clear that they want to find out. The White House doesn't seem like it really wants to go there with this. And President Biden, weeks ago, was saying, well, you know, we don't know if the Parliamentarian is going to go for this $15 an hour minimum wage thing. Already he was sort of laying the groundwork for what ultimately did happen here, which is that the minimum wage is, it looks like, moving on to be a fight for later rather than a fight for this bill.
In terms of the White House, as Caitlin said, this is an incredibly important piece of legislation, a very big piece of legislation where they think that they can get near unanimous Democratic support. Certainly they believe that they are able to keep all Senate Democrats in line.
And if they are able to do that, this would be a huge legislative accomplishment in the first 100 days of the Biden administration. They want to move on to start pushing for their Build Back Better agenda, more of an infrastructure focus. And they see this $1.9 trillion American relief plan as both having important Democratic policy outcomes and goals in it, but also as a critical part of accomplishing what President Biden hopes to accomplish in the early part of his presidency, dealing with the coronavirus, and also dealing with things like child poverty.
And they see this as that vehicle. And already, you know, Democrats are looking at 2022 and trying to figure out how they are going to be able to hang on to these very narrow majorities in the House and the Senate.
ELAINE QUUANO: Narrow, indeed. Well, Caitlin, in less than two weeks the added unemployment benefits passed late last year will expire. So how quickly does the Senate need to move to prevent a gap in aid?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Yeah, that is a hard and fast deadline, which is putting the pressure on these lawmakers. The Senate's going to take up debate on the bill this week. But you're right to note that timeline is really crunch time.
So the December bill that passed extended unemployment benefits, $300 a week, through mid-March for some people, maybe even through April. So that means that up to 11 million people could lose their unemployment benefits if Congress does not pass the full bill by that mid-March deadline. That's a lot of people. So a lot of pressure building on them.
This new bill that passed on the House side over the weekend includes $400 a week in payments, unemployment benefits. So this is really something that has been adding to the pressure to get this done. But remember, after it passes the Senate this week-- and there's going to be lots of potential amendments to it and changes-- it has to go back over to the House for a final vote as well.
So the clock is ticking. Time is really of the essence here, especially as 11 million people stand to lose or to benefit from whether this bill gets passed in time.
ELAINE QUUANO: Meanwhile, Tamara, the Biden administration is standing by its decision not to go after Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman after a newly released US intelligence report accused him of approving the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. What line is the White House trying to walk with Saudi Arabia?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: It's a challenging line because Saudi Arabia continues to be a US ally, but one with which we have somewhat of an uncomfortable relationship. And the Khashoggi killing really shines a light on that. The Biden administration is saying that they are going to push on human rights and other issues like that, but that directly sanctioning a top leader from an allied nation is not something that traditionally the United States has done.
They are looking for a recalibration of the relationship. Certainly the Trump administration really guided a lot of their Middle East policy through Saudi Arabia and that relationship with Saudi Arabia. And the US, under the Biden administration, has already shifted that. For instance, President Biden didn't speak with MBS. When he had his call, he spoke with the king, MBS's father.
And so there is an effort to change that relationship, but they don't want to completely upend that relationship. And so it is a really difficult balance, especially when Jamal Khashoggi was living in the United States, working in the United States, was writing for a United States newspaper, "The Washington Post".
ELAINE QUUANO: Yeah. It's been notable that there has been criticism from both sides of the aisle to this approach that we've seen from the Biden administration.
Caitlin, I want to turn to former President Donald Trump's first major public appearance since leaving office. This was over the weekend. What did we learn about his role in the future of the Republican Party?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Well, he took the stage at CPAC, telling the crowd, did you miss me? And he got a lot of big applause for that. What was really interesting to me, covering the several days of the conservative gathering in Florida, was that if you want to have a future in the Republican Party, you have to pay some kind of tribute to Donald Trump and his supporters. That was a key theme that we saw, especially on the opening day of the conference, where we heard from several potential 2024 hopefuls.
Now I know that is such a long time from now, and we just finished an election. But we're kind of keeping an eye on these rising stars in the Republican Party, and kind of how they navigate this post-Trump world, and what that tells us about the state of the Republican Party.
And what we learned on Friday and over the weekend through these speeches-- people like Ron DeSantis in Florida, the governor of Florida, people like Ted Cruz, who said that Donald Trump isn't going anywhere, other people like Tom Cotton, Kristi Noem, these big names in the party who are thinking about or laying the groundwork, at least, for a potential run in 2024-- all of them paid some kind of tribute to Trump and his supporters.
And so that shows kind of how connected the former president still is to the base of the party, and how these Republican officials and activists are not really interested in having any sort of separation from him at this point. It was interesting to hear also from Rick Scott, the Senator from Florida, who is head of the Senate campaign arm. So he's in charge of recruiting candidates to run for the Senate and protecting incumbent senators up for reelection in two years.
And he said, look, you know, we want to move on, that we need to kind of embrace the voters that Trump brought into the fold and not get involved in these intraparty fights. So very much still connected to the former president. And the sign coming from that gathering over the weekend was that Donald Trump is here to stay, for at least now in the Republican Party.
ELAINE QUUANO: And Tamara, Mr Trump also-- these grievances against Republicans who challenged him almost like a roll call as he went through. How is that playing out in Washington?
TAMARA KEITH: A little bit like Nixon's enemies list, if you will. Well, some of those people on that enemies list said that they were proud to be on that list. These are people who voted to convict President Trump, or voted to impeach him in the House following the Insurrection on January 6.
And President Trump's message on all this, former President Trump's message on all of this, is essentially the Republican Party is not divided. The Republican Party is not divided at all. It's just there are some Washington people, some Washington insiders who don't like Trump, and then there's everybody else.
Now he's obviously oversimplifying the case. And it's important for his political future, whatever that may be, his continued relevance, for him to perpetuate the idea that that's true. But he's kind of on to something in that these Republicans who voted to impeach or to convict him are in exile, or at least on an island.
The big question, though, coming out of this-- he says he's going to work against them and get retribution, in essence. But is he really? How far is he willing to take that? How much money that he's raising now through his political action committee is he going to be willing to spend on getting revenge, especially if he really does follow through on his threat to consider a 2024 run for president once again?
I think that talk is cheap, and talk is what's happening right now. And we'll see whether Trumpism continues without Trump, or whether he continues to inject himself in the conversation.
ELAINE QUUANO: And you know, before I let you both go, Caitlin, if you can answer, there had been talk-- speaking of talk-- about potentially the president looking to form his own party. And I wonder what we learned or perhaps didn't learn, or did we get any more clarity on that after this weekend?
CAITLIN HUEY-BURNS: Yeah, that was the big headline from his speech, actually, was that he said that he's not interested in forming a third party. He wants to maintain the relevance and exert his power from within. But Tamara brings up a really good point, which is what is this kind of involvement going to look like? What's the infrastructure? What is going to be kind of the groundwork that he lays to get involved in some of these races?
And I think it is really interesting how Congressional leaders, and those kind of responsible for recruiting candidates to run in two years, and protecting those who are up for reelection, kind of how they operate. And we see them trying to kind of navigate this world. I mean, Kevin McCarthy the other day was asked whether he would support or give money, campaign for Liz Cheney. And he said, well, she hasn't asked me yet, which I think was really telling because it's a policy for these groups to support incumbents.
And so the president, the former president, kind of getting involved, putting his toe in, and kind of trying to start up these endorsements show that this still remains a party trying to figure itself out.
ELAINE QUUANO: Yeah. Even as, as we know, conservative media is covering every aspect of what it is that former President Trump says and does. We'll continue to watch it. Caitlin Huey-Burns and Tamara Keith, always great to see you. Thank you.