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President Biden is urging Congress to approve his $1.9 trillion economic relief bill before unemployment benefits run out on March 14, but a minimum wage hike won't be included. CBS News chief White House correspondent Nancy Cordes joins CBSN to discuss what's next for the proposal, plus a new "historic partnership" between Merck & Co. and Johnson & Johnson.
- President Biden is getting ready to speak with Senate Democrats today. As you heard from Chris Van Cleave, he looks to get his 9-- his $1.9 trillion Coronavirus relief bill passed. The proposal to hike the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour will likely fail after the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it could not be included, leaving Democrats scrambling for another plan. Let's bring in Nancy Cordes. She is standing by for us at the White House.
So Nancy, what other avenues, then, could President Biden use to get that $15 minimum wage, something that he has promised that he would like to do?
NANCY CORDES: Right. So we've now cycled through plan A and plan B. Neither of those is going to work out. So we're looking at plan C and plan D at this point.
Plan C, according to aides both here at the White House and on Capitol Hill, is that they try at some point down the road to raise the minimum wage in a standalone bill, not as part of this COVID relief package, but hoping that renewed interest among some Republicans would give them enough support to do this, even if it had to meet a 60 vote threshold in the Senate rather than just a 51 vote threshold. So that would be one approach. They could do it on its own, maybe even attach it to a very popular piece of legislation having to do with infrastructure or something like that down the road.
The other option, congressional aides say, is really to get rid of the filibuster so that you can pass it with 51 votes in the Senate. And as you know, Vlad and Anne-Marie, that's a very hot button issue that keeps rearing its head over and over again. Now that Democrats have taken control of the Senate, you have some progressives arguing, look, if we just get rid of the filibuster, we can pass our agenda with 51 votes. We could do all sorts of things that are popular with the American people. We don't have to worry about Republicans standing in the way.
But you've got moderate Democrats arguing, well, hold up. We control the Senate right now. If we lose that control in the future, we've done away with the filibuster. Then we really have very little power in the Senate when we're in the minority.
So that's the fight that's going on right now. Exactly what's going to happen with the minimum wage increase, how soon they might try to do this again, whether they try for the full $15 an hour or something smaller, maybe $11 an hour, and try to do this in a step by step approach-- we still don't have answers to those questions.
- I want to turn to immigration. The White House has been facing pressure from-- from both sides of the aisle, including some progressives within the Democratic party. They're upset that President Biden has reopened some of these facilities to house minors that are crossing the border. They say these housing facilities are inhumane.
And so I want to ask you, what is the administration doing? How are they responding to the criticism? Are they trying to distance themselves from some of the policies of the previous administration?
NANCY CORDES: They have been arguing very forcefully that all they are doing here is trying to; A, cope with COVID requirements, which mean that you need to spread children out, so you need to open more facilities so that they can be spread out while they're being cared for as the administration is trying to place them in foster care or with family members, so they aren't left in detention facilities. They insist.
And we heard from the-- the new Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Ali Mayorkas, here at the White House yesterday arguing very forcefully that this is nothing like the Trump Administration policy. Had very harsh words for that administration. Said that it had basically broken immigration policy that now had to be fixed. And basically made the case that the reason that they have to do this at all is because of moves that were made by the Trump Administration. So they've been very scathing about the Trump Administration's policies when it comes to immigration.
And they-- they're aware of the criticism, and they have been asked about it repeatedly by reporters here at the White House. But they insist they don't want these children to be in these facilities any more than progressive activists want those children to be in those facilities, but that they're just trying to keep them safe until they can get them placed in homes, either with family members or in foster care.
- All right. Nancy, let me ask you about this. President Biden, as you know, is preparing to impose sanctions to punish Russia for the attempted assassination of Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny. What more can you tell us?
NANCY CORDES: This is big news just coming out this morning. The-- the White House is now confirming that they are going to impose sanctions on seven top Russian officials. Those officials haven't been named, but those are officials that they say are connected to the poisoning and jailing of this Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny.
They're also going to be new restrictions placed on exports of chemical products that can be used for chemical weapons. And administration officials say that they are sending a clear signal to Russia with these moves, that there are consequences for the use of chemical weapons. One of the things that's most interesting about this announcement is that we're told it was made in close concert with the European Union, that the Europeans and the Americans are working together on this to send a message to Russia.
As for the larger relationship with Russia, US officials say that isn't changing. This isn't a reset. This is simply meant to send a message to the Russian government that they can't try to poison and jail opposition leaders and think that there won't be repercussions from the wider-- the wider international community.
- We're also learning this morning about what's being described as a historic partnership between pharmaceutical giant, Merck, and Johnson and Johnson. I presume this has something to do with the manufacturing and distribution of this new vaccine. What can you tell us?
NANCY CORDES: This is really fascinating because Merck and Johnson and Johnson, historically, two major competitors who are now going to be teaming up to get more of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine out the door as quickly as possible. So Merck tried to make its own vaccine, but it failed. And so now what's being announced, and we've confirmed this with White House officials, is that Merck is going to be dedicating two of its facilities to-- at one facility, basically, packaging up the-- the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, getting it into vials, getting it out the door, and at another facility, actually making the Johnson and Johnson vaccine itself. And we're told that this will dramatically increase the amount of Johnson and Johnson vaccine supply that's on the market.
Now, it is going to take a couple of months, potentially, for these Merck facilities to get up and running. So this isn't something that we will see right away. But it is a significant development. And White House officials say that the Defense Production Act, which we've heard so much about in recent months, could be used to ensure, not to force Merck to make this vaccine-- they've already agreed to do that-- but to make sure that any supplies that Merck needs in order to do this, that it can get those-- it can get to the front of the line to order those-- those products, those ingredients so that it is ready to go.
The reason that this is happening is because Johnson and Johnson is actually a little bit behind where it wanted to be on producing this vaccine. And so administration officials say they recognize this and tried to facilitate this early on, knowing that, since the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is a one dose vaccine, the more of it you can get out there, you can really have an impact much more quickly in the number of people who are vaccinated and potentially unable to spread this virus to others, thereby bringing down the numbers pretty significantly.
- Good news for those two companies is good news for the rest of us. Nancy, thank you very much.
NANCY CORDES: You're welcome.