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Schumer says Senate could soon pass COVID relief bill

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The Senate is moving ahead with plans to vote on the COVID-19 relief package as the White House announces an increase in vaccine production. CBS News chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett, CBS News Radio White House correspondent Steven Portnoy, and Axios political reporter Sarah Muchas join "Red and Blue" to discuss that and other headlines out of Washington.

Video Transcript


ELAINE QUIJANO: Hi, everyone. I'm Elaine Quijano. It is good to be with you. Thanks for joining us.

President Biden has announced a partnership between two pharmaceutical companies to help boost vaccine production in the US. Merck will team up with Johnson & Johnson to make its COVID shot. The drug makers are considered competitors.

Over the weekend, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine candidate was approved for emergency use. Earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said there have been ongoing talks between the two companies, but that the Biden administration helped seal the deal.

President Biden said this afternoon that they're using the Defense Production Act to make sure it all runs smoothly.

JOE BIDEN: This is the type of collaboration between companies we saw in World War II. We also invoked the Defense Production Act to equip two Merck facilities to the standards necessary to safely manufacture the J&J vaccine. And with the urging and assistance of my administration, Johnson & Johnson is also taking additional new actions to safely accelerate vaccine production.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Starting next week, the federal government will spend 15.2 million vaccine doses per week to states. That's 700,000 more doses from what's currently being given out.

There has also been some movement on the latest COVID relief bill. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said his chamber could take up President Biden's $1.9 trillion package as soon as Wednesday. It passed the House without any Republican support and may, again, in the Senate. It will likely see changes before it ends up on the president's desk.

In its current form, the plan allocates money for stimulus checks and increased unemployment. It also helps with vaccine distribution, schools, and rental assistance. But it has been met with Republican opposition over a hefty price tag they say includes spending on unnecessary priorities unrelated to the pandemic.

On Wednesday, President Biden and Vice President Harris will address the House Democratic Conference. It will be their first-ever virtual retreat. The White House is expected to discuss ways to advance its agenda beyond the COVID relief plan.

For more, Major Garrett, Steven Portnoy, and Sarah Mucha join me now. Major is CBS News chief Washington correspondent. Steven is a CBS News radio White House correspondent. And Sarah is a political reporter for Axios. Welcome. It's good to see you all.

Major, let me start with you. The Senate may vote on President Biden's COVID relief bill as soon as Wednesday, as we said. What is likely to stay in the package? And what might be on the chopping block?

MAJOR GARRETT: Well, one cautionary message to the audience-- voting meetings-- that begins tomorrow. It will be a lengthy process. As the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said today, there will be many long nights this week. The Senate is going to have lots of amendments, lots of things to consider as it works through this bill.

And its price tag, as you said, is giving all Republicans pause. But that doesn't mean it's not going to pass. What is going to have to happen is Senate Democrats are going to have to get together. And there are three areas where I think there are intense discussions right now.

One, the size of the stimulus checks, $1,400-- that seems to be settled upon. But who qualifies? And under what conditions? That's going to be something that's going to get a long look at.

How long are unemployment benefits extended? Currently, the bill calls for it to be August. There are some who say, what if we trim some spending in other areas, allocate that to unemployment benefits, and extend the unemployment benefits maybe to as long as October or December? That's going to get a long look.

There's also a conversation going on about this bill's $350 billion allocations to state and local governments. Now, back when the pandemic started, Elaine, there were legitimate panic bells going off in Washington, and Democratic circles predominantly, about the anticipated revenue collapse for state and local budgets.

Everyone thought those revenue figures would absolutely fall off a cliff. In some states and localities, they have. But in many others, they haven't. And there's plenty of analysis out there, nonpartisan analysis, not coming from Republicans, that says this $350 billion isn't necessary. It may be necessary in certain places for certain revenue shortfalls for state and local budgets, but not that amount. There is a possible trimming of that amount and a reallocation of that amount. But in the main, if it's not $1.9 trillion, it'll be close to that.

And Senate Democrats, as the Senate Majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said today, will find the votes to pass the biggest, boldest bill they can. What that means, Elaine, is it's not necessarily the legislation that the debate-- the Senate will begin debate on.

It's going to have to be changed because they're going to need every Senate Democratic vote. They have 50 plus the vice president's to break any ties. And if they get no Republicans, it's going to have to be entirely on their own. And however Senate Democrats have to rewrite this to pass, they will.

ELAINE QUIJANO: So Steven, not a single Republican in Congress has said that they support this relief plan. What does the White House have to say about Mr Biden's pledge of reaching across the aisle?

STEVEN PORTNOY: Well, the White House is remaining optimistic that some Republican will come around and get behind this American Rescue Plan. But the challenges, as Major lays out, is not just keeping all the Democrats in line. It's also reaching across the aisle.

One of the rhetorical points that the White House continues to make is that this is a popular bill in the country. And they point to public opinion polls showing that among Republicans, there is support for the $1,400 checks, the plussed up federal unemployment benefits, whether it's $300 or $400, and some sort of federal support.

But the argument Republicans are making is that there's so much in this package as it passed the House that wouldn't be spent in this fiscal year, that would be spent in the out years. And they made this argument repeatedly, that there is much in this bill that is part of a policy priority or perhaps a long-term goals of Democrats that are not necessarily targeted to immediate COVID relief. And that is the reason why Republicans say they're going to stand together and fight against it.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well, Sarah, there is mounting pressure by progressives to kill the Senate filibuster, which is used to delay or block legislative action. But last night, Democratic Senator Joe Manchin said he would never vote to do so. Now, Democrats would likely need his support, of course, for dismantling the procedure. Where does that leave the Biden agenda?

SARAH MUCHA: Sure, Elaine. Well, as you heard, moderate Senator Joe Manchin has no interest in breaking the filibuster because he is staunchly against the potential for majority overrule. So that leaves Democrats with a bigger majority in the House, which allows them to pass all sorts of more progressive agenda items, such as the Equality Act that just passed last week. Now it will face partisan gridlock in the Senate, just like many of these bills that they're going to be passing in the House, because the Senate has such a slim majority.

The Democrats in the House particularly are upset by that because they're saying, we worked so hard over here. And now we can't get that passed, where we have the majority in the White House and the Senate. Why can't we get this done?

It is a matter of, on Biden's part, working across the aisle-- we'll see if that's a possibility-- or some of these items, like the COVID bill-- they may have to just try to ram through Senate reconciliation-- the budget reconciliation process-- excuse me-- which only will require 51 votes. So they put themselves in a bit of a tricky spot there.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Yeah. Well, Major, let's turn to FBI Director Christopher Wray's testimony on Capitol Hill. He dismissed claims that left-wing groups were involved in the Capitol riot, even as some Republicans sought to use the hearing to highlight these groups. So what are the political ramifications from Wray's testimony?

MAJOR GARRETT: Well, the political ramifications are these-- that the truth matters and that invented disinformation to deflect a ghastly political act committed in the name of the outgoing president, now former President Trump, can't stand. And Republicans, to a certain degree, have been actively engaged in a public act of disinformation, suggesting over and over starting on that day, January 6, that it must have been Antifa or Black Lives Matter. It could not possibly have been red-blooded Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, used weapons, beat up cops, and unleashed the mayhem that we all watched on live television and have subsequently seen internal videos that were even more shocking than the things that shocked our very eyes on January 6.

FBI Director Wray is saying, yes, it was Trump supporters. And it was white nationalists. And it was extremists, domestic extremists, motivated by the thing that can only fairly be described as "the big lie," that the election was a landslide for Trump, malevolently stolen from him, and the only recourse was to storm the Capitol and stop the ceremonial acceptance of certified electoral votes, which was what was going on January 6.

So this is yet another piece of evidence submitted by those who have reviewed the court documents, the tape, and looked at the people arrested and currently charged, and there will be more charges coming, and saying, the vast-- I think there's only one instance of someone who has even remotely thin ties to something you would be calling a left-wing group in those charged so far.

So it was Trump supporters. They were motivated by the president. They were violent extremists. They committed acts of violence. And Republican disinformation to suggest otherwise, which continues to go on, meets a hard and implacable wall of facts. And for that, at least, we can have some sense of satisfaction, that facts are constantly standing in the way of what appears to be, in some Republican quarters, not all, an active disinformation campaign.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Steven, let me turn to you and ask about Gina Raimondo. So the Senate confirmed Gina Raimondo as Commerce Secretary Tuesday. But the White House is still waiting on a few more nominees to be confirmed. And that includes Neera Tanden to lead the Office of Management and Budget. Where does her nomination stand right now?

STEVEN PORTNOY: Well, it's in a state of suspended animation. And all eyes are on Lisa Murkowski, the Republican Senator from Alaska, who was described by a colleague, John Thune of South Dakota, as "fluid" on the Murkowski nomination.

As you know, Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said that he cannot support Neera Tanden for her tweets and public statements in her capacity as the leader of a liberal-leaning think tank, the Center for American Progress. So in a 50-50 Senate, you need at least one more from the other side of the aisle-- that would be a Republican-- to come on board to allow the Vice President Harris to break the tie.

So all eyes are on Murkowski. Murkowski said yesterday that after she met with Ted, and it was a good conversation that she had where she talked about issues of importance to Alaska.

Now, those of us who have been in Washington for some time understand what that means. What that means is that there might be some way that, perhaps, Lisa Murkowski can be persuaded that, if she is confirmed, Neera Tanden, then the Biden administration will do what the people of Alaska need done-- don't know exactly what that is. But that's often how the sausage is made.

So, you know, I will say this. There is a woman named Shalanda Young who is-- she's up to be the number two at the Office of Management and Budget, who basically passed the Budget Committee in the Senate with flying colors. In fact, Lindsey Graham, the Republican from South Carolina, said today that he'd be happy to see her in either the number two post or the number one post at the Office of Management and Budget.

For the White House's part, they continue to stand behind Neera Tanden. The press secretary, every time she's asked, says that there's only one candidate for the job, and it is Neera Tanden, and the effort is still being made to get to 50 votes. As she said last week, Jen Psaki said last week, it's a numbers game. And the effort is to get to 51 with Vice President Harris.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right. We'll continue to watch that. Finally, Sarah, your publication, Axios, broke the story today that President Biden was briefed this afternoon on the need for 20,000 beds to shelter an influx of migrant children crossing the US-Mexico border. How does the administration plan to address the crisis?

SARAH MUCHA: Well, that's right. My colleague, Stef Kight, today reported that the administration is going to ask for 20,000 more beds. Now, the situation that we need to look at right now is the difference, the stark contrast, between what is being said publicly and what is actually needed or what's actually happening.

So on Monday, the Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas said that this situation is not a crisis. Now, behind the scenes, the president is being told that they don't have enough beds for this unexpected and sort of unprecedented influx of migrants that-- of migrant children that are supposed to cross the border. It's supposed to exceed the all-time record by 45%. And while the administration has loosened some COVID restrictions in order to allow more beds to be filled, more children to fit in these centers, there's still not enough room.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right-- really complicated, difficult issues. Major Garrett, Steven Portnoy, and Sarah Mucha, thank you so much-- really appreciate it. The--