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White House urges Congress to pass $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill soon

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President Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill was sent to the Senate after passing the House over the weekend. Democrats want the bill signed into law before March 14, when enhanced unemployment benefits expire. CBS News senior White House correspondent Weijia Jiang joined CBSN to discuss.

Video Transcript

- The COVID relief bill now heads to the Senate after passing the House over the weekend. President Biden's $1.9 trillion legislation includes $1,400 stimulus checks, money for vaccine distribution, and more. Democrats want the bill signed into law before March 14th, when unemployment benefits expire. White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, addressed this earlier today.

JEN PSAKI: Obviously, the president's focus this week, and the coming weeks until it's passed, is on the American Rescue Plan. And I wanted to just take the opportunity to reiterate that in two weeks, on March 14, around 11 million Americans will start losing their unemployment benefits if Congress doesn't act on the president's Rescue Plan. There are 11 million Americans who are unemployed through no fault of their own, but who will struggle to put food on the table, struggle to make ends meet, and struggle to live with the dignity they deserve.

- Joining us now is CBS News senior White House correspondent, Weijia Jiang, at the White House. Hi, Weijia. So where does the White House stand on the COVID-19 relief bill as it heads to the Senate?

WEIJIA JIANG: Well, President Biden really hasn't changed his stance from the very beginning, which is that this has to go through, has to be passed, so it can get to his desk for a signature as quickly as possible. And now we are hearing more about the urgency because the current unemployment benefits are set to expire in 13 days. And that's why we just heard from the White House Press Secretary that she is hoping that senators will be able to pass their version soon, and that President Biden will continue to have personal outreach. That he will pick up the phone and be involved with the process. In fact, this afternoon, he plans to meet with some Democratic lawmakers to try to talk about the status of this bill.

And so you know, one thing that he has acknowledged from the very beginning-- first with our own managing editor and anchor of the CBS Evening news, Norah O'Donnell-- was that his proposal of wanting to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour probably wasn't going to happen. And that was on Super Bowl Sunday. And since then, we have seen different versions of him setting new expectations. That they would probably have to find a different route to do that. And it looks like that's really going to be the case, because there was a plan B that we know senators were considering, and it would have been in the form of a tax penalty for large corporations that didn't pay their workers to meet that threshold. But it doesn't look like that's going to make it, either.

So, really, urgency is the key here, and if that means having to forego this $15 an hour minimum wage, it looks like that's going to happen. But again, we still have lots of time before senators actually pass something because they're going to have to rework their version of the bill. They're going to have hours and hours of debate this week, and then ultimately, hopefully, the president says it will get to his desk to sign before those current benefits expire.

- Earlier DHS Secretary Mayorkas spoke at the White House press briefing about our immigration system. What did he have to say about this, and specifically on the administration's stance on unaccompanied children?

WEIJIA JIANG: Well he was extremely critical of the Trump administration, and said, you know, they basically dismantled the entire US immigration system. And so he warned that it is going to take a lot of time to sort through the current policies, and to make sure the things they want to do to change them are in place.

But he did say that, with regard to those children, that it's already being handled very differently. He says that the Trump administration expelled children-- as young as nine years old, as an example that he put forth-- to Mexico to wait as their applications were processed. And he says the Biden administration is simply not doing that. They are keeping the children here. They are processing them, getting them to HHS facilities as quickly as possible so they have the care and the basic necessities that they need while they wait for the process to play out here in the US. So he wanted to make that point.

It was actually a pretty heated moment during the briefing, when he wanted to make sure that Americans understood that the administration was handling those unaccompanied minors in a different way than their predecessors.

- A key point for him, for sure. So, Weijia, later today, President Biden will have a virtual meeting with Mexico's president, Andres Obrador. Do you know what the focus of that meeting will be? Will immigration likely be on the table?

WEIJIA JIANG: Certainly they will talk about immigration. We also expect they will talk a lot about handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and ways that they can cooperate together to do that. They'll also talk about trade policies, the economy, and security.

But back to COVID-19, I think it is important to note that there were expectations for Mexico's president to ask whether President Biden would consider sharing some of the US vaccine supply with his country. And the White House Press Secretary was just asked about this, and she said very bluntly, no, that that is not going to be an option until there is enough supply for every American who wants this shot to get it. And of course, we expect that will be the end of July. And so, that is something that they will talk about. Not only with regard to the vaccine, but also just ways to work together to handle the spread, and to make sure that they can do that in a way where both countries are digging themselves out of this pandemic as quickly as possible.

- Weijia Jiang, at the White House. Thank you.