Biden's first full day in office

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Veronica Rocha, Melissa Mahtani and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0248 GMT (1048 HKT) January 22, 2021
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3:45 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Biden speaks about his plan to tackle Covid-19: "Help is on the way"

From CNN's Betsy Klein and Veronica Stracqualursi

President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21.
President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden unveiled his national strategy on Covid-19 to tackle the coronavirus pandemic during remarks today at the White House.

Biden said his strategy was created in response to address the past administration's failure to act with "the urgency and focus and coordination we needed." 

"Things are going to continue to get worse before they get better. The memorial we held two nights ago will not be our last one, unfortunately. The death toll will likely top 500,000 next month. And the cases will continue to mount. We didn't get into this mess overnight, and it's going to take months for us to turn things around. But let me be equally clear. We will get through this. We will defeat this pandemic. And to a nation waiting for action, let me be the clearest on this point: help is on the way," he said.

The President plans to sign at least 10 executive orders, memorandums and directives focused on addressing the pandemic.

Biden's press secretary and Dr. Anthony Fauci will answer questions at a White House press briefing at 4 p.m. ET.

What we know about the executive orders: Biden will sign an order ramping up supplies for vaccination, testing and personal protective equipment and another boosting development of therapeutics to treat Covid-19.

Following through on his campaign proposals, Biden will sign two executive orders creating a National Pandemic Testing Board to improve US coronavirus testing capacity and a Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force to ensure an "equitable" pandemic response and recovery.

Another executive order will enhance the nation's collection, production, sharing and analysis of data about the virus.

He will issue an executive order calling on the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to release clear guidance on Covid-19, decide whether to establish emergency temporary standards, and directs OSHA to enforce worker health and safety requirements.

Building on the order he signed Wednesday making masks mandatory on federal property, Biden will also take action to require facial coverings in airports and on certain modes of transportation, including many trains, planes, maritime vessels and intercity buses. Thursday's executive order will also require international travelers to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to traveling to the US.

Here are some of the other Covid-19-related items on Biden's agenda:

  • He will direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to offer full reimbursement to states for the cost of National Guard personnel and emergency supplies such as PPE for schools.
  • Biden will direct the Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services to provide guidance for safe reopening and operating of schools, childcare providers, and institutions of higher education.
  • Biden also plans to issue a presidential directive to restore America's leadership, support the international pandemic response effort, promote resilience for future threats, and advance global health security and the Global Health Security Agenda.

Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will also receive a briefing from members of their Covid-19 team on the state of the pandemic and vaccinations.

Watch the moment:

3:37 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Biden thanks law enforcement for presence at inauguration

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21.
President Joe Biden speaks about the Covid-19 response in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 21. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden began his remarks on his Covid-19 response by thanking security and law enforcement officials for their “professionalism, duty and honor” at his inauguration yesterday.

“Before I begin today’s announcement, let me take a few moments to thank all the law enforcement folks for all they did, the military personnel, from all across the federal, state and local agencies that secured yesterday’s inaugural activities, and a special thanks to the members of the National Guard from around the country,” Biden said, speaking on the first full day of his administration.

He called the law enforcement presence an “unprecedented situation,” and that “hopefully it will never have to be renewed again.”

Security at the inauguration was stepped up to never before seen levels after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Watch the moment:

3:35 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Sen. Graham suggests lawyer Butch Bowers will represent Trump at impeachment trial

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks on January 7.
Sen. Lindsey Graham speaks on January 7. Alex Wong/Getty Images

On a conference call with Senate Republicans, Sen. Lindsey Graham suggested South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers will represent former President Trump at his impeachment trial, according to a person on a call.

CNN has reached out to Bowers for comment to see if that is the case. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are expected to discuss trial logistics sometime today, multiple sources also tell CNN.

Earlier in the day Graham was asked by reporters if any contrition by Trump would be helpful in an upcoming trial. Graham replied:

“I don't think he believes he played a role in the defiling of the Capitol. I think the argument that the election was stolen was overdone and got people ginned up, I think he's responsible for that. But people's decision to come here and take over the place, that lies with them. But his last couple of statements have been good, you know, rejecting violence. We'll see."

Graham did say that a quick trial seems most likely, suggesting that “I don’t think the country needs a whole lot.

“The public record is your television screen, I don't know. So, I don't see why this would take a long time," he said.

The senator pushed back on the idea of a third political party – an idea raised by Trump in his farewell remarks at Joint Base Andrews Wednesday morning, saying "we're gonna come back in some form." 

"Well, I think a third-party movement would destroy conservatism,” Graham said. “I think if there was an effort to break away and form a new party, that would be a dream scenario for liberal Democrats, because if we do that, that's the end of effectively having conservative voices. I think Trump is going to be a major voice in the Republican Party, the best thing for him and us is to field a good team in 2022 and mount a comeback."

3:35 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Biden administration will address "chaotic" vaccine distribution in US, says former coronavirus adviser

From CNN’s Lauren Mascarenhas

With support from the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the Biden administration will begin to address “chaotic” Covid-19 vaccine distribution in the US, said Dr. Atul Gawande, who served on Biden’s transition coronavirus advisory board.

“FEMA will now provide the reimbursements and the financial resources for states to know that their supplies and needs for the vaccines and for testing are going to be addressed,” Gawande told CNN’s Kate Bolduan.

He noted that the Trump administration left Biden’s team little information on the national strategy around Covid-19 vaccination or the status of production and distribution.

Helping run a vaccination site at Gillette Stadium, Gawande said he’s seen first-hand how chaotic vaccine distribution is in the US.

“We don't have visibility into how much vaccine actually is available,” said Gawande, a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital

Despite the lack of guidance, he said that local jurisdictions have managed to slowly improve the administration of vaccines.

“Counties, cities and states have been heroic in standing up efforts,” he noted.

2:22 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Defense secretary nominee Austin clears Armed Services Committee 

From CNN's Ted Barrett and Manu Raju 

Retired General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his conformation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on January 19.
Retired General Lloyd Austin testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee during his conformation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on January 19. Greg Nash/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The Armed Services Committee voted to advance a waiver and to favorably report retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin III.

Both actions were approved by a voice vote. 

The next step will be to hold a vote on the Senate floor. The timing of the vote has not been announced.

If confirmed by the Senate, Austin would be the first Black man to lead the Department of Defense.

1:18 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Defense Department pauses border wall construction as it reviews Biden executive order

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

U.S. workers build the new 13-mile border wall construction project in the desert between Sunlad Park, New Mexico, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on January 15.
U.S. workers build the new 13-mile border wall construction project in the desert between Sunlad Park, New Mexico, and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on January 15. Herika Martinez/AFP via Getty Images

The Department of Defense will pause construction of the US-Mexico border wall as it continues to review President Biden’s executive order calling for construction to grind to a halt, according to Raini W. Brunson, a spokesperson for the US Army Corps of Engineers. 

“(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) will take the appropriate actions in accordance with the E.O. and will coordinate our actions with the Department of Defense and our partners at the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Customs and Border Protection,” Brunson told CNN in a statement. 

The US Army Corps of Engineers oversees border wall contracts. 

“We are following the direction provided in the E.O. as to how to implement the pause,” Brunson added.

Activity may still continue at sites over the next few days to ensure they’re safe, an administration told CNN.  

Biden took an immediate shot at one of his predecessor’s key legacies Wednesday evening when signing a proclamation called for border wall construction to grind to a halt. “It shall be the policy of my Administration that no more American taxpayer dollars be diverted to construct a border wall,” Biden’s proclamation reads. 

Over the last four years, billions of dollars had been put aside for additional barriers on the US-Mexico border, prompting a slew of lawsuits and pushback from environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers.

Days from the end of his term, former President Trump paid the wall a visit, citing it as an accomplishment of his administration.  

Of the roughly 455 miles constructed under Trump, the majority replaced old, dilapidated barriers with a new enhanced wall system, a marked difference from the fencing previously constructed in some regions.

Forty-nine miles have gone up where no barriers previously existed, according to the latest figures from Customs and Border Protection.

“(Wednesday’s) proclamation will likely result in what’s called a suspension of work on the border wall,” said Travis Sharp, research fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. “During the suspension of work, the contractor must keep track of any additional expenses caused by the delay, so that the government can potentially reimburse those expenses later.” 

1:08 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Alleged Capitol rioter from Florida came back to DC to attend inauguration

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Samuel Camargo
Samuel Camargo from Facebook

An alleged Capitol rioter from Florida knew he was wanted from the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection and returned to Washington, DC, to attend the inauguration on Wednesday, the Justice Department said in a new court filing.

Prosecutors in Washington say that when law enforcement tried to arrest Samuel Camargo at his home in Florida on Tuesday, he had left.

Investigators then found him in DC on Wednesday and arrested him there — the same day as the presidential inauguration.

Camargo told investigators that he knew he was wanted by the Justice Department and "decided that he should attempt to attend the Inauguration rather than turn himself into authorities," prosecutors wrote in a court filing on Thursday. 

The Justice Department is seeking to keep Camargo detained pending trial, arguing he is a flight risk. He is set to appear in federal court for the first time on Thursday afternoon.

1:42 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Schumer hopes to pass defense secretary nominee's waiver "ASAP" and quickly move on other nominations

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Pool
Pool

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer held a photo spray with the new Democratic senators that he called “the majority makers.”

Schumer touched upon several topics, including whether President Biden's Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin's waiver will be voted on in the Senate today. Schumer said “it is passing the House, and I would like to get it passed in the Senate ASAP.”

The waiver is needed since Austin retired in 2016 but the law requires a defense secretary to wait seven years after active-duty service before taking the job.

Asked about the timing of the impeachment trial in the Senate Schumer said, “Speaker Pelosi will determine when she will send the articles over.”

 “Leader McConnell and I are trying to come up with a bipartisan agreement on how to conduct the trial. But make no mistake about it. There will be a trial, there will be a vote up or down on whether to convict the president. I believe he should be convicted. And we’ll have to wait to she see when she sends the articles over to figure out how to do all that,” Schumer said.

On the Cabinet nominations still needed to happen, Schumer said, “we have the greatest health care crises in 100 years, the greatest economic crises and the national security of America is always at stake. To leave these seats vacant does a disservice to America."

"We're very pleased that last night we got bipartisan cooperation. We got bipartisan cooperation, so that April Haines is now the DNI. We’re hoping to get the same bipartisan cooperation for Treasury, State, Homeland Security and Defense, very soon. We need these position to go quickly. We need our Republican colleagues to cooperate," he continued.  

On whether that means the Senate will be in session tomorrow, Schumer said, “well we have to get these nominees approved, and we will do what it takes to do that.”

Schumer made clear that he is strongly opposed to changing the filibuster as part of his power-sharing agreement negotiations with McConnell.

“We believe, our caucus believes, that the fairest, easiest and most bipartisan way to come to an organizing resolution is to enact the 2001 agreement that Senators Lott and Daschle came to a bipartisan way back then. Our caucus is strongly opposed to any extraneous provisions. And so we're going to keep working to try and get a bipartisan agreement,” Schumer said.

12:51 p.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Biden will seek full extension of key arms control treaty between the US and Russia

From CNN's Kylie Atwood and Jennifer Hansler

The Biden administration will seek a full five year extension of a key arms control treaty between the US and Russia, according to a US official.

The New START Treaty expires in just over two weeks. CNN previously reported that Biden advisers indicated that they would not seek a shorter extension on the landmark deal.

CNN has reached out to the State Department for comment.

Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken said during his confirmation hearing Tuesday that President Biden intended to seek an extension of the New START Treaty, but suggested he had not made a decision on the length of that extension.

The secretary of state-designate noted that Biden “couldn’t really engage” on the issue during the transition because he was “very cognizant of the fact we have one president at a time.”

Blinken told lawmakers that he believes “this is something that we will be coming to you on pretty much immediately as soon as the president is sworn-in, and I know that he does intend to seek an extension, and he’ll have to make a decision as President about what duration he would seek.”

The Trump administration went back and forth with the Russians on the terms of a shorter extension to the longstanding treaty after efforts to create a new trilateral treaty with Russia and China failed.