Biden focuses on the economy on second day in office

By Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 8:45 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021
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2:39 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

Biden will keep Trump's top Taliban negotiator in place for now

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

The Biden administration is keeping former President Trump’s top envoy for Afghanistan peace talks, who has led regular negotiations with the Taliban, in place for the time being, according to three sources familiar with the matter. 

This move is not typical. Traditionally an incoming administration replaces politically appointed officials with their own team, particularly on foreign policy matters with such significance. Keeping the negotiator in place, at least for now, demonstrates the Biden team's initial commitment to maintaining adherence to the US-Taliban peace agreement until the new team reviews it in detail and fully develops their own Afghanistan policy.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, has been on the job for more than two years and was the primary Trump administration official who met with all of the stakeholders leading up to the signing of the peace agreement in Doha. At times he had a contentious relationship with Afghan government officials who viewed him as favoring the Taliban. 

Khalilzad is a diplomatic veteran, having served as a US ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. He is well known in foreign policy circles. Khalilzad's own deeply personal ties to Afghanistan, where he was born, and his free-wheeling approach to the negotiations have also been viewed as controversial by some and effective by others.

The State Department did not comment when asked about Khalilzad staying on board. 

During his confirmation hearing, Anthony Blinken, President Biden’s pick for secretary of State, reiterated Biden’s commitment to ending the war in Afghanistan but indicated that he had not yet been briefed on the US-Taliban agreement in a detailed way.

"We have to look carefully at what has actually been negotiated," Blinken said. "I haven't been privy to it yet, particularly with regard to the agreement that was reached in the first instance between the United States and the Taliban to understand fully what commitments were made or not made by the Taliban. And then to see where they get in their negotiations with the government of Afghanistan."

The Biden foreign policy team will immediately have to begin making decisions about the presence of US troops in the country. That is where things will get dicey: the US-Taliban agreement commits all US and NATO forces to leave the country by May, and that is at odds with a desire by Biden and his foreign policy team to keep residual force in Afghanistan.

"We want to end this so-called forever war. We want to bring our forces home. We want to retain some capacity to deal with any resurgence of terrorism which is what brought us there in the first place," Blinken said during his hearing. 

Extending the military mission also threatens to upend the peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. This is because those peace talks – which have been slow to produce any results – were committed to by the Taliban a result of the US agreeing to a full withdrawal.

2:43 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

Psaki says White House has asked the CDC to look into states possibly running out of vaccine doses

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

 Alex Wong/Getty Images
 Alex Wong/Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the White House has asked the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to look into the possibility that states might run out of their allocated doses of the coronavirus vaccines.

Her comment comes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state will run out of doses sometime on Friday, until it receives the next shipment from the federal government.

“Well we've asked the CDC, to look into exactly this issue, and see what can be done. I don't have any update. Beyond that, but certainly we don't want any states to run out of access to vaccine,” Psaki said at Friday’s White House press briefing.

CNN has previously reported that sources say the Biden administration inherited a nonexistent coronavirus vaccine distribution plan, and Psaki said that the administration hopes work with localities to “avoid situations like this in the future.”

“We are hopeful that in the weeks ahead, as we get our sea legs here and our team starts to operationalize engagement with governors, engagement with local officials, to provide them a greater understanding of supply of what we are going to have access to, in a timeframe that's further in advance that we can avoid situations like this in the future,” she said.

Psaki said the administration has advocated in the past for releasing additional doses of the vaccines currently in reserve for patients second doses, but they have “deferred to health and medical experts.” She added that the administration has asked the CDC to “have the conversation with officials in New York and to look into what is possible.”

Watch here:

2:44 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

White House expects Congress to move forward with relief bill and confirmations during impeachment trial

From CNN's Kate Sullivan

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that President Biden is confident that senators can take up his Covid-19 relief package and continue with confirmation hearings for his Cabinet members while the Senate impeachment trial takes place. 

Psaki’s comments come hours after Democratic congressional leadership announced House Democrats planned to send the article of impeachment to the Senate on Monday, which would trigger the start of the Senate's trial of former President Donald Trump.  

“When the trial was being conducted last January, there were also hearings that were happening nearly on a daily basis, and we expect that type of work to continue,” Psaki said, speaking from the White House briefing room. 

Psaki said the White House hopes and expects that the House moves forward on American Rescue Plan, Biden’s $1.9 trillion dollar Covid rescue package, as the Senate trial is taking place. 

“What the President views cannot be delayed through this process is his proposal to get relief to the American people at this time of crisis,” Psaki said. 

“He remains confident after serving decades in the Senate that the Senate, members of both parties, can walk and chew gum at the same time and can move forward with the business of the American people,” Psaki said.  

Psaki reiterated Biden’s view that “it's up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former president accountable and what the mechanics and timeline of that process will be.”

Watch here:

2:17 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

White House announces new steps to combat domestic violent extremism

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced a slew of actions the Biden administration will take to combat domestic violent extremism in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

“The Biden administration will confront this threat with the necessary resources and resolve. We are committed to developing policies and strategies based on facts, on objective and rigorous analysis, and on our respect for constitutionally protected free speech and political activities,” Psaki said at the White House press briefing on Friday.

She said the initial work will fall into three areas:

  • First, she announced President Biden tasked the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to compile a “comprehensive threat assessment, coordinated with the FBI and DHS on domestic violent extremism,” adding that the analysis will come from across government and non-governmental agencies.
  • She also said the administration will build the National Security Council’s capability to focus on combating domestic extremism. “As a part of this the NSC will undertake a policy review effort to determine how the government can share information better about this threat, support efforts to prevent radicalization, disrupt violent extremist networks, and more,” Psaki said.
  • Finally, Psaki said the administration will be “coordinating relevant parts of the federal government to enhance and accelerate efforts to address DVE.” “This considered NSC convened process will focus on addressing evolving threats, radicalization, the role of social media, opportunities to improve information sharing, operational responses, and more," Psaki said. 


1:55 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

Biden will speak with Mexico's president and Canada's prime minister today

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

The White House confirmed that President Biden will speak with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador later today.

Obrador will be the second foreign leader Biden speaks with during his presidency.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said a readout of the call would be provided.

Biden will also speak with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Friday.

1:48 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

President Biden will meet with Vice President Harris weekly, White House says

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are planning to have lunch weekly, the White House said Friday.

The two had their first lunch as White House press secretary Jen Psaki held a press briefing Friday afternoon. 

Psaki said Friday’s lunch focused on, “discussing their agenda, particularly getting relief to working families and containing the Covid crisis.”

“I’m sure they’ll talk about the last 48 hours as well,” she added.

1:58 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

Biden called the head of the National Guard earlier today, press secretary says

From CNN's DJ Judd

Evan Vucci/AP
Evan Vucci/AP

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in today’s White House briefing that President Biden called Gen. Daniel Hokanson, who heads the National Guard, “to thank him for not just his work of the last few weeks, but the work of the National Guard, over the last several years.”

He offered “any assistance needed, of both the government but also on a personal level, and asked him to reach out if there was anything that he ever needed,” Psaki continued.

Late last night, reports that thousands of National Guard troops were moved to a parking garage after they were told they could no longer use space within the US Capitol Complex sparked bipartisan outrage on Capitol Hill, leading to the units being welcomed back to the Capitol Visitor’s Center.

Psaki pointed to Biden’s personal connection to the National Guard, pointing to his late son, Beau Biden, who served in the National Guard.


1:52 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

White House wants next round of small business support to focus on "equitable relief"

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

In addition to two executive orders on the economy, the Biden administration announced it wants the next round of small business stimulus to focus on “equitable relief,” after criticism of the way the first round of aid was distributed under the previous administration. 

“In previous rounds of relief, too much of the support that has been dedicated to small businesses has left out the smallest businesses: Mom and Pop businesses that don't have existing connections with a financial institution,” Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese said Friday. “And in particular, black, Latino, Asian and African Native American owned businesses were shut out completely.”

Deese said that was because “the outreach and communication from the federal government was either unclear or just nonexistent.”

“Too many of those companies have been denied relief and many of them have had to shut their doors for good. The President is completely focused on changing that," he said. 

Biden directed the economic team to “make sure that we're listening to these communities, we're taking their advice on how to improve the distribution of relief,” Deese said.

Deese announced that he’d met with representatives of the Small Business Association earlier Friday, and with “dozens of groups representing black and brown on businesses, and other underserved communities as well as lenders to hear their ideas on how we can improve communications and act on them.”

Among the ideas being discussed, Deese said, is having “navigators” who help businesses find appropriate relief programs and fill out paperwork and applications.

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to meet with small business owners later Friday.

Reminder: The first round of Covid relief for small businesses was harshly criticized when most of the money went to just one percent of companies, and some went to companies tied to Trump associates.

And as CNN previously reported, small businesses in states hardest hit by the coronavirus – including New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Pennsylvania – were less likely to get federal coronavirus relief loans than less-affected states in other parts of the US, according to research from economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Their research showed that in New York, for example, fewer than 20% of all small businesses in the state were approved for a loan during the Paycheck Protection Program's first round. But 55% of small businesses in Nebraska were approved.


1:33 p.m. ET, January 22, 2021

Biden official will discuss economic relief package with senators on Sunday

From CNN's Jason Hoffman

Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese confirmed he will be speaking with a group of senators on Sunday as the administration works with congress to attempt to pass a $1.9 trillion dollar coronavirus relief package.

Deese said the President has directed the economic team “to make the case for the rescue plan and to engage with them, understand their concerns.”

“In terms of the in terms of the message, it's pretty clear. We're at a precarious moment for the virus and the economy. Without decisive action, we risk falling into a very serious economic hole, even more serious than the crisis we find ourselves in,” Deese said at Friday’s White House press briefing

When pressed if President Biden would be on Sunday’s call, Deese said he would be leading it but “you can expect that other members of the administration will be engaging with members of Congress across time as well.”