Centrists flex political muscle in critical week for Biden agenda: The Note

Some limits to President Biden's power might be found inside his own party.

February 23, 2021, 6:01 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

President Joe Biden has tried not to take a side -- in part by keeping the focus on COVID-19 and in part by claiming there is no choice to make.

The Democrats' divide, though, is real. It is making itself evident in a week that is posing the most significant hurdles Biden has yet faced in terms of personnel and policy on Capitol Hill.

The opposition of a single moderate Democrat has the White House shopping for Republican support -- so far in vain -- for the president's choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget.

There's even more public skepticism among some Democrats over a $15-an-hour minimum wage, which could fall victim to either complicated Senate procedure or simple congressional math in the coming days.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks about the 500,000 Americans that died from COVID-19, Feb. 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
President Joe Biden speaks about the 500,000 Americans that died from COVID-19, Feb. 22, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
Evan Vucci/AP

Forces on the left, meanwhile, are as aggressive as ever in pushing priorities around immigration reform, canceling student-loan debt and eliminating the Senate filibuster -- a non-starter with two Senate Democrats on record saying so.

Exactly a year ago, intraparty fights were shaping the race for the Democratic nomination. Those fights were less settled then they were postponed when Biden secured a series of primary wins and the pandemic pushed internal squabbles way back on the priority list.

Now, Biden has the presidency. Some limits to his power might be found inside his own party.

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

Although the former president may be out of office and lacking a social media megaphone, his legacy continues to permeate several consequential issues facing lawmakers and Americans alike.

On Monday, tinges of Trump's time in office were evident as the nation surpassed the devastating milestone of 500,000 coronavirus deaths. Despite near-constant surges in COVID-19 cases and rising death tolls across the country over the last year, the former president's public statements frequently offered misleading comparisons of the U.S. death rate to those of other countries while claiming things were "under control, as much as you can control it."

On Capitol Hill, Judge Merrick Garland established his intentions to "turn down the volume" at the Justice Department and remove it from being at "the center of partisan disagreement."

PHOTO: Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, D.C., Feb. 22, 2021.
Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Washington, D.C., Feb. 22, 2021.
Drew Angerer/Pool via Reuters

At another point in the hearing, Garland also noted that he is "not the president's lawyer" but rather "the United States' lawyer" and addressed several policy-based positions including Trump's zero-tolerance immigration policy, which Garland called "shameful."

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court issued the most direct reminder of a saga that plagued the duration of the Trump presidency when it rejected the former president's request to shield his taxes from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office. The move clears the way for District Attorney Cyrus Vance to enforce a grand jury subpoena for the records.

The former president called it "a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of our Country," as the D.A.'s office told ABC News' Aaron Katersky, "The work continues."

The TIP with Kendall Karson

It's been a busy session for Virginia Democrats, who are taking advantage of their statehouse majority cemented in 2019. The party in power is moving forward on significant policy changes -- the most recent on Monday when the General Assembly sent a measure to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam's desk abolishing the death penalty.

Come November, statewide elections will test the increasingly blue tint of the commonwealth and whether voters are willing to continue following where Democrats are leading or are looking for an alternative path.

The decision over the state's future appears starkest in the highly anticipated governor's race, which features a range of candidates across both parties -- some with name recognition, some with the potential to be history-making, some considered firebrands and some without much political experience.

PHOTO: Virginia state senators Amanda Chase and Jennifer McClellan.
Virginia state senators Amanda Chase and Jennifer McClellan.
The Washington Post via Getty Images

During Monday's vote, two of the gubernatorial contenders, state Sens. Jennifer McClellan, a Democrat, and Amanda Chase, a Republican, underlined that divide by voting in opposite directions. McClellan supported the measure to make Virginia the first in the South to end capital punishment, calling it "a historic step towards justice," while Chase, who bills herself as "Trump in heels," voted against it, casting her vote as one "against murderers and for public safety today."

The bill's passage and the impending governor's race, which could be seen as an early indicator for the midterm elections to come, is a reminder of the state's leftward shift, and whether it is here to stay.


ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Tuesday morning's episode features a conversation with Beatriz Ramirez, a New Jersey student whose father is one of the 500,000-plus Americans lost to COVID-19 over the last year. ABC News Chief Justice correspondent Pierre Thomas tells us about his exclusive interview with a Capitol Police officer who came under attack on Jan. 6. And retired Marine Col. and ABC News contributor Stephen Ganyard explains what comes next for Boeing and the airline industry after the engine failure over Colorado. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

FiveThirtyEight's Politics Podcast. The House is preparing to pass its version of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan by the end of the week, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast looks at the popularity of the bill and how both Democrats and Republicans are thinking about its provisions. The team also tracks the latest voting restrictions being considered by Georgia Republicans, including a proposal to end early voting on Sundays, which is when Black churches traditionally mobilize voters through "souls to the polls" events. Lastly, they ask whether a recent survey of Americans attitudes about secession is a good or bad use of polling. https://53eig.ht/3dx3lEe


  • The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources holds a nomination hearing at 9:30 a.m. for Rep. Deb Haaland to be the secretary of the interior.
  • President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris receive the president's daily brief at 9:50 a.m. Biden conducts a roundtable with Black essential workers, moderated by domestic policy adviser Susan Rice at 1:15 p.m. Biden -- with Harris -- participates in his first virtual bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada at 4 p.m. Biden and Trudeau give statements on their bilateral meeting at 5:45 p.m.
  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee holds a hearing to consider the nomination of California's Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, to serve as secretary of health and human services at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee continues its nomination hearing for Judge Merrick Garland to be U.S. attorney general at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs & Rules committees convene a hearing at 10 a.m. with officials responsible for Capitol security ahead of Jan. 6 attack. Metropolitan Police Department Chief Robert Contee, former Senate Sergeant at Arms and doorkeeper Michael Stenger, former House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving and former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund have all been invited as witnesses.
  • The Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the Committee on Energy and Commerce holds a hearing on COVID-19 vaccine availability, featuring the leaders of Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZenica, Moderna and Novavax, at 10:30 a.m.
  • White House press secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing at noon.
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