By MICHELLE STODDART and LAUREN KING, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — This is Day 35 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Here is how the hearing is unfolding. All times Eastern:
Feb 23, 4:09 pm
Tom Vilsack confirmed as secretary of agriculture
The Senate has confirmed Tom Vilsack to serve as secretary of agriculture, in a 92-7 vote.
Sen. Bernie Sanders voted with six Republicans against Vilsack, who had the same role under former President Barack Obama.
-ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel
Feb 23, 3:54 pm
McConnell to support Garland’s confirmation as AG
A spokesperson for Republican Leader Mitch McConnell confirmed reports to ABC News that McConnell intends to support the nomination of Merrick Garland to serve as attorney general.
McConnell’s support for Garland was first reported by Politico.
The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday wrapped up two days of hearings on Garland’s nomination. The committee is scheduled to hold a vote on the nomination on March 1.
McConnell’s support for Garland is in stark contrast to his 2016 efforts that successfully kept Garland from the Supreme Court bench.
-ABC News’ Allison Pecorin
Feb 23, 3:39 pm
McConnell doubles down against COVID-19 relief proposal
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doubled down on his position that the COVID-19 proposal from Democrats is far too large, not targeted enough and flies in the face of bipartisanship during a press conference Tuesday.
“We think this is dramatically more money than is required at this particular juncture. It also includes a number of things that have absolutely nothing to do with COVID relief,” McConnel said. “And so it will be controversial.”
McConnell said his conference is united Tuesday in “opposition to what the Biden administration is trying to do,” arguing that Biden, who campaigned as a moderate, has been pushing far-left policies since his administration began, calling Biden’s “a totally partisan approach to COVID relief.”
-ABC News’ Allison Pecorin
Feb 23, 3:32 pm
Biden announces nomination for director of U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Biden on Tuesday announced Kiran Ahuja as his nominee for director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, where she previously served as chief of staff during the Obama administration.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Feb 23, 2:42 pm
Biden meets virtually with Black essential workers
Biden and domestic policy adviser Susan Rice met virtually with Black essential workers on Tuesday, including health care workers, child care workers and others from across the country to thank them for their work throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You are heroes and your service, we honor. A disproportionate number of Black Americans serve as front-line workers and as first responders, putting yourselves at greater risk of contracting COVID-19,” Rice said. “And one in four deaths from COVID-19 have been those of Black Americans, and so during this Black history month, we wanted to say thank you, to lift up your voices, and your service and your needs.”
Biden listened to the participants and asked questions. He also touted his administration’s COVID-19 relief bill, talking about how it would help industries and individuals. Biden said his administration is focusing on the needs “particularly of the most left behind community, the African American community.”
Feb 23, 1:58 pm
Haaland outlines plans for clean energy amid pushback
Biden’s nominee for secretary of the interior, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-Ariz., appeared before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for the first round of questioning in her confirmation hearing Tuesday.
Haaland introduced herself in the native language of the Laguna Pueblo and thanked her family, her partner and her ancestors. She also acknowledged that the hearing was taking place on the native lands of the Anacostia, Piscataway and Nakochtank tribes.
She said her priorities would be valuing career employees at the Department of the Interior and promoting clean energy. For Native American communities, she said she would focus on bringing broadband access to them and addressing the high number of missing and murdered Native American women. She also talked about her support for a modern Civilian Conservation Corps as a way of offsetting potential job loss from a transition to cleaner energy.
“But we must also recognize that the energy industry is innovating, and our climate challenge must be addressed,” she said in her opening statement. “Together we can work to position our nation and all of its people for success in the future, and I am committed to working cooperatively with all stakeholders, and all of Congress, to strike the right balance going forward.”
Throughout the hearing, when questioned about her past statements and positions, Haaland said that if confirmed she would be advancing Biden’s interests. She dodged a question about her stance on fracking, saying the president does not support a fracking ban.
In his opening statement, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said he was troubled by Haaland’s “radical” views, a sentiment also expressed by other Republicans on the committee. He said he would oppose Haaland’s nomination. During his questioning, Barrasso pressed Haaland on an October tweet that said Republicans don’t believe in science.
The committee will be back Wednesday at 10 a.m. for the second round of questioning.
-ABC News’ Adia Robinson
Feb 23, 1:39 pm
Becerra’s 1st hearing finishes with little drama
The first hearing for Biden’s pick to head the Department of Health and Human services, Xavier Becerra, ended Tuesday afternoon with little drama or contentious back-and-forths with Republicans despite their clear opposition to him on policy issues like abortion and health care.
Democratic senators highlighted Becerra’s potential to make history as the first Latino to lead the department and his experience leading massive departments and in policy as a congressman for 24 years.
Only a handful of Republicans told Becerra to his face that they didn’t think he had the public health experience for the job, one of the key criticisms ahead of the hearing.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sharply criticized him to reporters as the hearing was ongoing. But McConnell’s remarks were a reminder: Being cordial at a hearing doesn’t mean Republicans are going to vote for Becerra.
Becerra will head to the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday at 2 p.m, which will advance a vote on his confirmation to the Senate floor.
Feb 23, 1:05 pm
White House continues to back Tanden, despite some GOP opposition
The White House continues to back Neera Tanden, Biden’s pick to oversee the Office of Management and Budget, despite criticism from Republicans about her tweets that have been critical of conservatives.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked during a press briefing Tuesday if there were other people in consideration for the position, and she said there is only “one candidate” and that is Tanden.
“She has had 44 meetings now with senators of both parties, she’s spoken with 15 senators from both parties since Friday,” Psaki said. “Some of those were repeats of people she had spoken with previously but, as I noted yesterday, she’s committed to rolling up her sleeves, having those conversations, answering questions as they come up, reiterating her commitment to working with people across the aisle.”
Feb 23, 12:31 pm
Senate confirms Biden’s pick for UN ambassador
The Senate has confirmed Linda Thomas-Greenfield, a retired career ambassador and former top U.S. diplomat for Africa, as ambassador to the United Nations. The final vote was 78-20, with top Republicans, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, voting in favor.
Thomas-Greenfield is the eighth official and the first Black woman confirmed to Biden’s Cabinet. The U.S. will assume the presidency of the U.N. Security Council on Monday for the month of March, and Thomas-Greenfield will now be in place for that term, as the U.S. sets the agenda for the U.N.’s highest body.
Her nomination had been held up by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who accused Thomas-Greenfield of “moving towards and embracing the Chinese Communist Party” because of a speech she gave at a historically Black college in Georgia that was co-hosted by its Confucius Institute, a Chinese government-funded program that promotes the CCP as part of a language and cultural curriculum. However, Thomas-Greenfield said she regrets accepting the invitation and would not do it again, adding she was “appalled” by the Confucius Institute’s treatment of poor Black Georgians.
Feb 23, 12:25 pm
Biden plans trip to Texas on Friday in wake of deadly storms
Biden and first lady Jill Biden will travel to Houston, Texas, on Friday, the White House announced.
The president will visit the state in the aftermath of the catastrophic winter storm that left millions of Texas residents without power and water and killed at least 30 people in the state.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week that the president was considering a trip but was cognizant of the burden and additional resources that a presidential visit can bring.
Biden has already approved a major disaster declaration for the state, opening up federal funds to 77 of the state’s 254 counties.
Feb 23, 11:41 am
Witnesses to testify for Garland
On the second day of Judge Merrick Garland’s confirmation hearing, the nominee will not testify but five witnesses will testify virtually about his nomination and credentials. Those witnesses include Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Josh Blackman, South College Texas of law professor, Andrea Tucker, a mother in D.C., whose twin children Garland tutors, Ken Starr, former solicitor general and U.S. circuit judge, and Donna Bucella, former director for Executive Office of U.S. attorneys.
Garland emerged virtually unscathed after Monday’s hearing, earning praise from senators on both sides of the aisle as he fielded questions on domestic terrorism, racial justice issues and restoring independence to the Justice Department, among other topics.
Republican Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., did express concern over what they described as Garland’s unwillingness to pledge that he will not fire special counsel John Durham without proper cause, a commitment they note former attorney general William Barr made during his confirmation hearing about then-special counsel Robert Mueller.
Garland repeatedly emphasized that because he had no knowledge of Durham’s investigation he wanted to meet with him first before making a decision but said that because Durham hasn’t yet been fired in the new administration he sees no reason to doubt that decision.
Other Republicans, like Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., appeared to grow frustrated over Garland’s unwillingness to engage on questions about his views on immigration policy. Garland said he was not completely aware of Biden’s immigration policy proposals so declined to wade into the issue.
Feb 23, 11:30 am
Biden’s pick for HHS gets praise from Dems, but some are ‘not sold’
The first day of hearings for Biden’s pick for secretary of health and human services, Xavier Becerra, kicked off with glowing praise from Democrats, who heralded his experience, and criticism from Republicans, who think his resume is a detractor.
Both Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., who introduced Becerra, highlighted his potential to make history as the first Latino to lead the department and his experience leading massive departments and in policy as a congressman for 24 years. But Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said he is “not sold” Becerra has the “necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment.”
Becerra, in his opening statement, said he was committed to working in a bipartisan way.
“No one understands your states and communities better than you. We may not always agree, but if I’m fortunate enough to be confirmed, I will always listen to you and keep an open mind, find common cause, and work with you to improve the health and dignity of the American people,” Becerra said.
Becerra laid out his “vision” for the department with three goals: make COVID-19 treatments more accessible, bring down the cost of health care and restore faith in public institutions by putting science first.
Feb 23, 10:46 am
Biden to thank Black essential workers, meet with Trudeau
On Tuesday afternoon, the president will meet virtually with a group of Black essential workers to thank them for their critical roles during the pandemic.
Then, Biden will participate in his first bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada and after give a statement on the meeting.
Feb 23, 10:12 am
Three Biden nominees considered by Senate
Three of Biden’s picks for key administration positions have hearings before Senate committees Tuesday. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing to consider Debra Haaland for secretary of the Interior. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee will consider Xavier Becerra to serve as secretary of health and human services.
And the Senate Judiciary Committee will resume its hearing, which began Monday, to consider Merrick Garland for attorney general.
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