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TIMELINE: How political rivals Ted Cruz and AOC reacted to the devastating Texas winter storm

ted cruz alexandria ocasio cortez
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York
  • Sen. Ted Cruz left Houston during a fatal winter storm for Mexico and faced immense criticism.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promoted renewable energy and raised millions of dollars for Texans.
  • The political rivals had wildly different weeks. Here's how they reacted to the storm.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

This week, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas escaped the cold weather ravaging his home state for a trip to Cancún with his family, then swiftly returned amid a backlash that he's struggled to deflate.

Meanwhile, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York blasted Texas' power failures, raised $2 million in storm relief funds for Texans, and is traveling to the southern state to help distribute supplies.

The political rivals, who often publicly tussle over their opposing views, were again at odds this week in their responses to the severe winter storm devastating Cruz's home state. Cruz, embroiled in criticism and scandal, took political heat, whereas Ocasio-Cortez promoted her flagship energy bill the Green New Deal and scored political points. 

The freezing temperatures that hit the second-largest state in the country over the past week left millions of households without electricity, drinking water and heat for days. As of Friday afternoon, roughly 180,000 Texans are still without power.

Here's how both of the politicians reacted to the storm over the past week.

February 13-15: Cruz tweets resources on the storm and tells Texans to 'be safe'
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Sen. Ted Cruz speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill, Feb. 13, the fifth day of the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

As snowfall increased and temperatures dipped further in Texas, the state's junior senator started to spread information about the storm, including a call to "just stay home."

On February 13, Cruz had still been on Capitol Hill busy with the final day of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial. But he told Texans to "please heed all of the winter weather advisories and updates from state and local officials" on Twitter. 

The next day, Cruz sent several more tweets with weather advisories and resources to cope with the severe weather.

"This storm is very dangerous," he wrote on February 14. "Please be careful and be safe."

Cruz appeared on a local radio station on Monday, saying "our house is lucky" since their power hadn't cut.

"If you can stay home, don't go out on the roads. Don't risk the ice," Cruz said. "Keep your families safe and just stay home and hug your kids."

February 16: Cruz under attack for old tweets, AOC slams 'failed leadership' in Texas
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Pike Electric service trucks line up after a snow storm on February 16, 2021 in Fort Worth, Texas.

On Tuesday, Cruz continued to send tips and information on the storm, yet users instead became distracted by a 6-month-old tweet of his, in which he targeted California and Ocasio-Cortez. 

"California is now unable to perform even basic functions of civilization, like having reliable electricity," Cruz wrote in August 2020 in response to power outages that hit the state during extreme heat and wildfires that summer. "Biden/Harris/AOC want to make CA's failed energy policy the standard nationwide."

Users accused Cruz of hypocrisy, considering widespread power outages had now struck Texas due to the winter storm.

"I got no defense," Cruz responded to the backlash that night. "A blizzard strikes Texas & our state shuts down. Not good."

At the same time, Ocasio-Cortez began to weigh in on Texas' overwhelmed power grid after Gov. Greg Abbott blamed the blackouts occuring in the major fossil fuel-producing-state on renewable energy sources.

"This shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal," Abbott said of the New York representative's energy proposal. 

Ocasio-Cortez hit back: "The real 'deadly deal' is his failed leadership."

February 17: Cruz travels to Mexico
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Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz's wife, apparently texts flight details from Houston to Cancun.

On Wednesday, roughly 2.7 million households in Texas were still without power. The state's food supply chain dwindled as people scrambled to stock up on groceries. More than 2,300 flights into or out of the US were canceled.

Yet that night, unverified photos of Cruz at the airport and onboard a plane to Cancún exploded on social media.

Insider, along with many other news organizations, tried to reach Cruz for confirmation if he had indeed left Houston for a vacation at the Mexican resort city, which the widely-circulated images suggested.

Yet Cruz was silent — and critics piled on him for apparently abandoning the state while it suffers. 

On the other hand, Ocasio-Cortez doubled down her criticism of Texas' governor, and promoted her Green New Deal legislation.

"No one should be left to fend for themselves in a natural disaster," she tweeted. "This is why we insist on justice in climate policy. In a modern society, equity is as important as technology.

"We must modernize," she added, with the hashtag #GND. 

February 18: Cruz returns to Texas, AOC calls him out and launches fundraiser
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Sen. Ted Cruz carries his luggage at the Cancun International Airport before boarding his plane back to the U.S., February 18.

Reports on Cruz's vacation poured in Thursday morning, and the senator was fiercely rebuked.

His former Democratic challenger Beto O'Rourke slammed him for "vacationing in Cancun right now when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he was elected to represent and serve."

Ocasio-Cortez also attacked the senator.

"If Sen. Cruz had resigned back in January after helping gin up a violent insurrection that killed several people, he could've taken his vacation in peace," she said. "Texans should continue to demand his resignation."

Cruz didn't confirm the trip himself until the afternoon.

"With school cancelled for the week, our girls asked to take a trip with friends," Cruz said in a statement. "Wanting to be a good dad, I flew down with them last night and am flying back this afternoon."

Cruz added that his home power had gone out and his children suggested they get out of town.

But criticism of Cruz's travels continued upon his arrival back home. "It was obviously a mistake," a flustered Cruz told reporters. "In hindsight, I wouldn't have done it. I was trying to be a dad."

Yet Cruz's story unraveled as text messages from his wife Heidi apparently showed her planning the getaway with their neighbors to escape the cold.

Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez launched a fundraising effort to send relief to Texans struggling during the storm.

February 19: Cruz reacts to the controversy, AOC raises millions and goes to Texas to distribute supplies
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Volunteers load cases of water into the bed of a truck during a mass water distribution at Delmar Stadium on February 19, 2021.

By Friday, Cruz tried to smooth over the controversy. 

He attempted to return attention to the storm in Texas, which he started to tweet information about again.

He also sent a letter with fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn to President Joe Biden asking for emergency assistance to help Texans in need.

Cruz's political rival, Ocasio-Cortez, announced on Friday that she raised $2 million in direct relief for struggling Texans. 

"Thank you all so much," she said. "I'm at a loss for words."

"100% of this relief is going straight to Texan food assistance, homelessness relief, elder care, and more," she added.

The progressive Democrat noted that she's headed to Texas for the weekend to help distribute supplies and raise awareness of the situation.

Since Sunday, the deep freeze has killed at least 30 people in Texas, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.

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Biden supports canceling $10,000 in student loan debt, but Democrats are calling on him to forgive $50,000 through executive action

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Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., left, and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
  • President Joe Biden supports canceling $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower.
  • Press Secretary Jen Psaki said he wants Congress to pass a bill and send it to his desk.
  • Congressional Democrats are urging Biden to forgive $50,000 per borrower through executive action.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

President Joe Biden supports relieving some federal student loan debt to help tackle the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, but congressional Democrats are urging him to raise the bar.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that the president is in favor of canceling $10,000 in student loan debt per borrower, as he often touted on the campaign trail. But Psaki noted that he wants Congress to first pass the legislation for him to sign.

"He's calling on Congress to draft the proposal," Psaki said. "And if it is passed and sent to his desk, he will look forward to signing it."

Democrats, however, are asking Biden to increase that amount and forgive $50,000 per borrower, and to do so immediately through executive action. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Thursday reintroduced a resolution in the Senate that calls on Biden to support the measure. 

"There's very little that the president could do with the flick of a pen that would boost our economy more than canceling $50,000 in student debt," Schumer said during a news conference. "This is one of those things that the president can do on his own." 

"We are not going to let up until we accomplish it," he added. "It would be a huge push into our economy."

 

Schumer has been leading the push on student loan debt cancelation for months with progressive Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who joined him on Thursday, along with Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alma Adams of North Carolina, and Mondaire Jones of New York.

"Canceling student loan debt is the single most effective executive action that President Biden can take to kickstart this economy," Warren said at the conference. "Canceling student loan debt is the single most effective executive action that President Biden can take to help close the racial wealth gap. Canceling student loan debt is the single most effective executive action President Biden can take to lift the economic prospects of tens of millions of young Americans."

The White House did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

On day one in office, Biden signed an executive order that extended a Trump-administration moratorium on student loan payments, interest, and collections until September 30. The deferment had been set to expire on January 31, and was initially passed in the CARES Act from last spring to boost the economy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Total student loan debt in the United States is around $1.7 trillion. Borrowers on average have between $20,000 to $24,999 in college student loan debt, according to the Federal Reserve.

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Pelosi, McConnell, and other lawmakers pay their respects to Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who was killed in pro-Trump riot

nancy pelosi, chuck schumer, mitch mcconnell
Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, left, and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), center, walk past the remains of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick, 42, as he lies in honor in the Rotunda of the Capitol on February 3, 2021.
  • Lawmakers paid their respects to Brian Sicknick, a Capitol Police officer killed in the Jan. 6 riot.
  • Pelosi, McConnell, Schumer, and others attended the funeral service on Wednesday at the Capitol.
  • "We will never forget his sacrifice," Pelosi said.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Top Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday paid tribute to Brian Sicknick, the Capitol Police officer who died from injuries he suffered during the Capitol riot on January 6.

Congressional leaders recognized the slain police officer during a funeral service as his remains lay in the Capitol Rotunda. Sicknick becomes the fifth American to receive the distinction as a private citizen, following civil rights activist Rosa Parks, Rev. Billy Graham, and two Capitol Police officers who died in the line of duty in 1998.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi praised Sicknick for his "heroism" after he defended the Capitol when a violent mob of former President Donald Trump's supporters stormed the building last month. 

"We will never forget his sacrifice," Pelosi said.

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A funeral service is held for Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick as he lies in honor in the Rotunda of the US Capitol February 3, 2021.

Sicknick, 42, was one of five people who lost their lives in the Capitol siege. The House impeached Trump on January 13 in relation to the riot, charging him with "incitement of insurrection." The former president faces an impeachment trial in the Senate that's set to begin next week.

"That Brian and his family were made to pay such a high price for his devoted service in the Capitol was a senseless tragedy - one that we are still grappling with," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Wednesday. "Let us be a comfort to all who continue to recover from injuries, seen and unseen, from the attack."

Top Republicans Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also paid their respects to Sicknick.

"Four weeks ago, the Rotunda was strewn with the debris of an insurrectionist mob," McConnell said. "Today, we mourn and give thanks for the true patriot who lies in the Rotunda."

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden paid tribute to Sicknick on Tuesday night, when he was brought to the Capitol Rotunda. Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the Rotunda Wednesday morning. 

A New Jersey native, Sicknick served in the state's air national guard from 1997 to 2003. He joined the Capitol Police in 2008 and had wanted to become a police officer his entire life, his family members said. Sicknick will be buried at the Arlington National Cemetery on Wednesday. 

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Pete Buttigieg confirmed as transportation secretary, becomes the US’s first openly gay Cabinet secretary

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Pete Buttigieg.
  • The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary.
  • The move makes Buttigieg the first openly gay Cabinet secretary.
  • Buttigieg ran in the 2020 presidential race and served as mayor of his hometown.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Pete Buttigieg as transportation secretary, making him the country's first ever openly gay Cabinet secretary.

The historic confirmation went through with bipartisan support in a 86-13 vote. President Joe Biden had picked the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, in December to lead the Department of Transportation, which oversees federal transportation projects and transportation safety regulations across the US.

"Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better," Biden said at the time. "I trust Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision - he will bring people together to get big things done."

In his nomination hearing last month, Buttigieg vowed that as head of the agency he would deliver new jobs in infrastructure and transportation and focus on building the economy and tackling climate change issues.

Buttigieg catapulted to the national spotlight during his run for the 2020 presidency as a young moderate from the Midwest. The 39-year-old US veteran appeared to be a leading candidate after narrowly winning the Iowa caucus in February 2020, yet his path to the Democratic nomination fizzled out soon afterward. By March, he suspended his campaign and endorsed Biden.

But Buttigieg didn't fall off the radar after his meteoric rise, and he's poised to remain an influential figure within the Democratic Party.

Biden had spoken highly of Buttigieg after he dropped out, and compared the former candidate to his late son, Beau Biden.

"I know that may not mean much to most people, but to me, it's the highest compliment I can give to any man or woman," Biden said in March 2020. "Like Beau, he has a backbone like a ramrod."

Buttigieg had made history as the first openly gay candidate to run for the highest office in the nation, a significant stride for the LGBTQ community. On the campaign trail, he had frequently opened up about his close relationship with his husband, Chasten.

After his confirmation, "Mayor Pete" has been receiving praises as "Secretary Pete."

"Another barrier broken for our community," the nonprofit Human Rights Watch tweeted on Tuesday.

Richard Grenell became the first openly gay person to serve in a Cabinet-level position under the Trump administration as acting Director of National Intelligence. He served from February 2020 to May 2020, but was never confirmed by the Senate as permanent head of the agency.

John L. Dorman contributed to this report.

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Rep. Madison Cawthorn pivots from decrying a ‘Free Speech’ crackdown to plug his free shipping promo code on his merchandise website

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Rep. Madison Cawthorn, R-N.C.
  • Rep. Madison Cawthorn on Thursday in a tweet abruptly pivoted from talking about the First Amendment to plugging his online merchandise store. 
  • "First they came for our Free Speech," Cawthorn tweeted, "next they'll come for our Free Shipping on orders $50 or more with promo code: FREEDOM50."
  • The freshman Republican tweeted a link to his website, which sells a variety of products.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Rep. Madison Cawthorn on Thursday began a tweet talking about the First Amendment, but then ended it with a promo code for his online store.

"First they came for our Free Speech, then they came for our Free Markets, next they'll come for our Free Shipping on orders $50 or more with promo code: FREEDOM50," Cawthorn wrote on Twitter.

In a follow-up tweet, Cawthorn posted a link to his campaign shop website, which sells a variety of products, ranging from masks that display the word "useless" to T-shirts that say "The real virus is communism."

The North Carolina Republican has stepped into the limelight as a freshman lawmaker by boosting prominent GOP stances, such as protecting free speech rights against social media companies. GOP lawmakers and former President Donald Trump have frequently blasted tech CEOs for what they describe as censorship against conservative opinions on Twitter and Facebook, criticism the companies often dismiss. Democrats have also waged fights against the social media companies, but mainly over the spread of misinformation on the platforms.

Cawthorn criticized Twitter's move to permanently ban Trump from the platform earlier this month. CEO Jack Dorsey said the company made the decision based on possible risks of more violence after the deadly Capitol riot on January 6.

"It's something we have to fight against," Cawthorn told Fox News about tech companies.

Cawthorn, the youngest member of Congress at age 25, was one of over 130 GOP House lawmakers that objected to certification of the Electoral College votes on the day of the Capitol siege. He's faced backlash over his challenge to the 2020 presidential election results and has also come under scrutiny after claiming that he was armed during the riot. (There is no evidence that widespread voter fraud occured in the 2020 race.)

Cawthorn defended his position for contesting the election results during a CNN interview on Saturday, but after an intense back-and-forth with host Pamela Brown laying out the facts, he ultimately backed down. 

"Yes, I think I would say the election was not fraudulent," he told Brown.

Cawthorn's website, however, sells a $28 red cap that reads "Make Elections Secure Again." 

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Pelosi slams Republicans for appointing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has endorsed conspiracy theories about school shootings, to the House Education and Labor Committee

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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed GOP leadership over a controversial freshman lawmaker, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and her history of spreading conspiracy theories.
  • Greene has faced backlash this week for past comments she's made baselessly suggesting that school shootings are staged.
  • "What could they be thinking? Or is thinking too generous a word for what they might be doing? It's absolutely appalling," Pelosi said of the Republicans who appointed Greene to serve on the House Education and Labor Committee.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday ripped into top Republicans over a controversial lawmaker in their party, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and her history of pushing conspiracy theories.

"What I'm concerned about is the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives who are willing to overlook, ignore those statements," Pelosi said during a news conference.

Greene, a freshman Republican, has faced backlash this week over her past social media activity in which she spread baseless claims about school shootings.

Among the controversial activity includes Greene "liking" a Facebook post that called the 2018 mass shooting at a Florida high school a "false flag planned shooting," as well as suggesting in a 2017 video that the Las Vegas music festival shooting, which killed 58 people, was set up by activists to promote gun control. Greene also "liked" a Facebook comment that described the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, which killed 20 children, as staged.

In another newly resurfaced video, Greene is seen following school-shooting survivor David Hogg on Capitol Hill after the 2018 attack and calling him a "coward."

Pelosi blasted her Republican counterparts for selecting Greene to serve on the House Education and Labor Committee, which is responsible for overseeing school safety.

"Assigning her to the Education Committee when she has mocked the killing of little children at Sandy Hook elementary school, when she has mocked the killing of teenagers in high school, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school," Pelosi said. "What could they be thinking? Or is thinking too generous a word for what they might be doing? It's absolutely appalling."

"To have someone who would mock, call it a fake," Pelosi continued, "It's really beyond the pale."

The top Democrat's comments echo Education Committee chair Bobby Scott's statement on Thursday.

"House Republicans made this appointment and Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy must explain how someone with this background represents the Republican party on education issues," Scott said. "He is sending a clear message to students, parents, and educators about the views of the Republican party." 

A spokesperson for McCarthy told Axios earlier this week that the GOP leader plans to have a "conversation" with Greene after other social media posts of her showing support for assassinating top Democrats, including Pelosi, were revealed. One Democratic lawmaker, Rep. Jimmy Gomez, has called for Greene to be kicked out of Congress.

Greene's past of incendiary comments was known before she held public office. Last summer, Politico reported a slew of racist and Islamophobic statements Greene made online.

The Georgia lawmaker defended herself this week claiming that her posts were not solely controlled by her.

"Over the years, I've had teams of people manage my pages. Many posts have been liked. Many posts have been shared. Some did not represent my views," Greene said.

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‘One more check is not enough’: 54 progressive Democrats urge Biden to add recurring direct payments to COVID-19 relief package

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Reps. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., on July 15, 2019.
  • Over 50 progressive Democrats urged President Joe Biden on Thursday to consider sending recurring stimulus checks to Americans.
  • The letter, signed by Reps. Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and others, doesn't specify an amount, but the group has previously shown support for $2,000.
  • Biden has proposed a one-time direct payment of $1,400 in his stimulus proposal.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

House Democrats urged President Joe Biden on Thursday to include recurring stimulus checks in his COVID-19 relief package, according to a letter obtained by Insider.

Rep. Ilhan Omar is leading the push, and she was joined by others such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachussetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. They are among the 54 House progressives who sent a letter to the White House asking to send recurring checks to millions of Americans until the end of the coronavirus pandemic.

The letter - addressed to Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris - did not specify an amount. But progressives have previously shown support for $2,000 during negotiations for another government rescue package in December. The letter was first reported by Politico.

Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal released earlier this month offers a one-time direct payment worth $1,400. The figure adds to the last $600 check passed in December to equal a total of $2,000. 

Yet the group of lawmakers argue that one payment isn't sufficient to alleviate the financial struggles caused by the public health crisis, with millions of people falling short on rent payments and facing food insecurity.

"Recurring direct payments until the economy recovers will help ensure that people can meet their basic needs, provide racially equitable solutions, and shorten the length of the recession," they wrote. "As we look at the coming year, another one-time round of checks would provide a temporary lifeline, but when that money runs out, families will once again struggle to pay for basic necessities."

"One more check is not enough," they added.

Biden's plan also includes $400 weekly unemployment benefits through September, an expanded child tax credit, $350 billion for state and local governments, and $130 billion to reopen schools.

If bipartisan negotiations fail, Democrats are gearing up to circumvent Republicans using the reconciliation process, a procedure requiring only a majority vote in the Senate. Many GOP lawmakers are assailing the Biden package as an untargeted stimulus spending binge. 

However, it may be a time-consuming process. Democrats are trying to enact the rescue plan by mid-March, the deadline for the expiration of enhanced unemployment insurance programs.

Biden's proposal also includes other items on progressives' wishlist, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 and renewing a paid leave program during the pandemic. However, Republicans are balking at those provisions, making its inclusion uncertain in a final bill. 

Read the letter below:

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McConnell and Schumer’s Senate deal: Who won, who lost, and what it means for Biden’s stimulus plan

chuck schumer mitch mcconnell
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
  • On Monday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell dropped his fight over the filibuster.
  • Democrats claimed his move as a win, and the two sides are moving forward with a power-sharing deal.
  • But the party can't celebrate quite yet with a political battle over Biden's coronavirus stimulus package on the horizon.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's weeklong fight over the filibuster is over - but another, larger battle over President Joe Biden's legislative agenda looms on the horizon.

The two Senate leaders are currently finalizing an agreement to reorganize the Senate, now split evenly 50-50, and to begin work under the new administration after Democrats took the majority last Wednesday.

Who won, and who lost

Both sides, perhaps unsurprisingly, have declared themselves winners in the filibuster feud. 

After being relegated to minority leader, McConnell had pressed Schumer to promise to preserve the filibuster, a legislative tool that Senate Republicans can use to delay or block bills brought forth by Democrats unless a 60-vote threshold is met. Considering the slim majorities in the Senate, that means legislation needs support from all Democrats and at least 10 Republicans in order to get to the president's desk. 

McConnell's plea came in response to mounting calls from the Democratic Party's progressive wing to end the filibuster and pass legislation with a simple majority. 

The Kentucky Republican had asked Schumer to provide him with a written pledge not to touch the filibuster, though he dropped the demand after two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, assured him they have no intentions to kill the filibuster.

"Basic arithmetic now ensures that there are not enough votes to break the rule," McConnell said Tuesday. "This victory will let us move forward with a 50-50 power-sharing agreement."

Schumer, on the other hand, said McConnell's move was a win for Democrats because he had not met the minority leader's demand. The New York Democrat said the party is now able to assume proper control of the Senate and get to work on Biden's promises.

"I'm glad the Republican leader finally relented and we can move forward now to organize the Senate, set up committees, chairs and ranking members, and a process for moving bills and nominees to the floor," Schumer said Tuesday. "I'm glad we're finally able to get the Senate up and running. My only regret is that it took so long because we have a great deal we need to accomplish over the next several weeks and months."

For his part, Biden hasn't said he wants to eliminate the filibuster and has long been a advocate of the tactic. But he's been clear that his support for keeping it intact depends on "how obstreperous" Republicans become during his term.

What the fight means for the next stimulus 

The partisan fight over the filibuster put the Senate on pause and prevented Democrats from bringing Biden's key priorities, including his proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package, to the negotiating table. 

The relief bill is facing trouble, and the next round of stimulus might not pass until March unless both parties work together to reach a deal sooner. 

Some Republicans have said they don't see a point in another massive stimulus deal right now after the $900 billion bill passed in December. 

"Maybe a couple of months from now, the needs will be evident and we will need to do something significant, but I'm not seeing it right now," GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told Insider last week.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who caucuses with Democrats, has suggested using a tool called budget reconciliation to bypass the 60-vote filibuster requirement and push through legislation with a simple majority of 51. Vice President Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaking vote.

There are roadblocks, however, to using budget reconciliation or any other maneuver to pass legislation without Republican participation. McConnell on Tuesday warned that if the filibuster is overridden, his party will reverse every Democratic policy whenever they take back Congress. 

"If this majority went scorched-earth, this body would grind to a halt like we've never seen," he said. "Taking that plunge would not be some progressive dream. It would be a nightmare. I guarantee it."

If Democrats decide to heed McConnell's ultimatums, they must then work with Republicans to deliver economic relief to Americans. That scenario would likely result in stripping key elements from the bill to meet the GOP's demands.

Democrats could instead use their majority to carry out their priorities and skip working with Republicans altogether, but only if the party is able to agree on an agenda. With the Democratic caucus consisting of moderates such as Manchin and Sinema alongside progressives like Sanders, achieving that goal could be a challenge.

 

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Sen. Bernie Sanders says Democrats don’t need GOP support to approve $2,000 stimulus checks and cancel student debt

senator bernie sanders
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont wrote an opinion column this week pushing for Democrats to implement a bold economic agenda.
  • Now that the Democratic Party has full control over Congress, Sanders argues they can use a tool called reconciliation, which requires only a simple majority in the Senate to pass bills. 
  • Among the key measures Sanders urges the Senate to pass are $2,000 direct payments to Americans and raising the minimum wage to $15.
  • However, the process may not be as simple as Sanders indicated. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Sen. Bernie Sanders this week implored Democrats to flex their power and implement a "bold and aggressive economic agenda" now that the party has full control over Congress and the White House.

In an opinion column for CNN published Tuesday, the Vermont senator argued that Democrats should utilize the budget reconciliation process to pass a wave of "big" policies under the new Biden administration.

"The Senate's 60-vote threshold to pass major legislation has become an excuse for inaction," Sanders wrote. "But let's be clear: We have the tools to overcome these procedural hurdles."

Reconciliation allows the Senate to pass bills fairly quickly and with a simple majority, as they are not subject to filibuster. The maneuver, first used by Congress in 1980, is mainly aimed at budget and spending legislation that need quick consideration. 

"When the Republicans controlled the Senate during the George W. Bush and Trump presidencies, they used reconciliation to pass trillions of dollars in tax breaks for the wealthiest people and most profitable corporations. They also used reconciliation to try and repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017," Sanders wrote. "Today, Democrats must use this same process to lift Americans out of poverty, increase wages and create good-paying jobs."

"If Republicans would like to work with us, we should welcome them," he added. "But their support is not necessary." 

Sanders, an independent senator who caucuses with the Democrats, emphasized that the party must move urgently as millions of Americans are still struggling financially because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Without action, he warned, Democrats may end up in the minority in the 2022 midterm elections. 

Democrats held the House in the 2020 elections, albeit by a slimmer margin at 222-212, after losing 11 seats. The swearing-in of three new Democratic senators and Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday granted Democrats the Senate, now evenly split 50-50 with Harris as the tie-breaking vote. Sanders is posed to become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, which handles reconciliation bills. 

"Failure to adequately respond to the economic desperation in America today will undermine the Biden administration and likely lead Democrats to lose their thin majorities," Sanders wrote, cautioning that the party "must not repeat those mistakes" of the Obama and Clinton years, when Democrats lost majorities during the presidents' first terms in office. 

Among the key measures Sanders has proposed to tackle the economic crisis include sending $2,000 direct payments to Americans, raising the minimum wage to $15, canceling student debt, as well as providing universal pre-K and guaranteed paid family and medical leave for 12 weeks. 

Sanders also called for a coronavirus relief package that offers additional funding for COVID-19 vaccine and testing, aid for state and local governments, hazard pay for essential workers and expanded weekly unemployment benefits.

President Joe Biden has backed some of Sanders' progressive ideas and put forth major items in his $1.9 trillion stimulus plan, including $1,400 checks to bump up the $600 distributed in December to $2,000. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled on Thursday that her caucus is preparing to pass the relief in early February. 

However, the stimulus bill's pathway in the Senate, as well as any other spending legislation, may not be as swift and easy as Sanders suggested.

Some moderate Democrats, such as Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have previously balked at Sanders' proposals. Considering the razor-thin Democratic majority, any reconciliation process will collapse if even a single Democrat fails to support it.

Biden, too, may be reluctant to approve bills only with Democratic support. He's repeatedly expressed his intentions to work across the aisle and come up with bipartisan agreements as president, in order to fulfill his campaign and inaugural promises of "unity."

Some Republicans have also signaled that they are ready to put up a fight against big spending moves. 

"I've got a fight on my hands," GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who serves on the Senate Budget Committee, told Fox News this week.

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Track all of Biden’s executive orders and actions as president

joe biden executive orders
President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.
  • President Joe Biden marked his first day in office with a series of executive orders.
  • He revoked Trump's travel ban on majority-Muslim countries and required masks in federal buildings.
  • Track all of Biden's executive actions in the interactive graphic below.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Joe Biden exercised his power on his first day in office with a series of executive orders, already ticking off some of his agenda items and undoing his predecessor's legacy.

Roughly five hours after being sworn-in as the 46th president on Wednesday, Biden signed a stack of actions, many of which targeted former President Donald Trump's policies.

"There is no time to waste when it comes to tackling the crises we face. That's why today, I am heading to the Oval Office to get right to work delivering bold action and immediate relief for American families," Biden said.

Biden revoked Trump's controversial travel ban from majority-Muslim countries, halted additional construction of the former president's signature wall along the US-Mexico border, and extended the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program protecting young immigrants who came to the US as children.

Presidents typically issue executive orders among their first duties as commander-in-chief. On day one, Biden outpaced Trump, who signed only one - to help begin a reversal of the Affordable Care Act, which ultimately was unsuccessful - on his first day in office.

Read more: The ultimate guide to Joe Biden's White House staff

Biden takes the reins of the presidency during a tumultuous period for the nation, still reeling from the deadly Capitol riot and the coronavirus pandemic. The new president repeated calls for unity throughout his inauguration ceremony, and issued a proclamation declaring Wednesday a "National Day of Unity."

Beyond bridging political divides, Biden also has the monumental task of combatting a raging public health crisis. More than 400,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US.

Biden, wearing a mask at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, kicked off his pandemic response with a "100 Days Masking Challenge" and issued a mask mandate in federal buildings.

Click through this graphic to see all of Biden's executive orders, memoranda, and proclamations. We'll keep it updated over time.

On day one, Biden also rejoined the Paris climate accords, an international treaty aimed at tackling climate change that the Obama administration adopted and Trump abandoned. And Biden stopped the US's withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which Trump had initiated last summer after accusing the United Nations agency of coddling up to China.

He also extended an eviction moratorium and student-loan payment deferments to support Americans struggling financially during the pandemic.

Since those actions were presidential statements or agency directives, they aren't included in the graphic. You can find all of Biden's statements, actions, and directives on the White House website.

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