By MICHELLE STODDART, LAUREN KING and KATE PASTOR, ABC News
(WASHINGTON) — This is Day 39 of the administration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Here is how the hearing is unfolding. All times Eastern:
Feb 25, 5:32 pm
Biden has call with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia
Biden spoke Thursday with King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud of Saudi Arabia “to address the longstanding partnership between the United States and Saudi Arabia,” according to a readout from the White House.
The official readout of the call did not mention anything about the intelligence report on the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi or the crown prince.
“Together they discussed regional security, including the renewed diplomatic efforts led by the United Nations and the United States to end the war in Yemen, and the U.S. commitment to help Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups.
“The President noted positively the recent release of several Saudi-American activists and Ms. Loujain al-Hathloul from custody, and affirmed the importance the United States places on universal human rights and the rule of law. The President told King Salman he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible. The two leaders affirmed the historic nature of the relationship and agreed to work together on mutual issues of concern and interest,” the readout said.
At the end of his remarks for the National Governors Association winter meeting, Biden answered “yes” to a question about whether it “was a good call.”
-ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce and Molly Nagle
Feb 25, 5:18 pm
Biden touts state, local support for COVID-19 relief at National Governors Association meeting
Biden joined a meeting of the National Governor’s Association on Thursday afternoon. During the meeting, the group’s chair, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., who has been under fire for nursing home deaths in his state and is facing fresh details concerning a harassment allegation, said the nation’s governors support the president’s COVID-19 relief bill.
Biden touted his plan, which has bipartisan support outside of the Senate, as helping all Americans. The president noted that 400 mayors have called him in support of the bill.
“It’s clear that even when the immediate crisis passes, there’s going to be more work to be done to help constituents recover,” Biden said. “And my administration will be there every step of the way with you, because when people in this country need help, they’re not Democrats, Republicans, they’re all Americans and people who need work.”
Cuomo also said governors stand behind Biden’s forthcoming infrastructure bill, which he has not yet released but touted on the campaign trail.
Feb 25, 4:01 pm
Biden celebrates 50M vaccines deployed under his administration despite ‘setbacks’
Biden delivered remarks announcing that the U.S. is “halfway” to his goal of administering 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days after he, Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci, watched as four people received a COVID-19 vaccine.
“50 million shots in just 37 days since I’ve become president. That’s weeks ahead of schedule, even with the setbacks we faced during the recent winter storms which devastated millions of Midwestern cities, towns, and also the same in the South,” Biden said. “We’re moving in the right direction, though, despite the mess we inherited from the previous administration.”
Biden also worked to counter vaccine hesitancy, announcing that the administration is going to launch a “massive campaign” to educate Americans about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines.
“And there are folks who are hesitant to take the shot in the first place. We all know there is a history in this country of subjecting certain communities to terrible medical and scientific abuse,” Biden said. “But if there is one message that needs to cut through, it’s this: The vaccines are safe and effective”
Biden also pushed his COVID-19 relief bill, the American Rescue Act, and said he hopes Congress will pass it.
Despite the milestones that he touted, the president also offered a warning not to relax health measures.
“So I want to make something really very clear: this is not a time to relax,” Biden said. “We must keep washing our hands, stay socially distanced, and for god’s sake, wear a mask.”
Feb 25, 2:08 pm
WH doesn’t rule out sanctioning Saudi Arabia over journalist’s death
ABC News’ Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce pressed White House press secretary Jen Psaki in a White House briefing Thursday about the president’s plans to hold accountable those responsible for the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Psaki wouldn’t offer specifics but didn’t rule out sanctions, saying “a range of actions” are on the table.
Psaki stressed that the next step is for Biden to have a call with the King of Saudi Arabia, Abdul Aziz, and for the intelligence community to release its full report of the events.
“And, of course, our administration is focused on recalibrating the relationship, as we’ve talked about in here previously, and certainly there are areas where we will express concerns and leave open the option of accountability,” Psaki said.
Bruce also asked why the president would not speak directly with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, given not only his role in the future leadership of the country but also his reported involvement in the Khashoggi case.
Psaki pointed to bin Salman’s conversations with his counterpart, Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin, but did not say if Austin planned to discuss the issue with him directly.
-ABC News’ Molly Nagle
Feb 25, 12:01 pm
Harris tries to combat vaccine hesitancy in D.C. as the district faces rollout issues
Harris visited a pharmacy in a Giant supermarket in a predominantly minority neighborhood of Washington, D.C., on Thursday in an effort to ease vaccine hesitancy on the same day she and Biden will tout reaching the 50 million-shot marker, which is halfway to their 100 million shots in 100 days goal. But on the same day of Harris’ visit, there were problems with the district’s website to register for vaccine appointments.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the website issues were caused by a crush of demand after eligibility was expanded to include people with pre-existing conditions like severe obesity, asthma, liver disease and other conditions.
The online appointments that were made available today are now booked.
We know this morning was very frustrating for many people. We are working with Microsoft to understand why heavy traffic caused some eligible individuals to not get through.
— DC Health (@_DCHealth) February 25, 2021
At the event, Harris spoke to Brenda Thompson, a D.C. resident who was about to receive her second dose, about her experience getting the Moderna vaccine, with Harris saying she needed to “take it a little slow” the day after her second dose.
Harris spoke with the store’s pharmacist, Samir Balile, who told Harris he sees lines of people every day waiting for their shots, but he is concerned about hesitancy in the coming weeks.
Harris reported to him feeling some side effects after the second dose.
“The first dose, I was fine. The second dose, I thought I was fine, got up early in the morning, went to work, then midday I realized I might need to slow down a bit. Just that one day, and then it was fine, it was like nothing,” Harris said.
Feb 25, 10:29 am
Biden, Harris tout vaccine progress on Thursday
Biden and Harris will participate in an event Thursday afternoon commemorating 50 million COVID-19 vaccine shots administered during the Biden administration, which is halfway to Biden’s goal of distributing 100 million COVID-19 shots in his first 100 days in office.
When Biden set out the goal at the beginning of his term, the administration was already on pace to administer nearly 1 million vaccines a day, which some public health experts have said is not fast enough to control the pandemic.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, has estimated that 325 million people will need to be immunized for the pandemic to end and to reach that threshold, Biden would need more vaccinations.
Biden has rejected the suggestion that his goal was too low, telling reporters in January that, “it’s a good start.”
Meanwhile, Harris visited a Giant supermarket in Southeast Washington, D.C. Thursday morning to promote the administration’s Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 vaccinations, which has delivered 1 million doses to over 6,500 pharmacies across the country.
Harris spoke to the store’s pharmacist and then watched as a patient, Brenda Thompson, received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Biden will also participate in the National Governors Association’s Winter Meeting Wednesday afternoon, and the White House will give a press briefing at 12:30 p.m.
Feb 25, 9:41 am
Biden issues major disaster declaration for Oklahoma
Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Oklahoma in the wake of winter storms in the U.S. south. The declaration covers 16 counties in Oklahoma and allows increased federal funding for recovery.
On Saturday, Biden issued a major disaster declaration for Texas, which freed up funds to aid recovery efforts after the storms left millions without power. The president is set to visit Texas on Friday to see relief efforts and visit a vaccine distribution facility.
Feb 25, 9:40 am
GOP finds risky form of unity in opposing COVID relief bill: The Note
The Republican Party is both less divided and more divided than it seems at the moment — and not in ways that glide along the easiest political paths.
On the question of former President Donald Trump, the GOP is less divided than a colorful House leadership news conference might make it seem. The party still belongs primarily to Trump, as the CPAC gathering that begins Thursday in Florida will demonstrate.
On the question of President Joe Biden’s agenda, there’s actually more GOP dissension than meets the eye. The first floor votes on Biden’s COVID-19 package are coming Friday in the House, yet united Republican opposition in Congress doesn’t align with public polling on the topic.
Among the public at large, Biden and his COVID plans are considerably more popular than Trump and opposing COVID relief, at least for now. But Republican lawmakers appear to fear more political blowback in opposing Trump than voting “no” on COVID bills.
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