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Biden Urges Senate To Move Quickly On COVID-19 Relief Plan

NOEL KING, HOST:

This week, the Senate will consider President Biden's $1.9 trillion relief package. It passed in the House over the weekend, although with zero Republican votes in favor. Biden and Democrats say the Senate needs to move fast because the latest round of unemployment benefits expires in two weeks.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We have no time to waste. If we act now decisively, quickly and boldly, we can finally get ahead of this virus.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe is following this one. Good morning, Ayesha.

AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So President Biden has issued several executive orders, but this is his first big legislative move. How's it looking for him?

RASCOE: Well, you know, the White House is pushing very hard on this. They've really set up their first 100 days around getting this passed as a top priority. They're stressing that even, you know, if it doesn't have Republican support in Congress, polling has found that many of its provisions are very popular, even among Republicans. Biden celebrated its - the House passage on Saturday but urged quick action in the Senate, saying, if we act boldly and quickly and boldly, we can get ahead of this virus. There is that deadline that you mentioned. Extended federal unemployment benefits expire mid-March. So Senate Democrats have pledged to get this done before that. So they have two weeks to get it done.

KING: And the House bill included a $15 federal minimum wage. But then as we reported last week, the Senate parliamentarian said it had to be cut because of the process that Democrats are using. There was some talk about an alternative approach. Did anything happen there?

RASCOE: Well, Biden said he was disappointed by the parliamentarian's ruling, but the White House signaled it wasn't going to go against that. There was some talk from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders about proposing or about imposing tax penalties on big companies that don't raise their minimum wage. But our colleague Susan Davis is reporting that Senate Democrats are abandoning that effort after facing some resistance. Stripping out the $15 minimum wage may actually make the rescue package easier to pass, given how slim the majority is because some conservative Democrats have voiced opposition. But, of course, progressive Democrats feel very differently about that. They want the $15 minimum wage.

KING: OK, so as this bill is going through the House over the weekend, former President Donald Trump is also up to some stuff over the weekend. He gave his first post-presidency speech yesterday at CPAC. And how did that go?

RASCOE: He went after Biden's policies, you know, saying it's been a disastrous first month. He talked a lot about immigration. Biden, of course, has reversed a lot of Trump's hard-line immigration policies. And he also zeroed in on schools. You know, Biden has talked about this goal of getting K-8 schools open in the first 100 days. And Republicans and Trump have argued that Biden is catering to teachers unions and should be pushing harder for schools to reopen. Trump did call out by name Republicans who voted to impeach him, but he did try to minimize, I guess, Republican divisions a bit, saying he won't try to start a third party.

KING: So did he say whether he'll run again?

RASCOE: He teased it a little bit.

KING: OK.

RASCOE: He said that he may just have to do it again. But, of course, he also repeated a lot of falsehoods about the 2020 election and how that went out. But he said he might do it.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Ayesha Rascoe. Thanks, Ayesha.

RASCOE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.