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On Covid relief, Democrats will go alone if Republicans won't come along

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Chuck Schumer
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Jan. 21, 2021.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The Biden White House and Democratic congressional leaders appear to have made their tactical decision on Covid-19 relief talks — use budget reconciliation that requires just 51 votes for passage.

The question is whether that legislative tactic will work, and whether President Biden will get backlash if he doesn’t get bipartisan support for his $1.9 trillion package.

Here was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday: “I am very proud of our committees who are diligently working on the coronavirus relief legislation as a basis for reconciliation. Should that be needed, we will pass a reconciliation bill,” she said, adding that Democrats still hope to get bipartisan cooperation.

And here was White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show: “We absolutely want it to be bipartisan, but this is one of the tools that we can use. As you explained on your show, it's a parliamentary procedure or step. Now, even if it goes to reconciliation, Republicans can still vote for it. There's no blood oath saying they can't.”

Translation: They want Republican votes, but they aren’t going to be beholden to it.

But the reconciliation tactic doesn’t come without risks and drawbacks.

Can Democrats pass a budget framework that unifies a caucus that extends from Bernie Sanders Elizabeth Warren and AOC, to Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema and Abigail Spanberger? (Remember, not only can Senate Democrats not afford any defections, House Democrats can’t afford many, either.)

Will moderate Democrats push for additional means-testing for those $1,400 relief checks, as the New York Times asks?

Will measures like the $15 minimum wage get approval from the Senate parliamentarian?

And can Democrats and Biden withstand the political backlash from congressional Republicans, even though these same Republicans used reconciliation twice on Obamacare repeal-and-replace (which didn’t pass the Senate) and the Trump tax cuts (which did)?

But Biden and congressional Democrats seem to be remembering the Obama years: Don’t go too slow (like on Obamacare) or cut the price tag or programs (like with the stimulus) — all for GOP votes that you might not get anyway.

Baby we’ve got bad blood

So we’re nine days into the Biden presidency, and we’re already having a debate over who lost the bipartisanship and good faith at compromise.

Republicans can argue that Biden and the Democrats aren’t trying hard enough to get Republican votes.

But Democrats can counter that it’s hard to reach out to Republicans when House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is breaking bread with Donald Trump just three weeks after the Jan. 6 insurrection; when Republicans haven’t denounced Marjorie Taylor Greene; and when Matt Gaetz is actively campaigning against Liz Cheney over her impeachment vote.

And just check out this bad blood as a result of the Jan. 6 riot, per Politico.

“I have a hard time interacting with those members [who voted to overturn the election results] right now, especially with those I had a closer relationship with,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich. “I'm not going to deny the reality — that I look at them differently now. They’re smaller people to me now.”

“I don’t know if that’s repairable,” added Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

Can you really work with a party whose past president tried to overturn the election results, and whose congressional allies tried to assist him and refused to punish him after Jan. 6?

That reality — in addition to remembering the Obama years — helps explains why Biden and Democrats are headed down the reconciliation path.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

25,862,795: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 159,109 more than yesterday morning.)

434,620: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 3,860 more than yesterday morning.)

104,303: That’s the number of people currently hospitalized from Covid-19 in the United States.

302.19 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

At least 22 million: The number of Americans who have received one or both vaccine shots so far.

1,015,919: The average number of individual shots per day since January 20.

91: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goals.

What’s next on the Cabinet confirmation calendar

The Senate could be busy next week as President Biden’s Cabinet nominees make their way through the confirmation process.

DHS nominee Alejandro Mayorkas will receive his full Senate vote on Monday afternoon, and Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg will be voted on Tuesday afternoon.

But for other nominees, the process is just beginning. Biden’s pick for attorney general, Merrick Garland, submitted required paperwork on Thursday to the Senate Judiciary Committee. But Garland won’t be getting a hearing just yet. A senior Democratic aide told NBC News that Garland won’t get a hearing until the Senate reaches a power-sharing agreement and an organizing resolution passed. Until the resolution is passed, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham remains chair of the Judiciary Committee.

And Xavier Becerra, Biden’s Health and Human Services nominee, hasn’t had a hearing schedule yet either. Both committees that oversee his confirmation hearings, Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, are in limbo until the organizing resolution is passed. But the Finance committee is currently reviewing Becerra’s questionnaire.

Biden Cabinet Watch

State: Tony Blinken (confirmed)

Treasury: Janet Yellen (confirmed)

Defense: Ret. Gen. Lloyd Austin (confirmed)

Attorney General: Merrick Garland

Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas

HHS: Xavier Becerra

Agriculture: Tom Vilsack

Transportation: Pete Buttigieg

Energy: Jennifer Granholm

Interior: Deb Haaland

Education: Miguel Cardona

Commerce: Gina Raimondo

Labor: Marty Walsh

HUD: Marcia Fudge

Veterans Affairs: Denis McDonough

UN Ambassador: Linda Thomas-Greenfield

Director of National Intelligence: Avril Haines (confirmed)

EPA: Michael Regan

SBA: Isabel Guzman

OMB Director: Neera Tanden

U.S. Trade Representative: Katherine Tai

Shameless plug

Don’t miss the latest episode of Nightly News: Kids Edition, which features Lester Holt’s interview with Kaitlyn Saunders, the 10-year-old skater who performed at President Biden's virtual inauguration

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

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The Biden administration is halting the installment of Trump loyalists on various defense boards.