President Biden held his first Cabinet meeting on Thursday from the East Room at the White House as his administration grapples with the crisis at the U.S. southern border and as officials push a $2 trillion spending bill through Congress.
The president began the meeting Thursday saying he would direct his Cabinet to “take a hard look” at agency spending to ensure it “follows the Buy American standard” he introduced in January.
Attendees of the meeting included:
- Vice President Harris
- Secretary of State Anthony Blinken
- Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen
- Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin
- Attorney General Merrick Garland
- Interior Secretary Deb Haaland
- Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack
- Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo
- Labor Secretary Marty Walsh
- Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra
- Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge
- Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg
- Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm
- Education Secretary Miguel Cardona
- Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough
- Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas
- Environmental Protection Administrator Michael Regan
- U.S. Trade Rep. Katherine Tai
- Small Business Administrator Isabel Guzman
- Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines
- U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
- Economic Council Chair Cecilia Rouse
- Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Shalanda Young
- White House chief of staff Ron Klain
Also in attendance:
- Deputy Cabinet Secretary Cristóbal Alex
- Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese
- Deputy Chief of Staff Jen O’Malley Dillon
- Senior Advisor Anita Dunn
- White House Counsel Dana Remus
- Director of the Domestic Policy Council Susan Rice
- Cabinet Secretary Evan Ryan
- American Rescue Plan Coordinator Gene Sperling
- COVID-19 Coordinator Jeff Zients
“We have a lot to discuss,” the president said, noting that he has asked five Cabinet members to represent his infrastructure plan to Congress and engage with the public as the administration “works out details” and works to “refine” the plan and move it “forward.”
Biden has tapped Buttigieg, Fudge, Walsh, Raimondo and Granholm to lead the charge.
“I want to thank them in advance for the role they are going to play,” Biden said.
The White House is framing the $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, called the American Jobs Plan, as an investment in a very broad definition of infrastructure that will modernize the U.S.’s economy and uplift those who are struggling the most.
“It’s time to build our economy from the bottom-up and the middle-out, not the top-down,” Biden said in remarks unveiling the plan in Pittsburgh Wednesday. “And this time when we rebuild the middle class, we’re going to bring everybody along regardless of your background, your color, your religion, where everybody gets to come along.”
The White House’s spending breakdown of its plan, it says, includes $620 billion for roads, bridges and ports; $400 billion for elderly home care; $580 billion on job training, R&D and clean energy; and $650 billion on the electric grid, broadband and water systems.
In the $620 billion for roads bridges and ports, the White House lumps in $174 billion for electric vehicles — more than it is spending on any other individual item in that category.
In order to pay for this legislation, Biden also proposed what he has called the Made in America Tax Plan, which would raise the corporate tax rate to 28% from 21%. It would also increase the minimum tax on multinational corporations to 21% and “calculate it on a country-by-country basis so it hits profits in tax havens,” alongside several other efforts to eliminate perceived loopholes in the corporate tax code.
Republicans are already taking issue with the proposal. It remains to be seen how much the White House and Congressional Democrats are willing to change in their plan for the sake of getting GOP votes.
Democrats in Congress are prepping to push through the bill using the process of budget reconciliation. Such a move – which was used for the Democrats’ coronavirus stimulus that passed without GOP votes – would allow them to get around the 60-vote Senate filibuster, making compromise with Republicans unnecessary.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet meeting comes after the president tapped the vice president to lead his administration’s efforts to address a record surge in migrants, including unaccompanied minors, that has strained capacity at immigration facilities at the southern border in recent weeks.
Harris, according to officials from the vice president’s office, will lead “diplomatic efforts to engage Mexico and the Northern Triangle to address the root causes of migration and to oversee the flow and use of U.S. aid.”
In her first remarks on the role, Harris said there was “no question this is a challenging situation.”
“As the president has said, there are many factors that lead [migrants] to leave these countries,” Harris said. “While we are clear that people should not come to the border now, we also understand that we will enforce the law and that we also, because we can chew gum and walk at the same time, must address the root causes that cause people to make the trek.”
More than 15,000 unaccompanied migrant minors are in custody at federal facilities, according to recent reports. U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported encounters with more than 100,000 migrants in February alone.
Lawmakers from both parties have either visited border facilities or scheduled trips amid the mounting crisis. A group of White House officials were set to tour a Texas facility used to house unaccompanied minors on Wednesday.
Neither Biden nor Harris has visited the southern border since taking office, though the president recently said that he would do so “at some point.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.