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Senate battle begins over Biden’s relief plan amid new security concerns at the Capitol

With the Senate set to debate the details of the COVID relief bill, members of Congress received new information about the ongoing security threats facing the Capitol. All of this comes to a head as security officials raise new questions about what went wrong during the Jan. 6 insurrection. Congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and foreign affairs correspondent Nick Schifrin report.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There were a number of threats highlighted on Capitol Hill today.

    In the U.S. Senate, the economic crisis takes center stage, as debate begins on how to provide relief and ease the pain for millions of Americans. There were also warnings about the possibility of new violence this week, while security officials raised new questions about what went wrong on January 6.

    To help walk us through the latest, our congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and our national security correspondent, Nick Schifrin.

    Hello to both of you.

    And, Lisa, to you first.

    This massive COVID relief bill, it is now in the Senate. Tell us the latest.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, Judy, we're expecting this to start moving tomorrow now. The Senate is waiting for the final price tag from the Congressional Budget Office before it can move ahead through its budget process.

    But there was some news today. Democrats made a deal with themselves. Moderates were concerned that this bill went too far. And so there's now an agreement, we can report, to shave down the number of Americans who would get those $1,400 direct payment checks. This agreement would mean that Americans making up to $75,000 would get the full check.

    But now it would phase out and only those kind of get a limited amount up to $80,000, instead of the upper $100,000. And there's also a similar limit for families.

    So, that deal is moving along, and we think we're going to see probably final votes in the Senate in the next two, three days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, important time for that legislation, but there's also, separately, this threat, as we mentioned, hanging over the Capitol, worry about violence, tomorrow specifically.

    What is that all about?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    There has been word from Capitol Police today. I want to show an alert that the Capitol Police sent out today. They said: "We have obtained intelligence that shows a possible plot to breach the Capitol by an identified militia group Thursday, March 4."

    The FBI also said it sent out an alert.

    Of course, we don't know the extent of this intelligence, but, after January 6, Capitol officials are being more transparent than ever and more aggressive. We do know, of course, that there is a very large fence around the Capitol for many blocks, and, of course, National Guard troops there that were not there before.

    Also, in addition tonight, the House of Representatives has adjourned early for the week. They — or they haven't adjourned yet, but they are moving up business, so that they will adjourn later tonight. They were planning to vote tomorrow and, instead, will move their business to tonight.

    They say that's because they can do it, but also my sources say this is part — part to do with the March 4 threat. The Senate, as I said, will be in session tomorrow. And I think this is just Capitol Police and others being more cautious than they were ahead of January 6. We don't expect large crowds.

    But, apparently, there is some kind of intelligence about a March 4 threat connected to the rumors that it is an Inauguration Day, because March 4, of course, was Inauguration Day for the first 150 years or so of this country. It is no longer.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Those are just rumors, but they are out there, and all this is concerning.

    Separately, Nick, today, on Capitol Hill, you had the head of the D.C. National Guard alongside a Department of Defense official testifying about the military response on January 6.

    What did we learn from that?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The focus was on a fateful and crucial three-hour delay.

    The Pentagon first received a request for the D.C. National Guard at 1:34 p.m. from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, but the acting secretary of defense, Chris Miller, did not approve that request until 4:32 p.m. That is three hours later.

    Senators, others accuse the Pentagon of responding too slowly and handcuffing the D.C. National Guard.

    To understand that, take a listen to General William Walker describing the urgent request from Capitol Police Chief Steven Sund. And then take a listen to Senator Rob Portman pointing out how a Pentagon memo before January 6 had already slowed that request down.

  • Maj. Gen. William Walker:

    Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency at the Capitol. And he requested the immediate assistance of as many available National Guardsmen that I could muster.

  • Sen. Rob Portman:

    The January 5 letter required the secretary of the army to approve the movement of deployed Guardsmen from one traffic control point to another. Did you find that unusual?

  • William Walker:

    Nineteen years, I never — I never had that before happen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Senators repeatedly ask the senior DOD official why the Pentagon handcuffed the D.C. National Guard and responded so slowly.

    And the official admitted what many senior officials admitted to me at the time, that the military didn't want to get a repeat or didn't want to get dragged into suppressing protests, as it did back in June, when the protests were Black Lives Matter protesters.

    The military also points out the D.C. National Guard simply isn't designed to be — to respond so quickly. But other senators point out, Judy, that the military did get dragged into the June protests by Trump's detractors, but stayed away somehow when the protesters were pro-Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And in connection with all this, Nick, there was — there were questions today about extremism inside the U.S. military, and the Defense Department issued a report about that today. Tell us about that.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Yes, the Pentagon made public this report. And it makes some disturbing admissions.

    It admits DOD is facing a threat from domestic extremists — quote — "Individuals with extremist affiliations military experience are a concern to U.S. national security" and — quote — "White supremacy and white nationalism pose a threat to good order and discipline within the military."

    The report claims military has been effective at screening extremist ideologies. But experts I talk to flatly reject that. They say the Pentagon has never examined extremism enough to know whether, actually, it has a problem, and that the report used outside investigators simply because the Pentagon does not have its own data on this.

    Now, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin says that this is a priority. He recently ordered the services to stand down for a day, so that commanders could discuss extremism, collect intelligence.

    But Judy, senior military officials admit to me that the services have simply failed to tackle this problem in the past.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot going on in Washington today.

    Thank you both for keeping us up to date.

    Nick Schifrin, Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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