The latest on the Biden presidency and Trump impeachment trial

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 9:29 PM ET, Tue January 26, 2021
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11:25 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Senate will advance Covid bill with or without Republican support, Majority Leader says

From CNN's Kristin Wilson

Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images
Melina Mara/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said now there’s an organizing resolution between the now-majority Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate, “we’re finally able to get the Senate up and running.”

“Last night the Republican Leader dropped his demand for additional provisions on the organizing resolution and will agree to the 2001 rules that last governed the 50-50 Senate, exactly what the Democrats proposed from the start,” he said in remarks from the Senate floor this morning. “My only regret is that it took so long.”

Schumer also sounded a bullish note on a Covid-19 relief funding bill, suggesting that Democrats will press ahead despite headwinds. 

“I understand that recent opposition from the political right has increased now that there’s a Democrat in the White House. But the pandemic doesn’t particularly care that there’s been a change in administration. The needs of our country are still great. And the urgency to act is clearer than ever,” he said. “No doubt Congress has passed substantial relief, but we are nowhere close to filling the Covid-sized hole” of $17 trillion dollars the economy has lost, citing a CBO report.

“We want to work with our Republican colleagues to advance this legislation in bipartisan way, but the work must move forward, preferable with our Republican colleagues, but without them if we must.” 

Finally, Schumer praised the upcoming confirmation vote for Anthony Blinken to serve as the next Secretary of State, saying “he’s the right man for the job.”

“Once confirmed, Mr. Blinken will also inherit a State Department workforce in desperate need of a leader that knows that everyone on the team plays a critical role in advancing America’s interests abroad,” he said. “Under President Trump, our nation’s diplomats and State Department civilians were relegated to the sidelines, and too many positions in the State Department were left vacant or relegated to irrelevance. So none of this will be easy, but I’m confident that Mr. Blinken is exactly the right person for the job.”

Schumer said that following Blinken’s confirmation, “both parties must continue working together” and thanking Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for his cooperation in confirming the nominees, and suggesting that he will tee up two more votes this week, for Pete Buttigieg and Alejandro Mayorkas.

“The pace must continue this week with the confirmation of the Secretaries of Homeland Security and Transportation,” he said.

11:04 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden set to put a hold on new oil and gas leases on federal land, source says

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden is set to order a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal land on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with his plans.

The move is expected to be the most prominent in a list of climate actions he'll take on Wednesday, including elevating climate change as a national security issue. It will fulfill one of Biden's campaign pledges.

The halt on new leases would apply to federal land and water areas, but wouldn't affect existing leases. It would allow the administration to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program.

The moratorium expands the 60-day moratorium that Biden signed on his first day in office on Wednesday.

Jim Sciutto reports:

11:25 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

GOP senator may force test vote on whether Senate impeachment trial is constitutional  

From CNN's Manu Raju

Sen. Rand Paul speaks during a hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on December 16, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Rand Paul speaks during a hearing to discuss election security and the 2020 election process on December 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Greg Nash/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, may try to force a procedural vote as soon as today on whether the Senate trial of former President Trump is constitutional, according to a GOP source familiar with the matter. 

Senators will be formally sworn in as jurors later today, though the trial won't get into full swing until the week of Feb. 8.

Republicans have raised questions over the constitutionality of former President Trump's impending trial in the Senate. Trump is the first president to be impeached twice and would be the first ex-president to have his impeachment tried in the Senate while out of office.

A Congressional Research Service report from November 2019 cites – as precedent – the 1876 impeachment trial of Secretary of War William W. Belknap, who was tried and acquitted even after he'd resigned his office. The Senate ultimately upheld its authority to try Belknap even after his abrupt resignation – though some senators who voted to acquit indicated they did so because they felt the Senate lacked jurisdiction over Belknap once he was no longer in office.

Read more about impeachment and what scholars say here.

10:27 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden's commerce secretary nominee testifies in Senate confirmation hearing 

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Kate Sullivan and Dan Merica

Gina Raimondo speaks at The Queen theater January 8 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Gina Raimondo speaks at The Queen theater January 8 in Wilmington, Delaware. Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is holding a hearing to consider the nomination of Gina Raimondo to be secretary of commerce.

Raimondo is the first woman governor of Rhode Island and has served since 2015. Raimondo was elected to serve as general treasurer of Rhode Island in 2010. She co-founded Point Judith Capital, an early stage venture capital firm.

Biden is expected to lean on his commerce secretary to rebuild relationships with a business community that has had a sometimes fractured relationship with the Trump White House.

If confirmed by the Senate, Raimondo would be in charge of a department that oversees a wide range of programs, including the Decennial Census, NOAA Fisheries, the National Weather Service and the Foreign Commercial Service.

In addition to working to promote job creation and economic growth across the country, the department oversees ocean and coastal navigation and helps negotiate bilateral trade agreements.

Here's a look at the Cabinet nominees that have been confirmed so far. 

10:11 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Here's what happens next on Trump's impeachment trial

From CNN's Zachary B. Wolf, Clare Foran and Jeremy Herb

Senators will be formally sworn in this afternoon as jurors for the second impeachment trial of former President Trump.

On Monday the House impeachment manager – a group of Democratic lawmakers who will act as prosecutors presenting the case against Trump during the trial – delivered the single article of impeachment to the Senate. The article, approved by the Democrat-led House, charges Trump with incitement of insurrection for provoking the attack on the US Capitol that left multiple people dead.

But the Senate impeachment trial itself won't get underway until the week of Feb. 8. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached a deal last week to push back the start date for the substance of the proceedings. That move will give Democrats more time to confirm Biden's Cabinet and potentially take up a new Covid-19 relief bill while Trump's defense team will have more time to prepare for trial.

Here are some key things to know about what happens next in the trial:

The Supreme Court wants to move on. When the trial does get underway, one important no-show is expected to be Chief Justice John Roberts, who normally has a duty under the Constitution to preside over a presidential impeachment trial. This time, however, since Trump is a former president, Roberts will skip the proceedings and Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chamber's ranking Democrat, will hold the gavel.

Roberts' court also declined Monday to hear whether Trump's hotels in DC and New York violated the Constitution's emoluments clause by accepting money from foreign governments. The court said the question about a president being enriched by foreigners is moot since voters have already shown Trump the door.

Republican lawmakers want to move on. The refrain growing on Capitol Hill among Republicans is not so much that Trump's incitement of the mob that stormed the US Capitol was good conduct. It's why bother with this impeachment trial?

"I think so many are getting confused by the fact that we're doing this," said Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun.

It seems clear there will be Republicans who support convicting Trump in the first-ever post-presidential impeachment — Utah Sen. and former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse — but the number, for now, appears to be on track to fall well short of the necessary 17 to reach the necessary two-thirds majority.

There must be accountability. Romney, the one senator who broke with Trump on the Ukraine impeachment last year, certainly sounds like he could ultimately vote to convict Trump again.

"And, you know, if we're going to have unity in our country, I think it's important to recognize the need for accountability, for truth and justice," he said on Fox News Sunday, arguing there is a need for a Senate trial.

Read more here.

9:24 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Here's a look at Biden and Harris' schedule today 

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden continues to move forward on rolling out new executive actions during his first full week in office as he aims to tackle different parts of his agenda. 

Today, his administration focuses on "equity" policy, and he plans to sign executive orders on policing reform, prison reform and public housing.

Vice President Kamala Harris meanwhile will participate in a swearing in ceremony for Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Both made history for being the first women to hold their current roles. 

Here’s a look at today’s schedule: 

  • Noon ET:  Harris will ceremonially swear in Yellen as secretary of the Treasury at the White House. 
  • 12:30 p.m. ET: Press secretary Jen Psaki holds a White House press briefing alongside domestic policy adviser Susan Rice.
  •  2 p.m. ET: Biden delivers remarks outlining his racial equality agenda and signs executive actions. Harris will also attend. 
  • 4 p.m. ET: Harris and the second gentleman Doug Emhoff will receive the second dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • 4:45 p.m. ET: Biden speaks about the fight to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.
9:18 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

How impeachment managers could use video at trial to bolster their case

From CNN's Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb

House impeachment managers are lead through the Capitol to deliver the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the Senate floor on January 25, in Washington, DC.
House impeachment managers are lead through the Capitol to deliver the article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump to the Senate floor on January 25, in Washington, DC. Melina Mara/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

As they put together their plans for trial, House impeachment managers are considering using a variety of video evidence, according to sources familiar with the deliberations. 

The impeachment managers are still wading through the huge amount of video that exists from Jan. 6 to determine what they should use at the trial, the sources said, including video posted to the conservative social media site Parler.

The House’s impeachment team has taken an interest in a 10-minute video complication from the national security forum Just Security, which splices in former President Trump’s comments at the Jan. 6 rally with social media posts from rioters on Facebook and Parler who invoked Trump as their reason for attacking the Capitol. 

No decisions have been finalized about how to use the video. The Washington Post first reported on the impeachment managers’ interest in the Just Security video. 

At the first Trump impeachment trial, the House impeachment managers also used video to bolster their case that Trump had pushed for Ukraine’s help to investigate his political opponent, Joe Biden. The use of video for the upcoming trial is even more compelling given the disturbing images and video that have emerged of rioters ransacking the Capitol and attacking police officers.

 

10:34 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden's National Economic Council director signals openness to budget reconciliation on Covid-19 relief

From CNN's DJ Judd

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Brian Deese, director of the President’s National Economic Council, indicated the White House’s focus on Covid-19 relief was on a comprehensive relief package in an interview Tuesday, telling CNBC, “We are at a moment where we need decisive action we need to move quickly, and we need to move comprehensively.”

Asked if the focus was on a bipartisan bill or a “big” bill, Deese told Becky Quick, “We've learned over the last 10 months what happens if you address this crisis piecemeal. We need to move comprehensively and we need to move quickly, so that's really our focus. We certainly want to move with as much as we can.” 

Pressed if that meant going for budget reconciliation, Deese said, “Well, look, we need to do what it's going to take to solve this crisis — we can't get schools open if we don't get control of the virus, we can't get control of the virus unless we invest in the resources we need, we can't get people back to work if we don't get the schools open, so you know, we need to tackle this comprehensively."

"We're very open to people's input, ideas, that's the process that's happening right now, but we do need to move with speed here, so we don't find ourselves, a month or two or three from now, in a place where the virus is in isn't getting under control, the economy is in a worse place, and we're all asking ourselves why we didn't act," he added.

On criticisms that coronavirus relief involves sending checks to Americans who don’t need them, Deese balked at the idea the package proposed by the Biden administration isn’t targeted enough, telling CNBC, "if you look at the provisions of the American rescue plan, very targeted: hunger, homelessness, unemployment insurance."

"Certainly, if there are ways to make that provision and other provisions more effective that's something that we're open to that, we'll have conversations about, but I think if you look in the aggregate, this is an approach that is very much targeted at those workers in those businesses that are struggling the most in this economy," he continued.

More on reconciliation: Senate Democrats have been laying the groundwork to use a rare procedural tactic known as reconciliation to pass major parts of the Covid-19 relief package if Republicans stand in the way, according to multiple Democratic aides.

While leadership has yet to give the go ahead publicly and negotiations with Republicans are still getting started, aides tell CNN that the process is complicated and arcane, which is why they are getting ready now in case they have to use it.

9:06 a.m. ET, January 26, 2021

McConnell is allowing a Senate power-sharing deal to advance. Here's what that means.

From CNN's Manu Raju and Ted Barrett

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks through the Capitol building on Monday, January 25, in Washington, DC.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walks through the Capitol building on Monday, January 25, in Washington, DC. Susan Walsh/AP

Congress will play a critical role in advancing President Biden's agenda, including his Covid-19 relief bill. Democrats now control both chambers, but a power-sharing deal in the Senate had been stuck for days after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell demanded that Democrats affirm that they will not dismantle the filibuster, the key stalling tactic that requires 60 votes to overcome in order to advance bills.

McConnell announced Monday that he will allow the 50-50 Senate to officially organize so Democrats can take control of key committees in the chamber after a weeklong battle with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer over the rights of the minority to stall legislation.

The breakthrough came as GOP leaders were eagerly looking for a way out of a potential crisis that would have stymied the Senate committee process indefinitely, after McConnell pointed to recent comments made by two Democratic senators about their long-standing opposition to gutting the filibuster as sufficient to ease his concerns.

"With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent," the Kentucky Republican said.

Yet McConnell didn't receive any written assurances from Democrats that they would never touch the filibuster, and Schumer's office argued that the GOP leader got little from the stalemate. Without McConnell's consent, Democrats were unable to get the votes to pass a power-sharing resolution without changing Senate rules.

Schumer for days rejected the GOP leader's demands, saying Monday afternoon: "We are not letting McConnell dictate how the Senate operates."

The stalemate had prevented Senate committees from officially organizing, meaning Republicans still controlled key committees since the chamber is operating under the rules of the last Congress when the GOP was in charge.

Schumer has demanded that the Senate agree to the 2001 rules during the last 50-50 Senate, when the chamber's committees had equal representation of both parties, and tie votes on legislation and nominations would go to the floor.

McConnell signaled Monday night he would agree to that as well.