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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3:39 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

McConnell sides with Sen. Rand Paul in vote on constitutionality of impeaching a former President

From CNN's Ted Barrett

Senate TV
Senate TV

The Senate tabled an effort by Republican Sen. Rand Paul to force a vote on Tuesday on the constitutionality of former President Trump's impeachment trial, but the vote offered an indicator for support among Republican senators who have been sworn in as jurors for the trial.

Paul's motion was killed on a 55-45 vote, as five Republicans joined all Democrats, meaning 45 Republicans supported Paul's effort.

Sens. Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and Pat Toomey voted with Democrats.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell sided with Paul and voted against the Democratic tabling motion — perhaps a sign that he agrees the constitutionality of impeaching a former President is in question.

Paul, speaking from the Senate floor, made his point of order the impeachment trial is unconstitutional because Trump is out of office.  

"I make a point of order that this proceeding which would try a private citizen and not a president, a vice president or civil officer violates the Constitution and is not in order," said the junior senator from Kentucky.

Paul also objected to the fact that the Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of Senate, would preside over the trial rather than the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, as stipulated in the Constitution for the trial of a sitting president.

"The presiding officer is not the chief justice nor does he claim to be," said Paul.  "His presence in the chief justice absence demonstrates that this is not a trial of the president but of a private citizen."

Paul's argument however quickly drew a response from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer who said that the Constitution had provided a provision for disqualifying former elected officials from holding federal office in the future. 

Schumer said Paul had omitted from his argument that Article II, Section II allows for the "removal of office and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office honor."

"If the framers intended impeachment to merely be a vehicle to remove sitting officials from their office they would not have included that additional provision, disqualification from future office," he said.

"The language is crystal clear without any ambiguity," concluded the majority leader. "The history and precedent is clear. The Senate has the power to try former officials, and the reasons for that are basic common sense."

2:55 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Federal judge temporarily blocks Biden's pause on deportations  

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

A federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the Biden administration’s pause on deportations Tuesday, delivering a blow to one of the administration’s first immigration actions. 

The court order stems from a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton challenging the 100-day pause on deportations, which took effect last Friday. The complaint cited in part an agreement signed between the Department of Homeland Security and Texas in the waning days of the Trump presidency that required the department to consult the state before changing or modifying policies. 

Judge Drew Tipton of the Southern District of Texas said the temporary restraining order was appropriate under the Administrative Procedures Act. Tipton blocked the Biden administration from executing on its deportation pause for 14 days. 

The moratorium has only been in place for five days.

3:29 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Happening now: Senators sworn in for Trump's second impeachment trial

From CNN's Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb, Clare Foran and Lauren Fox

Senate TV
Senate TV

Senators are being formally sworn in as jurors for President Trump's second impeachment trial. The trial, however, won't get into full swing until the week of Feb. 8.

The oath of the senators was read by Sen. Patrick Leahy, who is the president pro tempore of the Senate and is expected to preside over the trial:

"Will all senators now rise and raise their right hand. Do you solemnly swear that all things that are pertaining to the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, former president of the United States, now pending, you do impartial justice according to the constitution and laws so help you God?" Leahy said.

The senators are now proceeding in groups of four to sign the oath book.

Following the swearing in, Republican Sen. Rand Paul is expected to force the first procedural vote in the Senate's impeachment trial.

The vote will be the first test of Republicans' attitudes toward the upcoming trial, only the fourth impeachment trial of a president in US history. Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, said he was forcing the vote on whether the trial of the former President was constitutional to show there aren't sufficient votes to convict Trump.

Yesterday, the House impeachment managers, 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.

Watch the moment:


2:45 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden speaks with Putin for first time as President, calls for release of Navalny

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

President Biden held his first call Tuesday with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, according to the White House.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden spoke to Putin midday with the intention of discussing the New START treaty, Ukraine, the Solarwinds cyber hack, Afghanistan and the poisoning of Alexey Navalny.

It's the first time the two men have spoken since Biden assumed office last week. Putin was one of the last world leaders to congratulate him upon winning the presidency. 

The Kremlin confirmed the call and Biden's request for Putin to release Navalny, an opposition leader.

Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport late Sunday, just moments after arriving from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from Novichok poisoning he blamed on the Russian government. The Kremlin repeatedly denied any involvement.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN’s Matthew Chance “necessary explanations were presented” by Putin when Biden called for Russia to release Navalny.

The Kremlin readout doesn’t mention Navalny as a talking point in the first call between the Presidents. But Peskov confirmed to CNN that the opposition leader was brought up by the US leader. Peskov would not elaborate on Putin’s specific response to Biden. 

3:11 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

McConnell says the last time he spoke to Trump was December

From CNN's Manu Raju and Annie Grayer  

Samuel Corum/Getty Images
Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN that the last time he spoke to Donald Trump was Dec. 15, the day after he declared Joe Biden the winner of the Electoral College. McConnell did not answer CNN's question about whether Trump’s actions were impeachable in his view. 

“We'll all be there starting February, the 9th I believe it is to begin to listen to the arguments,” McConnell said.

McConnell only took CNN's question before heading to the Senate floor to be sworn in as a juror.

2:49 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden says the death of George Floyd "was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn't be forgotten"

From CNN's DJ Judd 

In remarks unveiling today’s executive actions on combating inequity, President Biden told reporters gathered in the State Dining Room that, following the death of George Floyd last summer, “What many Americans didn't see or had simply refused to see couldn't be ignored any longer.”

“Those eight minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd’s life opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people around all over the world,” Biden said. “It was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn't be forgotten,” he added.

In remarks following Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, who was captured on video kneeling on Floyd’s neck, Biden called on Americans to confront racial injustice in the nation and said it was "time for us to take a hard look at the uncomfortable truths." His remarks came after days of protests in Minneapolis and across the country over Floyd's death.

"Weeks like this we see it plainly that we're a country with an open wound. And none of us can turn away. None of us can be silent. None of us can any longer, can we hear the words 'I can't breathe' and do nothing," Biden said in a May broadcast from his home in Delaware.

“It stirred the conscious of tens of millions of Americans, and in my view had marked a turning point in this country's attitude toward racial justice,” Biden told reporters at the White House Tuesday, recounting that Floyd’s daughter told him, in the wake of national protests for racial justice, “Daddy changed the world.” 

“And I believe she was right.” Biden said, “Not because this kind of injustice stopped, it's clearly hasn't, but because the ground has shifted, because it's changed minds and mindsets, because it laid the groundwork for progress.”

Watch the moment:

3:26 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Biden rescinds Trump era ban on diversity and sensitivity training and abolishes 1776 commission

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images) Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

President Biden said he is rescinding the Trump administration's "harmful" ban on diversity and sensitivity training in the federal government and also "abolishing" the controversial 1776 commission during his remarks before signing a series of executive actions on racial equity at the White House on Tuesday.

"In the weeks ahead, I'll be reaffirming the federal government's commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and accessibility, building on the work we started in the Obama/Biden administration," Biden said. "That's why I'm rescinding the previous administration's harmful ban on diversity and sensitivity training and abolish the offensive of counterfactual 1776 commission. Unity and healing must begin with understanding and truth, not ignorance and lies."

More on the 1776 commission: Trump announced that he was establishing the commission last fall, following a slew of Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the country. He blamed the school curriculum for violence that resulted from some of the protests, saying that "the left-wing rioting and mayhem are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools."

The commission was an apparent counter to The New York Times' 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning project aimed at teaching American students about slavery. Trump, speaking last fall, called the project "toxic propaganda."

CNN's Maegan Vazquez contributed reporting to this post.

Watch the moment:

4:33 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Happening now: Biden delivers remarks on racial equity policy and signs executive orders

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and DJ Judd

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

President Biden is delivering remarks on his racial equity policy and signed a series of executive actions focused on nondiscrimination policy, prison reform and public housing.

"It's what the core values of this nation call us to do. And I believe the vast majority of Americans — Democrats, Republicans and independents — share these values and want us to act as well," Biden said during a signing ceremony at the White House alongside Vice President Kamala Harris. Biden added that "it's time to act now not only because it's the right thing to do, but because if we do, we'll all be better off for it."

"In my campaign for president, I made it very clear that the moment had arrived as a nation where we faced deep racial inequities in America, systemic racism that has plagued our nation for far, far too long," Biden continued. "I said over the course of the past year the blinders have been taken off the nation, the American people. What many Americans didn't see or had simply refused to see couldn't be ignored any longer."

Biden went on to point to the death of George Floyd as a turning point for the country.

"Those 8 minutes and 46 seconds that took George Floyd's life opened the eyes of millions of Americans and millions of people all over the world. It was the knee on the neck of justice, and it wouldn't be forgotten. It stirred the conscience and tens of millions of Americans, and in my view, marked a turning point in this country's attitude towards racial justice," the President said. 

According to White House officials, the four topics of today’s executive actions will include:

  • Advancing fair housing
  • Reforming the incarceration system to stop the use of private prisons
  • Reaffirming the federal government’s commitment to Tribal sovereignty and consultation
  • Combating xenophobia against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders

Reporters were also told by a senior administration official that "the President has asked (the Office of Management and Budget) to examine opportunities to embed racial equity in its work(.)"

Biden has specifically asked the office, which plays a role in crafting the administration's annual budget proposals, to evaluate opportunities to allocate funding "more equitably to target groups who have been underserved or harmed by federal investments in the past" in its annual budget submission, the official said.

The official indicated that Tuesday's executive actions are the first among more Biden administration initiatives related to equity — including supporting future legislation in Congress.

Read more about the executive actions here.

2:12 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Trump adds to impeachment defense team with another South Carolina lawyer

From CNN's Kara Scannell and Jeff Zeleny

Former President Trump has expanded his impeachment legal team by tapping a former prosecutor turned criminal defense lawyer, an addition that comes as Trump and his allies scramble to prepare a defense with less than two weeks until the Senate trial.  

The addition of Deborah Barbier, a lawyer with a reputation for tackling high-profile, controversial clients, is the second attorney to join from South Carolina. Last week Trump announced that Butch Bowers, an experienced political attorney who has represented numerous Republican elected officials, including former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, would lead his legal team.

The all-South Carolina legal team has surprised some attorneys, even those in the Palmetto state, but it underscores the outsized influence of one of Trump’s most loyal allies, Sen. Lindsey Graham, the state’s senior Republican senator, who recommended Bowers to Trump. It also highlights the challenges Trump was experiencing in building a legal team as his previous lawyers have largely stepped away from him. 

Barbier joined Trump’s impeachment team Monday, according to an email sent by the chair of the South Carolina State Committee of the American College of Trial Lawyers where Barbier is a member. The email, which was first reported by The Post and Courier, was confirmed by three lawyers. Barbier did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.  

“He certainly could not do better than Debbie. She is an astoundingly capable, skilled, experienced criminal lawyer who is used of handling very high-profile cases with controversial clients. He could never do better than Debbie,” said E. Paul Gibson, vice chair of the state committee who confirmed the email. 

More background: Barbier spent 15 years as a federal prosecutor in South Carolina before eventually opening her own boutique criminal defense firm. Barbier has represented several high-profile clients, including a Republican consultant embroiled in a lobbying case and a friend of Dylan Roof who was convicted in 2015 shooting of nine people at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

The appointment comes as Trump is struggling to build out his legal defense. In particular, loyalist Rudy Giuliani is not able to represent Trump since he spoke on Jan. 6 whipping up the pro-Trump crowd before they stormed the US Capitol. Others who worked on his previous impeachment team have declined to work on the second team. 

Major law firms have also turned down the former president because of the stigma of the insurrection and out of concern they would lose clients, several lawyers told CNN. 

“The big firms have too many clients who would say, ‘We’re going to take our business away from you.’ I don’t think Butch Bowers or Debbie Barbier have that concern,” said Robert Foster, a partner with Nelson Mullins in Columbia, where Bowers was a former partner. 

Another looming question is whether Trump will pay the lawyers. Three attorneys who spoke with CNN said it was unclear if Trump was seeking to retain lawyers on a pro-bono basis and not pay them retainers or hourly fees. All three of those lawyers said they declined to join the defense team, at least in part because of that issue. 

Graham on Tuesday referred questions about payment to Trump, saying, “You’ll need to ask them that. I’m sure they’re getting paid.”

Foster said the legal community is buzzing about who else may join the impeachment defense. When news broke late afternoon on Monday about Barbier’s appointment, he said, “Our first thought was, ‘What is it about South Carolina?’”

He said the response to the email announcing Barbier’s hiring was unsurprisingly mixed. 

“They were overwhelmingly congratulating her because of her stellar reputation. They were overwhelming in that regard, they were split as to a lot of other issues,” said Foster. “Just as with anything else with Trump you’re going to have 51% of the people on one side and 49% on the other side.”