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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7:15 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Trump's allies approach two more lawyers about joining his defense team

From CNN's Kara Scannell

Former President Trump’s allies have recently approached Johnny Gasser and Greg Harris, two prominent criminal defense lawyers in Columbia, South Carolina, about joining the defense team for the upcoming impeachment trial, people familiar with the discussions said.

Gasser, a former interim US attorney for South Carolina, and Harris, a former federal prosecutor, have worked closely with Deborah Barbier, a lawyer with a reputation for tackling high-profile, controversial clients, on the defense side. 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.

Gasser and Harris each declined to comment. 

The possible addition of Gasser and Harris would give significant boost to the courtroom trial aspect of the impeachment proceeding, but Trump allies say that they still need an attorney strong on constitutional issues. 

Trump aides declined to comment Tuesday on the ongoing formation of the legal team, CNN's Jeff Zeleny reported.

6:16 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy taken to hospital out of abundance of caution

From CNN's Clare Foran and Manu Raju 

Sen. Patrick Leahy arrives for a roll call vote to confirm Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden's nominee to be secretary of State, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday.
Sen. Patrick Leahy arrives for a roll call vote to confirm Antony Blinken, President Joe Biden's nominee to be secretary of State, at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy was hospitalized out of an abundance of caution, according to a statement from his spokesperson David Carle. 

"This evening, Senator Leahy was in his Capitol office and was not feeling well. He was examined in the Capitol by the Attending Physician. Out of an abundance of caution, the Attending Physician recommended that he be taken to a local hospital for observation, where he is now, and where he is being evaluated," the statement said.

Leahy had just been named Tuesday to preside over the impeachment trial of former President Trump.  

6:20 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Democrats eye potential vote next week on budget resolution

From CNN's Lauren Fox and Ryan Nobles

Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Democrats are prepared to go straight to the floor as early as next week with a budget resolution, the first step in unlocking an arcane budget process known as reconciliation, which would allow for a pared-down package to pass with a simple majority, according to a source familiar.

While plans are still being worked out, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer did tell reporters earlier today that he had told members to be prepared for the possibility that they would have to vote on the resolution as soon as next week.

“The first step to pursuing Covid relief legislation through reconciliation would be to pass a budget resolution. And so, in keeping our options open, on our caucus call today, I informed senators to be prepared, that a vote on a budget resolution could come as early as next week,” Schumer said.

A reminder that a budget resolution is just the first step in a reconciliation process. Once the resolution passes, committees will still have to write Covid relief legislation. That will take weeks. This is just step one.

The source tells CNN that the current thinking is that the process to vote on the budget resolution would begin early to mid-next week. There would be hours of debate followed by what is known as a budget vote-a-rama later in the week. That is when lawmakers can introduce a series of wide-ranging and sometimes political amendments to force members of the opposite party to take tough votes. These vote-a-ramas can span hours and go through the night.

The budget resolution is expected to include instructions to multiple committees including HELP and Finance to write a Covid relief bill. The resolution could potentially include other committees as well including Banking and Small Business. The reason that this budget resolution would include instructions to so many committees is that unlike health care or tax reform that Republicans targeted with reconciliation, Biden’s Covid relief bill touches on many committees’ jurisdictions. In order to comply with the extensive reconciliation rules, the instructions have to go to the committees that have jurisdiction. 

According to the source, Democrats are expected to make a push to include the $15 minimum wage in any Covid bill they write. It is a top priority even if it remains one of the proposals of Biden’s plan that experts argue could be more difficult to pass through reconciliation in part because of the strict rules that govern what you can actually do under reconciliation.

Schumer today remained hopeful that Republicans would work with Democrats to pass the broad relief package, but made it clear he would not wait for them for very long and that the budget resolution process could start in the meantime.

“We have to see what they say in the next few days. Some of their comments have admittedly been disheartening, some have rejected things right now and we’re always hopeful some will see the light,” Schumer said, adding that even on budget reconciliation, “Republicans can join us and vote for it, that's happened many times in the past.”

5:32 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

House managers prepare impeachment case showing visceral evidence of insurrection

From CNN's Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju

President Donald Trump gestures to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6.
President Donald Trump gestures to supporters from The Ellipse near the White House on January 6. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

Facing highly skeptical Republican senators, House impeachment managers are preparing a case to show the visceral evidence of the Capitol insurrection and how former President Trump’s words and actions motivated the rioters to breach the Capitol, according to sources familiar with the deliberations.

The Senate’s 55 to 45 procedural vote Tuesday is not deterring the House from making what they see is a clear case against Trump for his role inciting the insurrectionists. There are still key questions for them to decide before next month’s trial: They haven’t made a final decision, for instance, on whether they will call witnesses or not. They’re preparing for the possibility they won’t have any witnesses – but they may decide to use them if they find a witness willing to voluntarily step forward, according to sources.

Even without witnesses, Democrats are preparing they’re preparing to use evidence from video and social media to help illustrate how Trump’s words, actions and tweets motivated the rioters to attack the Capitol, the sources say.

The House managers are also preparing to make the constitutional argument – they’re led by Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a former constitutional law professor – that the Senate can convict a former President, just as it’s held trials for other former officials in the past. It’s a case that’s taken on newfound importance in the wake of the Senate’s 55 to 45 vote Tuesday that Sen. Rand Paul forced as part of his argument that most of the Republicans think the trial is unconstitutional – and there simply aren’t 17 Republican votes needed for conviction.

But Senate Democrats say that the case the House managers make can still sway some Republicans, particularly if they can use witnesses who would help corroborate Trump’s mindset and actions leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riots.

"I think that the core of this case is Trump's incendiary and inciting words, the words out of his own mouth,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters. “But his intent to do harm, to cause injury and maybe even death may come from witnesses who were with him when he was watching the assault on the Capitol. So witnesses can corroborate and powerfully document what we know but they need to prove.”

One complicating factor for the House impeachment team is whether potential witnesses would be willing to be called – particularly those who were in the White House. The House impeachment managers want to avoid any kind of court fight over witnesses like the House had to deal with during the first impeachment of Trump.

Sen. Angus King, the Maine Independent who caucuses with Democrats, said Tuesday it was an open question whether executive privilege would still apply to former White House officials after Trump left office who could be called as potential witnesses. King argued that such testimony could shine light on the President's thinking during the time of the trial.

"It will be either witnesses or documents, and what was given in the way of intelligence,” King said.

The opening day of Trump’s second impeachment trial showed just how high the bar is for House Democrats to get anywhere close to the votes needed for conviction, with just five Republicans voting with Democrats to defeat Paul’s procedural motion.

While not every Republican who voted with Paul said the trial was unconstitutional outright, the 55 to 45 vote was as clear a sign as any that the path to the 67 votes needed to convict Trump and bar him from running again was all but impossible. Paul claimed after the vote it showed the trial was already over before it started.

Even one of the Republicans who voted with Democrats and is opened to convicting Trump said the writing was on the wall.

“Do the math. I think it’s extraordinarily unlikely that the President will be convicted,” said Sen. Susan Collin of Maine, one of the five Republicans to break with Paul.
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.