After a perfect winter Wednesday that saw Joseph R. Biden, Jr. sworn in as the 46th President, three new Senate Democrats sworn in, and Chuck Schumer ascend to Senate Majority Leader, official Washington now gets down to the business of repairing the damage of the last four years.
As discussed yesterday, President Biden signed 17 executive actions hours after his inauguration that moved swiftly to dismantle Trump administration policies that have caused the “greatest damage” to the nation. President Biden will sign a number of other executive orders today aimed at COVID-19 relief. One of the orders today will direct agencies to use the Defense Production Act to address critical shortfalls in 12 categories of items needed for testing, treating and vaccinating people for COVID-19: vaccines, N95 masks, gowns, gloves, test supplies and kits, lab analysis machines, therapeutic drugs and other supplies, and will work to spur production of the items in America.
The now Democratic controlled United States Senate faces three tracks of work it will begin to process: Confirming President Biden’s Cabinet nominations, holding an impeachment trial for disgraced former president Donald Trump and approving the COVID-19 stimulus legislation. There’s also a looming fight over the legislative filibuster. The Senate is waiting for the House to send over the single article of impeachment, and Senate rules in the past have dictated that the impeachment trial begins at 1 p.m. the day after the impeachment article is formally transmitted from the House to the Senate, with Sunday being an exception. There are still many outstanding questions about witnesses, Trump’s defense team (if any), who will preside over the trial, and the ongoing legal debate of whether a former president can be impeached. Democrats need to get 17 Republican senators to join them in convicting Trump, and then they only need a simple majority to bar him from ever seeking federal office again. As Senate leadership takes up the COVID-19 legislation, Democrats have privately raised the idea of implementing budget reconciliation, which would allow them to bypass a Senate filibuster and push their package through both chambers, largely without GOP support. Another option is a bipartisan bill that would quickly provide cash for vaccine distribution and $1,400 direct stimulus checks, all of which would cost far less than Biden’s proposal, however, some still hope both sides can come together to pass another big, bipartisan bill through both chambers. For today, the Senate Commerce Committee is holding a hearing for Pete Buttigieg to be Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation.
Today, in her first news conference since President Biden was sworn in, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addressed the changes to the House schedule next week, with the House in committee meetings and not returning for votes until the week of February 1st saying that the House will be “completely ready to go” to pass Biden’s COVID-19 package when the members do return. Today, the House will consider the “legal exception necessary” for Loyd Austin to be appointed as Biden’s Defense secretary. On a caucus call today House Democrats say they have the votes to grant the waiver for Lloyd Austin to serve as defense secretary and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer also told his colleagues to plan for floor votes on President Biden’s plan to bolster COVID-19 vaccinations during the week of February 1st.