Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
January 25, 2021

Over the next three weeks, the Senate has three urgent items at hand.  The trial of disgraced former President Donald J. Trump now that the House has impeached him again, the COVID relief package, and approving President Joseph R. Biden Jr’s Cabinet.

Today at 3 pm the Senate is scheduled to convene where it will proceed to executive session to begin consideration of the nomination of Janet Yellen as Biden’s Treasury secretary.  Yellen on Friday sailed through with a unanimous approval vote in the Senate Finance Committee, indicating that she has enough votes to easily win confirmation. Republicans pledged to work with her despite expressing concerns about Biden’s massive spending and tax hike plans.  Senate Democrats, who now control the evenly split chamber’s schedule, have planned the vote for 5:30 p.m.

Senate leaders last week struck a deal to pause the impeachment trial until the week of February 8th to give the prosecution and the defense time to draft and exchange legal briefs, a timetable that also allows President Biden time to install members of his cabinet. At roughly 6:55 p.m., there will be the procession of the impeachment Article and House impeachment managers walking through Statuary Hall, and the Rotunda.  At about 7 pm, the House will deliver to the Senate an article of impeachment against former President Donald Trump, a move that will trigger preparations for a historic trial.  Then, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead impeachment manager, will read the article of impeachment on the Senate Floor.  The formal step comes just over a year after the House last transmitted an impeachment measure against Trump to the upper chamber. The latest rebuke alleges that the former president incited the deadly January 6th insurrection at the Capitol.  On Tuesday, senators who act as jurors in an impeachment trial, will be sworn in.  The trial itself will begin on February 9th, thus giving the nine House impeachment managers and Trump’s defense team two weeks to file briefs and finalize their legal preparations.

As the Senate begins work on the COVID relief bill, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing the White House for more details on the $1.9 trillion rescue plan, with some suggesting to administration officials on Sunday that President Biden needs to provide more information on how money would be spent, and consider dividing up his ambitious legislation into smaller proposals.  The bipartisan group of 16 senators held a call with Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, Jeff Zients, Biden’s coronavirus coordinator, and Louisa Terrell, head of White House legislative affairs on Sunday afternoon.  The 75-minute call, set up by Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), is one of the first big calls the Biden administration has held as it works to build cross-party support for the $1.9 trillion plan. Some lawmakers discussed trying to pass a smaller, more targeted aid package focused on vaccine funding before the beginning of former President Trump’s impeachment trial the week of February 8th.  The plan rolled out earlier this month would provide an additional $1,400 in direct payments per person, topping off the $600 checks approved in December. The plan also includes money for rental assistance and food stamps, to extend federal unemployment assistance through September and increase the weekly federal subsidy to $400 from $300.

All of this is playing out while negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell over the Senate organizing resolution are at a standstill.  McConnell is calling for the resolution to include protections for the legislative filibuster, which Democrats are rejecting. The deal would govern the number of senators from each party on committees, and likely would allow bills to get to the Senate floor even on evenly-split votes in committee.  But the hang-up is a request from McConnell for assurances that Democrats will not get rid of the legislative filibuster, the requirement that bills clear a 60-vote procedural hurdle before a final up-or-down vote, during this Congress.

Today, President Biden will sign an executive order ensuring that when the federal government spends taxpayer dollars they are spent on American made goods by American workers and with American-made component parts.  The order will require agencies to strengthen their rules that oversee the purchasing of goods and services from American workers and businesses. The order will also create a position in the office of management and budget to enforce the rule by attempting to limit the number of waivers government contractors get from the “Buy America” regulations.

Finally, President Biden on Monday morning signed an executive order repealing the ban on transgender people serving openly in the military, a ban that former President Trump had put in effect.

While the House is in for a brief proforma session today, it is out this week for a committee work week, and will next convene on Tuesday, February 2.