Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
January 26, 2021

For the second time in just over a year, the House on Monday sent an article of impeachment against disgraced former President Donald John Trump to the Senate for trial, with House impeachment managers  walking the article to the Senate at 7 pm last night.  As detailed yesterday, the trial will begin February 9th, and the Senate will convene at 2:30 p.m. today to issue a summons to Mr. Trump to answer for the charge. Senators are expected today to formally agree to a schedule for the coming weeks and swear an impeachment oath dating to the 18th century to do “impartial justice.”

Last night, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) backed down from his demand that any Senate power-sharing agreement include protections for the legislative filibuster, after Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) reaffirmed their opposition Monday to scrapping the procedural tool.  In the end, McConnell caved and agreed to a power-sharing arrangement that followed the model used during the last 50-to-50 Senate, in 2001 — which would give the party with the vice presidency and its tie-breaking powers control of the floor agenda without any additional provisions.  Biden’s first legislative priority is passing a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, and he is seeking Republican support to pass it without sidestepping the normal legislative process. Should Republicans balk, however, Democrats are preparing to employ special budgetary procedures known as reconciliation that can skirt the 60-vote requirement.  President Joe Biden suggested Monday he was prepared to give Republicans a “couple weeks” to reach a bipartisan deal on a coronavirus aid package before triggering the budget reconciliation process to skirt Republican opposition.  Other major Democratic agenda items, however, cannot be passed using reconciliation — including civil rights expansions, climate legislation, policing reforms and other issues that are not directly related to the federal budget.

The Senate confirmed Janet Yellen in an 84-15 vote to be Biden’s Treasury Secretary, making her the third of the new president’s nominations to be confirmed since he took office.  Yellen is the first woman to lead the department in its more than 230-year history.  Today, the Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as the new secretary of state with a final vote of 78 to 22.  Blinken was earlier approved overwhelmingly by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Blinken will face a number of national security challenges, including how to deal with China, Russia and Iran. Blinken has vowed to restore American leadership to the global stage. One of the first acts of the Biden administration was to start the process to rejoin the Paris climate accord.

President Biden on Tuesday signed executive orders on housing and ending the federal government’s use of private prisons as part of what the White House is calling his “racial equity agenda.”  Biden needs the support of Congress to push through police reform or new voting rights legislation and the executive orders serve as his down payment to immediately address systemic racism while he focuses on the pandemic.  The orders direct the Department of Housing and Urban Development to examine how previous administrations undermined fair housing policies and laws, another directs the attorney general not to renew Justice Department contracts with privately operated criminal detention facilities and one executive order calls for “re-establishing federal respect for tribal sovereignty” following years of tension between tribal governments and former President Trump.  Biden also ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to examine how Trump’s rhetoric about COVID-19 may have led to discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.  Biden has also disbanded Trump’s 1776 Commission, which was set up last year to promote “patriotic education” and to serve as an ideological counter to the New York Times Magazine’s 1619 Project, though a report issued by the 1776 Commission this month faced considerable criticism for its level of scholarly rigor and for appearing to draw heavily from one of its author’s previous work.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.