Adam S. Olsen- Washington, D.C.
February 8, 2021

The Senate will continue work this week on three major items: the impeachment trial of disgraced former President Donald J. Trump, moving forward President Joseph R. Biden’s nominees and continuing the work of assembling COVID relief legislation.

Top Senate leaders finalized a bipartisan agreement for an exceedingly swift impeachment proceeding that would begin on Tuesday.  The process will begin with a four-hour debate on a question that has loomed over the proceedings and figured prominently in the former president’s defense — whether a former president can be tried by the Senate for high crimes and misdemeanors.  In a 78-page brief submitted to the Senate, the president’s latest legal team took a two-track approach. They asserted that Mr. Trump’s speech just before the attack “did not direct anyone to commit unlawful actions,” and that he deserved absolutely no blame for the conduct of a “small group of criminals” who rioted at the Capitol after he had urged them to “fight like hell” against his election loss. They also insisted that the Senate “lacks jurisdiction” to try him at all because he was now a private citizen, calling such an effort “patently ridiculous.”  Under the deal agreed on, the trial could wrap up in roughly a week if no witnesses are called.

As work continues on the relief bill, Democrats took a series of votes last week unlocking the process of reconciliation, which will allow the party to approve President Biden’s relief plan without Republican support in the Senate. In the House, lawmakers are aiming to finalize and vote on a relief bill before the end of February as some forms of federal unemployment programs are set to expire in mid-March.  Chief among the decisions Democrats face is determining who will be eligible for the $1,400 direct payments that Mr. Biden’s plan calls for. Previous relief bills have sent payments to individuals earning as much as $75,000 a year and couples earning $150,000 a year before tapering off to zero at higher income levels.  Some Democrats have proposed that the full payments be available to individuals earning as much as $50,000 a year and couples earning $100,000 a year before scaling down. Mr. Biden has said he is open to more narrowly targeting the checks.

As House committees assemble the text for the COVID relief bill, Democrats on Monday will unveil legislation to provide $3,000 per child to tens of millions of American families, aiming to make a major dent in child poverty as part of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion economic relief package.  The 22-page bill to dramatically expand direct cash benefits to American families directs the Internal Revenue Service to provide $3,600 over the course of the year per child under the age of 6, as well as $3,000 per child ages 6 to 17. The size of the benefit would diminish for Americans earning more than $75,000 per year, as well as for couples jointly earning more than $150,000 per year. The payments would be sent monthly beginning in July, a delay intended to give the IRS time to prepare for the massive new initiative.  The bill, spearheaded by Rep. Richard E. Neal (D-Massachusetts), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, emerges as congressional Democrats accelerate their plans to enact Biden’s stimulus plan within weeks.  The IRS would begin sending out payments July 1st  in a similar fashion to how it sent out the stimulus payments, directly depositing the payments in taxpayers’ bank accounts. Crucially, the benefits would not be deducted off taxpayers’ existing tax liability, meaning American parents would still receive $250 per month per child — or $300 per month per young children — even if they have any existing tax obligation with the IRS.  It also comes days after Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) surprised policymakers with a proposal to send even more in direct cash per child to American families, lending bipartisan support to the major push for child benefits.

For today, the Senate will meet at 3:00 p.m. and proceed to consider the nomination of Denis McDonough to head Veterans Affairs.

The House will meet at 2 p.m. in a pro forma session.  The House is out for a committee work week, and is drafting legislation in line with President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief proposal.  The House will be back in session on Monday, February 22nd.

Also of note, Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) announced he will retire in 2022.  Shelby is so far the fourth Senate Republican to announce he will not run in 2022, joining Senators Rob Portman of Ohio, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania.

Adam S. Olsen, Washington, D.C.