This week: Senate stuck in limbo
The Senate is stuck in limbo heading into the second week of the Biden administration as leadership remains at a standoff over its power-sharing agreement.
Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have yet to reach a deal on how to organize the Senate, which is evenly split 50-50.
Without an agreement, Democrats are technically in the majority, because Vice President Harris can break a tie, but Republicans are still in control of many of the committees because they are still operating under the previous Congress’s set up.
The organizing resolution, normally passed with little fanfare, has emerged as an early flashpoint as Schumer and McConnell try to set the tone for at least the next two years. Democrats are back in the majority for the first time since 2014.
The talks hit a speed bump after McConnell pushed for an agreement securing the future of the 60-vote legislative filibuster to be included in the deal.
“I believe the time is ripe to address this issue head on before the passions of one particular issue or another arise,” McConnell wrote in a letter to his caucus last week.
Democrats don’t currently have the votes within the caucus to nix the filibuster, despite growing calls from outside groups, progressive activists and even growing support within the caucus. Because it would take 50 votes, the support of every member of the caucus would be needed.
But Democrats are fuming over McConnell’s gambit, believing the GOP leader is still trying to control the chamber from the minority and would never agree to such a demand if the situation was reversed
“Mitch McConnell will not dictate to the Senate what we should do and how we should proceed. McConnell is no longer the majority leader and in every senate in the past they have come to an agreement on an organizing resolution,” Schumer said during a press conference in New York.
The Senate will start inching toward a second impeachment trial of former President Trump this week.
Under a pretrial schedule agreed to by Schumer and McConnell, the article of impeachment will be delivered to the Senate early Monday evening. The House voted nearly two weeks ago to impeach Trump for “willfully inciting violence against the Government of the United States.”
On Tuesday, senators will be sworn in as jurors and a summons will be issued to Trump.
The pretrial period is expected to last for roughly two weeks, during which time Schumer is hoping to confirm additional Biden nominees and work on coronavirus relief legislation.
Lawmakers have offered few details on how long a trial could last or if they’ll try to call additional witnesses or documents. Trump’s first trial, in 2020, lasted 21 days, with senators expecting the second trial to be shorter.
Schumer, speaking in New York on Sunday, predicted that the trial wouldn’t last too long.
“And as I said, I believe it will be a fair trial but it will move relatively quickly and not take up too much time because we have so much else to do, but at the same time it will be fair,” he said.
Biden is facing GOP opposition to his $1.9 trillion coronavirus package that is threatening his ability to enact any new relief measures quickly.
A bipartisan group of senators spoke over the weekend with White House officials, as the administration works to win over the hill.
But GOP senators, including members of the bipartisan group, are skeptical of the overall size of the package after Congress passed an additional $900 billion in coronavirus relief late last year.
Pieces of Biden’s proposal, such as more money for vaccine distribution, could garner bipartisan support but the package overall is a “non-starter,” according to Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the No. 4 Senate Republican.
If Democrats aren’t willing to scale down their package, they’ll need to make a decision about how to pass it with only Democratic support.
In the Senate that likely means using reconciliation, a budget tool that allows some legislation to bypass the 60-vote legislative filibuster. Though they aren’t yet willing to pull the trigger on that, they have acknowledged that it might be necessary.
“The American people are hurting, and they want us to act,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the incoming Budget Committee chairman, told CNN. “We have got to restore the faith of the American people in government that we can respond to their pain.”
After confirming two of Biden’s Cabinet picks during his first week, Biden is poised to get at least two more this week.
Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen and Tony Blinken, Biden’s pick to lead the State Department, are both expected to be confirmed by the Senate this week after Democrats were unable to get them confirmed during the first few days of the new administration.
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will vote on Alejandro Mayorkas’s nomination to be Department of Homeland Security secretary Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing Tuesday for Gina Marie Raimondo’s nomination to be secretary of Commerce. On Wednesday, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold its hearing for Jennifer Granholm’s nomination to be secretary of Energy and the Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing for Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s U.N. ambassador nomination.
On Thursday, the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on the nominations of Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) to lead the Department of Housing and Urban Development and Cecilia Rouse to chair the Council of Economic Advisers.