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Senate chaos threatens to slow Biden's agenda

President BidenJoe BidenTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot FireEye finds evidence Chinese hackers exploited Microsoft email app flaw since January Biden officials to travel to border amid influx of young migrants MORE is facing big headaches on getting his priorities off the ground on Capitol Hill. 

Biden pledged to unify the country after the tumultuous years of the Trump presidency, and Democrats are vowing to use their first unified government in more than a decade to enact a “bold" agenda.

But they are facing significant hurdles to getting anything done fast. There’s a looming second impeachment trial for former President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE and, in the meantime, a chaotic Senate that is stuck in limbo amid a standoff on a power-sharing agreement with Republicans. 

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“Things are on hold. I’ve got a lot of things I want to do,” Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinWhat's worse, violence on the left or the right? It's a dangerous question Garland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks National Sheriffs' Association backs Biden pick for key DOJ role MORE (D-Ill.) said of the impact of not having a power-sharing deal on Biden’s agenda. 

Biden’s problems are twofold: His Cabinet nominees appear poised to move at a sluggish pace and two of his legislative priorities — coronavirus relief and immigration reform — are already being panned by top Republicans. 

In a potential sign of the hurdles to come, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Klain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' How to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster MORE (R-Ky.) sent a warning shot during one of his first floor speeches back in the minority. Republicans, he warned, were willing to work with Biden but also wouldn’t be shy about blocking bills they don’t support. Because of the 60-vote legislative filibuster, Democrats will need at least 10 GOP senators to pass most things. 

“If and when our Democratic friends depart from common sense, when they retreat from common ground, when their proposals would harm the common good — then we’ll use the power the American people have given us to push for what is right,” McConnell said. 

It’s a stark reminder of the partisan divisions awaiting Biden, a decades-long deal cutter who came up through the party’s centrist lane and is pledging to unify an increasingly frayed country. 

Hanging over any scheduling in the Capitol is the timing of Trump’s second trial, with senators waiting to see when House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Top Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks MORE (D-Calif.) will send over the article of impeachment. 

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The Speaker and the House impeachment managers are keeping a tight lid on their plans. But McConnell told Republicans during a conference call that he wants to delay the trial until February, something he needs Democratic buy-in for. 

Doing so could give Democrats time to get more of Biden’s nominations confirmed, and Sen. Chris CoonsChris Andrew CoonsBipartisan group of senators introduces bill to rein in Biden's war powers Democrats worry Senate will be graveyard for Biden agenda Khashoggi fiancée: Not punishing Saudi crown prince would be 'stain on our humanity' MORE (D-Del.), a top Biden ally, said on CNN Thursday that he’d be willing to see the trial delayed to get more nominations done.

Once an impeachment trial starts, it’s expected to sideline anything else in the Senate. 

Democrats and Biden have floated the idea that the Senate could vote on nominations and legislation in the morning and then conduct Trump’s historic second trial in the afternoon. 

But Republicans have shot that down, saying Democrats must choose between trying to get more of Biden’s nominations confirmed or holding an impeachment trial. 

“They have a decision to make. We can’t make that for them,” said Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsIndigenous groups post billboards urging senators to confirm Deb Haaland Powell pushes back on GOP inflation fears Overnight Health Care: US surpasses half a million COVID deaths | House panel advances Biden's .9T COVID-19 aid bill | Johnson & Johnson ready to provide doses for 20M Americans by end of March MORE (R-S.D.). 

Biden could only get two nominations confirmed this week: Avril Haines as director of national intelligence and former Gen. Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Biden called off second military target in Syria minutes before strike: report Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE, who the Senate is expected to confirm on Friday, as defense secretary.

Democrats are hoping to also confirm Janet YellenJanet Louise YellenDebt to break WWII record by 2031 Inflation debate heats up over Biden relief bill Biden cautious in making Trump tax returns decision MORE to lead the Treasury Department and Secretary of State nominee Tony Blinken this week, though Sen. John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneRon Johnson grinds Senate to halt, irritating many Rick Scott caught in middle of opposing GOP factions Democrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill MORE (R-S.D.) warned that they could be delayed until next week.

A whole swath of other nominations including Merrick GarlandMerrick Brian GarlandPolitics in the Department of Justice can be a good thing What's worse, violence on the left or the right? It's a dangerous question The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Lawmakers face Capitol threat as senators line up votes for relief bill MORE, Biden’s pick for attorney general, Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraOvernight Health Care: Biden slams Texas, Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions: 'Neanderthal thinking' | Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra |Over 200K sign up for ACA plans during Biden special enrollment period Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra GOP targets Manchin, Sinema, Kelly on Becerra MORE and Neera TandenNeera TandenOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels White House says Shalanda Young could serve as acting OMB director Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal MORE, Biden’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, are in limbo. It’s unclear if they could be confirmed before the start of a Senate trial even if Democrats agree to delay sending over the article of impeachment. 

Moving nominations is complicated by the fact that McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerRon Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (D-N.Y.) haven’t yet reached an agreement on how to share power in the 50-50 Senate. It’s set up an unusual dynamic in which Democrats have the majority but Republicans still control many of the Senate committees. 

Another complication emerged when McConnell asked that the organizing deal include language protecting the 60-vote legislative filibuster, which progressives and a growing number of Democratic senators support nixing. 

Supporters warn that the filibuster stands in the way of passing many of Biden and Democrats priorities and that McConnell is making a request that he would never agree to if Republicans were still in the majority. 

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Though Biden is hoping to be able to garner broad bipartisan support for his agenda, he’s facing early headwinds on legislative priorities that Republicans could use the filibuster to slow down. 

Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntTop Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Five takeaways from dramatic Capitol security hearing Biden convenes bipartisan meeting on cancer research MORE (R-Mo.), a member of GOP leadership, called his $1.9 billion coronavirus proposal a “non-starter.” 

“I suspect the whole package is a non-starter, but it’s got plenty of starters in it,” Blunt said. “There’s some things in there that aren’t going to happen, there’s some things that can happen.” 

Senate Democratic leadership have stopped short of putting a timeline for when they would try to pivot to reconciliation, a budget tactic that allows some legislation to bypass the higher vote threshold.

But House Democrats say they are ready to pull the trigger on using reconciliation on coronavirus as soon as they get the signal from leadership. 

“I think the objective of both House Democrats and the administration is to get this done as quickly as possible, whatever we need to do,” Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthProgressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks Progressives grumble but won't sink relief bill over fewer stimulus checks House Democrats pass sweeping .9T COVID-19 relief bill with minimum wage hike MORE (D-Ky.) told reporters. “We haven’t made a decision yet to use reconciliation but we are, we are prepared to move very quickly if it looks like we can’t do it any other way.”