Trump trial is new obstacle to bipartisan COVID-19 deal

Trump trial is new obstacle to bipartisan COVID-19 deal
© Greg Nash

Republican senators say former President TrumpDonald TrumpJudge rules Alaska governor unlawfully fired lawyer who criticized Trump Giuliani led fake electors plot: CNN Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE’s second impeachment trial is going to divide the parties and make it tougher to reach a bipartisan deal on COVID-19 relief legislation.

Striking a deal on a coronavirus bill was never going to be easy, but the impeachment proceedings are not increasing the chances of a bipartisan agreement. Republicans claim that Democratic leaders in Congress want to ram a partisan COVID-19 measure through the House and Senate in the coming weeks. 

Senate Majority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerDemocrats call on Biden administration to ease entry to US for at-risk Afghans Predictions of disaster for Democrats aren't guarantees of midterm failure Voting rights and Senate wrongs MORE (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday said that Democrats will work on a relief package during the trial, though that leaves little room for negotiations with GOP lawmakers.

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Republicans warn that Congress’s energy and attention will be consumed by the debate over Trump’s actions leading up to the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol and undercut the atmosphere of bipartisan cooperation that President BidenJoe BidenNew York woman arrested after allegedly spitting on Jewish children Former Sen. Donnelly confirmed as Vatican ambassador Giuliani associate sentenced to a year in prison in campaign finance case MORE has promised to cultivate in Washington.

“It’s not good, it makes it more likely we’re going to go into our partisan corners,” said a Republican senator who met with Biden at the White House last week to discuss a bipartisan deal on COVID-19 relief.

“COVID negotiations are a problem because they aren’t listening to us. They don’t even want to talk to us,” the GOP lawmaker added.

The GOP senator predicted that no Senate Republican will vote for a package as large as $1.9 trillion that also includes a substantial minimum wage increase.

“I think it’s too bad,” Sen. Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoLobbying world Republicans threaten floor takeover if Democrats weaken filibuster  Like it or not, all roads forward for Democrats go through Joe Manchin MORE (R-W.Va.), who was in the meeting with Biden at the White House last week, said of the trial’s impact on relief discussions.

“If I were the president, I would be concerned about that,” she added. “It stops the momentum of what he’s moved forward on.”

Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsLawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine The Memo: Is Trump the GOP's future or in rearview mirror? Some in GOP begin testing party's lockstep loyalty to Trump MORE (R-S.D.), who called into the White House meeting, said, “It really delays the onset of him being able to establish his full Cabinet and it really refocuses things away from what I think the president wanted to focus on, which is COVID relief.”

“I don’t think it helps his process at all and now for the next week we’re going to be focused on this and it takes away our ability to work on anything else,” he added.

Trump’s lawyer, David Schoen, promised on Tuesday a bruising fight in the days ahead, accusing Democrats of “abusing the impeachment power for political gain.”

“They don’t want unity. And they know the so-called trial will tear the country in half, leaving tens of millions of Americans feeling left out of the nation’s agenda as dictated by one political party that now holds the power in the White House in our national legislature,” Schoen said on the Senate floor.

Biden, meanwhile, is keeping his distance from the trial.

White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden to meet with national security team this weekend on Russia-Ukraine The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems look to repackage BBB into salvageable bill Kaleigh Rogers discusses new voting restrictions MORE said Monday that the president “will not spend too much time” watching it and leave the “pace, process and mechanics” to Congress. She repeatedly pointed out that Biden no longer serves in the Senate.

A second Republican senator said the trial “certainly doesn’t help” COVID-19 relief talks and also pointed to the decision to use special budget rules to pass it by a party-line vote, if needed.

“The Democrats are slamming it through and trying to go with reconciliation without doing bipartisan outreach,” the lawmaker said.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynSenate panel advances bill blocking tech giants from favoring own products Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Lawmakers press Biden admin to send more military aid to Ukraine MORE (R-Texas), an adviser to Senate GOP leadership, said an impeachment trial “is not a good start” to improving bipartisanship in the Senate and “neither is budget reconciliation by a party-line vote.”

Cornyn said the trial is “a political, partisan process — you can’t put lipstick on this to make it look any different,” summing up the views of many GOP senators.

A sign of growing Republican resentment over trying Trump weeks after he left office came early Tuesday afternoon when 11 GOP senators voted against the bipartisan resolution setting the rules for the trial. Forty-four GOP senators subsequently voted to declare the entire process unconstitutional.

Schumer said Tuesday that Congress has no choice but to work on COVID-19 relief and impeachment simultaneously.

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“The Senate has a solemn responsibility to try and hold Donald Trump accountable for the most serious charges ever, ever levied against a president. Those who say ‘Let’s move on, that brings unity’ are false,” he said.

“When you have such a serious charge, sweeping it under the rug will not bring unity. It will keep the sore open, the wounds open. You need truth and accountability,” Schumer stated.

The Democratic leader insisted the Senate will be able to multitask in the weeks ahead, even though he acknowledged he doesn’t know how long the trial will last.

“It was said a few weeks ago, in all the punditry and everywhere else, that the impeachment trial would throw a wrench into President Biden’s early agenda. We are here today to say, we are not letting that happen. We can do both at once,” he added.

Democratic committee chairs are moving ahead with drafting their sections of the coronavirus relief bill.

“There is a schedule,” said Senate Small Business Committee Chairman Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinDemocrats hope to salvage Biden's agenda on Manchin's terms  Senators introduce bill aimed at protecting Ukrainian civilians Biden to huddle with Senate Democrats as voting bill on brink of defeat MORE (D-Md.), who is working with his House counterparts, adding, “We’re not finding too many disagreements.”

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Providing additional relief to small businesses is among the issues in the relief package with broad bipartisan consensus. But there is sharp disagreement over providing $1,400 in direct payments to individuals, including children, raising the minimum wage and the overall size of the package.

The House Ways and Means Committee released draft legislation Monday that would phase out the $1,400 direct payments for individuals earning between $75,000 and $100,000.

The proposal largely ignores a counterproposal by 10 Senate Republicans who met with Biden last week to limit direct payments to $1,000 per person and phase out for people who earn between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.

The House Education and Labor Committee at the same time released legislation to scale up the federal minimum wage to $15 in 2025, something that Republican moderates such as Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden clarifies his remarks on Russia Effort to overhaul archaic election law wins new momentum Bipartisan lawmakers announce climate adaptation bill MORE (Maine) have said should be kept out of a relief package.

A Democratic aide on Tuesday acknowledged that Democrats want to speed through the trial as quickly as possible, hoping to avoid a drawn-out battle over witnesses, which could prolong it into next week or beyond.

“No one relishes this or enjoys the fact that we’re doing a trial, and I don’t know if politically it’s a good thing for us,” said the aide. “But I definitely think the president did crazy shit. ... I don’t know what incitement is if it’s not that.”

The aide acknowledged, “We’re rushing through it because we’re in a pandemic and we need to do stuff.”