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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 TrumpVeteran accused in alleged border wall scheme faces new charges Arizona Republicans to brush off DOJ concern about election audit FEC drops investigation into Trump hush money payments 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 SchumerHow to fast-track climate action? EPA cutting super pollutant HFCs On The Money: How demand is outstripping supply and hampering recovery | Montana pulls back jobless benefits | Yellen says higher rates may be necessary Senate Democrats announce B clean bus plan 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 BidenAtlanta mayor won't run for reelection South Carolina governor to end pandemic unemployment benefits in June Airplane pollution set to soar with post-pandemic travel boom 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 CapitoBiden pitches infrastructure plan in red state Louisiana House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Biden says he's open to compromise on corporate tax rate 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.”

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Sen. Mike RoundsMike RoundsSenate GOP keeps symbolic earmark ban Senate confirms SEC chief Gensler to full five-year term Congress looks to rein in Biden's war powers 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 PsakiBriahna Joy Gray: Biden campaign promises will struggle if Republicans win back Congress The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by ExxonMobil - Trump moves to his own blog as Facebook ban remains in place Biden on Cheney drama: 'I don't understand the Republicans' 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 CornynTim Scott sparks buzz in crowded field of White House hopefuls Cornyn is most prolific tweeter in Congress so far in 2021 Schumer 'exploring' passing immigration unilaterally if talks unravel 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.

“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 CardinHouse panel advances bipartisan retirement savings bill Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill Senate Democrats push Biden over raising refugee cap 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 CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' 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.”