With an assist from Burgess
SO AM I, STILL WAITING — Five days before the likely start of President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, the Senate is in an awkward holding pattern: Speaker Nancy Pelosi hasn’t yet transmitted the impeachment article to the other side of the Capitol; control of the chamber will flip to the Democrats shortly after the trial’s expected start date, creating a procedural morass; and senators have no idea when the upper echelon of President-elect Joe Biden’s Cabinet will be staffed as the country deals with a worsening pandemic, poor distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine and heightened warnings about domestic terrorism.
Under the expected timeline, the trial will start at 1 p.m. on Jan. 20, just an hour after Biden is inaugurated. Democrats, as they prepare to step into the Senate majority, are working feverishly to establish a process whereby the chamber can run along two parallel tracks to kick off Biden’s presidency — one to work on Biden’s Cabinet nominees and his coronavirus relief proposal, and another to put the (soon-to-be) former president on trial.
That’s shaping up to be a difficult task, as it would require the consent of all 100 senators. Biden has tacitly acknowledged these headwinds, urging Senate leaders to figure out a way to hit the ground running on pushing through his agenda and staffing his government. In effect, Biden and his party are stuck between two competing priorities, unsure how to move forward procedurally.
“I’m all for accountability. But I want to make sure that we prioritize our business in a way that gets the Cabinet set and Covid relief legislation moving fast,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told me. Democrats’ only hope is that Republicans, too, want to move quickly. Let’s just be frank about it: nobody wants to elongate this trial. Republicans are sick of having to deal with anything related to Trump, and Democrats want to get to work on Biden’s nominees and his coronavirus relief plan. Still, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat, said that as of Thursday mid-day, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer hadn’t yet spoken about trial procedures.
Here’s how Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) put it: “To choose between holding accountable those who are responsible for attacking our democracy in the U.S. Capitol on the one hand and getting the work done for the people around Covid relief? That is a false choice. We need to do all of those things.”
Burgess and I (your fill-in Huddle host for today) have the latest on Senate dynamics heading into the trial: http://politi.co/3nGy03r
HEADS UP — Pelosi has her weekly press conference at 11:30 this morning, so we should learn a lot more about timing in a few hours.
SOMETHING TO PONDER … will Democrats call for witnesses in this trial like they did for the last one? The House didn’t undertake any sort of investigation before impeaching Trump this week, so the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment report is much less detailed than it would otherwise be. And according to CNN’s Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, the House impeachment managers are weighing whether to seek testimony from witnesses like Brad Raffensberger, the Georgia secretary of state whom Trump pressured to “find” votes for him. But will Senate Democrats — who are clearly very eager to hit the ground running on Cabinet nominees and Covid-19 relief — support this?
WATCHING THE WHIP COUNT — It’ll be an uphill climb for those who want to see Trump convicted. Of course, 17 Republicans would need to join all 50 Democrats in order to reach the two-thirds threshold. But there should be one guiding principle here: Trump’s fate in this trial rests with McConnell. Without McConnell favoring a conviction, it’s hard to see more than a handful of GOP senators voting with Democrats. One likely member of that group is starting to show her cards.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Thursday praised the House for impeaching Trump and lashed the president for his conduct — but in classic Murkowski fashion, she won’t reveal how she’ll vote on conviction until the very end. Still, she’s dropping lots of hints. Last week, she said Trump should resign and she threatened to leave the GOP altogether. And yesterday, she noted that the House’s impeachment vote was the most bipartisan presidential impeachment vote in history. She slammed Trump for “unlawful actions” and said the House acted “appropriately” in impeaching him. More from your fill-in Huddle host: http://politi.co/39woE56
FITTY-FITTY — We’re hearing that the Senate is likely to follow the precedent from 2001’s tied Senate on at least one thing: committee splits. Each panel is expected to have an even split of senators from each party, although the Democrats are likely to have more funding. And if past is prologue, tie votes in committee won’t bottle up legislation or nominees, so they’ll still go to the Senate floor.
LIZ GETS BACKUP — House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is standing by GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney amid calls from conservatives for Cheney to relinquish her leadership position over her vote to impeach Trump. Cheney has defended her choice on impeachment as “a vote of conscience,” pushing back defiantly against the effort by House Freedom Caucus members to oust her. Cheney, you’ll recall, said Trump committed the greatest betrayal of any president to his oath of office. Matthew Choi and Melanie have more: http://politi.co/3ie9ntG
Related read: “Lawmakers who conspired with Capitol attackers in legal peril,” by POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein http://politi.co/3nLHfzk
HAPPY FRIDAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill. Andrew Desiderio here filling in for Olivia on this Jan. 15, where we’re in need of some puppy photos to close out this week: https://bit.ly/3oPbTJw
THURSDAY’S MOST CLICKED: POLITICO’s story on the unprecedented second impeachment of Trump was a big winner.
A WORTHY HONOR — A bipartisan push is underway to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Eugene Goodman, the Capitol Police officer who lured pro-Trump rioters away from the Senate chamber last week after they broke into the Capitol. Goodman’s heroic actions, caught on camera by HuffPost’s Igor Bobic, likely saved countless lives. And this week, Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), Charlie Crist (D-Fla.), and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) introduced a bill to give Goodman that prestigious and well-deserved honor. More from Adia Robinson of ABC News: http://abcn.ws/3suaASg
COVID CUTS — Our budget guru Caitlin snagged a copy of the Trump White House’s proposed spending cuts on its way out of office — among them, billions of dollars intended for a global health and vaccine distribution program involved in the fight against Covid-19. While Congress certainly will not act on this request, it’s another example of the outgoing president pulling back U.S. resources from global health programs. Other proposed cuts include $13 million for the National Institutes of Health, $2 billion for AIDS relief, and several billion for various scientific research programs. Caitlin, Daniel Lippman and Meridith McGraw have more on the rescissions push: http://politi.co/2LqxgCw
NRSC DRAMA — When Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) voted with the GOP senators objecting to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes last week, the new NRSC chairman put some Republicans on edge and faced swift backlash from Democrats, James Arkin reports. Privately, Republicans are fretting that Scott’s vote could harm the GOP’s bid to take back control of the Senate in 2022, after several donors and business leaders have started to pull back their financial support for the party following the insurrection at the Capitol.
As James notes, Scott “is a well-connected and established fundraiser for the party, a major benefit to Republicans next cycle after the committee raised nearly $300 million for 2020.” But Scott already seems to be in damage-control mode. Separately, some Republicans worry that Scott’s potential 2024 presidential ambitions could complicate efforts to re-take the Senate majority. http://politi.co/3idF0Uh
Related read: “Diminished Trump leaves a vacuum for 2024 hopefuls,” via POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt: http://politi.co/2LPMK2L
FORT CAPITOL — We’ve all been gripped by the images this week of National Guard troops quartered in the Capitol, forced to sleep on the cold marble floors amid a surge of military activity around the Capitol complex ahead of the inauguration next week. On Thursday, House Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee, asked the army to provide cots for these servicemembers. Separately, Reps. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.) are leading a push to the House Administration Committee to provide free meals as well as give the troops access to the House’s shower and locker room facilities. More from Caitlin: http://politi.co/3nNqfZi
MEA CULPA — Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is apologizing to African-Americans in Tulsa for his initial public posture raising questions about the Electoral College votes from some states. Lankford, who has deep ties to the Black community in Oklahoma, was facing public backlash, and he wrote in a letter on Thursday that he “was completely blindsided” by it. “What I did not realize was all of the national conversation about states like Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, was seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities like Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Detroit,” Lankford wrote, adding: “I should have recognized how what I said and what I did could be interpreted by many of you. I deeply regret my blindness to that perception, and for that I am sorry.” Read more from Randy Krehbiel of Tulsa World: http://bit.ly/2LQ2hPV
Baillee Brown is now LD for Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.). She was previously senior LA for Peters.
Alexandra Whittaker replaces Katherine Tai as chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee’s Trade Subcommittee on the Democratic side. Tai was nominated to serve as USTR for Biden.
Melissa Kiedrowicz joins the Ways and Means Committee as director of outreach and member services. She previously served in Rep. Linda Sanchez’s (D-Calif.) office.
Megan Savage is now senior director of government and community affairs at The Heritage Group. She previously served as chief of staff to Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.), who retired this year.
The House holds a pro forma session at 11:00 a.m. Speaker Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly press conference at 11:30 a.m.
The Senate holds a pro forma session at 10:00 a.m.
THURSDAY’S WINNER: Aaron Troodler was the first person to guess that the first two brothers serving simultaneously in the House of Representatives were Frederick Muhlenberg and John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, both of Pennsylvania.
TODAY’S QUESTION: From Aaron — Who was the first father-son duo to chair the same House committee?
The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your answer to [email protected].
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