The article of impeachment against former US president Donald Trump is to be sent to the Senate on Monday, paving the way for a trial that threatens to overshadow the first weeks of Joe Biden’s presidency.
Mr Biden, who was inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States on Wednesday, has issued a range of executive orders and directives this week, signalling his desire to break with the policy objectives of the Trump administration. But many of his legislative priorities, including a $1.9 trillion (€1.56 trillion) Covid-19 relief package and an immigration reform Bill, will need congressional support, and the impeachment trial is likely to stretch into February.
Speaking at Friday’s White House press briefing, press secretary Jen Psaki declined to say whether House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi had consulted Mr Biden before she announced the decision to trigger the next step in the impeachment process.
But Ms Psaki insisted that Mr Biden’s agenda would not be constrained, asserting that both Democrats and Republicans could “walk and chew gum at the same time”. She said work would continue on other matters once the trial began, and stressed that negotiations on Mr Biden’s coronavirus relief package could not wait.
“If there’s a Senate trial, the House can move forward,” she said.
Asked if the president believed that Mr Trump should be convicted, she said that was a matter for the Senate. Mr Biden is “no longer in the Senate and he believes it’s up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former president accountable”, she said.
The move by Ms Pelosi to send the impeachment article to the Senate, in consultation with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, is a rebuff to top Republican Mitch McConnell, who proposed delaying the trial until mid-February. The Senate leadership is expected to work out the rules of the trial and its precise timing this weekend.
Despite Mr McConnell’s break with Mr Trump in the final weeks of his presidency, he told his fellow Republican senators on Thursday that he believed the president had a right to due process and raised concerns about the speed of the process. His stance is likely to be shared by many Republicans, even those who did not support Mr Trump’s bid to overturn the November election result.
Mr Biden unveiled a new package of financial measures on Friday to combat the economic effect of the pandemic, including an expansion of the food stamp programme and an order to increase the federal minimum wage.
Speaking at the White House, the new president pledged to “grow the economy for all Americans”, noting rising eviction, child poverty and unemployment levels.
“These are not the values of our nation. We cannot – will not – let people go hungry, we cannot let people be evicted because of nothing they did themselves. We cannot watch people lose their jobs . .. We have to act, and we have to act now.”
Pointing to the current climate of low interest rates, he also made the case for his coronavirus investment package, which he said had been welcomed by mayors across the country and by Wall Street, as well as by former Trump administration officials such as economic adviser Kevin Hassett.
Also on Friday, Lloyd Austin became the second member of Mr Biden’s cabinet to be approved, after the Senate confirmed his nomination as defence secretary. Mr Austin, a former general, will become the first African-American in history to lead the Pentagon.
National security adviser Jake Sullivan held his first calls with foreign powers on Thursday, speaking to the British, French and German foreign ministers as well as the foreign minister of Japan.
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