President-elect Joe Biden unveiled plans Thursday for fighting COVID and injecting $1.9 trillion into the U.S. economy, but already his first-100-days agenda is overshadowed by the looming Senate trial of his soon-to-be predecessor Donald Trump.
Biden promised “a new chapter” for the nation on the day after Trump became the first U.S. president to ever be impeached twice, as the incoming Democrat sought to seize the narrative in a prime-time address and get Americans looking forward again.
“We will come back,” he said in a speech from his hometown of Wilmington.
“We didn’t get into all this overnight. We won’t get out of it overnight. And we can’t do it as a separated and divided nation,” he said.
“The only way we can do it is to come together, to come together as fellow Americans.”
With his Democrats narrowly controlling both houses of Congress, Biden, 78, has a shot at passing what would be the third massive pandemic aid package.
What he is less keen to talk about is the impending trial of Trump, something that will introduce a potentially nightmarish mix of scheduling complications and political drama into an already-tense Senate.
In his 25-minute televised speech Biden made no mention of Trump, impeachment or the violence at the Capitol building last week.
Instead he addressed “the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy,” a challenge exceeding even that which faced him as vice president to Barack Obama when they assumed office following the 2008 financial crisis.
The pandemic continues to hit new peaks, the vaccination program is slow out of the gate compared to projections of where it would be by this time, and there are fears the economic recovery from the cratering of 2020 could backslide.
His proposal, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, will include a host of measures aimed at revitalizing the world’s largest economy.
Among those are raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, aiding struggling state and local governments, safely reopening schools, rolling out a massive vaccination campaign, extending unemployment benefits and boosting the size of stimulus checks Congress approved last month.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said they would hit the ground running in order to assure the plan’s success.
“We will get right to work to turn President-elect Biden’s vision into legislation that will pass both chambers and be signed into law,” they said in a joint statement.
Biden, who will be sworn in Jan. 20, is also promising 100 million vaccination shots administered in the first 100 days.
It’s a tall order.
Yet Biden takes office with one advantage he was not expecting even a few weeks ago: full, if razor-thin, control of Congress.
Shock victories by Democrats in Georgia’s two Senate run-off races this month mean Democrats will have slim majorities in both chambers when he takes over.
This will also help Biden in getting confirmations of his cabinet picks.
Among those beginning the process is Avril Haines, whose nomination for director of national intelligence will be examined Friday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Treasury secretary pick Janet Yellen, who goes before the Senate Finance Committee on Jan. 19.
– Elephant in the room –
The elephant in the room, however, is impeachment.
Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives Wednesday for “incitement of insurrection,” accused by critics of egging on a huge crowd of his supporters to march against Congress on Jan. 6, during a joint session to certify Biden’s Electoral College victory.
In the Democrats’ dream scenario, the Senate would have convened in emergency session to conduct a lightening quick trial before Jan. 20, perhaps even forcing Trump out.
But the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, scratched that idea.
As of Jan. 20, McConnell will lose his leadership, ceding to Schumer, who is vowing to press ahead.
If convicted, a second, simple-majority vote would be enough to bar the real estate tycoon from trying to come back as president in 2024. This future run has been a subject of great speculation.
But before any of that, senators will have to thread the tightest of needles in figuring out how to simultaneously try a Republican former president while cooperating on an agenda sent by a new Democratic one.
Biden is trying to persuade the chamber to “bifurcate” and deal with the two contrasting tracks in an organized, efficient way, going “a half day with the impeachment and a half day getting my people nominated and confirmed in the Senate as well as moving on the (COVID) package.”