Good morning! It’s Monday, February 8, 2021. Election Day 2022 is 638 days away. Election Day 2024 is 1,366 days away. Thanks for waking up to politics!
Senate kicks off historic second Trump impeachment trial
One year ago this week, the Senate was wrapping up the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump, voting to acquit the then-president for his campaign to pressure the leader of Ukraine to investigate his prospective political rival, Joe Biden.
Now, Biden is the one in the Oval Office, but Trump is back for another round of impeachment proceedings, the first former president to stand trial in the Senate.
Trump became the first president to be impeached twice on January 13, when the House voted to charge him with “incitement of insurrection” for his role in provoking the January 6 attack at the Capitol. The riot, which came after Trump urged his supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn the 2020 election, left five people dead and dozens more injured.
In the coming days, the House impeachment managers — led by Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), a former constitutional law professor — are expected to rely heavily on video to make their case. They will show clips from Trump’s speech before the Capitol riot, as well as comments from the rioters themselves, many of whom have cited Trump as the inspiration for their actions.
Trump’s defense team, which will be led by Alabama lawyer David Schoen and former Pennsylvania solicitor general Bruce Castor, has also signaled plans to present their case cinematically, using soundbites of Democratic lawmakers objecting to the 2016 election and promoting aggressive behavior against Trump supporters to argue that the former president’s rhetoric was not unique.
Under a deal between Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that was clinched on Monday, the prosecution and defense will each have up to 16 hours to present their arguments — starting at 12 p.m. on Wednesday.
Before either side begins presenting their case, the Senate will hold a debate and vote today on the constitutionality of the trial itself. In a 78-page brief filed Monday, Trump’s defense team referred to the upcoming proceedings as “political theater” and argued that “the impeachment of a former United States President, a private citizen, is unconstitutional.”
That theory has been embraced by at least 45 Republican senators, who voted in favor of a motion by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) last month that questioned the constitutionality of the trial. However, several legal experts — including prominent conservative attorney Charles Cooper in the pages of the Wall Street Journal — have pushed back on those claims, including by pointing to the 1876 impeachment trial for an ex-official, former Secretary of War William Belknap.
Democrats, meanwhile, have argued that it was Trump who violated the Constitution with his actions on and leading up to January 6. “His incitement of insurrection against the United States government — which disrupted the peaceful transfer of power — is the most grievous constitutional crime ever committed by a President,” the House managers wrote Monday in a filing of their own.
With the vast majority of Senate Republicans endorsing the claim that the trial is unconstitutional, few observers expect the trial to end in a conviction. If all 100 senators vote, 67 are needed to convict the former president — all 50 Democrats and 17 Republicans. In the House, a record 10 Republicans voted to impeach Trump last month; even fewer Republicans are expected to break with the former president in the Senate.
A final vote in the Senate trial could take place as early as next week, with both parties anxious to move on and turn the page on the Trump era. The trial could be extended if the defense or prosecution asks to call witnesses; so far, neither side has expressed an interest in doing so.
Although the House managers pushed aggressively (and unsuccessfully) last year to be able to call witnesses during the first Trump trial, many Democratic lawmakers are now saying witnesses are unnecessary. “This year,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained in January, “the whole world bore witness to the president’s incitement, to the execution of his call to action and the violence that was used.”
CORONAVIRUS: Aides announced Monday that Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX) had died at age 67 after contracting COVID-19, becoming the first member of Congress to die from coronavirus while in office. Wright, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2019, had tested positive for the virus last month.
- According to GovTrack, 71 members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.
- A congressman-elect, Luke Letlow (R-LA), also tested positive and died from the virus before being sworn in.
RECONCILIATION: Congressional Democrats unveiled much of the text of their $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief proposal on Monday. Democratic leaders decided not to bend to pressure from some lawmakers to limit the recipients of the $1,400 direct payments outlined in the bill; the final plan calls for the payments to be sent to all Americans earning up to $75,000 a year and married couples earning up to $150,000 a year, the same income levels used in prior rounds of stimulus checks.
- Democrats also included a provision in the bill that would gradually increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, although it is unclear if it will be able to be passed as part of the reconciliation process.
- The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office released a report Monday that found such a move would lift 900,000 people out of poverty, but would lead to 1.4 million workers losing their jobs. The CBO also projected that the wage hike would increase the federal deficit by $54 billion over a decade.
2022 CENTRAL: Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) announced Monday that he will not seek re-election for a seventh term in 2022. Shelby has served in Congress for more than four decades, first in the House and then in the Senate since 1987. Throughout his career, he has led four Senate committees (most recently Appropriations) and been affiliated with two political parties, making the jump from conservative Democrat to Republican in 1994.
- Shelby is the fourth Senate Republican to announce plans to retire next year. In the open Senate race in Pennsylvania, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D) launched his campaign on Monday, becoming the first major candidate to join what is expected to be a hotly-contested primary.
- In other 2022 news, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin (R) announced Monday that he was ending his gubernatorial campaign and running instead for state attorney general. The gubernatorial primary was upended in January by the entrance of former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who quickly earned former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
At 6-foot-8, Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman would loom over many of his colleagues in Washington if elected. But he would not become the tallest U.S. senator in history. Who holds that distinction?
Send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight ET. One randomly selected correct respondent will receive a shout-out in tomorrow’s newsletter and a free Wake Up To Politics face mask.
Former Secretary of State George Shultz’s name was misspelled in Monday’s newsletter. My apologies for the error and thanks to the readers who pointed it out.
Q: I’d love more info about the filibuster. Where and when did it come from? And why? How can it be removed and what are the pros/cons for doing so? — Robyn Andracsek of Olathe, Kansas
A: The filibuster is the device that can be used to block a piece of legislation in the Senate unless 60 senators vote to cut off debate. Although its implications for American government are massive, it was born basically as a quirk of history. In the early Senate, like in the House today, debate could be ended by a simple majority vote; it wasn’t until Vice President Aaron Burr (of “Hamilton” fame) recommended culling extraneous Senate rules in 1805 that the ability to end debate was accidentally dropped.
For several decades, no one noticed that meant Senate debate could technically be prolonged indefinitely, until Southern senators began taking advantage of the rules gap after the Civil War to block civil rights bills from passing. Although the “cloture rule” in place today is seen as a roadblock to many pieces of legislation, it actually emerged in 1917 as an anti-obstruction measure, intended to finally create a way for the Senate to stop filibusters. The threshold to end debate over legislation was then set at two-thirds; it would later be lowered to three-fifths (60 senators) in 1975.
In the civil rights era, a filibuster meant one senator or a group of senators prolonging debate by talking for hours on the floor (think “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”). But these days, talking filibusters are no longer required: because of a two-track system devised in 1970, the Senate rarely actually debates measures when they are being filibustered. Instead, the chamber merely moves on to other business until a 60-vote majority can be cobbled together to cut off “debate” on a bill — or the bill dies without ever receiving an up-or-down vote.
Some Democrats are calling for the legislative filibuster to be abolished now that the party has reclaimed the Senate majority, arguing that not enough bills can clear the 60-vote threshold and that the filibuster blocks legislation with majority support from being passed. Defenders of the filibuster argue that the procedural tool is necessary for the Senate to fulfill its proverbial role as the “cooling saucer” of American politics, and that without it, far-reaching pieces of legislation would be implemented and then undone every time the Senate majority changes hands, a recipe for chaos.
Technically, Senate Rule XXII — the cloture provision — states that it can only be changed by a two-thirds vote. But there is also a back route to abolish the filibuster, known as the “nuclear option”: Senate rules are enforced by the presiding officer, and Senate Rule XX allows the body to overrule the presiding officer by simple majority, which is how the filibuster could be “nuked” and a new precedent can be set without formally changing the rules.
The “nuclear option” has been invoked twice: in 2013 (by the Democrats) to end filibusters for all executive nominees except Supreme Court picks, and then in 2017 (by the Republicans) to abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees as well. So far, the filibuster remains in place for pieces of legislation — but it could be ended by the nuclear option if all 50 Democrats (and tie-breaker Kamala Harris) voted to do so. As of now, at least two Democrats (Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona) have publicly said they oppose any further changes to the filibuster.
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President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. He will meet with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and a group of business leaders at 1:45 p.m. to discuss the coronavirus relief package.
Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the President’s Daily Brief and the meeting with business leaders. At 12 p.m., she will ceremonially swear in Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough, who was confirmed by the Senate in an 87-17 vote on Monday.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:45 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 1 p.m. for the impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. Following the prayer and pledge, the Senate will vote on the organizing resolution establishing the format of the trial.
Under the proposed resolution, the chamber will then hold four hours of debate — equally divided between the two parties — on the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a former president. A vote on the question is likely to take place following the debate. In addition, the House impeachment managers have until 10 a.m. to file a rebuttal to former President Donald Trump’s pre-trial brief.
- The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing at 9:15 a.m. to consider the nomination of Neera Tanden to be Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will vote at 10 a.m. to advance the nomination of Michael Regan to be Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
- Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and a group of Democratic committee chairs will hold a media availability at 10:30 a.m. to discuss their plans to continue working on Biden’s coronavirus relief package during the impeachment trial.
The House is not in session.
- The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties will hold a hearing at 9 a.m. examining “the presidential clemency powers and constitutional ways to prevent abuse of that power.”
- The House Education and Labor Committee will meet at 3 p.m. to begin marking up its sections of Biden’s coronavirus relief package.
The Supreme Court is not in session.