5 min read

Wake Up To Politics - January 19, 2021

Good morning! It’s Tuesday, January 19, 2021. Inauguration Day is 1 day away. Election Day 2022 is 658 days away. Have questions or comments? Email me.

What to expect from the transfer of power

Joe Biden will be sworn in tomorrow as president, in a ceremony that will look dramatically different from years past — due both to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and security threats after the attack at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. Here’s what you should know about the key players as Inauguration Day approaches:

TRUMP: After four years at the center of attention, President Donald Trump — stripped from his Twitter megaphone and abandoned by many in his party — is leaving office on a somewhat subdued note. But he has one last move planned: a growing batch of pardons he is expected to issue sometime today.

According to the New York Times, Trump is likely to grant at least 60 pardons or commutations today, and perhaps more than 100. Sheldon Silver, the former New York Assembly speaker who was convicted for corruption, and rapper Lil Wayne, who pleaded guilty in December to a gun charge, are among those expected to receive clemency, the Times reported.

After weeks of speculation, the president is not expected to issue a pre-emptive pardon to himself, his adult children, or allies such as personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and former chief strategist Steve Bannon, according to the Times. However, several news outlets reported, Trump’s plans are still fluid and subject to change.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump has been focused on his impeachment in his final days — raging against GOP defectors and searching for a defense team for his upcoming Senate impeachment trial. Trump has yet to find a team of lawyers who are willing to represent him in the proceedings.

BIDEN: President-elect Joe Biden has sought the White House for more than three decades. Now that he is on the brink of assuming his long-awaited goal, his prospective presidency is likely shaping up differently than he would have expected.

Biden will have to act fast to respond to a number of overlapping crises faced by the United States, including the pandemic and ensuing economic downturn, while also experiencing massive security threats in the nation’s capital. The president-elect will also be in the uncomfortable – and unprecedented — position of opening his term amid an impeachment trial for his predecessor.

According to the Washington Post, Biden is planning a flurry of executive orders for his first day in office, including orders rejoining the Paris climate accords, repealing President Trump’s “travel ban” from majority-Muslim countries, and implementing a mask mandate on federal property.

The president-elect has also outlined a $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal that he plans to send to Congress in his first days in office, along with a sweeping immigration package.

CONGRESS: As Biden moves into the White House, Democrats will also assume control on Capitol Hill. However, in both chambers of Congress, their majorities will be historically small: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will lead a 219-member caucus with little room for error, while the Senate will be split 50-50 (with Chuck Schumer ascending to become Majority Leader due to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote).

According to Punchbowl News, the final members of Schumer’s caucus (Alex Padilla of California, plus Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock of Georgia) will be sworn in tomorrow afternoon. With Harris and the new trio of Democratic senators in place, the balance of power in the upper chamber will shift away from soon-to-be Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for the first time in six years.

Schumer and McConnell are scheduled to sit down together today, according to Punchbowl, to iron out their power-sharing agreement for the 50-50 Senate. According to CNN, they are expected to hew closely to the arrangement from  2001, the last time there was a tied Senate, when the party in the White House controlled the chamber’s agenda while both parties were given equal seats on committees (although bills could advance if committee votes were tied).

The first days of Schumer’s majority are expected to be spent confirming the Biden Cabinet. The president-elect is on track to be the first president since George H.W. Bush not to have any of his Cabinet nominees confirmed on Day One of his administration. Confirmations will be further delayed when the Senate begins spending most of its time on Trump’s second impeachment trial, which will begin whenever Pelosi transmits the article of impeachment to the upper chamber.

Pelosi has not indicated when she plans to send the article over.


All times Eastern.

President Donald Trump has no public events scheduled on his final full day in office. According to the White House, he will “work from early and in the morning until late in the evening” and “make many calls and have many meetings,” although none of them were specified.

Vice President Mike Pence will lead a meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force at 2 p.m. in the Situation Room.

President-elect Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden will attend a send-off event in Wilmington, Delaware, where the president-elect will deliver remarks. President-elect Biden will also deliver remarks tonight at the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool at an event to honor lives lost to COVID-19.

The memorial event will begin at 5:30 p.m., when landmarks across the country will be illuminated or ring church bills. At the Lincoln Memorial, 400 lights (each one representing about 1,000 COVID-19 victims) will be turned on to illuminate the Reflecting Pool.

The Bidens will stay the night at Blair House, the presidential guest residence, where presidents-elect have traditionally stayed on the night before their inaugurations.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will also speak at the Lincoln Memorial event.

The Senate will convene at 12 p.m. for a period of morning business, with senators permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes each. No votes are expected.

  • The Senate Finance Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Homeland Security Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Homeland Security Secretary nominee Alejandro Mayorkas at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines at 10 a.m.
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken at 2 p.m.
  • The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for Defense Secretary nominee Lloyd Austin at 3 p.m.

The House will meet at 1 p.m. for a pro forma session.

The Supreme Court justices will release orders from their Friday conference at 9:30 a.m. They will hear oral arguments in two cases:

  • FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project (10 a.m.): Every four years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required by law to review its policies on media ownership. If certain policies aren’t “necessary in the public interest,” then the FCC must strike them down. In 2017, the FCC made it easier for individual companies to buy multiple television stations, radio stations, or newspapers in a local market, and it created an “incubator program” to encourage more diverse owners in radio. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overruled the policy, arguing that the FCC hadn’t considered how deregulating local media might decrease diversity among owners. Today the Supreme Court will explore when courts like the Third Circuit should defer to federal agencies’ decisions.
  • BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (11 a.m.): The city of Baltimore, Maryland, is suing oil and gas companies for worsening climate change. The justices will focus on a relatively narrow question: whether Baltimore’s case, which originated in state court, can now be heard in federal courts.

— Supreme Court case summaries contributed by Anna Salvatore

Thanks for reading! If you aren’t already subscribed to Wake Up To Politics, you can sign up and learn more here.

You can also support my work by sending a donation, buying WUTP merchandise, or listening to my podcast.