Good morning! It’s Wednesday, January 27, 2021. In today’s newsletter: A key Senate vote shows GOP opposition to convicting Trump, another Biden Cabinet official is confirmed, the president’s plan to combat climate change, and more.
Senate Republicans declare Trump impeachment “dead on arrival”
Nearly every Senate Republican voted Tuesday for a measure calling former President Donald Trump’s forthcoming impeachment trial unconstitutional because he is no longer in office.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) forced a procedural vote on a point of order deeming the trial unconstitutional; the motion was tabled 55-45, although it received backing from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and most of his caucus. Only five Senate Republicans voted against the point of order: Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Ben Sasse (R-NE), and Pat Toomey (R-PA).
The motion’s failure means the impeachment trial would go on as planned, but its widespread support within the Republican caucus suggested that Trump would almost certainly be acquitted at its conclusion. To secure a conviction, House impeachment managers would need to persuade 17 Senate Republicans to join all 50 Democrats in voting against Trump, a task that seemed difficult before Tuesday but now appears impossible.
At least one Republican, Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), told the National Review that his vote on Tuesday was not intended as a signal of how he felt about impeachment, explaining that he merely wanted to continue debating Paul’s motion and had not even made up his mind yet on the constitutionality question. But there are no signs that many of the other 44 Republicans — and certainly not 17 of them — share his reservations at this stage.
“This ‘trial’ is dead on arrival in the Senate,” Paul tweeted after the vote.
Although some legal experts have backed Paul’s contention that holding an impeachment trial for a former president is unconstitutional, “most scholars who have closely examined the question have concluded that Congress has authority to extend the impeachment process to officials who are no longer in office,” according to a report from the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. (The Senate has held one trial in its history for a former official, ex-Secretary of War William Belknap in 1876.)
The five Senate Republicans who voted that the trial was constitutional — less than the 10 House Republicans who voted for impeachment — are seen as the most likely GOP votes for conviction. Some Democrats had hoped McConnell might join them, and bring along some of his colleagues, after a New York Times report that he told associates earlier this month that he believed Trump had committed impeachable offenses. However, the GOP leader’s vote on Tuesday suggested that his possible support for conviction was firmly out of reach.
Just before voting on the point of order on Tuesday, all 100 senators were sworn in as jurors in the impeachment trial. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) was sworn in as the trial’s presiding officer; as the chamber’s most senior member, he serves as its president pro tempore. While the chief justice presides over the trials of sitting presidents, other impeachment trials have historically been overseen by the president pro tempore. (Leahy, 80, was briefly hospitalized Tuesday night after feeling unwell but has since returned home.)
Senators then approved a resolution setting the procedures for the trial before adjourning as the Court of Impeachment until February 9, when the two sides will begin presenting their arguments. According to the Washington Post, the House impeachment managers “are concentrating on building their case around Trump personally — both what he said in the run-up to the Jan. 6 attack and at a rally that day, and how his words were interpreted within the White House and outside of it.”
Per CNN, Trump has begun preparations for the trial as well, speaking in recent days with South Carolina lawyer Butch Bowers, who the former president has chosen as his lead defense attorney.
It remains uncertain if either side will call witnesses during the trial.
CORONAVIRUS: “The Biden administration on Tuesday said it would boost the supply of coronavirus vaccines sent to states by about 16% for the next three weeks and will purchase enough additional doses to vaccinate most of the U.S. population with a two-dose regimen by the end of the summer.”
- “Senior administration officials said the federal government is working to purchase an additional 100 million doses each of the Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. vaccines, increasing the total U.S. vaccine order by 50% to 600 million from 400 million. Officials said they expect the additional doses to be delivered over the summer.”
- “The purchases will provide enough supply to vaccinate 300 million Americans in a two-dose regimen over the summer. The vaccine is not approved for people under 16 years old.” — Wall Street Journal
IMMIGRATION: “The Justice Department on Tuesday rescinded a Trump-era memo that established a ‘zero tolerance’ enforcement policy for migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, which resulted in thousands of family separations. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson issued the new memo to federal prosecutors across the nation, saying the department would return to its longstanding previous policy and instructing prosecutors to act on the merits of individual cases.” — Associated Press
- “A federal judge in Texas on Tuesday temporarily blocked a move by new U.S. President Joe Biden to halt the deportation of many immigrants for a 100-day period, a swift legal setback for his ambitious immigration agenda.” — Reuters
THE BIDEN CABINET: “The Senate confirmed Antony Blinken as secretary of state, giving one of President Joe Biden’s longest-serving aides the task of resuming nuclear negotiations with Iran, restoring trust with allies shaken by four years of Donald Trump and confronting an emboldened China and Russia. Blinken, a former deputy secretary of state and Biden staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was approved by a vote of 78-22 on Tuesday.” — Bloomberg
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One interesting read: “How many political parties in the U.S.? Numbers suggest four, not two.” NBC News
One difficult read: “Surge of Student Suicides Pushes Las Vegas Schools to Reopen” New York Times
One wild read: “Marjorie Taylor Greene indicated support for executing prominent Democrats in 2018 and 2019 before running for Congress” CNN
Some numbers to know...
- 650 days until Election Day 2022.
- 1,378 days until Election Day 2024.
- 100.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported across the globe. JHU
- 25.4 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the United States.
- 24.5 million shots of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States. Bloomberg
All times Eastern.
President Joe Biden will receive the President’s Daily Brief at 9:30 a.m. in the Oval Office. He will deliver remarks at 1:30 p.m. in the State Dining Room on “tackling climate change, creating jobs, and restoring scientific integrity,” before signing a related set of executive actions.
- According to the New York Times, Biden’s main executive action today will “direct federal agencies to determine how expansive a ban on new oil and gas leasing on federal land should be,” a preliminary step towards fulfilling a controversial campaign pledge.
- He will also “direct the government to conserve 30 percent of all federal land and water by 2030, create a task force to assemble a governmentwide action plan for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and issue a memorandum elevating climate change to a national security priority,” and “create several new commissions and positions within the government focused on environmental justice and environmentally friendly job creation, including one to help displaced coal communities.”Vice President Kamala Harris will join Biden for the daily intelligence briefing and his remarks on climate. She will also ceremonially swear in Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 11:45 a.m. at the White House.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki will hold a press briefing at 12:15 p.m. with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry and National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.
The White House Covid-19 response team will hold a press briefing at 11 a.m. to “discuss the status of the federal government’s COVID-19 pandemic response,” the first in a series of regular Covid-19 briefings that the Biden administration has promised to hold.
- The briefing will include Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Chief Medical Advisor to the President; Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Jeff Zients, the White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator; Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, the chair of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force; and Andy Slavitt, a senior advisor to the White House COVID-19 response team.
- Fauci, Walensky, and Nunez-Smith will also participate in a CNN town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta at 8 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 10:30 a.m. Following Leader remarks, the chamber will hold morning business, when senators are permitted to speak for up to 10 minutes each.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Energy Secretary nominee Jennifer Granholm at 9:30 a.m.
- The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on UN Ambassador nominee Linda Thomas-Greenfield at 10 a.m.
- The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will meet to vote on Transportation Secretary nominee Pete Buttigieg at 10 a.m.
- The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Denis McDonough at 3 p.m.
The House is not in session.
The Supreme Court is not in session.