Trump impeachment looms over Biden’s agenda for first 100 days

US president-elect expected to unveil his plans for dealing with the pandemic and economy, but will have to get them through a Senate that could be immersed in impeachment trial

Workers put up bunting on a press riser for the upcoming inauguration of US President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Workers put up bunting on a press riser for the upcoming inauguration of US President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

WASHINGTON (AFP) — US President-elect Joe Biden is expected to unveil plans Thursday for fighting COVID-19 and restoring the economy, but already his ambitious first 100 days agenda is overshadowed by the looming Senate trial of his soon-to-be predecessor Donald Trump.

On the day after Trump was impeached in the House of Representatives — becoming the first US president in history subjected to a second impeachment — Biden hopes to seize the narrative in a primetime address and get Americans looking forward again.

What he is less keen to talk about, however, 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 televised speech, Biden is expected to address a twin crisis exceeding even the challenge that faced him as vice president to Barack Obama when they assumed office in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

US President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021. Biden has called the violent protests on the US Capitol “an assault on the most sacred of American undertakings: The doing of the people’s business.” (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to hit new peaks, the vaccination program is stumbling, and there are fears that the economic recovery from the cratering of 2020 could backslide.

Biden, who will be sworn in on January 20, says his plan is to tackle all of this at the same time, putting one of the darkest periods in American history into the rearview mirror.

One prong will be a massive COVID relief package — the third since the pandemic began a year ago.

This would include more direct stimulus payments and could also feature new taxes on the wealthy and an increase in the minimum wage.

Biden is also promising to get vaccinations off the ground, with an eye-catching slogan of 100 million shots to be administered in the first 100 days.

Mugs themed for the US presidential inauguration are displayed at a store in Union Station on January 14, 2021, in Washington. (Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images/AFP)

It’s a tall order.

Yet Biden takes office with one advantage he wasn’t expecting even a few weeks ago: full, if narrow control of Congress.

Shock victories by Democrats in Georgia’s two Senate run-off races mean Democrats have slim majorities in both chambers.

This will also help Biden in getting confirmations of his cabinet picks. Among those beginning the process is Janet Yellen, whose nomination for Treasury secretary will be examined by the Senate Finance Committee on January 19.

Elephant in the room

The elephant in the room, however, is impeachment.

Trump was charged in the House of Representatives Wednesday for inciting insurrection by egging on a huge crowd of supporters to march against Congress on January 6. The mob rampaged through the Capitol building, leaving five people dead.

US President Donald Trump waves as he walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on January 12, 2021, in Washington. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

In the Democrats’ dream scenario, the Senate would have convened in emergency session to conduct a lightening trial before January 20, forcing Trump to step down.

But the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, scratched that idea, saying there wasn’t time and the rush would be unfair to the president.

As of January 20, McConnell will lose his leadership, ceding to Democrat Chuck Schumer, who is vowing to press ahead.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (L) looks on with US Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (R) in the House Chamber during a reconvening of a joint session of Congress on January 06, 2021 in Washington, DC (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

McConnell’s statement that he is open-minded on Trump’s guilt raises the possibility that Trump could still end up being convicted by a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

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.

But before any of that, senators will have to thread the tightest of all needles in figuring out how to simultaneously try a Republican former president while cooperating on an agenda sent by a new Democratic president.

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.”

In new remarks Wednesday, after Trump’s impeachment, Biden again appealed for a careful juggling act.

“I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” Biden said.

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