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Legislative Update

House Floor. The House will vote Tuesday on a resolution calling on Vice President Pence to convene the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment process to remove President Trump from office. Even though the resolution is likely to pass, Pence is not expected to move forward with steps to remove the President. As a result, on Wednesday, the House plans to vote on an article of impeachment stating that the President engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors by “willfully inciting violence against the Government of the United States.” The resolution has the support of at least 218 Democrats, enough to pass the House.

Assuming House passage, there has been speculation as to when the House would send the impeachment resolution to the Senate. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn has suggested that the House could wait as long as 100 days in order to give the Senate time to consider nominations to the new President’s Cabinet and various legislative priorities. Today, however, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the impeachment article should be sent to the Senate right away, setting up a Senate trial in the first few days of a Biden administration.

After the House voted for impeachment in 2019, Speaker Pelosi held back transmittal of the articles to the Senate from Dec. 18, 2019 until Jan. 15, 2020. While there is no expectation that 67 Senators will vote to convict President Trump, a trial could take up valuable Senate floor time.

Senate Floor. The Senate will reconvene Jan. 19 with Republican Mitch McConnell as Majority Leader, but that could change after the Inauguration on Jan. 20 if the two new Georgia Democratic Senators have been sworn in and Democrat Chuck Schumer becomes the new Majority Leader. (Georgia’s certification deadline is Jan. 22, but the state Secretary of State is hoping to complete the certification as soon as possible.)

Regardless of who is Majority Leader, the first order of business will depend on when Speaker Pelosi transmits the article of impeachment. Once the Senate receives the House notice, Senate rules call for the trial to begin at 1 p.m. the following day and for the Senate to stay in session six days a week (except Sunday) until the trial ends, thereby precluding the consideration of nominations or legislative proposals.

In January 2020, the Senate spent 12 hours just debating the rules for the impeachment proceedings proposed by McConnell before finally adopting the rules on a party-line vote. While Chief Justice John Roberts presided over the trial at that time, Senator McConnell believes it is unclear who would preside this time if there is a trial. The Constitution provides that the Chief Justice will preside in the impeachment trial of a president, but Trump will no longer be president after noon on Jan. 20.

President-elect Biden, who is obviously concerned that a Senate trial could delay action on his nominees and legislative priorities, said today that he is awaiting guidance from the Senate parliamentarian as to whether the Senate could bifurcate its proceedings, allowing, for example, a half-day to be devoted to the trial and a half-day confirming his nominees.

Senate Power Sharing. With Democratic candidates winning the two Senate runoff races in Georgia, Chuck Schumer will be the new Senate Majority Leader and Democrats will take the committee gavels. But what will be the procedures governing committee action? That will be determined by negotiations between Schumer and McConnell, with an eventual plan then encompassed in an organizing resolution that must be adopted by the full Senate.

In early 2001, with the Senate split 50-50 and Vice President Cheney set to be the tie-breaking vote after Jan. 20, Senate Leaders Tom Daschle (D) and Trent Lott (R) worked out an agreement providing that there would be equal representation of Democrats and Republicans on all committees and that budgets and office space would also be equally divided. If legislation or a nomination was not reported out of committee because of a tie vote, there would be special rules allowing the majority or minority leader to offer a motion to discharge the bill or nomination from the committee. While discharge motions are normally subject to a possible filibuster, the agreement limited debate to four hours, thereby allowing measures to reach the Senate floor with a majority vote by Senators.

Whether Schumer and McConnell will forge a similar 50-50 committee agreement and how long it will last remains to be seen. The Lott/Daschle agreement was in effect for six months, until Republican Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont announced he would become an Independent and caucus with the Democratic party. On June 6, 2001, Democrats became the majority party in the Senate.

Biden Covid Package. President-elect Biden plans to unveil his plan for additional Covid relief on Thursday. A central part will be boosting the direct payments to individuals from $600 to $2,000. The package is also expected to include more financial aid for state and local governments, additional unemployment benefits, funds to improve vaccine distribution, continued forbearance for rent payments, and aid for small businesses. The package could also include expansions of the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit as well as a tax break for dependent care.

Lawmakers will also weigh in with other priorities, including a push by Republicans to include liability protection for employers from virus-related lawsuits. While Biden would like to see Congress act as soon as possible, the package will be considered under regular order, which means 60 votes would be needed for passage in the Senate.

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