Legislative / Policy Update
House Floor. The House is in recess.
Senate Floor. The Senate has begun proceedings in the impeachment trial.
Impeachment. Shortly after 1 p.m. today, the Senate took up a resolution to establish procedures for the impeachment trial of the President. Two hours of debate were permitted, but not all of that time was used, and the Senate then turned to amendments offered by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. Senator Schumer’s first amendment provided that the Senate subpoena certain White House documents related to military aid that was withheld from Ukraine. As expected, Senators voted along party lines to block Schumer’s proposal by agreeing to Senator McConnell’s motion to table the amendment, 53-47.
Senator Schumer’s second amendment provides that the Senate subpoena certain documents from the State Department. Up to two hours of debate are allowed for each amendment, and Senator Schumer has not said how many amendments he plans to offer. It is Senator McConnell’s intention to have a vote tonight on final passage of the resolution, which requires a simple majority of 51 to pass.
Under McConnell’s proposed resolution, there are three basic segments of the trial: opening arguments, questioning by Senators of the House managers and the President’s team, and debate on whether to allow witnesses to testify and additional documents to be part of the trial.
The resolution provides that the House managers and the President’s team would each be given 24 hours for opening arguments. Under the Majority Leader’s original proposal that he unveiled Monday afternoon, the 24 hours of arguments would be compressed into two days. With the Senate convening for the trial each day (except Sunday) at 1 p.m., the two-day limit raised the possibility that opening arguments could go until 1 a.m. or later, accounting for breaks. However, when the resolution was presented to the Senate this afternoon, a handwritten change expanded the two days of arguments to three. Neither House Democrats nor the President’s legal team have given any indication yet as to whether they will use all 24 hours for their opening arguments.
After opening arguments, the trial moves to the questioning phase, which would take place over 16 hours under McConnell’s resolution. Senators are not allowed to speak during the proceedings, so they will submit written questions to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial and will pose the questions to the two teams. (Not only are Senators not allowed to speak, but they must leave their phones and other electronic devices in newly installed cubby holes outside the Senate chamber, and they have been instructed to not bring in reading material unrelated to the trial.)
The third aspect of the trial, which could take place next Thursday, depending on how much time is taken for opening arguments and questions, would be four hours of debate on whether to allow witnesses and additional documents to be subpoenaed. If 51 Senators agree to allow witnesses and additional documents, the trial will go on for an undetermined number of days. If Senator McConnell prevails and the Senate votes against that course of action, the trial is expected to conclude soon thereafter.
USMCA. Following the 89-10 Senate vote on Thursday, Jan. 16, to approve legislation to implement the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the next step is a signing ceremony. At the American Farm Bureau Federation convention on Sunday, President Trump said, “It’s being prepared now, beautifully prepared,” and “when I come back [from Davos, Switzerland], we’ll have a ceremony, probably in the White House.” The President is scheduled to leave the World Economic Forum in Davos on Wednesday. A Mexican trade official said last week that she does not expect the Canadian Parliament to ratify the USMCA until April, with the agreement likely to enter into force by July 1.
Infrastructure. House Democrats plan to roll out an infrastructure bill next week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Jan. 16. The measure would reauthorize surface transportation programs that are scheduled to expire Sept. 30. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved a five-year, $287-billion reauthorization bill on July 30. There remains no clear indication of how lawmakers will pay for the reauthorization and new infrastructure initiatives.
Committee Action of Note:
During the impeachment trial, Senate leadership has indicated that committees should only convene on bipartisan business and only report legislation that has unanimous support. Three hearings are scheduled for this week.
Iowa Caucuses. We are 13 days away from the Iowa caucuses, and former Vice President Joe Biden leads in two new polls. The Focus on Rural America poll shows Biden with 24%, Senator Elizabeth Warren at 18%, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 16%, Senator Bernie Sanders at 14%, and Senator Amy Klobuchar at 11%. Another poll of 300 likely caucus goers conducted January 14–17 by Neighborhood Research and Media shows Biden 23%, Buttigieg 17%, Warren 15%, Klobuchar 11%, and Sanders 10%.
New York Times Endorsement. The New York Times editorial board announced Sunday evening that it would endorse two candidates for President for the first time in the newspaper’s history: Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar. It’s the first time in the 150 years of endorsements that the editorial board has ever had a split decision.
President Trump’s Schedule. The president starts the week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Next week he will appear at campaign rallies in Wildwood, N.J. on Jan. 28 and in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan. 30.