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Biden focuses on stimulus plan as Dems gear up for Trump’s Senate trial

Former President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial begins on Tuesday, with Democrats, who have 50 seats in addition to VP Harris’s vote, gearing up to convict him of inciting the Capitol insurrection. Meanwhile, President Biden is focusing on his $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus package. Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    For a look ahead to this week's upcoming impeachment trial and more, I'm joined by Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield, who's in Santa Barbara.

    So, Jeff, let's start with impeachment.

    Last week, about 45 Republicans said they don't think it's constitutional to impeach Donald Trump. How are the Democrats going through this process? I mean, on the one hand, it looks like obviously, they want to make a point. On the other hand, it seems theatrical if they can't get Republican support.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Yeah, it's 99 percent sure. You know, barring some twist that they're not going to get a conviction in the Senate. What they're looking for is a conviction in the court of public opinion. They are going to be using this impeachment trial to make the point that the president set the stage for what happened in the capital. And so I think you can expect to see a lot of video of all of Trump's comments of the election was a fraud even before Election Day.

    I think you're going to see some Republican senators embarrassed by the fact that there'll be video of them saying the election was a fraud and urging a fight. I think you're going to see pictures of what happened on January 6th. And the idea is to draw a line between everything Trump said and did, those White House meetings, the attempts of lawyers to overturn the vote, to what happened on January 6th.

    And I almost guarantee you you're going to hear many, many times the remarks of Representative Liz Cheney, number three in the House leadership, saying that Trump lit the fuse, this was the greatest breach of trust of any president ever.

    And if they can get five or six or seven Republican senators to go along with him, I think for the Democrats, that will be a victory, even though conviction seems almost impossible.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Speaking of Liz Cheney, she survived a challenge to her position in the party, in the House. Does this indicate anything more than just an individual case? I mean, is the Republican Party trying to distance itself from the president?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    I think the key to your question is that the vote to keep Liz Cheney in the leadership was in secret, which meant that the Republican members of the House did not want their voters to know how they voted. And the reason for that, I believe, is that back in the grassroots, the support for Trump is incredibly strong in places you might not expect.

    I mean, Pennsylvania had all of its House members but one vote to block the electors. That's a state that traditionally put out liberal and moderate Republicans like John Hines, Tom Ridge. The Oregon Republican Party has said they think the January 6th riot was a false flag organized by leftists. That's the state where Mark Hatfield and Bob Packwood came from, the Michigan Republican Party elected firm Trumper-people in leadership and the Wyoming Republican Party has said officially they are not only censoring Liz Cheney, they want to run a primary opponent against her.

    So the idea that the Republican Party is split may be true if you just look at Mitch McConnell and some of the senators who've been critical of Trump. But back home, I don't think there's much evidence at all for anything other than Trump has a very firm grip on the base of the Republican Party.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Let's talk a little bit about the current president. He had a meeting with senators this week who came back with a counterproposal to his stimulus plan or the pandemic relief plan. That was about a third of what he's asking for, you know, this is that sort of conundrum.

    Do you, when you have the power, make the change that you want or do you try to appeal for some semblance of bipartisanship here, especially when it comes down to something like checks that people need right now?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    It's a really fascinating example now that we're back to a kind of normal presidential congressional relationship, the Biden administration is committed to not doing what they thought was a grave mistake back in the Obama years. In '09, when the stimulus was too small, it was a weak recovery and a political disaster in the midterms.

    The advantage Biden has is that the public seems to be supporting a big expenditure, not just for COVID relief, but for those $1,400 checks. The problem he has is he has 50 Democrats. So it's not just what the Republicans are going to do, but any one of those Democrats like, say, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, relative conservative, may say, well, you're going too far. And if Biden bends, he seems to be suggesting maybe we will have an income cutoff or who gets those checks. You've got on the other side, the new chair of the Budget Committee, a guy named Bernie Sanders, is saying you're going to be less generous than Trump.

    So I do think you're going to see an effort to somehow fold parts of what the Republicans are arguing for in that final package. But it's pretty clear that Biden is committed to going the route of saying, if I have to do this through this parliamentary device called reconciliation, where I only need 50 votes plus the vice president, that's what I'm going to do. And he has to hold his breath and make sure that his Democratic caucus has no defectors.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And finally, I know you like to talk about the sort of undercover story that's around the corner that we should be paying more attention to that we're not. What is it this week?

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Well, as of this morning, it's not around the corner, it's on the front page of The New York Times. There's an immigration crisis at the border. There are literally thousands of undocumented immigrants who apparently are being told through some kind of social media distribution that Biden's going to open the door, have been massing in Southern California and in Texas.

    And because they pose a possible health threat in San Diego, for instance, the government is housing these immigrants in high rise hotels in San Diego for quarantining and then releasing them into the United States.

    And with everything on Joe Biden's plate, the idea of an immigration crisis in the midst of a pandemic with all of the health and the political consequences of that kind of move, that probably is the last thing in the world that Joe Biden wants.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Jeff Greenfield joining us from Santa Barbara. Thanks so much.

  • Jeff Greenfield:

    Thank you, Hari.

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