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Trump impeachment trial threatens new divisions in Congress

The 50-50 split in the new U.S. Senate is leading to delays in confirmations and committee assignments. It comes as the Biden administration looks for an early effort on COVID-relief, and as the Senate prepares for former President Trump's impeachment trial. Lisa Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now, along with our Lisa Desjardins.

    Hello to both of you.

    And, Yamiche, I'm going to start with you. Tell us a little more at this point about — I'm told that Yamiche is having a little deficit with her earpiece, with audio.

    If that is the case, I'm going to switch over. Is Lisa with us right now?

    All right, Lisa, I'm going to start with you.

    What do we know at this point? We know we heard some of that in Yamiche's report about what President Biden is trying to do. What do we know at this point about Republican pushback, resistance to what they are hearing from the new president?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Well, Judy, it isn't just Republican pushback.

    Talking to offices and to people involved in the phone call that happened that Yamiche reported about, Democrats also have some concerns about this package. But let me talk first about what they agree on.

    Overall, there is vast agreement that more money for vaccine distribution and production has to be passed, and passed soon. But let's look at everything else that they are talking about, where there seems to be some agreement in the Senate, where there is disagreement.

    First, there seems to be general agreement across partisan lines that there could be more room for unemployment assistance. Also, it looks possible that another round of $1,400 checks could be passed. But it seems senators on both sides of the aisle are interested in targeting that to lower incomes, below the $300,000 threshold that is currently in place.

    Now, some problems. President Biden has asked for a $15 minimum wage as part of this package. That seems to be a nonstarter. Also, the price tag is probably the largest red flag, again, for members of both parties, Republicans especially, but Democrats as well.

    The main thing that was brought up on this call were questions about exactly what President Biden needs the $1.9 trillion for. We understand from senators on the call that the White House sent out a more detailed plan today.

    One other note, Judy, all of this as we're learning more about the impeachment trial itself. We know who will preside, not Chief Justice John Roberts, as we had last time, but instead a senator, Patrick Leahy. He is the president pro tem of the Senate. And this can happen when it is not a sitting president being impeached. And Democrats are going to use that format with one of their own senators presiding.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Very interesting.

    So, I think, Yamiche, you are now able to hear us. And we can hear you.


  • Judy Woodruff:

    There you are.

    We're doing this a little bit backwards. We heard Lisa talking about congressional reaction, but fill us in a little bit more on what President Biden was trying to do today.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, in some ways, it's meant to be, because what Lisa just outlined is the biggest test of the Biden presidency.

    It is this now issue where he has $1.9 trillion in this COVID relief bill. And he is running into bipartisan backlash. And officials that I have been talking to at the White House say that Joe Biden really is now going to have to show his skill, the skill that he talked about on the campaign trail, to try to get in there and negotiate this.

    I talked to a lawmaker familiar with Biden's thinking, and there is some thought that he might have to break up this bill and do billions at a time. They're really focused on trying to get better vaccines, vaccine distribution — distribution, as well as more vaccinators, meaning that they might have ways to have Americans come and be hired as health care workers to distribute the vaccine.

    Another thing to note, as he's dealing with the COVID relief bill, he's also still busy at work signing executive orders. Today, he signed an executive order on buying American. It's really about aiming to get the federal government to buy more American products. In some ways, it's also, White House officials say, Biden White House officials say, it's about putting more teeth into what President — former President Trump was trying to do.

    Another thing, President Biden is also revoking some things that President Trump has done. Today, it was the transgender military ban. It was seen as discriminatory when President Trump passed it two years ago. And now Joe Biden is saying no gender issues, including if you're a transgender person, should be looked at as — in a negative way in order to serve in the military.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, meantime, Lisa, back to you.

    As all this is going on, the Senate, 50/50 Senate split between Republicans and Democrats, still struggling to get themselves organized to figure out how they will operate.

  • Lisa Desjardins:


    Why isn't the Senate organized yet? Here's why, Judy. Let's break this down quickly. It takes 60 votes to pass new rules for a new Senate. That means that Republicans, operating under the former rules of the last Senate, still chair committees.

    Now it also means that new senators, including the senators from Georgia, still have no committee assignments. And it also means that any single senator can block any vote.

    So, this is why things are tied up in the Senate right now. We don't know when we're going to have a resolution for how the Senate will organize, when committees can proceed. There's hope that can happen before impeachment, but it's not clear.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Wow. Sounds like a lot still to be worked out in the Senate.

    And, finally, Yamiche, back to you.

    There was some news today out of the Justice Department. Fill us in on what happened.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, President Trump, even though he's gone, is really still being attached to some chaos and to some real questions.

    This time, it's at the Department of Justice. The inspector general today announced that his office is going to be launching an investigation to see if any DOJ officials try to wield power to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

    That news comes as there were reports that President Trump, working with a DOJ official, was trying to get Georgia to overturn its election to try to force that state to go — which Joe Biden won, to go back into the camp of President Trump.

    So, it's this area that we still are going to be watching very closely. And it's the DOJ saying, we're going to be looking at our own people to see whether or not they did anything that was illegal or that was unethical dealing with the 2020 election.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, Lisa, I do want to come back to you on some news today, a Republican senator who's from the state of Ohio making a big announcement.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

    Rob Portman will not be running for reelection. He's up in 2022. That's another potential pickup for Democrats in a swing state. We will have to watch it closely. He just says legislating has become too hard.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Lisa and Yamiche filling in on everything there is.

    Lisa Desjardins, Yamiche Alcindor, thank you both.

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