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Democrats race to push Biden's agenda after transition delays, GOP infighting

As Democrats prepare to take control of the Senate, an impeachment trial looms over hopes to quickly advance nominations and economic relief.
Image: Joe Biden
President-elect Joe Biden speaks in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday.Matt Slocum / AP

WASHINGTON — After weeks of Republican infighting over President-elect Joe Biden's victory, which culminated in the deadly siege of the Capitol two weeks ago by supporters of President Donald Trump, Democrats are now racing to help Biden get to work on Day One.

Democrats will officially capture the Senate on Wednesday when, according to two sources, three new members will be sworn in during the afternoon: Georgia winners Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, and California's Alex Padilla, the appointee to replace Kamala Harris, who resigned Monday two days before her vice presidential inauguration.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the outgoing majority leader, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who will take over as leader of the chamber, are planning to meet Tuesday to discuss various items, according to multiple sources.

They will talk about Covid-19 relief, the logistics of an impeachment trial of outgoing President Donald Trump, Biden's nominations and finalizing how power will be divided in a chamber split 50-50 between the two parties, the sources said.

"We've got three things we got to do quickly: Impeachment, nominations, Covid. Got to move them all fast," Schumer told reporters Tuesday, adding that he's talking to McConnell about the start date and length of an impeachment trial.

McConnell and Schumer are working off an agreement struck in 2001 — the last time the chamber split evenly. In that case, Republicans and Democrats got an equal number of members on each committee and a tie vote allowed the legislation or nomination under consideration to advance to the full Senate.

Schumer said he wants to quickly confirm Biden's national security nominees. He also plans to move speedily on economic personnel to lay the groundwork for Biden's legislative top priority: a coronavirus and economic relief package of $1.9 trillion.

Five Biden Cabinet nominees began their confirmation hearings Tuesday: Janet Yellen for treasury secretary; Alejandro Mayorkas, for secretary of homeland security; Antony Blinken, for secretary of state; defense pick Lloyd Austin; and Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines.

The appetite to go big appears to span the Democratic spectrum, with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the most conservative lawmaker in the caucus, telling a local news station this weekend he favors up to $4 trillion in new infrastructure spending.

"The most important thing? Do infrastructure. Spend $2-, $3-, $4 trillion over a 10-year period on infrastructure," Manchin told Inside West Virginia Politics. "You want to put everybody back to work? A lot of people have lost their jobs and those jobs aren't coming back. They need a place to work."

He also signaled openness to higher stimulus checks when asked about $2,000 payments, though he said he prefers that they be "targeted" to those who need it the most.

"Is there a way to target it? Maybe there's not," Manchin said. "But we got to get more money out."

An impeachment trial looms over the Biden agenda.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has not yet sent to the Senate the article of impeachment approved by the House, charging Trump with incitement of insurrection. When she does, it will trigger a trial that could make it difficult to simultaneously vote on nominations or legislation without GOP consent.

Schumer will also need Republican support to assure speedy Senate votes for Biden's nominees. It is not clear any will be confirmed on the day of the inauguration, as has occurred for each of the last four new presidents.

Senate Democrats introduced their first piece of legislation Tuesday for the new Congress, called the "For The People Act," which seeks to restore the Voting Rights Act, bolster voter protections and election security measures, toughen campaign finance rules and oversight, and slap new ethics standards on the executive branch.