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Trump is out, but government dysfunction still remains

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are seen during a joint session of Congress.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer are seen during a joint session of Congress.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has been gone from White House for more than 48 hours, but the political dysfunction, hyper-partisanship and contentious atmosphere has remained in Washington.

Especially on Capitol Hill.

Mitch McConnell, now in the minority, has held up the organization of the 50-50 Senate (like its committees and committee assignments) — unless Democrats agree to preserve the legislative filibuster.

(Senate Democrats simply want to return to the same power-sharing agreement that existed in 2001, the last time there was a 50-50 Senate.)

Republicans are arguing that a Senate impeachment trial of Trump is unconstitutional, while Democrats are pressing forward.

And all of Washington has bickered over the meaning of Joe Biden’s call for unity. (As we wrote yesterday, Biden’s “unity” is about dialing down the temperature of our politics, not abandoning policy goals.)

The problem with today’s Senate is that it has become so obsolete to our current politics. How is a body supposed to be a cooling saucer when few of its members are cooling-saucer politicians?

What’s more, it’s become too easy — and too rewarding — to obstruct in the Senate. When is the last time a senator got punished for obstructing legislation or a nomination?

When the incentive is to obstruct — and not to work in good faith — then you’ve got an institutional problem.

Has McConnell overplayed his hand?

All of that said, it’s very possible that Mitch McConnell has overplayed his hand on this 50-50 power-sharing agreement.

We get what McConnell is trying to do politically: He wants to divide Senate Democrats, pitting the Joe Manchins and Kyrsten Sinemas who are in favor of keeping the legislative filibuster against the rest of the Dem caucus and their ambitious agenda.

But Joe Manchin also wants his committee chairmanship, and he’s currently backing Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer in his negotiations here with McConnell.

“Chuck has the right to do what he’s doing,” Manchin said. “He has the right to use that to leverage in whatever he wants to do.”

And when you’re not winning over Joe Manchin, you’re not dividing Democrats.

Instead, you’re uniting them.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

24,745,446: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 189,737 more than yesterday morning.)

411,440: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 4,095 more than yesterday morning.)

119,927: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus

289.44 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

13.73 million: The number of vaccine doses that have been administered in the United States so far.

58: The number of Trump’s environmental policies that Biden is seeking to roll back (in addition to two he has already overturned.)

$278 million: The 2020 revenue from Trump’s various properties, down from $445 million the previous year.

Biden’s second full day on the job

President Biden and Vice President Harris receive a briefing on the economy at 2:00 ET. Biden makes remarks on the economy and signs executive orders at 2:45 p.m. ET. And White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a briefing with the press (along with National Economic Council Director Brian Deese) at 12:30 p.m. ET.

The two executive orders Biden plans to sign today would expand food stamps and raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for all federal government workers, NBC’s Lauren Egan writes.

The Waiver Way

President Biden’s nominee to lead the Defense Department, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, cleared his one major hurdle to confirmation on Thursday. The House and Senate both voted to approve a waiver for Austin to lead the department, even though he hasn’t been out of military service for the mandated seven years.

Austin’s waiver overwhelming passed the House, 326 to 78, and passed the Senate by a 69-to-27 vote. The Senate is expected to vote on the nomination at 10:30 a.m.

Discussions are still ongoing on Biden’s other nominees who haven’t received a vote yet like Tony Blinken and Janet Yellen.

The Lid: Fire fighter

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at one particular line from Biden’s inaugural address and what it might mean for American unity.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Republicans have their own definition of “unity” — and it’s likely to stand in the way of much of Biden’s agenda.

Senate Republicans are throwing cold water on Biden’s immigration proposal.

Mitch McConnell wants to delay Trump’s impeachment trial until mid-February.

Biden has ordered a review of Russian hacking.

Anthony Fauci says he now feels that he can speak freely about science and the risk of the coronavirus.

Here’s the latest on the dustup over housing for National Guard members in DC.

Capitol Police are investigating whether a Maryland Republican congressman tried to take a gun on the House floor.

Trump is hiring an impeachment legal team.