Trump trial set to shade Biden agenda

2021-01-16 12:02:42

Impeachment fallout sucks air out of next leader's virus, stimulus priorities US President-elect Joe Biden unveiled plans on Thursday for fighting COVID-19 and injecting $1.9 trillion into a battered US economy, but his ambitious first 100 days agenda is overshadowed by the looming Senate trial of his soon-to-be predecessor Donald Trump.   US President-elect Joe Biden speaks during day two of laying out his plan on combating the coronavirus at the Queen theater January 15, 2021 in Wilmington, Delaware. President-elect Biden is announcing his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Americans. [Photo/Agencies] Biden promised "a new chapter" for the nation on the day after Trump became the first US president to be impeached twice, as the incoming occupant of the White House sought to seize the narrative in a primetime address and get the United States looking forward again. "We will come back," he said in a speech from his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. "We didn't get into all this overnight. We won't get out of it overnight. And we can't do it as a separated and divided nation. The only way we can do it is to come together, to come together as fellow Americans." With his Democrats narrowly controlling both houses of Congress, Biden, 78, has a shot at passing what would be the third massive pandemic aid package. What he is less keen to talk about, however, is the impending trial of Trump, something that will introduce a potentially nightmarish mix of scheduling complications and political drama into an already tense Senate. In his 25-minute televised speech, Biden made no mention of Trump, impeachment or the deadly violence that nearly overwhelmed Washington on Jan 6. Instead he addressed "the twin crises of a pandemic and this sinking economy", a challenge exceeding even that which faced him as vice-president to Barack Obama when they assumed office following the 2008 financial crisis. The coronavirus pandemic continues to hit new peaks, the vaccination program is stumbling, and there are fears the economic recovery from the cratering of 2020 could backslide. His proposal, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, will include a host of measures aimed at revitalizing the world's largest economy. Among those are raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, aiding struggling state and local governments, safely reopening schools, rolling out a massive vaccination campaign, extending unemployment benefits and boosting the size of stimulus checks Congress approved last month. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said they would hit the ground running in order to ensure the plan's success. Biden, who will be sworn in on Wednesday, is also promising to get vaccinations off the ground, with an eye-catching slogan of 100 million shots administered in the first 100 days. As of Thursday, there were more than 23 million reported cases of the novel coronavirus in the US, and more than 388,000 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. There were 232,943 new cases reported. The incoming president plans to tackle all of this at the same time, putting one of the darkest periods of US history in the rearview mirror. But it's a tall order. Yet Biden takes office with one advantage he was not expecting even a few weeks ago: Full, if razor thin, control of Congress. Shock victories by Democrats in Georgia's two Senate run-off races this month mean Democrats will have slim majorities in both chambers when he takes over. This will also help Biden in getting confirmations of his cabinet picks. Elephant in the room The elephant in the room, however, is impeachment. Trump was impeached by the House on Wednesday for "incitement of insurrection" by egging on a huge crowd of supporters to march against Congress on Jan 6. The mob rampaged through the Capitol building, fighting with police and leaving lawmakers fearing for their lives. Five people died. In the Democrats' dream scenario, the Senate would have convened in emergency session to conduct a lightening-quick trial before Wednesday, forcing Trump out. But the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, scratched that idea. As of Wednesday, McConnell will lose his leadership, ceding to Schumer, who is vowing to press ahead. A McConnell statement that he is open-minded on Trump's guilt raises the possibility that Trump gets convicted by a two-thirds Senate majority. If convicted, a second, simple-majority vote would be enough to bar the real estate tycoon from trying to come back as president in 2024. Agencies and Minlu Zhang in New York contributed to this story.