The Senate returned to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to start the 117th Congress, facing a possible impeachment trial looming for outgoing President Donald Trump, a slew of confirmation hearings and legislative proposals from the new Biden administration.
Tuesday is the Senate’s first return to the U.S. Capitol since the Jan. 6 attack by radical Trump supporters, who attempted to disrupt Congress’ certification of Biden’s electoral victory.
In remarks on the Senate floor, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell gave his most vocal condemnation to date of the violence at the Capitol two weeks ago.
“The last time the Senate convened, we had just reclaimed the Capitol from violent criminals who tried to stop Congress from doing our duty,” he said.
“The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people.”
McConnell had previously refused to return earlier to receive Trump’s second impeachment from the House and begin the trial. The House voted last week to impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol attack.
A timeline for the trial remains unclear, but it could begin immediately or in a couple months.
McConnell’s remarks on Tuesday indicate a growing faction of Republicans who are open to possibly convicting Trump for inciting the Capitol attack, which led to hundreds of arrests and five deaths. The supporters had attended a heated rally by Trump near the White House before they marched to the Capitol and began the assault.
If the Senate convicts Trump on the charge, he would almost certainly be barred from ever holding federal office again.
The chamber began without the two Democratic winners of Georgia’s runoff races earlier this month — Raphael Warnock and Joss Ossoff — who both are expected to be sworn in on Wednesday and give Democrats the slightest of edges in the Senate.
Once Ossoff and Warnock take office, there will be a 50-50 split among Democrats and Republicans. As president of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris will be able to cast tie-breaking votes, when needed.
The Senate on Wednesday may also get a look at Biden’s sweeping immigration proposal, which includes an eight-year pathway to citizenship for migrants without legal status, expansion of refugee admissions and a new enforcement plan that deploys technology to patrol the border in lieu of a wall.
“Having leadership makes a big difference,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., said. “You cannot achieve immigration reform without presidential leadership, and from what I see, the seriousness of their purpose to start off with gives me a real good feeling that the president-elect is actually going to use capital to try to make this happen.”
The Senate could also take up Biden’s $1.9 trillion proposal for coronavirus economic stimulus package on Wednesday, which asks for a third round of direct payments of $1,400 to most Americans.
Biden has stressed that he wants the economic package to be a top priority for the new Congress.
Several Senate committees also convened Tuesday to begin confirmation hearings for several of Biden’s Cabinet nominees — Janet Yellen at Treasury, Avril Haines to be director of national intelligence, Alejandro Mayorkas at the Department of Homeland Security, Antony Blinken as secretary of state and Lloyd Austin as defense secretary.
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