This is my update for Monday, February 1st. There’s a lot of snow in DC and up the east coast right now, so both the House and Senate pushed back some work that would have been done today, but there are still a few stories to monitor as we move into February.
I mentioned yesterday that a group of ten Republican senators reached out to Biden to let him know that they’re willing to negotiate on a bipartisan bill. Of course their ideal bill is very different from what the Biden administration is targeting, something like $600 billion vs $1.9 trillion, so I doubt that Democrats are going to look at the Republican offer as a very serious proposal.
And as I’ve been saying throughout this back and forth, Senate Democrats have the option of passing a bill through budget reconciliation, which only requires 50 votes instead of the 60 they need for conventional legislation, so they don’t necessarily have to reach across the aisle to pass a relief bill here.
Regardless, Biden wants to show that he’s open to their ideas, he campaigned on unity, right, and he is meeting today with that group of ten senators to talk about their plan and see if there’s any common ground or any points that they would be willing to concede, since they know that the Democrats can still walk away and pass something on their own.
Biden has indicated in the past that he’s willing to give up ground on some of these provisions, for example by restricting stimulus checks to people with lower incomes, and that’s part of how the Republicans were able to cut costs in their proposal. So Biden’s plan includes direct payments to single filers who earn less than $75,000 and joint filers who earn less than $150,000, and like the first two rounds of stimulus checks these would gradually phase out for people who were above the limit.
On the other hand, the Republican plan provides direct payments of $1,000 to individuals earning up to $40,000 and joint filers earning up to $80,000, with the payments gradually tapering off as your income approaches $50,000 or $100,000 depending on your filing status.
It would also cut extra unemployment benefits from the $400 per week that’s included in the Biden proposal down to $300 per week, and those payments would only last until June instead of September. So there are a couple points where Biden may be open to meeting them somewhere in the middle, and there are also points where both sides have the same thing in mind.
For example, they both want $160 billion in COVID-19 funding for things like testing, vaccine production and distribution, contact tracing, and a sufficient supply of personal protective equipment. There’s also agreement on $4 billion for behavioral health and substance abuse services.
With that being said, there are other provisions where the sides are really far apart, and it’s hard to see Biden agreeing to the kinds of large-scale changes that would be necessary in order to bring the overall cost even close to the $600 billion that those senators have in mind.
For example, there’s very little covering state and local aid, which is a critical piece of the $1.9 trillion stimulus—the Biden plan includes $350 billion for state, local, and territorial governments, which is more than half of the total bill for the plan that the Republicans are promoting.
If you look at the breakdown of the Republican proposal, their total price tag for everything outside of stimulus checks and unemployment payments is under $300 billion, which wouldn’t even cover what Biden wants to give to state and local governments alone.
So from my perspective, there are some points that people on both sides seem to agree on, but there’s a big gap on other points that’s going to make it extremely difficult to find any common ground. In terms of impeachment you may have seen that Trump announced his new legal team for the second impeachment trial, some of the lawyers he had been planning to work with left over the last few days, and he will now be defended by Bruce Castor, Jr. and David Schoen.
Schoen is chair of the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Subcommittee, one of many subcommittees grouped under the umbrella of the Civil Rights Litigation Committee. Some of you may also know Schoen from when he represented Roger Stone during the appeal process, although that ended up being a moot point after then-President Trump commuted his sentence and eventually gave him a full pardon.
Bruce Castor, Jr. is a Republican lawyer and politician from Pennsylvania who has served as district attorney, solicitor general, and acting state attorney general after his predecessor was convicted for covering up her own leak of grand jury information.
Schoen issued a statement when this news broke saying that “it is an honor to represent the 45th President, Donald J. Trump, and the United States Constitution,” and Castor said something similar: “I consider it a privilege to represent the 45th President. The strength of our Constitution is about to be tested like never before in our history. It is strong and resilient.
A document written for the ages, and it will triumph over partisanship yet again, and always.” Now as I’ve said a few times when the impeachment trial comes up, I think it’s very unlikely that Trump will be convicted, and ultimately his defense probably won’t need to do anything special to get him acquitted in the Senate, but obviously competent legal counsel would help convince some of the moderate Republicans who would have been at least somewhat open to impeachment.
And Trump has also put over $30 million into Save America, his new PAC, or political action committee, so it’s clear that he’s not quite ready to turn his back on politics entirely. There’s been a lot of speculation about whether he’ll run in 2024, hard to say at this point of course, but as long as he isn’t convicted there won’t be anything stopping him from becoming President for another term, which is basically what Grover Cleveland did when he lost reelection to Benjamin Harrison in 1889 and came back into office in 1893.
So again to me this is much ado about nothing, yes the Democrats will vote to convict, Mitt Romney will join them and maybe a few others, but in my view it’s very unlikely that they’ll get 17 Senate Republicans on their side. We’ll see what happens, it’s strange to think about the 2024 election just a week or two after inauguration, but if Trump decides to run then he’ll have a pretty dedicated base of support that will make him a strong force in the primaries.