Biden tries to focus on Covid and economy as Trump trial looms

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Joe Biden has urged congressional leaders to remain focused on tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and confirming his Cabinet nominees even as the US Senate prepares for the trial of Donald Trump.

Faced with the prospect of a Senate impeachment trial starting in his first days in the White House, the president-elect urged senators to move quickly to confirm his nominees for the most senior economic and national security posts.

And he called on them to find time to take up his plans to tackle the pandemic and economic crisis, which he is expected to lay out during a speech on Thursday evening.

“I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” Mr Biden said after Wednesday’s vote, adding that he wanted to focus on “getting our vaccine program on track and . . . our economy going”.

The House of Representatives, which is controlled by Democrats, voted Wednesday afternoon to impeach Mr Trump on one charge of inciting an insurrection, stemming from his role in last week’s siege on Capitol Hill. An unprecedented 10 Republicans, including Liz Cheney, sided with their Democratic colleagues in impeaching the president.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, signed the article of impeachment in a ceremony late on Wednesday, which will now be sent to the Senate for trial.

It remains unclear when Ms Pelosi will trigger the trial by sending the article to the upper chamber of Congress. When Mr Trump was impeached for the first time, in December 2019, the Speaker waited nearly a full month before sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate.

The Senate is currently in recess and not due to reconvene until Tuesday, January 19, one day before Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th US president.

Mr Biden’s inauguration will also mark a changing of the guard in the upper chamber of Congress, with Democrats taking control after winning two hotly contested Senate run-offs in Georgia last week.

The chamber will be split, 50-50, with Kamala Harris, the vice-president, casting the tiebreaking vote. Chuck Schumer, the current Senate minority leader, will take over as the Senate majority leader.

Until then, Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, remains majority leader and controls the chamber’s schedule. He surprised colleagues in Washington this week when he held open the possibility of convicting Mr Trump in a Senate trial, which could encourage other Republican senators to vote against the outgoing president.

Mr McConnell made clear on Wednesday that he did not intend to bring back the legislature before next week, meaning a trial is all but certain to cast a long shadow over the early days of the Biden administration.

That complicates matters for Mr Biden, who had intended to swiftly push through an ambitious legislative package with “trillions” of dollars in further coronavirus-related economic relief. He has also named several cabinet appointments, all of whom will need to be confirmed by the Senate in the early days of his administration.

“Given the rules, procedures and Senate precedents that govern presidential impeachment trials, there is simply no chance that a fair or serious trial could conclude before president-elect Biden is sworn in next week,” Mr McConnell said.

After the vote on Wednesday, the White House released a pre-recorded video of Mr Trump, in which the president made no mention of impeachment or his successor, but said he “condemned” the violence at the Capitol and wanted calm in the coming days.

Thousands of armed National Guard troops are already patrolling the Capitol ahead of next week’s inauguration, and large swaths of downtown Washington are closed to guard against potential further violence.