Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-NY, (R) stands with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., (L) as they attend the Electoral College vote certification for President-elect Joe Biden, during a joint session of Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 6, 2021.
Kevin Dietsch | Pool | AFP | Getty Images
Preparing for the first evenly split Senate in 20 years and the only impeachment trial for an ex-president in U.S. history, Senate leaders Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell plan to discuss ground rules for the chamber on Tuesday.
Schumer’s Democrats will take control of a 50-50 Senate as soon as Wednesday. Sen. Kamala Harris will become vice president, then hold a tiebreaking vote once the chamber swears in three new Democratic senators. Harris’ successor, Alex Padilla of California, and Senators-elect Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff of Georgia will “probably” get sworn in Wednesday, Schumer told reporters Tuesday.
Schumer, D-N.Y., and McConnell, R-Ky., have to decide how to handle an unprecedented few weeks for the Senate. The chamber needs to set rules for an impeachment trial of outgoing President Donald Trump, which Democrats aim to balance with the confirmation of President-elect Joe Biden‘s Cabinet and passage of a coronavirus relief bill.
Schumer told reporters he will speak to McConnell on Tuesday about the thorny issues facing the Senate.
“I’m talking to McConnell later, we’ll see what happens. … We’ve got three things we got to do, do quickly, impeachment, nominations, Covid. Got to move them all fast,” he said when asked when Trump’s trial would start, according to NBC News.
Speaking on the Senate floor later Tuesday, he described them as “three essential items” the Senate has to accomplish in the coming weeks. McConnell also spoke during the Senate session Tuesday and said Trump provoked the deadly Capitol riot. He did not address the logistics of the trial and confirmation votes.
The Senate will have to come to an agreement on how to structure a 50-50 split. Democrats will lead committees and Schumer will decide which bills see a floor vote. The party can confirm executive branch nominees with a simple majority and will need 60 votes to pass most legislation.
In the last evenly split Senate in 2001, each party had the same number of seats on committees. If a committee was deadlocked on a measure, the majority leader had the power to bring it to a full Senate vote.
It is unclear how much the 2001 rules will guide the power structure for the next two years.
The Senate cannot start Trump’s trial until it receives from the House the impeachment article, which charges the president with inciting an insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has not said when she will send the measure to the Senate.
Trump’s first impeachment trial last year took about three weeks. If the needed 67 senators vote to convict the president, it would come too late to remove him from the White House. However, the chamber could hold a separate vote to bar Trump from holding office again.
Schumer and McConnell are set to discuss how to structure the trial. Biden has said he hopes the Senate can devote part of its day to impeachment and another part to confirming his Cabinet.
Senate committees started to hold hearings for the president-elect’s nominees on Tuesday. They include Treasury Secretary-designate Janet Yellen, Secretary of State nominee Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary-designate Lloyd Austin. Panels could vote to send their nominations to the Senate floor in the coming days.
Schumer noted that “it will take cooperation from our Republican colleagues to swiftly confirm” national security officials in Biden’s administration.
Along with the trial and confirmations, the Senate will also likely consider pandemic aid in the coming weeks. Biden, Schumer and Pelosi have said another relief package will be their top legislative priority.
The president-elect last week released a $1.9 trillion aid plan, which he hopes will guide a bill Democrats try to push through Congress. Biden could face difficulties in winning Republican support for more federal spending after lawmakers approved a $900 billion aid package last month.