The looming trial — which has the potential to inflame partisan divisions just as quickly as Biden was trying to squelch them — offers no visible upside to a President who was elected on his promise to bring the warring parties of Washington together and forge compromise in a Capitol that has been defined by strife.
Senate unlikely to convict
Biden has been circumspect on whether he believes there is any point to holding a Senate impeachment trial for a President who has already left office, answering virtually every question by stating that he will leave the timing and mechanics of a trial up to Senate leaders.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki crisply shut down questions about Biden’s more substantive views on impeachment — and whether Trump should be barred from holding federal office in the future — by pointing out that the President ousted Trump from the White House through the electoral process.
“He ran against him because he thought he was unfit to serve, and he’s no longer here because President Biden beat him,” Psaki said during the White House news briefing Friday. “We’ll leave the steps — the accountability steps — to Congress to determine.”
The argument about constitutionality is serving as a useful dodge for GOP senators who are wary of Trump’s punishing instincts — allowing them to avoid alienating his base voters, while potentially getting them off the hook with more moderate constituents who were angered by Trump’s role in Capitol riot, seeded by the blizzard of lies he told about the November election results.
“I don’t know what the vote will be, but I think the chance of two-thirds is nil,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, told CNN.
‘Americans are going hungry’
Through almost all of his other actions this week, Biden signaled that he was trying to move Americans beyond the Trump era, not just in policy but also in tone. Swearing in his new employees, Biden told them that if he heard them disrespecting or talking down to another colleague, he would fire them on the spot — underscoring that he believes everyone deserves to be treated with the dignity and decency that has been “missing in a big way the past four years.” Aside from that comment, when given the chance to take a shot at Trump, he has generally avoided it — describing the letter the former President left him, for example, as “generous.”
Biden alienated some Republicans this week by seeking to undo some of Trump’s most controversial policies through executive actions — halting construction of the wall at the US-Mexico border, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline, rejoining the Paris climate accord and rescinding Trump’s ban on travel from predominantly Muslim countries.
But the new President also placed great emphasis on actions he was taking that could garner support from both parties: measures to speed up vaccine distribution like invoking the Defense Production Act to produce more supplies like needles or specialized syringes that could extract more vaccine from each vial; plans to accelerate the reopening of schools; an extension of moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures; and policies aimed at curbing food insecurity in the midst of the pandemic, which has been a concern for both Democrats and Republicans.
While Biden is already facing significant resistance among Republicans about the cost of the package, National Economic Council Director Brian Deese warned that Americans may tumble into an even deeper medical crisis and “economic hole” without it.
Biden noted that another 900,000 Americans have joined the ranks of the unemployed, according to economic data this week, while many families are still being forced to drive up to food banks just to feed their children. In an argument for his legislative package attuned to Republican concerns, he said there is a “growing economic consensus that we must act decisively and boldly to grow the economy,” and that it is “a smart fiscal investment” that will help America retain its competitive edge around the world. (He noted at one point that Trump’s former economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, has spoken in favor of the proposal that he has outlined).
“This almost doesn’t have a partisan piece to it,” Biden said plaintively.
“I don’t believe the people of this country just want to stand by and watch their friends and their neighbors, coworkers, fellow Americans go hungry, lose their homes, or lose their sense of dignity and hope and respect,” he said Friday. “I don’t believe Democrats or Republicans are going hungry and losing jobs; I believe Americans are going hungry and losing their jobs.”
“We have the tools to fix it.”
But Biden still has a great deal of persuading to do as he tries to drum up the political will for another bipartisan piece of legislation using those tools. As he reaches out, there are signs that the two camps are retreating back to their familiar corners — with impeachment standing as the biggest obstacle in the new President’s way.