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DJ Senate Democrats See Short Trump Trial as They Juggle Covid-19 Stimulus Package

· 02/07/2021 13:54
By Andrew Duehren and Andrew Restuccia

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats said they expect a short impeachment trial starting this week for former President Donald Trump as they also seek to push ahead with the Biden administration's proposed $1.9-trillion economic relief bill.

The two events, combined with continuing hearings and votes on President Biden's cabinet nominees, presage competing priorities as the new Democratic majority -- which is reliant on Vice President Kamala Harris to break tied votes -- is still figuring out key details on the trial process and on what provisions to include in the bill.

The House impeached Mr. Trump on one article of inciting the Jan. 6 riot in the Capitol, which Mr. Trump's lawyers have denied, and the trial begins in earnest Tuesday. House impeachment managers haven't yet indicated whether there will be new witnesses in the trial, leaving its scope and duration up in the air, according to lawmakers and aides. Mr. Trump's lawyers turned down a request for the former president to appear.

At the same time, Democrats are debating who should be eligible for $1,400 direct checks and whether they can pass a $15 minimum wage as part of the pandemic-related stimulus package.

"The Senate's going to do all three things next week. We're going to do our constitutional responsibility and hold a trial. It won't last very long. We're going to move forward nominees and we're going to continue to push forward Covid relief legislation," Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) said on Fox News Sunday.

A central issue in the impeachment trial will be whether the Senate can proceed against a former president, which most Republicans in the chamber have indicated they believe to be unconstitutional. A vote in the Senate last month showed 45 Republicans sided with Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.) when he attempted to raise a point of order calling the trial unconstitutional. Several other Republicans have indicated they are open to convicting Mr. Trump.

To lawmakers in both parties, that largely predetermined the result of the trial, which would require a two-thirds majority of 67 senators to convict Mr. Trump. The Senate acquitted Mr. Trump of both impeachment articles in his first impeachment trial last year.

"I'm ready to move on, I'm ready to end the impeachment trial because I think it's blatantly unconstitutional. I'm ready to get on with trying to solve the nation's problems" said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.). "And as to Donald Trump, he is the most popular figure in the Republican Party."

Some Senate Democrats have said that the public nature of the events of Jan. 6 largely preclude the need for calling witnesses in the proceedings, though they have indicated that they would be open to hearing from witnesses if House impeachment managers called them.

"I think the core of the case here is the president's own words that incriminate him," Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) said.

On the relief bill, Democrats took a series of votes last week unlocking a process called reconciliation, which will allow the party to approve Mr. Biden's relief plan without Republican support in the Senate. In the House, lawmakers are aiming to finalize and vote on a relief bill before the end of February. Some forms of federal unemployment programs are set to expire in mid-March.

Many Republicans have criticized Mr. Biden's plan as too broad and expensive after Congress approved a $900 billion relief plan in December. A group of 10 Republican Senators proposed a $618 billion alternative to Mr. Biden, who called it too meager.

"What you hear is these broad generalities about, 'Well people are suffering, so let's spend another $2 trillion dollars.' It's not the right solution," Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) said on CNN Sunday.

Democratic lawmakers and members of the Biden administration say their proposal is needed to help the economy recover. As he continues to make a public case for the relief package, Mr. Biden is planning to hold meetings this week with bipartisan groups, a White House official said, and senior administration officials will meet with members of Congress to discuss details of the package.

"The spending it will generate will create demand for workers," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on CBS News Sunday.

Chief among the decisions Democrats face is determining who will be eligible for the $1,400 direct payments Mr. Biden's plan calls for. Previous relief bills have sent payments to individuals making up to $75,000 a year and couples making $150,000 a year before tapering off to zero at higher income levels.

Some Democrats have proposed that the full payments be available to individuals earning up to $50,000 a year and couples earning $100,00 a year before scaling down. Mr. Biden has said he is open to more narrowly targeting the checks.

Progressives such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) say they oppose more narrowly targeting the checks, saying the income cutoffs should be consistent with previous relief efforts.

Mr. Sanders said on CNN on Sunday that Democrats should more drastically scale back payments for people earning more than $75,000 and $150,000 -- rather than lower the income thresholds for the full payments.

"Now when people said, 'We don't want rich people to get that benefit,' I understand that, I agree. And what we need to do is have a strong cliff so that it doesn't spill over to people making $300,000 dollars," Mr. Sanders said.

Mr. Biden's plan also provides funds for coronavirus testing and vaccine efforts; enhances and expands federal unemployment insurance programs; and provides aid to state and local governments, schools, and renters. It also seeks to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and increase the child tax credit.

The House Ways and Means Committee, set to vote this week on its piece of the aid bill, is working on a plan that would increase the child tax credit from $2,000 per child under 17 to $3,000 for children under 17 and $3,600 for children under 6. The proposal would make it fully refundable, which means the lowest-income families would get the entire benefit instead of the limits they face now.

A bill from committee Chairman Richard Neal (D., Mass.) reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, would begin reducing the size of the additional child benefit for individuals making more than $75,000 and couples making $150,000. The existing $2,000-per-child credit available to many households above those levels wouldn't change. The expanded benefit would expire after just one year. Many Democrats have been advocating for a permanent version.

A White House official praised the measure, saying it echoes proposals made by Mr. Biden to reduce child poverty.

Some Democrats have indicated they don't support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Even if Democrats muster enough support, the minimum-wage increase may be cut out of the bill because of concerns about parliamentary procedures around reconciliation.

Mr. Sanders said Sunday Senate Budget Committee lawyers were working on how to include the wage increase in the bill. Mr. Biden had previously indicated the increase wouldn't be included in the relief package. A White House official said the president is "firmly committed" to raising the minimum wage and plans to push the proposal separately from the relief bill if it is not included in the package.

--Gwynn Guilford and Richard Rubin contributed to this article.

Write to Andrew Duehren at andrew.duehren@wsj.com and Andrew Restuccia at Andrew.Restuccia@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 07, 2021 13:54 ET (18:54 GMT)

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