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Senate rejects GOP motion to declare Trump impeachment trial unconstitutional

Senators prepare for impeachment trial for former President Trump 05:05

Washington — Senators were sworn in as jurors on Tuesday in the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump for inciting an insurrection, with proceedings scheduled to get underway in two weeks.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore who will be presiding over the trial in the absence of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and Vice President Kamala Harris, administered the oath to senators. Senators then signed the oath book declaring their intent to serve as impartial jurors.

The Senate voted down a motion brought by GOP Senator Rand Paul challenging the constitutionality an impeachment trial against a former president. But just five Republicans joined all Democrats in opposing the measure, an indication that Democrats will not attract the 17 Republicans that would be needed to convict Mr. Trump at trial.

The trial is expected to begin the week of February 8, after attorneys for the president and the House impeachment managers have presented evidence for their cases. 

The House impeached Mr. Trump on January 13 — for a second time in his term — on a charge of inciting an insurrection following a deadly attack by his supporters on the U.S. Capitol. The article of impeachment against him was delivered to the Senate on Monday, and House impeachment managers presented, exhibited and read it aloud. 

Meanwhile, the Senate continued to confirm President Joe Biden's Cabinet nominees on Tuesday, with Antony Blinken confirmed as secretary of state in a bipartisan vote earlier in the day. Several other nominees are set to face a vote in the coming days.


Senate adjourns as court of impeachment until February 9

After denying Paul's motion to dismiss the impeachment trial against Mr. Trump, the Senate adopted a pre-trial organizing resolution 83-17. The 17 senators who voted against the resolution were all Republicans. 

The Senate then adjourned as a court of impeachment until February 9.

By Melissa Quinn

Senate rejects GOP effort to declare Trump impeachment trial unconstitutional

The Senate voted 55 to 45 to reject a motion to dismiss the impeachment trial on the basis that it is unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a private citizen, paving the way for the trial to begin in two weeks. 

Five Republicans — Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse and Pat Toomey — joined all Democrats in voting to table the point of order, brought by GOP Senator Rand Paul.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the Republicans who voted against the point of order, brought by Paul, indicating McConnell supports Paul's position that an impeachment trial of a former president is unconstitutional.

In a speech on the Senate floor ahead of the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Paul's interpretation of the Constitution was "flat-out wrong," and noted that the Senate had previously held an impeachment trial for an official who was no longer in office in 1876.

"The point of order is ill-founded, and in any case, premature," Schumer said before moving to table the motion.

By Grace Segers

Harris gets second dose of coronavirus vaccine

The vice president received the second and final dose of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine in her left arm. She was administered her first shot in December, before she was sworn-in as vice president.

Harris delivered brief remarks after she received the vaccine and reiterated Mr. Biden's pledge of administering 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days.

"These scientists, these medical professionals, doing the work of pursuing what is in the interest of the public health, have been a big part of the vaccine that I just took," she said of the scientists at the National Institutes of Health. "They, through the research, through the dedication, created something that will save your life and the life of your family and the community."

Harris again urged Americans to get vaccinated.

"It is really pretty painless, and it will save your life," she said.

By Melissa Quinn

McConnell warns of "immediate chaos" if filibuster is eliminated

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a strong warning to Democrats over attempts to eliminate the legislative filibuster, saying they would be met with "immediate chaos" if they succeeded in removing the 60-vote threshold for passing most legislation.

"This body operates everyday, every hour, by consent, and destroying the filibuster would drain comity and consent from this body to a degree that would be unparalleled in living memory," McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday morning.

If the filibuster were to be eliminated, McConnell argued the upper chamber would become a "scorched-earth Senate" and would negatively impact Mr. Biden's ability to work on his agenda.

"It would delay them terribly," McConnell added. "It would hamstring the Biden presidency over a power grab which the president has spent decades warning against and still opposes."

On Monday evening, the Kentucky senator released a statement indicating that he and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer can proceed with a power-sharing agreement, after Democratic Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia said they oppose eliminating the filibuster. Abolishing the legislative filibuster would require a simple majority vote, meaning all 50 Democrats would need to support the move.

At a press conference Tuesday, Schumer said the Senate was ready to move forward on the organizing resolution.

"Now that Leader Mcconnell has relented on his demand that was preventing the Senate from moving forward with an organizing resolution, we can begin work to help the American people get out of this crisis and make America bigger and better and stronger," Schumer said.

By Jack Turman

Biden presses Putin on Navalny arrest and arms treaty in first phone call

White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Mr. Biden spoke by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Psaki said Mr. Biden called Putin "with the intention of discussing" a willingness to extend the New START treaty for five years and "reaffirm our strong support for Ukraine's sovereignty." The president also raised "matters of concern," such as the SolarWinds hack, alleged bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, election interference, the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny and treatment of peaceful protesters.

"His intention was also to make clear that the United States will act firmly in defense of our national interests in response to malign actions by Russia," Psaki said.

A readout of the call is expected to be released by the White House later Tuesday.

Read more here.

By Melissa Quinn

Gina Raimondo testifies at confirmation hearing for commerce secretary

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, nominated to be commerce secretary, appeared before the Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday to lay out her priorities if confirmed to lead the department. She discussed the Commerce Department's role in tackling the economic crisis, reinvesting in American workers, how she would focus on trade policy and manufacturing and how tackling the threat of climate change can be coupled with the creation of good-paying jobs. 

"Like President Biden, I know the climate crisis poses an existential threat to our economic security, and we must meet this challenge by creating millions of good, union jobs that power a more sustainable economy," Raimondo said in her prepared remarks. "The Commerce Department has the tools, data, and expertise to help communities and businesses address the climate crisis and become more resilient in the face of climate change."

As the governor of Rhode Island, Raimondo has also touted her administration's expansion of clean energy jobs — she oversaw the construction of the country's first offshore wind farm. If confirmed, Raimondo would lead the agency that houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a division of the Commerce Department tasked with monitoring the climate and weather. 

Read more here.

By Sarah Ewall-Wice

Senate confirms Blinken as secretary of state in 78-22 vote

The Senate voted to confirm Antony Blinken as secretary of state on Tuesday, by a vote of 78 to 22, with all of the "no" votes coming from Republicans. The Senate has so far voted to confirm several of Mr. Biden's nominees on a bipartisan basis.

Blinken is a longtime diplomat and a member of Mr. Biden's inner circle. He served in the past two Democratic administrations, including as a deputy national security adviser from 2013 to 2015 and as deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017. Mr. Biden first began working with Blinken more than 15 years ago when he led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Blinken served as Democratic staff director.

At his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee last week, Blinken pledged to restore American leadership on the world stage and revitalize the ranks of the State Department.

Read more here.

By Grace Segers

Janet Yellen sworn in as treasury secretary

Biden Cabinet Treasury
Vice President Kamala Harris participates in a swearing-in ceremony with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Yellen's husband George Akerlof, on Tuesday, January 26, 2021, at the White House. Patrick Semansky / AP

Vice President Kamala Harris administered the oath of office to Janet Yellen as secretary of the treasury in a ceremony at the White House. 

"Congratulations Madam Secretary," Harris said after swearing Yellen in.

The Senate confirmed Yellen in a 84-15 vote Monday. She is the first woman to lead the Department of Treasury in its nearly 232-year-history, and the first person to serve as treasury secretary, chair of the Federal Reserve and chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

Yellen is taking over as secretary as the nation grapples with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, which has left millions of Americans out of work. Mr. Biden has put forth a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan that calls for more than $1 trillion to help Americans in need of financial support. 

By Melissa Quinn

Senate committee advances nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas as DHS chief

The Senate Homeland Security Committee voted to advance the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of homeland security, teeing up a full Senate vote on his confirmation.

The committee voted 7 to 4 to send his nomination to the Senate floor on Tuesday, with one additional vote against the nomination cast by proxy. GOP Senators Ron Johnson, James Lankford, Rick Scott, Josh Hawley and Rand Paul voted against advancing Mayorkas to a full Senate vote.

Mayorkas testified before the committee last week.

Johnson led the charge among those registering their opposition, voicing concerns over a 2015 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) inspector general's report that found Mayorkas pushed for the approval of applications for a program for wealthy immigrant investors on the behalf of well-connected Democrats when he served as director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

"My preference would have been not to air this dirty laundry publicly. I would have hoped that President Biden would have had better sense to nominate and carry forth with the nomination," the outgoing chairman stated. He later added, "I've had a good working relationship with Mr. Mayorkas as deputy secretary of DHS and hope to work with him in good faith if he is confirmed as secretary. I simply cannot support his nomination and I would urge members not to as well." 

GOP Senators Rob Portman and Mitt Romney expressed their concern with regard to the 2015 report, but ultimately voted in favor of pushing his nomination through to the upper chamber.  

"We've just endured a president over four years, who I will say generously, had a relaxed relationship with the truth. And I think we want the highest level of integrity in positions of government," Romney remarked, noting that Mayorkas' acknowledged his errors in a private conversation and vowed to learn from them.  

"This is a tough one," Portman conceded. Ultimately, the Senator from Ohio reasoned that Mayorkas' fate was already sealed. "He's going to be confirmed. The question is how quickly is he going to be in place," he told his colleagues, noting the importance of putting a secretary at the helm of DHS in the aftermath of the Solar Winds cyberattack.

Soon-to-be Democratic Chairman Gary Peters urged colleagues to "expedite" Mayorkas' confirmation "as much as possible."

"In fact, every day that this confirmation process is delayed, places the American people and our national security risk from threats posed by domestic terrorism, from cyber-attacks and the ongoing pandemic and so much more," Peters said.

Senators wished Portman well following his announcement that he will retire from the Senate in 2022. Then Romney interjected with a laugh, "Don't be too concerned about him leaving, because he's just organizing his campaign for president." 

By Nicole Sganga

Rand Paul expected to force a vote on constitutionality of impeachment trial

Conservative firebrand Senator Rand Paul is expected to raise a point of order on Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a president who has left office, forcing a vote on whether to dismiss the trial before it begins.

Although this vote is expected to fail, as Democrats are in the majority, it will force Republican senators to go on the record whether they support holding a trial in the first place. Two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, must vote to convict Mr. Trump if the trial moves forward. So if 34 Republicans vote to dismiss the trial on Tuesday, that will be an indication that the Senate does not have the votes to convict the former president.

"I object to this unconstitutional sham of an 'impeachment' trial and I will force a vote on whether the Senate can hold a trial of a private citizen," Paul tweeted on Monday evening. "Republicans should reject any process that involves a partisan Democrat in the chair instead of the Chief Justice."

Senator Patrick Leahy, the president pro tempore of the Senate, is expected to preside over the trial.

By Grace Segers

Senate to vote on confirming Antony Blinken as secretary of state

The Senate is expected to vote on confirming Antony Blinken as secretary of state on Tuesday, continuing the process of confirming Mr. Biden's nominees to key Cabinet posts. The Senate has so far voted to confirm several of Mr. Biden's nominees on a bipartisan basis.

Blinken is a longtime diplomat and a member of Mr. Biden's inner circle. He served in the past two Democratic administrations, including as a deputy national security adviser from 2013 to 2015 and as deputy secretary of state from 2015 to 2017. Mr. Biden first began working with Blinken more than 15 years ago when he led the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Blinken served as Democratic staff director.

At his confirmation hearing before the Foreign Relations Committee last week, Blinken pledged to restore American leadership on the world stage and revitalize the ranks of the State Department.

"The reality is that the world doesn't organize itself. When we're not engaged, when we don't lead, then one of two things happen: either some other country tries to take our place, but probably not in a way that advances our interests or values," Blinken said. "Or no one does, and then you get chaos. Either way, that does not serve the American people."

By Grace Segers

McConnell-Schumer showdown over filibuster ends

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell backed off his demand that Senate Democrats preserve the procedural tool known as the filibuster, easing a standoff with new Majority Leader Chuck Schumer as the two negotiated a power-sharing agreement in the closely divided chamber. 

McConnell said late Monday he had essentially accomplished his goal after two Democratic senators said they would not agree to changing the rules to end the filibuster, which would require a 60-vote threshold to advance most legislation. Without the support of all Democratic senators, a rules change would fail.

"With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent," McConnell said in a statement. He did not name the Democrats, but West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema had expressed reservations about doing away with the tool.

The standoff between the two leaders all but ground the Senate to a halt in the early days of the new Democratic majority as the two sides couldn't organize the chamber's routine operations for committee assignments and resources. The stalemate threatened President Biden's ability to deliver on his legislative agenda. 

Usually a routine matter, the organizing resolution for the chamber became a power play by McConnell once Democrats swept to control with the January 5 special election in Georgia.

Read more here.

By The Associated Press

Senate committees consider commerce, Homeland Security secretaries

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is holding a hearing Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET to consider the nomination of Gina Raimondo as commerce secretary.

At 11 a.m., the Senate Homeland Security Committee is considering the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas as Secretary of Homeland Security. 


Harris to swear in Janet Yellen as treasury secretary

Vice President Kamala Harris is swearing in Janet Yellen as treasury secretary on Tuesday at noon. 

The Senate voted Monday evening to confirm Yellen, with bipartisan support. Yellen will be the first woman to lead the department in its more than 230-year history.

"I look forward to working with her to get our economy back on track and Americans back to work," Senate Finance Committee ranking member Ron Wyden tweeted after the vote.

"As we face an economic crisis brought on by COVID-19, we will need steady, proven leadership at the Treasury Department," said Republican Senator Susan Collins in a statement after voting for Yellen. "A highly respected economist, Dr. Yellen served first as vice chair and then chair of the Federal Reserve. She has served under Democratic and Republican presidents and during periods of economic crisis and economic growth."

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