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Democrats charge ahead with COVID relief package as impeachment consumes Senate

Biden urges Congress to prioritize relief
Biden urges Congress to prioritize relief 08:42

Washington — As former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial kicks off in the Senate on Tuesday afternoon, congressional Democrats are working to ensure the legislative focus remains on President Biden's sweeping coronavirus relief package.

The impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump will take priority in the upper chamber, with other legislative activity and nominations put on the back burner for the duration of the trial. But on the other side of the Capitol, the Democratic-led House committees are crafting their parts of Mr. Biden's $1.9 trillion aid package, as outlined in budget reconciliation instructions approved by both chambers in a budget resolution last week. Those portions will then be combined to form the reconciliation bill.

"We have to do everything we can to end this crisis. And even though the impeachment trial is an important and august responsibility, we are doing both," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said during a press conference ahead of the trial's start.

Joined by Democrat committee chairs, Schumer said the Senate is working with House members and Republicans to address the coronavirus crisis, juggling the impeachment trial with drafting the relief package.

"The bottom line is simple. The Senate is moving full steam ahead on a bold plan to get this country out of the crisis," the New York Democrat said, chastising political commentators who warned the impeachment trial would knock Mr. Biden's legislative agenda off course.

"To the pundits that said we can't do both at once, we say, you are wrong. We can and we are," he said.

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Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer speaks to the press as preparations for former President Donald Trump's trial are made on Capitol Hill on February 9, 2021. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

As the trial gets underway in the Senate, the House Ways and Means Committee is poised to consider nine legislative proposals to be included in the coronavirus relief package beginning this week.

Among the measures are $1,400 direct payments to Americans, which would phase out for individuals making at least $75,000 and joint filers bringing in at least $150,000. The income threshold outlined by House Democrats is higher than that proposed by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who offered an amendment to the Senate's budget resolution lowering the phaseout to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for joint filers.

Additionally, the Ways and Means Committee will consider a provision extending temporary federal unemployment assistance through August 29 and boosting the weekly benefit from $300 to $400, as well as a proposal expanding the Child Tax Credit to $3,000 per child, or $3,600 for children under the age of 6.

Democrats also plan to include in their relief package a measure raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. It's unclear, however, whether the provision will withstand parliamentary scrutiny in the Senate, as Congress is using a legislative process called budget reconciliation to swiftly pass Mr. Biden's coronavirus aid package and do so without needing Republican support.

Mr. Biden conceded in an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor and managing editor Norah O'Donnell that he didn't think the minimum wage hike "was going to survive," as there are rules that dictate what can be included in a reconciliation bill.

The president has largely avoided weighing in on the impeachment trial in the Senate, where he served for more than three decades. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Mr. Biden would not be watching the proceedings, as he'll be spending his time talking with lawmakers "about his hopes and plans for the American Rescue Plan moving forward as quickly as possible."

"I think it's clear from his schedule, and from his intention, he will not spend too much time watching the proceedings any time over the course of this week. He will remain closely in touch with Speaker Pelosi, Leader Schumer, a range of officials on the Hill about his plan, and that's exactly what they want him to do, is to remain focused on that," Psaki told reporters during the White House press briefing. "And he will leave the pace and the process and the mechanics of the impeachment proceedings up to members of Congress."

The Senate is set to convene as a court of impeachment at 1 p.m., with members tasked with deciding whether to acquit or convict Mr. Trump on the single charge of "incitement of insurrection" for his conduct related to the January 6 assault on the U. Capitol.  The president, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and business leaders later Tuesday afternoon to discuss the "critical need for the American Rescue Plan to save our economy," according to the White House.

It's unclear how long Mr. Trump's Senate trial will last, as its length hinges in part on whether House Democrats will seek to call witnesses. Members are set to spend Tuesday debating the constitutionality of whether a former president can be tried after he has left office. The House impeachment managers, who are prosecuting the case against the former president, and Mr. Trump's lawyers then each have 16 hours to make their presentations to senators, beginning Wednesday.

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