The Senate is set to confirm Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen while formally starting an impeachment trial that threatens to slow down progress on President Joe Biden’s policy agenda.
Meanwhile, Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan is running into stiff resistance from Senate Republicans, who are balking at the price tag.
The Democratic-controlled Senate is still in the awkward position of operating with Republican committee chairs because the Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have yet to agree on an organizing resolution. Schumer has refused to agree to McConnell’s demands to include a provision in the resolution preserving the 60-vote requirement for moving most bills.
However, Schumer did announce a schedule Friday evening for trying the impeachment article against former President Donald Trump that the House passed following the rioting at the Capitol by Trump supporters on Jan. 6. The impeachment article will be formally read to the Senate on Monday evening, and senators will be sworn in Tuesday for the trial. However, the formal trial will not start until Feb. 8, giving Trump’s legal team time to prepare its briefs.
“During that period, the Senate will continue to do other business for the American people, such as Cabinet nominations and the COVID-relief bill, which would provide relief for millions of Americans who are suffering during this pandemic,” Schumer said.
However, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said on Fox News Sunday that an impeachment trial would reopen political wounds and inevitably distract Congress. "We’re going to jump into what we have going through for the last five years and stirring it up with a trial. It’s just going to be bad for the country, it really is," he said.
The Senate has confirmed just two of Biden’s Cabinet picks so far, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. But the Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved Yellen’s nomination on Friday, clearing her for Monday's floor vote.
During her confirmation hearing, Yellen said Biden was “prepared to use the fully array of tools” at his disposal to challenge China’s trade practices and said China “is clearly our most important strategic competitor.” She also said that Biden’s “entire administration” would be focused on addressing climate change.
On Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee will vote on the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas, who has the backing of many farm groups to be the secretary for homeland security. In a letter to senators, the ag groups noted that from 2009 to 2013 Mayorkas ran U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the DHS agency that processes H-2A visa applications. The letter said Mayorkas “has the requisite background, agency mission and issue knowledge to provide serious and stable leadership at the helm of DHS."
No hearings have been set yet for two nominees especially critical to agriculture, Tom Vilsack, who is Biden’s pick to take a second stint as agriculture secretary, and EPA Administrator-designate Michael Regan.
Vilsack served at USDA for all eight years of the Obama administration, and more than 120 national and state farm groups have endorsed Biden's nomination.
“Secretary Vilsack is ready to lead the peoples’ department and American food and agriculture broadly to meet environmental challenges, enhance diversity and inclusion, strengthen food security, and build rural prosperity through expanded trade and development of the bioeconomy, all with broad consumer benefits,” the groups said in a letter to the committee.
The National Farmers Union didn’t sign the letter but intends to send its own, as will the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Meanwhile, the filibuster issue could be critical to passing Biden’s agenda in the 50-50 Senate. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has said he wouldn’t support ending the use of the filibuster, but McConnell wants a guarantee that it won’t be eliminated. A GOP filibuster could prevent Democrats from passing measures like an increase in the federal minimum wage that can't be attached to a budget reconciliation measure, which only requires a simple majority to pass the Senate.
Republicans have been cool so far to Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which includes $1,400-per-person direct payments as well as an extension of the 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits approved by Congress in December.
At a White House event on Friday, Biden appealed to Congress to enact more relief. There is “a growing economic consensus that we must act decisively and boldly to grow the economy for all Americans, not just for tomorrow, but in the future,” he said.
But Republicans say the overall cost of the bill is too high and that the direct payments would go to many households that don’t need the money.
“I want very much to hear the justification for a package that is so big after we just passed $900 billion last month, and a lot of that money has yet to be dispersed,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, told reporters.
“Now, maybe a couple of months from now, the needs will be evident, and we will need to do something significant. But I'm not seeing it right now,” she said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said, “My focus is to see where’s the need, and let’s make sure that the numbers are real based upon need, as opposed to simply looking for more stimulus.”
Biden press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday that Biden continues to support preserving the filibuster option in the Senate, but she also emphasized that he wants the aid package passed.
"He is eager to get relief to the American public. He wants to work with both of them (Schumer and McConnell) to do exactly that, and he wants it to be a bipartisan bill," Psaki said.
There is no floor action in the House this week, although committees are beginning to hold organizational sessions.
Here is a list of agriculture- or rural-related events scheduled for this week in Washington and elsewhere (all times EDT):
Monday, Jan. 25
International Dairy Foods Association annual Dairy Forum, online through Thursday. Agri-Pulse Editor Sara Wyant serves as moderator for the President's address, "Dairy Evolved," a live Q & A with IDFA President and CEO Michael Dykes at 11 am.
9 a.m. - USDA releases monthly Food Price Outlook.
Tuesday, Jan. 26
10 a.m. - Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the nomination of Gina Raimondo to be secretary of commerce, 253 Russell.
11 a.m. - Senate Homeland Security Committee meeting to consider the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas to be homeland security secretary, 342 Dirksen.
Wednesday, Jan. 27
9:30 a.m. - Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on the nomination of Jennifer Granholm to be energy sectretary, 106 Dirksen.
Thursday, Jan. 28
8:30 a.m. - USDA releases Weekly Export Sales report.
10 a.m. - Senate Banking Committee hearing on the nominations of Marcia Fudge to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development and Cecilia Rouse to chair the Council of Economic Advisers.
Noon - Environmental Law Institute webinar: “Governing the Gasoline Spigot: Gas Stations and the Transition Away From Gasoline.”
Friday, Jan. 29
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