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In New Senate, Party Leaders Try To Chart A Path Forward For Their Agendas

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It is the first full day of the Biden administration, also the first full day of a Democratic-controlled Congress. With full control of Washington now in place, party leaders are trying to chart a path forward for their agenda. So what's it look like? Well, let's bring in NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Hey there.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey there.

KELLY: Fair to say the very top item on Democrats' to-do list is actually not legislation but a Senate impeachment trial against former President Trump. What is the latest on timing for that?

DAVIS: Well, Speaker Nancy Pelosi isn't saying when she's going to send over the impeachment resolution. That's the act that formally triggers a Senate trial and forces all other business to stop in the chamber. She told reporters today it would be, quote, "soon" and that Democrats were not preparing for a long trial. She's essentially trying to give time to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to work out some negotiations with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on how they want this opening of the Senate to go. And for it to go smoothly, they're going to need some element of bipartisan cooperation in a 50-50 Senate.

KELLY: You said negotiations between Schumer and Mitch McConnell. What are they negotiating? What's the holdup?

DAVIS: It's complicated, and it's very inside, but it's important. Part of the problem here is Schumer and McConnell are at odds right now on something called an organizing resolution. It's basically what sets the terms of a new Senate, things like how many seats each party will get on committees, who gets to staff it, that kind of thing. McConnell wants Democrats to agree to the - as part of that resolution to say that they won't try to touch the filibuster, the rule that requires a 60-vote supermajority to get anything of real substance through the chamber. Democrats have outright rejected that. They said they're not going to agree to it.

Until they can come to terms and pass an organizing resolution, it's really hard to get all the other work - get it going, you know - the impeachment trial, getting Biden's full cabinet confirmed and any legislation that they want to try to pass, and certainly in the first 100 days. Schumer told reporters today he's also at the same time trying to come up with a bipartisan resolution with McConnell on how they want to start that impeachment trial.

KELLY: Let me return to a question we've been asking for days now, which is, how concerned are Democrats that this whole impeachment process is going to derail efforts to build support for legislation that the new president is calling for, including, front and center, $1.9 trillion in COVID relief?

DAVIS: Yeah, I mean, this is the charge that Republicans are making. A lot of Senate Republicans are making the case that the Senate doesn't have the authority to have a trial for a former president and that they should try to dismiss it on jurisdictional grounds. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, who's been talking to Trump in recent days, told reporters today that he believes that's going to be the crux of the Trump defense in the trial and that Trump is assembling a legal team right now. Pelosi was asked about this today, this idea that, you know, can you even try a former president, and does it do, you know, anything to help the unity of the country? And this is what she said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NANCY PELOSI: You don't say to a president, do whatever you want in the last months of your administration; you're going to get a Get Out of Jail card free because people think we should make nice-nice.

DAVIS: Nice-nice - you know, the bottom line here still in a Senate trial is, as of today, they don't have the votes to convict President Trump in the Senate, so many lawmakers are essentially saying maybe we can just dispatch with this quickly and get on to business of legislating.

KELLY: And meanwhile, this round of COVID-related relief measures that the president is pushing for - where does that stand?

DAVIS: So the House is planning to approve it in early February. I think the big question here - and Mary Louise, you're going to hear me say this so many times over...

KELLY: All right. Go.

DAVIS: ...The next two years - is what can get through the Senate? Roy Blunt today said that the $1.9 trillion package was a, quote, "nonstarter," but he saw a lot of starters contained within it. And the Biden administration is really focused on a group of about 16 senators - eight Republicans, eight Democrats - that they think could be the sort of moderating force of consensus in the Senate to get this bill and many others signed into law.

KELLY: NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis.

Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.