Uphill: Welcome to Inauguration Week
Cabinet hearings, Republican repositioning, and—at some point—an impeachment trial.
Good morning. President-elect Joe Biden will take office this week. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial may also begin in the Senate, although the exact timing remains unclear.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has not disclosed when she plans to send the article of impeachment the House passed at breakneck speed last week to the Senate. Once the Senate receives the article, it must begin the trial the next day. At the earliest, the trial could begin Wednesday, the same afternoon Biden is inaugurated—but Pelosi may hold off until after then. Last time, she withheld the House’s first articles of impeachment against Trump for a couple of weeks, delaying the start of the trial.
Still, Rep. Ted Lieu, an impeachment manager, said on CNN Monday night that his expectation is the article will be delivered to the Senate at some point this week.
In the meantime, lawmakers are preparing for Biden’s inauguration tomorrow. Security precautions are at the top of everyone’s mind after the attack on the Capitol two weeks ago. Thousands of members of the National Guard have been stationed around the Capitol and other parts of the city. The Capitol complex and other key buildings in the area have been surrounded with fencing and razor wire. Members of Congress are also taking steps to protect themselves personally.
“Maybe it's the trauma that I'm still feeling, but I purchased a vest to protect myself at the inauguration and I'm encouraging all my colleagues to do the same thing," said Rep. Norma Torres, a California Democrat.
Biden Nominees Will Get Hearings
Several of President-elect Joe Biden’s picks for top Cabinet posts will appear in confirmation hearings Tuesday. The hearings come late in the calendar compared to previous presidential transitions. Hill reporter Jamie Dupree notes that normally “by this point in January, the Senate has held multiple confirmation hearings for Cabinet secretaries of an incoming President.”
On the schedule today:
Former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen will appear before the Senate Finance Committee at 10 a.m. for consideration of her nomination to be treasury secretary.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence will hold a confirmation hearing at 10 a.m. for Avril Haines, Biden’s nominee for director of national intelligence.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing at 10 a.m. on Alejandro Mayorkas’ nomination to be DHS secretary.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold a hearing at 2 p.m. on Antony Blinken’s nomination to be secretary of state.
Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, Biden’s pick for secretary of defense, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee at 3 p.m. today.
Republicans Look to the Future
With President Donald Trump set to leave the White House this week, Republicans are contemplating how their party will evolve going forward. In an essay for The Atlantic over the weekend, Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse called for the GOP to turn away from conspiracy theories and candidates like Georgia freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, whom he described as “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.”
He wrote that until the January 6 attack on the Capitol, “many party leaders and consultants thought they could preach the Constitution while winking at QAnon. They can’t. The GOP must reject conspiracy theories or be consumed by them. Now is the time to decide what this party is about.”
Other Republicans are signaling they’re prepared for a fight over the party’s direction as well. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who emerged as a vocal Trump critic in recent months and voted to impeach him last week, told the New York Times, “Hell yes we are,” when asked if opposing factions of the GOP are headed toward a showdown.
But Kinzinger and his allies are decidedly in the minority. People like Greene and Reps. Lauren Boebert, Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, and Jim Jordan aren’t just going to fade into the background with the end of the Trump presidency, and neither are their supporters among GOP primary voters. The hard right wing of the party has proven itself able to command a majority of the House GOP Conference on even the most controversial issues: 138 House Republicans supported an objection to Pennsylvania’s Electoral College votes after the Capitol was attacked, despite no evidence of widespread fraud and the debunking of conspiracies about the election. Only 64 House Republicans opposed it. Similarly, 121 Republicans backed the challenge to Arizona’s Electoral College votes, compared to 83 who opposed it.
The numbers on impeachment were even more stark: Only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach President Donald Trump. Those 10 Republicans did make it the most bipartisan presidential impeachment ever, but the total fell on the lower end of the predictions some reporters and analysts had shared leading up to the vote.
A few other members said Trump may have committed impeachable offenses but took issue with the process or how the article had been drafted. Rep. Michael McCaul, for example, acknowledged “there very well may have been” impeachable offenses committed leading up to and during the riot, but he argued members were not given enough time to consider the evidence before the vote. He added, “I truly fear there may be more facts that come to light in the future that will put me on the wrong side of this debate.”
Yet most Republicans were not so torn over the vote—at least not publicly. The vast majority of the House GOP Conference voted against impeaching Trump, with members saying the move was too hasty, motivated by partisanship, or a manifestation of cancel culture.
All that to say: Don’t expect a unified repudiation of the Trump years from elected Republicans now that he’s leaving office. There will be fierce battles over the direction of the party, especially as lawmakers and officials begin jockeying ahead of the 2024 presidential race. And Trump’s allies will continue to have strong support among the GOP electorate, even if his personal influence diminishes in the months ahead.
For those who do want to move on from the Trump era, McKay Coppins of The Atlantic writes, it could look more like a collective rewriting of the most problematic aspects of Trump’s presidency.
“People who spent years coddling the president will recast themselves as voices of conscience, or whitewash their relationship with Trump altogether,” Coppins predicts. “Policy makers who abandoned their dedication to ‘fiscal responsibility’ and ‘limited government’ will rediscover a passion for these timeless conservative principles. Some may dress up their revisionism in the rhetoric of ‘healing’ and ‘moving forward,’ but the strategy will be clear—to escape accountability by taking advantage of America’s notoriously short political memory.”
In Case You Missed It
Freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, one of the 10 House Republicans who supported impeachment last week, went on The Dispatch Podcast on Friday. If you’re anything like me, listening to podcasts (or at least paying attention while listening to podcasts) can be a challenge. It’s easier for me to process written information. If you’re in that boat or if you just haven’t gotten around to listening to the conversation, I’ve compiled a few key moments below.
Meijer expected January 6 to be a long day filled with slow votes on different Electoral College objections, potentially extending late into the evening. “I brought in a pillow and blanket and some whiskey into my office, and some snacks from Trader Joe’s,” he said.
He knew there would be a large protest outside the Capitol, and he thought there might be some violence on the edges, with potential skirmishes between protesters and counter-protesters. But he still prepared for the possibility that something worse could happen: “I had most of my staff working remotely. I went and got groceries the night before so that my wife—we have an apartment here—so that she didn’t have to go out. In case something happened, we could be hunkered down for a few days,” he said.
Meijer was also expecting his decision to vote against GOP challenges to various states’ results to mark the end of his fledgling political career—or at least to spark a heated fight with the Trump wing of the party in his reelection bid. “The expectation was that going into the Electoral College certification, there were nine of us freshmen who ended up voting to certify both states, and we thought that this would be the end of our careers,” he said.
Meijer was in the House chamber during debate on the objection to Arizona’s Electoral College votes. He was in and out of the room to take phone calls and to take breaks. At a certain point, a Capitol Police officer told him to stay away from the windows as a precaution. Meijer said that gave him a feeling the situation could turn south, and he decided to use the restroom beforehand just in case. The House press gallery was fully locked down, so he found a restroom in the basement. On his way back up, he said, he saw a Capitol Police officer sprint past, yelling, “Clear!”
He made it back into the House chamber right before it was locked down. He could hear people pounding on the doors and chanting while trying to get into the building. Lawmakers were told that some protesters had made it into the Capitol but it wasn’t clear to Meijer how many people had breached the building or how serious the situation was until they found out tear gas had been deployed in the rotunda. Security officials told members to take out the inhalation hoods—a sort of disposable gas mask worn over the head—stored under their seats so they would be able to breathe safely if anything were to happen.
“It was chaos,” Meijer said. “We tried to maintain order and some degree of calm, but the more we look at videos from that day, it was clear how much worse it could have become—I mean, it was a tragic day as it is—but how close we came to a far more significant loss of life.”
Meijer also discussed his decision-making process before voting for impeachment.
“It was quite narrow, and it was factually accurate,” he said of the article Democrats introduced. “I read through it and said, ‘This is what I saw. This is what I experienced. This is what happened.’ And I couldn’t get myself to not vote for it. I couldn’t convince myself that any move other than voting for impeachment was the right one. I watched the president’s speech on the Ellipse. I watched all the rhetoric that had been leading up to it. I waited. I waited for him to come out and condemn what had happened or show some point of leadership that day. I waited for him to show some degree of accountability or take responsibility for what had happened, or just acknowledge that he may have played a role. And there was nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
Asked if he was disappointed only 10 Republicans ended up voting for impeachment, Meijer suggested the count would have been vastly different if it had been a secret ballot. He also said he was sympathetic to concerns about the speediness of the process, but “at the end of the day, I think the article of impeachment before us was factually accurate. Due process is a legal consideration. This is a political process.”
“But also, we are holding this trial at the scene of the crime, and many of us were firsthand witnesses and/or victims in the general sense, having had to flee the House chamber as I did and many of my colleagues did,” he added. “So it was not a question of establishing the facts. It was no, we were all—we were here. There’s no dispute.”