As President-elect Joe Biden’s Democratic allies work to convict President Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection, and as those working to pull off his inauguration weigh the importance of turning the page against the increasing fears of terrorist violence, Biden is trying to refocus attention back on the twin emergencies to which Americans have grown accustomed over the past twelve months: the coronavirus pandemic and the economic calamity being left in its wake.
On Thursday night, Biden unveiled a $1.9 trillion rescue package that, he said, would fund vaccination initiatives and provide much-needed fiscal relief.
“It will tackle the pandemic and get direct financial relief to Americans who need it the most,” Biden said of the relief package, titled the “American Rescue Plan,” which rivals the $2 trillion CARES Act passed by Congress last year. “We cannot afford inaction.”
Biden’s proposal is the latest attempt by the next president to sidestep the various conflagrations either ignited or exacerbated by his predecessor, whose incitement of violence at the Capitol last week—and subsequent impeachment by the House of Representatives on Wednesday night—has made a chaotic transition of power even more difficult.
The president-elect, mindful of the paper-thin Democratic majorities in Congress and wary of pissing off congressional Republicans before he’s even entered office, has assiduously avoided calling for Trump’s impeachment. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who remains the junior senator from California until next week, has also declined to state her views on impeachment or on efforts to censure or expel Republican senators who backed Trump’s attempts to throw out the election results, saying only that the matter is “up to Congress.”
Biden has instead expressed only his desire for Congress to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time.
“I hope that the Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” Biden said in a statement following the House’s impeachment vote on Wednesday night, “from confirmations to key posts such as secretaries for Homeland Security, State, Defense, Treasury, and director of National Intelligence, to getting our vaccine program on track, and to getting our economy going again.”
That “urgent business,” Biden said on Thursday, includes both the passage of COVID-19 relief—a tall order even under ordinary circumstances, given slim Democratic majorities in both houses and newfound concern about deficit spending by congressional Republicans—and confirmation of his cabinet nominees. Biden has expressed hope that the Senate will “bifurcate” the Senate’s calendar to allow Trump’s impeachment trial to take place alongside confirmation hearings.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), set to become the majority leader after Sens.-elect Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock of Georgia are sworn in later this month, has vowed to “do both” when it comes to the impeachment trial and the incoming administration’s agenda.
But the package unveiled on Thursday morning would be a tall order even for a Congress unencumbered by the prospect of convicting a president for incitement of insurrection after he’s already left office. Released hours after weekly job numbers released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that unemployment claims soared to 965,000, with more than 18 million Americans currently on unemployment, the rescue bill would send an additional $1,400 in relief checks, provide $350 billion in aid to state, local and tribal governments, and boost SNAP benefits by 15 percent.
The bill would also pump hundreds of billions of dollars into testing and vaccine distribution, which has languished as most states have struggled to successfully utilize their entire vaccine stores while ensuring that the elderly, health-care workers, and those with high-risk health conditions are among the first in line.
Stock market indices rose ahead of Biden’s speech, as investors grew confident that many of the proposal’s most popular components—including billions in rental aid, small business grants and a boost to the earned income tax credit—would stabilize an economy rocked by the virus. But some of the rescue plan’s other proposals, including a $15 per hour federal wage and paid sick leave requirements, have already rankled congressional Republicans long opposed to such measures.
Biden expressed confidence that, given the stakes, those political obstacles can be overcome.
“Unity is not some pie-in-the-sky dream. It’s a practical step,” Biden said.
Before Biden’s address on Thursday evening, transition officials said their hope is that the rescue plan will be a salve on a wounded Washington.
“We think there is a broad understanding of the urgency of the moment, of the immediacy of the crisis and the need to act,” a senior Biden transition official told reporters ahead of Biden’s unveiling on Thursday evening. “We’re hopeful that the ideas that are laid out here and the action that is reflected here is something that there’s a lot of support for, and you’re going to see the president-elect tonight call for the kind of move toward pragmatism and unity to try to get something done.”