Could Trump Be Convicted? ‘Just Do the Math’

The Capitol Police’s acting chief expresses remorse for the Capitol riot, but Senate Republicans aren’t eager to relitigate Trump’s role in it. It’s Wednesday, and this is your politics tip sheet. Sign up here to get On Politics in your inbox every weekday.

Where things stand

Only five Republicans joined Democrats yesterday in voting to hear former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial — enough to allow the trial to proceed but far fewer than the Democrats would eventually need to join them in convicting him.

The 55-to-45 vote reflected many Republicans’ desire to avoid confronting Trump’s role in inciting the Capitol riot. Even Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, voted with most members of his party to uphold a challenge set up by Senator Rand Paul, who argued that it was unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president (contrary to the opinions of many legal scholars, and the Senate’s own history).

“I think it’s pretty obvious from the vote today that it is extraordinarily unlikely that the president will be convicted,” said Senator Susan Collins, one of the five Republicans who voted to proceed to trial. “Just do the math.”

The acting chief of the Capitol Police apologized yesterday for the agency’s enormous security failures on Jan. 6, acknowledging in a closed-door briefing with the House Appropriations Committee that the department had known there was a “strong potential for violence” but failed to take adequate steps to prevent it, and calling the Capitol riot a “terrorist attack.”

In remarkable testimony that was obtained by The Times, Yogananda Pittman, the acting chief of police, confirmed that the Capitol Police Board had declined a request for National Guard troops made two days before the riot.

As the outburst unfolded, the board, an obscure panel with three voting members, waited an hour before finally agreeing to the Capitol Police’s plea for troops, Pittman said.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pushed to return children to in-person learning as soon as possible, writing in a journal article published yesterday that the “preponderance of available evidence” indicated that in-person instruction could be carried out safely as long as mask-wearing and social distancing were maintained to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

But for that to work, local officials may have to impose limits on other public gatherings — at restaurants, bars or poorly ventilated gyms — to keep infection rates low, the researchers wrote.

Widespread vaccinations probably remain a few months away. President Biden said yesterday that his administration was closing in on a deal with Moderna and Pfizer for 200 million additional doses of their vaccines, which would become available by summer’s end. Because of limited manufacturing capacity, the deal isn’t likely to speed up distribution before the spring.

Biden also announced a series of executive actions aimed at tackling racial inequity. “The simple truth is, our soul will be troubled as long as systemic racism is allowed to persist,” he said yesterday. “It’s corrosive, it’s destructive and it’s costly.”

The actions directed the Department of Housing and Urban Development to take steps to address racially discriminatory federal housing policies, and ordered the Justice Department to eliminate its use of private prisons (other departments weren’t affected). Those actions and others announced yesterday were received by racial justice advocates as symbolically meaningful but ultimately small measures.

In the courts, the Biden administration suffered its first significant setback when a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked a key element of Biden’s executive order placing a 100-day pause on deportations.

The district court judge, a Trump appointee, approved a two-week nationwide restraining order, sought by Texas’ attorney general, that would prevent the halt to deportations.

Photo of the day

Biden delivered remarks on the pandemic yesterday in front of a painting of Abraham Lincoln.

How will the filibuster drama play out?

The big question hanging over Washington right now is whether Senate Democrats will allow the filibuster to stand, or abolish the maneuver and allow themselves to pass bills with a 51-vote majority. The answer will determine the way government functions in the coming two years.

Just days into the Democrats’ new Senate majority, there has already been big news on this front. I connected with Carl Hulse, our chief Washington correspondent, to get caught up.

Mitch McConnell spent much of the past week pushing Democrats to commit to leaving the filibuster alone: For a while, he went so far as to stop the Senate from beginning the basic business of assigning committees and moving legislation. But on Monday he gave up. Would you say this is another example of McConnell’s willingness to use a level of obstructionism that would have been considered extreme in another era?

I do believe Democrats were caught off guard by McConnell’s willingness to make a fight over the filibuster essentially the first order of business. They were celebrating their election wins and return to power, and wham, their nemesis was standing in their way again. It was classic McConnell, using a moment of maximum leverage to try to extract something from Democrats.

But Chuck Schumer, the new majority leader, knew he could not cave to McConnell at the start. Once McConnell saw that Democrats were not going to budge, he began looking for a way out and seized on promises by two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to not support any effort to get rid of the filibuster. They had been saying it for months, but it provided an exit and an end to the impasse for the Republicans.

Definitely a defeat for McConnell. Ending the filibuster remains a possible weapon for the Democrats.

How are Democrats responding? Is there a degree to which McConnell’s decision could backfire, by making even moderate Democrats worried that he will grind things to a halt if they keep the filibuster in place?

Democrats are definitely happy they can move on. Many have been waiting for years to chair committees, so this is a very big deal for them.

But this fight is far from over. Democratic strategists think McConnell overreached and just put more focus on the filibuster and the likelihood that Republicans will try to block many of the new administration’s initiatives. Progressive groups that want to get rid of the filibuster so Democrats can do things like expand the Supreme Court and make the District of Columbia a state say they are going to keep up their drive.

The Trump Impeachment ›

From Riot to Impeachment

The riot inside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 6, followed a rally at which President Trump made an inflammatory speech to his supporters, questioning the results of the election. Here’s a look at what happened and at the ongoing fallout: