WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden kept his head down during the impeachment trial of his predecessor, which ended Saturday afternoon with Donald Trump’s acquittal.
And now he can’t move on fast enough.
Biden is traveling to Wisconsin and Michigan this week as he presses ahead on the challenges that will make or break his own presidency: defeating the pandemic and reviving the battered economy.
Changing not just the topic of conversation but also the tone could be just as difficult as tackling the coronavirus. It was also a central promise of his campaign.
Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a close Biden confidant, played a key role in preventing the trial from indefinitely being prolonged when House Democrats wanted to call witnesses Saturday morning.
“The trial had reached its natural conclusion,” Coons said Sunday in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”
As he did throughout the proceedings, Biden will spend this week focused on passing a pandemic relief bill through Congress.
He’ll talk to Americans about the health and economic crises facing the nation at a CNN town hall in Milwaukee on Tuesday.
On Thursday, Biden is scheduled to visit a Pfizer’s facility in west Michigan that is pumping out COVID-19 vaccines.
The public and private push for pandemic relief legislation is also expected to include prominent Oval Office meetings before Biden ends the week speaking to foreign leaders at a virtual gathering of the Munich Security Conference on Friday.
“I’ve had some good conversations already with President Biden, fantastic conversations about the way he sees things,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation” Sunday. Although Trump had referred to Johnson as “Britain’s Trump,” the prime minister signaled in mid-November that he was moving on and was ready to work with Biden on climate change and other issues.
But if Biden is being embraced by some foreign leaders who were friendly to Trump, it’s unclear whether he can get congressional Republicans’ support for his legislative priorities, particularly after the raw emotions stirred up by the trial.
“What we saw in that Senate today was a cowardly group of Republicans,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Saturday. She was particularly disdainful of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s post-acquittal condemnation of Trump.
“It was a very disingenuous speech,” Pelosi said. “And I say that regretfully because I always want to be able to work with the leadership of the other party.”
Del. Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands, part of the team of House managers who served as prosecutors in the Senate trial, also vented frustration with Republicans, telling CNN that getting a conviction would have required “more senators with spines.”
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Pelosi has called for the creation of a commission, similar to the one that investigated the 9/11 terrorist attacks, to further investigate the “facts, causes and security relating to the terrorist mob attack on January 6.”
Coons backed the idea Sunday.
“I do think that we need to spend months and months unearthing all the evidence that can possibly be gotten to through a 9/11-style commission,” he said on ABC.
Biden, however, has taken the same position on a commission that he did when asked whether Trump should be impeached and convicted.
“That is up to Congress,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday.
An otherwise tight-lipped Biden did let a little opinion on the impeachment proceedings slip during an early-morning stroll on the White House lawn Friday to check out his wife’s Valentine’s Day decorations – oversized red, pink and white “candy” hearts stamped with the words “kindness,” “healing,” “compassion” and “courage.”
“I’m just anxious to see what my Republican friends do – if they stand up,” Biden told reporters who pressed for his thoughts on the concluding trial.
After Trump was acquitted on a vote of 57-43 Saturday, Biden waited more than six hours before weighing in.
In his statement, released from the presidential retreat at Camp David, Biden said he was thinking about those who lost their lives or are still dealing with the terror of having lived through the day the U.S. Capitol was assaulted – and is thinking about everyone who “demonstrated the courage to protect the integrity of our democracy before and after the election.”
Biden included Republicans in that praise that singled out election officials, judges, elected representatives and poll workers.
He also emphasized the bipartisan nature of the final vote, in which seven Republican senators voted with Democrats to convict Trump. And Biden noted that even though McConnell, R-Ky., voted to acquit, the GOP leader declared Trump “practically and morally responsible for provoking” the insurrection at the Capitol.
Every American has a responsibility to defend the truth, defeat the lies and end “this uncivil war,” Biden said.
“And it’s a task we must undertake together,” he concluded, “as the United States of America.”
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Biden’s campaign promise of bipartisanship was not a political tactic, it’s part of who he is, said Rahm Emanuel, who was President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
Because of that, Emanuel argued on ABC and in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece Sunday, Biden needs to get multiple bipartisan wins on his scorecard.
“Authenticity as a chief executive is key,” Emanuel said on ABC. “You cannot take a blow to your character.”
But Republicans may be motivated to highlight their opposition to Biden as they seek to talk about something other than Trump.
“We need to look forward because the ideas of our party are more important now than ever, particularly in contrast to the Biden/Harris administration,” Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy, one of the seven Republicans who voted to convict Trump, said on ABC. He cited the GOP’s opposition to Biden’s decision to cancel the Keystone XL oil pipeline as an example.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said the trial helped Biden because it stalled the ability of Republicans “to be able to respond to things that we think are not right for the country.”
“When the Republicans will recover,” he said on ABC, “is when the Republicans get back on talking about the things that they believe in.”
Trump could still be a distraction for the GOP through state and federal criminal and civil investigations over the former president’s taxes, campaign financing and business operations. Also, McConnell suggested Trump may be criminally liable for the violence Jan. 6.
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And a special commission, if it’s created, could uncover more evidence damaging to Trump.
When House managers wanted to extend the impeachment trial by calling witnesses, Coons advised them to instead accept a GOP deal to enter into the record a statement from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., about comments Trump made during the rioting.
“They could have had 500 more witnesses. It wasn’t going to change the outcome,” Coons said on ABC. “What we all needed was more Republican courage.”
But Coons said there’s still more evidence that the American people need and deserve to hear even as he sees grounds for new legal actions against Trump.
At the same time, however, Coons said Congress now needs to join Biden in focusing on beating the coronavirus and revitalizing the economy.
“I think that phase of accountability moves to the courts now,” he said, “and we in Congress need to move forward.”
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