Joe Biden’s administration offered further confirmation Saturday of its hands-off stance toward the impeachment of the president’s immediate predecessor: “Congress is going to do what Congress does,” said Kamala Harris’s communications director.
Ashley Etienne’s comments on MSNBC — “They’re going to take whatever action they want to take,” she added — echoed those made Friday by White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Biden’s position on a potential Senate conviction of former President Donald Trump.
“He’s no longer in the Senate, and he believes that it’s up to the Senate and Congress to determine how they will hold the former President accountable, and what the mechanics and timeline of that process will be,” Psaki said in a news briefing.
Trump has been impeached by the House on a single charge of inciting an insurrection, the deadly Capitol riots on Jan. 6.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has agreed to delay Trump’s Senate impeachment trial to the week of February 8. Instead of starting on impeachment, the Senate will begin trying to confirm Biden’s cabinet picks and work on Covid-19 relief.
“We definitely do believe people should be held accountable, the president should be held accountable, but our first priority is to address the four crises,” said Etienne, referring to the administration’s agenda of tackling coronavirus, economic issues, climate change and racial equity.
Some Republicans have called on Biden to push Congress to abandon what they see as a potential divisive impeachment trial. And though it’s unclear how much the administration will be ultimately involved in impeachment, it has so far taken a hands-off stance.
In the first days in the Oval Office, Biden has urged unity in a divided nation. Biden has largely avoided mentioning Trump, and did not reference him by name in his inauguration speech. In wake of the Jan. 6 riots, Biden did call for Trump to go on national TV to “deman[d] an end to this siege.”
Psaki says Biden thinks the Senate can handle impeachment and legislation at the same time, saying it has been done before.
“What cannot be delayed through this process is his proposal to get relief to the American people at this time of crisis,” Psaki said at the Friday briefing. “So he’s confident — he remains confident, after serving decades in the Senate, that the Senate members of both parties can walk and chew gum at the same time and can move forward with the business of the American people.”
Psaki said Friday that Biden hopes coronavirus relief will come in bipartisan fashion. Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief bill, which Senate Republicans have said won’t get the 60 votes necessary to avoid a filibuster. Republicans argue it costs too much after a $900 million package passed last month after lengthy delays.
As recently as February, Biden has been against getting rid of the hotly contested filibuster, a move that could make it easier to pass legislation in a narrowly Democrat-controlled 50-50 Senate with Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. A power-sharing agreement has yet to be worked out.
Biden said in July that that his openness to the filibuster depended on Senate Republicans’ willingness to work across the aisle.
“He’s spoken to this many times,” Psaki said Friday. “His position has not changed.”
Biden was scheduled to work Saturday, and slated to meet with advisers in the Oval Office at 3 p.m. Harris’s chief spokesperson and senior adviser, Symone Sanders, said both Biden and Harris are “working on a Saturday today.”
Psaki has pledged daily press briefings on weekdays, but not weekends.
“I’m not a monster,” Psaki joked Wednesday.