Weekly Legislative Update
January 19, 2021
Congressional Outlook
The House and Senate are in session this week. The House will vote on Thursday afternoon on a waiver (H.R. 335) that would allow retired General Lloyd Austin to be President-elect Joe Biden’s Secretary of Defense. Austin needs the waiver because of a law that requires Defense secretaries to be out of uniform for at least seven years in order to preserve the principle of civilian control of the military—Austin retired from the military in April 2016. The timing means Austin will not be confirmed on Inauguration Day, a break from the tradition of top national security officials being confirmed on Day One of a new presidency. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has not yet indicated when she will formally send the single House-passed Article of Impeachment charge against President Trump to the Senate, which would immediately begin the trial in the upper chamber, however, it will likely be sent over by early next week.

Democrats will assume control of a 50-50 evenly divided Senate beginning Wednesday afternoon, when Senators-elect Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) are sworn into office by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who will serve as the tie-breaking vote. Senator-designate Alex Padilla (D-CA) will also be sworn-in on Wednesday to succeed Vice President-elect Harris in the Senate, following her resignation from the chamber on January 18. As for managing the 50-50 split as the new Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and outgoing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), are reportedly looking to a power-sharing agreement forged in early 2001 (when the Senate was last evenly divided) as they begin negotiations over the daily running of the chamber and its committees. The two met on Tuesday afternoon to lay out plans for the evenly split Senate as well as the process for an impeachment trial for President Trump which may begin as early as the week of January 25.

On Tuesday, the Senate Finance, Intelligence, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Foreign Relations, and Armed Services Committees held confirmation hearings for President-elect Biden’s nominees for Secretary of the Treasury (Janet Yellen), Director of National Intelligence (Avril Haines), Secretary of Homeland Security (Alejandro Mayorkas), Secretary of State (Antony Blinken), and Secretary of Defense (Lloyd Austin), respectively. On Thursday, the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for President-elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Transportation (Pete Buttigieg). The Senate will likely begin confirming several of these Cabinet nominees beginning on Thursday. President-elect Biden will likely move to appoint temporary Cabinet leaders this week since the Senate will not be quickly confirming most of his nominees.

The inaugural ceremonies will begin with the invocation, pledge of allegiance, national anthem, poetry reading, and musical performance beginning at 11:15am ET on Wednesday. It is anticipated that there will be roughly 1,000 guests in attendance, the majority of whom will be members of Congress and their guests. Joe Biden’s swearing-in as the nation’s 46th President of the United States will take place at 12pm ET on Wednesday on the western-facing steps of the U.S. Capitol building. He will be sworn-in by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, while Kamala Harris will be sworn-in shortly before noon by Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor to be the nation’s 49th Vice President of the United States. After Biden is sworn in he will deliver his inaugural address, where he will lay out his vision to “defeat the pandemic, build back better, and unify and heal the nation.”

President-elect Biden is expected to sign numerous executive actions on Wednesday, including: requiring the Department of Education to extend the existing pause on student loan payments and interest for millions of Americans with federal student loans; re-joining the Paris Agreement on Climate Change; rescinding the Trump Administration’s travel ban on several majority-Muslim countries; launching his ‘100 Day Masking Challenge’ by issuing a mask mandate on federal property and inter-state travel; and extending nationwide restrictions on evictions and foreclosures. He will also propose a sweeping immigration legislative proposal on Wednesday which will call for an eight-year path to citizenship for roughly 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status. On Thursday and Friday, he will also take executive actions “to move aggressively to change the course of the COVID-19 crisis and safely re-open schools and businesses, including by taking action to mitigate spread through expanding testing, protecting workers, and establishing clear public health standards” and “direct his Cabinet agencies to take immediate action to deliver economic relief to working families bearing the brunt of this crisis.”
Week in Review