JANUARY 18, 2021
President Donald Trump exits stage right this week, dethroned, denounced and, most painful to him perhaps, de-platformed.
But his unfinished business will outlast his physical presence, in the boot-falls of National Guard troops, the drumbeat of dark coronavirus news and in a proliferation of questions about his second impeachment and how his absence will change the power dynamics in the newly Democratic-controlled Washington.
As inauguration week dawned, one set of worries dissipated, while others intensified: The feared mobs engulfing state capitals Sunday did not materialize.
But anxieties flared dramatically around 10:15 a.m. Eastern on Monday when a lockdown order was issued after a small fire broke out at a homeless encampment near the Capitol grounds, illustrating both the long-term societal problems, and short-term logistical challenges, faced by the incoming administration.
Despite the presence of thousands of National Guard troops in Washington, there was a jolt of panic, with cellphone footage showing workers evacuating the site of a run-through of Inauguration Day plans on the side of the Capitol, as brown smoke rose into blue sky beyond the dome.
Lawmakers are set to return to a militarized Capitol this week, with a number of serious questions remaining about the course of Trump’s second impeachment trial and the future of a new Democratic-controlled Senate that will be quickly tested during confirmation hearings for five of Biden’s Cabinet appointees.
For several lawmakers, it will be their first trip back to Washington since the joint session Jan. 6 when they were temporarily forced to flee the chambers as a mob stormed the Capitol.
It remains unclear when Speaker Nancy Pelosi will formally send to the Senate the article of impeachment charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection.” Once the House sends the article to the Senate, the chamber has to immediately move to begin the trial.
Three new Democratic senators — Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, the two newly elected senators from Georgia, and Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state who is set to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — could be sworn in as early as this week, cementing a majority enabled by Harris’ tiebreaking vote.
On Sunday, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who will lead the prosecution of Trump in the Senate trial, and Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, declined to offer details about when the impeachment article against Trump would be brought to the Senate or whether Democrats would push to call witnesses in the trial.
Biden has said he hopes the Senate can pursue a dual walk-and-chew-gum strategy that would allow the chamber to hold an impeachment trial while also processing both his administration nominations and pandemic relief legislation, although that would most likely require consent from both parties.
But there is one area, potentially, in which there will be less drama and more certainty.
The Democrats’ control of the Senate takes away some, if not all, of the fretting for the Biden team over the confirmation of appointments. Senators are scheduled to begin initial confirmation hearings this week for a number of Biden’s Cabinet nominees.
To do so, they will file past a phalanx of heavily armed National Guard troops, some standing at the ready to protect, others sleeping in cots in their new marble barrack