Politics live updates: Senate clears way for Biden’s COVID relief package

The Senate early Friday morning set the stage for the passage – possibly by the end of this month – of a $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus package that President Joe Biden is pushing.

The 51-50 vote to approve a budget resolution paving the way for Biden’s American Rescue Plan fell along party lines with every Democrat in favor and every Republican opposed. Vice President Kamala Harris, in her role as president of the Senate, broke the tie at 5:23 a.m.

“In the early hours of this morning, the Senate took a critical step towards providing our health care heroes, unemployed workers, small businesses, schools, state and local governments, and American families who are trying to make ends meet, the big and bold assistance they’ve been asking for,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durban, D-Ill., said in a statement following the vote.

The resolution allows Democrats to use a process known as “reconciliation” which allows budget-related bills to bypass a Senate filibuster. Without it, Democrats would need at least 60 votes – including 10 Republicans – a tall order given the opposition from GOP lawmakers.

Republicans objected to the bill on several grounds: it was too big for a nation already dealing with spiraling debt; it included an increase to the federal minimum wage that would kill jobs: and the aid from previous stimulus bills had yet to be fully exhausted.

“We passed a $900 billion bill in December and only 20% of the money that we appropriated is even out the door yet,” Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn said.

Committees in the House and Senate will now start working on several aspects of Biden’s American Rescue Plan, which would provide $1,400 direct payments to individuals, provide $160 billion to distribute COVID tests and vaccines, and provide hundreds of billions to cash-strapped state and local governments to stay afloat and open schools.

– Ledyard King

House removes Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees

The Democratic-led House Thursday voted mostly along party lines to remove Georgia GOP Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene from her two committees following a charged floor debate rife with finger-pointing and threats of repercussions.

The vote was 230-199, with 11 Republicans joining every Democrat in stripping her from the Education & Labor Committee and the Budget Committee for a litany of incendiary, conspiratorial and menacing social media posts before she was elected.

The floor debate in a chamber already riven by division and mistrust turned raw as lawmakers took turns arguing not just about Greene’s particular conduct but what it said about House members who demanded – or objected to – her punishment.

Faced with the loss of her committee assignments, Greene came to the floor earlier Thursday to disavow some of her previous incendiary posts on social media in a last-ditch effort to avoid punishment.

Though she expressed some regret, Greene never apologized during a speech on the House floor.

— Ledyard King and Nicholas Wu

Trump says he won’t testify at Senate impeachment trial

Former President Donald Trump said Thursday he will not testify in the Senate impeachment trial, denying a request from Democratic prosecutors who want him to answer questions under oath.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a former constitutional law professor leading the Democrats’ case, wrote a letter to Trump saying his response to the article of impeachment earlier this week had “denied many factual allegations,” and therefore Democrats requested he testify as early as next Monday and no later than next Thursday.

“If you decline this invitation, we reserve any and all rights, including the right to establish at trial that your refusal to testify supports a strong adverse inference regarding your actions (and inaction) on January 6, 2021,” Raskin wrote, referring to the Capitol riots last month.

Impeachment trial:Trump says he won’t testify, denying Democrats’ request

Trump’s attorneys responded to the request by blasting it as a “public relations stunt.” In a letter to Raskin and House prosecutors, Bruce Castor Jr. and David Schoen argued that needing testimony from the former president shows Democrats “cannot prove your allegations against the 45th President of the United States, who is now a private citizen.”

“The use of our Constitution to bring a purported impeachment proceeding is much too serious to try to play these games,” the attorneys wrote.

Ali Pardo, a spokeswoman for Trump, clarified to USA TODAY the former president had no intention of going under oath as part of the trial.

— Nicholas Wu, Bart Jansen and Christal Hayes

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