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What's next in Washington after Trump's second impeachment acquittal

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President Biden and Congress are moving forward after the Senate voted to acquit former President Trump in his second impeachment trial on Saturday. CBS News congressional correspondent Nikole Killion and Associated Press White House reporter Zeke Miller spoke to "Red and Blue" host Elaine Quijano about where Washington heads next.

Video Transcript


ELAINE QUIJANO: Hi, everyone. I'm Elaine Quijano. It's good to be with you. Thanks for joining us. Washington is moving forward after the Senate acquitted former President Trump during his second impeachment trial this weekend. 57 senators, including seven Republicans, voted to convict him on the charge of incitement of insurrection for the January 6th attack on the US Capitol. That's a larger margin than the first Trump impeachment trial, and the most bipartisan in US history. Yet it was 10 votes shy of the 2/3 threshold for conviction set by the Constitution. Those seven Republicans who voted to convict are now facing political pressure back in their home states. We'll have more on that later this hour.

The practical impact of the trial, beyond potential precedent for future impeachments, is that former President Trump is free to run for office again in the future. In response to the result, Mr. Trump's office put out a statement saying, "Our historic, patriotic, and beautiful movement to make America great again has only just begun." He added there would be more to share in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, President Biden is back at the White House tonight after a weekend with his family at Camp David. The administration made it clear he would not be commenting on the trial. But afterwards, the White House issued a statement, calling the capital insurrection and its fallout a "sad chapter in our history". They also pointed to the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who criticized Mr. Trump, despite voting in his favor.

MITCH MCCONNELL: Former President Trump's actions preceded the riot were a disgraceful, disgraceful dereliction of duty. There's no question, none, President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day. No question about it.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Nikole Killion and Zeke Miller join me now. Nikole is a CBS News congressional correspondent, and Zeke is a CBSN political contributor and White House reporter for the Associated Press. Welcome to you both.

Nikole, Senator McConnell voted to acquit, arguing Mr. Trump's departure from office made the process unconstitutional. Have any Republicans defended the former president's actions and rhetoric around the capital attack in any way?

NIKOLE KILLION: Well, certainly the majority of Republicans believe what happened here at the Capitol was wrong. And most of them have embraced that constitutional argument from the standpoint of a feeling that, because the former president was no longer in office, that simply you couldn't prosecute the trial going forward. And so in some cases some people feel that consequently, the former president got off with a technicality.

But you know you have a number of Republicans who still feel that like Senator McConnell, the former president could be held accountable in other ways, perhaps through the judicial system. Although some Republicans that I've talked to, for instance, like Marco Rubio, won't go so far as to say if they feel that that should, in fact, happen. In fact, Rubio said, well that would be up to a grand jury. So not necessarily answering the question directly but at the end of the day again, most Republicans really did come down on the side of process and that's why you saw the vote play out as it did.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well Zeke, in an interview this weekend Senator McConnell expressed an intent to move his party past the Trump era. What sort of pushback does he, or do other Republicans, face when it comes to supporting the former president?

ZEKE MILLER: It's really the realities of the dynamics within the Republican Party, what we saw play out in 2015 and 2016. Donald Trump, in those primaries we all remember, never really broke 50%. But he won the plurality of the votes as the rest of the Republican Party was fractured. And that was enough to give him the Republican nomination. And send him to the White House and give him command and control over the Republican Party. He still has that.

And as for Mitch McConnell and other Republicans trying to turn the page on the Trump era, that is not something they can do just to flip the switch. That's going to require sort of coalescing the rest of the party around some other sort of politics that is distinct from Trump. Because if the Republican Party, separate from Trump, the non-Trump Republican Party, remains as divided as it has been for really the last seven or eight years, Donald Trump and Trumpism will still be a force to be reckoned with and will still have this powerful influence over the rest of the party. It will play out in primaries. It will play out in legislation. And it will certainly play out in the 2024 election. And that's a challenge for Mitch McConnell and other Republicans going forward.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Zeke, I want to take a step back for a moment, because on Saturday, we saw House impeachment managers ask senators for the ability to call witnesses, only to decide not to after getting approval. Now one of those people being discussed as a potential witness is House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy. He spoke with Mr. Trump by phone on the day of the attack.

Zeke, what was that conversation about? And what more do we know about then-President Trump's actions on January 6th?

ZEKE MILLER: Now we know that was a heated conversation. We've heard that from Republican lawmakers. We've heard that directly from Kevin McCarthy. They documented it in contemporaneous notes and interviews that they subsequently gave. It is a little bit of hearsay. We've not heard from President Trump's side of the story. We really haven't heard a whole lot from Kevin McCarthy about his side of the story. But certainly McCarthy was talking to other lawmakers, around other lawmakers, when that call was happening. He was calling the president to ask for help, asking for help to more forcefully condemn the insurrection of rioters who were at the Capitol. And the president was resisting and it got fairly heated.

This became the substance of some negotiation on Saturday morning and into the early afternoon over whether or not McCarthy and other witnesses should be called. Ultimately, the compromise was reached that sort of the recognition that calling witnesses was probably not going to change any minds, and it would prolong the trial potentially getting into the-- bumping into the Biden legislative agenda. But they were able to enter into the record one lawmaker's account of that conversation, just for posterity's sake at the end of the day.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well Nicole, lawmakers meantime, are pushing forward with a commission to investigate the attack more fully. Why is that, and do commissions have any power to enact change?

NIKOLE KILLION: Well late today, we saw House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announce the establishment of this commission in a letter to a Democratic House lawmakers. And she said that this panel should be independent. It should be an outside commission. And it should be one that looks into the causes of the January 6th capitol attack, as well as some of the issues surrounding US Capitol Police and federal and local law enforcement when it comes to the issue of preparedness and their response. Additionally, she also called for additional funding for member security and safety, as well as security for the capitol.

And you know, as far as what power a commission like this could have, I mean, certainly the 9/11 commission was one that did have a lot of influence, was able to subpoena and really dive deep and investigate. And I think at this point, that's what lawmakers want to do, obviously. The Speaker just making this known in a letter to colleagues. But we certainly expect and hope that we will get more information as the process progresses about who potentially could make up this panel, what type of jurisdiction or investigative powers they'll ultimately get.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well Zeke now that Congress no longer has official business pertaining to former President Trump, how is President Biden looking to advance his agenda? And what about those calls for bipartisanship, given what we saw play out over the course of this second impeachment trial? It would seem difficult to imagine how things could get done in a bipartisan way, given the nature of the charge, given the nature of the evidence that was presented, and the two very different responses here from the parties.

ZEKE MILLER: Now, I think for President Biden, who has tried throughout the course of this trial to sort of remain above it, separate from that process, and say this is was up to Capitol Hill. He was focused on COVID relief and his American rescue plan. That really now returns to the top of his agenda. And we're going to see him traveling a couple of times this week trying to promote it. But it also is going to return to the top agenda item on Capitol Hill.

The ball right now is in the House's court. While house committees work under the reconciliation measures to budget reconciliation, to sort of craft that measure and then that'll kick it on over to the Senate in a couple of weeks. That really is sort of a challenge for President Biden right now. Getting that legislation through. He set sort of a rough deadline of the middle of March, which is when the next tranche of unemployment benefits are set to expire, which they've sort of called a March cliff, an unemployment cliff. So that's not just four or so weeks away. So that is a pretty aggressive timetable for a package of this size, $1.9 trillion, to make its way through Congress.

On the bipartisanship question, White House officials are not in active negotiations with Republicans, trying to get them to support elements of this bill. There's some wrangling on Capitol Hill among smaller provisions. The White House hopes that some Republicans will cross over. They pointed to the several Republicans that voted to impeach President Trump and then to convict him. But it is likely at this point that this will be a party line vote and then they'll look to find bipartisanship elsewhere down the line.

ELAINE QUIJANO: I want to kind of toss the same question to you, Nikole. So the Senate went into recess after the trial wrapped up this weekend. We heard Zeke just sort of touch on the latest with COVID relief. But I think a lot of folks are wondering, how is it, not just on COVID relief, but on other issues, that Republicans and Democrats will work together to get things done in the wake of what we saw take place with this impeachment trial.

NIKOLE KILLION: Yeah well, I think it remains to be seen. But at the end of the day, I think you have a number of lawmakers' acknowledgment. You can't ignore the pandemic, right? And so I think a number of lawmakers acknowledge and agree that this has to also be addressed and certainly as Democrats put it, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. And throughout the trial, actually, they were continuing to work on some of this legislation. So it's not like everything just ground to a halt with impeachment, although that certainly was the focus last week. They have kind of been working behind the scenes on moving this COVID legislation forward.

And then keep in mind, as far as President Biden's agenda, it's also about resuming confirmation hearings with some of his nominees, probably the most notable coming up next week is Attorney General Merrick Garland. So you have that, where certainly impeachment could hang over that from the standpoint of those who feel that the former president should merit additional-- that the Justice Department potentially should look into his actions. I mean that's something certainly potentially that could come up in Garland's hearing.

So it certainly does overhang in the atmosphere here at the Capitol and will continue to, because the scars are very real. But at the same time, I mean there is legislation that has to get done, and business that has to get done. So to the extent that Republicans and Democrats can work together certainly, as always, remains to be seen.

ELAINE QUIJANO: Well Zeke, Monday through mid-May is a special enrollment period to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. This is part of an executive action by President Biden to offer more Americans coverage during the pandemic. How else is he using his executive power while he waits on Congress?

ZEKE MILLER: We saw from the very first hours of the Biden presidency a flurry of executive action, really setting records in terms of paper being put out signed by the president to undo largely to undo his predecessor's actions. And this is an example of one that would, in a way, undid the way the Trump administration approached the Affordable Care Act and the Affordable Care Act exchanges, but also was really sort of setting the marker for how President Biden and his administration would move forward with those exchanges as well. So it sort of had a foot in both camps.

But largely, the executive action so far taken by President Biden undid Trump actions, such as putting the US back into the Paris Climate Accord, reversing the Mexico City policy allowing the US government to work with NGOs that talk about abortion services with people they care for overseas, and then also ending the Keystone XL pipeline are some of the big ones. But there are more than two dozen of them over the course of the first two weeks.

Obviously that's an effort by the president to sort of show that he can govern effectively. But executive orders, as we're learning here just by the actions President Biden is taking, are no substitute for legislation because they can always be undone by their successor. We saw President Trump roll back some of the Obama orders, and now we're seeing President Biden roll back a whole bunch more of the Trump orders at the very beginning. Ultimately, permanent lasting change requires legislation. And that is really where the rubber meets the road for the Biden administration going forward.

ELAINE QUIJANO: All right. Well, we'll be watching it. Nikole Killion and Zeke Miller. Good to see you both. Thank you very much.