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Biden Will Arrive In Washington As Trump Finishes Up His Presidency

NOEL KING, HOST:

We haven't heard much from President Trump in his final few days in office. Twitter cut him off. He hasn't appeared in public since making a trip to the border wall a week ago. The president has had meetings, including one with a pillow salesman who, according to news reports, swung by the White House with a proposal for a coup. Trump has also been making last-minute policy changes to leave Joe Biden's incoming administration. And we don't know how he might use this, his last day. We do know, though, that Congress has a lot to get done today.

With me now, national political correspondent Mara Liasson and congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Good morning to you both.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Sue, let's start in the Senate because they're going to be busy today. What's first on the agenda?

DAVIS: Well, today starts the confirmation process for top Joe Biden administration nominees. That includes Lloyd Austin for defense, Tony Blinken at state, Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, Alejandro Mayorkas at homeland security and Janet Yellen at Treasury. The focus - the early focus is on those tasked with national and economic security. These are all nominees, I think, that are expected to be confirmed without much pushback. Senate Republicans haven't raised any serious concerns, and most of them have already been through a confirmation process for other government jobs.

The Senate is still existing in sort of a political limbo. It hasn't formalized its incoming Democratic majority yet. Democrats are planning to swear in their three new senators on Inauguration Day, and that would officially seal the majority. The first order of business after that, Noel, is something that's called an organizing resolution. It basically works out the terms of the new Senate, things like how many seats each party gets on committees and, of course - maybe of much interest - there's a pending Senate impeachment trial against outgoing President Donald Trump that's likely to start in the coming days.

KING: OK, so lawmakers will be busy working. Mara, do we have any sense of what Donald Trump might get up to on his last day in office?

LIASSON: He's been very quiet without his Twitter feed. Of course, no one took away his bully pulpit. If he wanted to talk to Americans, he could summon a lot of cameras at a moment's notice. We're waiting to see what kind of pardons he offers. There could be a lot of them. All presidents do these last-minute pardons. Many of them have been controversial in the past. No one has used the pardon power quite as much to help his friends and associates as Donald Trump.

We also know the president will be the first president since Andrew Johnson not to go to the inauguration of his successor. We're told he'll leave the White House tomorrow. He'll have a departure ceremony at Joint Base Andrews. We expect him to land in Florida before Joe Biden is sworn in. And after that, we don't know what he's going to do. He has a very large, ardent base of followers, and he's been raising a lot of money from them. So as Trump likes to say, we'll see what happens.

KING: OK. And in the meantime, Joe Biden is on his way into Washington today, where he will encounter a lot.

LIASSON: That's right. He couldn't take his beloved Amtrak to Washington. Remember - he commuted back and forth from Delaware when he was a senator by train. That's because of all the security concerns. Not only is downtown Washington an armed camp, but the inauguration celebration will be depopulated because of the pandemic. And Joe Biden's inauguration marks the first time in American history without a peaceful transfer of power.

KING: Notable because Biden ran on uniting the country. But as he arrives in Washington, it's going to be right there in his line of sight that that will not be an easy task.

LIASSON: That's right. He faces a lot of crises, more than any other incoming president. One of them is the fact that so many Americans believe he was not legitimately elected. The latest NPR/Marist/PBS poll shows that 65% of Americans do believe Biden is legitimately elected, but 70% of Republicans do not. They believe the falsehood that even though the election wasn't close, somehow Donald Trump won in a landslide and had it stolen from him. And that includes a majority of Republican members of the House and a big handful of senators.

And, you know, Biden ran on this idea of restoring the soul of America. A lot of people thought that was corny at the time. He said he got into the race after Donald Trump praised white supremacists at Charlottesville. But now that message is needed more than ever. And Biden's aides say that he will try to unite the country by being honest and transparent and ethical and, more importantly, using the government to help ordinary people, which means, first and foremost, as Biden put it, managing the hell out of the pandemic, getting a vaccine program up and running.

KING: OK, so in the meantime, Sue, senators will also be focused at some point on this impeachment trial because they're going to be serving as jurors. With everything that they have to get done, do we know when that trial will happen?

DAVIS: Well, a Senate trial is triggered once the House formally notifies the Senate that someone has been impeached. And then the Senate doesn't have a choice; it has to go into trial mode. So Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been essentially holding off on sending those over until incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is ready for them. We expect that to happen in days, not weeks, but it's not locked in yet.

Democrats are trying to find some agreement with Republicans on how they're going to split the Senate schedule. What they'd like to do is be able to do things like vote on these nominees in the morning and then go into the impeachment trial in the afternoon. Trials have to start at 1 o'clock every day. They have to go six days a week until a verdict is reached. And they're going to need some bipartisan buy-in for this to go smoothly. In terms of expectations, you know, President Trump's first impeachment trial ran about three weeks. Senate sources I talked to think that that's a pretty good target for the second one as well.

KING: Let me ask you both what we might expect with respect to policy. Sue, what does Chuck Schumer plan to do with the legislative agenda, first off?

DAVIS: Well, Schumer has said the first order of business will be Biden's $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill that includes additional checks that would go out to the American people. Democrats see this as a big and early test for this new Senate and whether they're going to be able to get any bipartisan buy-in from Republicans to move legislation over the next two years or if it's going to be sort of similar to the partisan obstruction that they saw from Republicans during the Obama administration and how Joe Biden is going to have to navigate that.

KING: And then, Mara, what do Biden's first 100 or so days look like?

LIASSON: Well, his first couple of days are going to be very, very busy. Like other presidents, he's starting with a flurry of executive orders. A lot of them will undo the executive orders of Donald Trump. He has a plan for vaccines. He wants to administer 100 million doses in 100 days. His team says they're confident that they can both manufacture and administer that much vaccine.

But as Sue said, even though there's a lot of things Biden can do on his own with executive actions, he will need legislation. He'll need some buy-in from Republicans. He has to pass that $1.9 trillion plan. But also, he's planning to send to Congress on Day 1 his immigration reform plan, which it will include a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. As for impeachment, Biden is determined to continue to keep impeachment at arm's length, focus on the pandemic and leave the fate of Donald Trump to Congress.

KING: OK. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson, and we also heard from congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

LIASSON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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