As Washington Prepares for an Inauguration, an Impeachment Trial Looms

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The halls and grounds of the Capitol are now filled with thousands of National Guard soldiers as a precaution ahead of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration.
Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times

President 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 on Sunday did not materialize — but federal law enforcement officials were still deeply concerned about disruptions to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s swearing-in on Wednesday, and social media bristled with comparisons of locked-down downtown Washington to the Green Zone in Iraq.

Lawmakers are set to return to a militarized Capitol this week, with a number of serious questions remaining about the course of Mr. 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 Mr. Biden’s cabinet appointees.

For several lawmakers, it will be their first trip back to Washington since the joint session on Jan. 6 where 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 President 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 set to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris — could be sworn in as early as this week, cementing a majority enabled by Ms. Harris’ tiebreaking vote.

On Sunday, Representative Jamie Raskin, the Maryland Democrat who will lead the prosecution of Mr. Trump in the Senate trial, and Representative Joaquin Castro, Democrat of Texas, declined to offer details about when the impeachment article against Mr. Trump would be brought to the Senate or whether Democrats would push to call witnesses in the trial.

Mr. 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, where there will be less drama and more certainty.

The Democrats’ control of the Senate take some, if not all, of the anxiety for the Biden team over the confirmation of appointments. Senators are scheduled to begin initial confirmation hearings this week for a number of Mr. 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 barracks.

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. speaking in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. plans to start his administration with dozens of executive directives on top of expansive legislative proposals in a 10-day blitz meant to signal a turning point for a nation reeling from disease, economic turmoil, racial strife and now the aftermath of the assault on the Capitol.

Mr. Biden’s team has developed a raft of decrees that he can issue on his own authority after the inauguration on Wednesday to begin reversing some of President Trump’s most hotly disputed policies. Advisers hope the flurry of action, without waiting for Congress, will establish a sense of momentum for the new president even as the Senate puts his predecessor on trial.

On his first day in office alone, Mr. Biden intends a flurry of executive orders that will be partly substantive and partly symbolic. They include rescinding the travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries; rejoining the Paris climate change accord; extending pandemic-related limits on evictions and student loan payments; issuing a mask mandate for federal property and interstate travel; and ordering agencies to figure out how to reunite children separated from their families after crossing the border, according to a memo circulated on Saturday by Ron Klain, his incoming White House chief of staff, and obtained by The New York Times.

The blueprint of executive action comes after Mr. Biden announced that he will push Congress to pass a $1.9 trillion package of economic stimulus and pandemic relief, signaling a willingness to be aggressive on policy issues and confronting Republicans from the start to take their lead from him.

He also plans to send sweeping immigration legislation on his first day in office, providing a pathway to citizenship for 11 million people living in the country illegally. Along with his promise to vaccinate 100 million Americans for the coronavirus in his first 100 days, it is an expansive set of priorities for a new president that could be a defining test of his deal-making abilities and command of the federal government.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris speaking in Wilmington, Del., on Saturday.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who remains a United States senator from California, plans to resign from her seat on Monday ahead of her inauguration two days later, a Harris aide said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, a fellow Democrat, will appoint a successor to Ms. Harris, who was elected in 2016. Mr. Newsom said last month that he intended to tap Alex Padilla, California’s secretary of state, for the seat. Mr. Padilla’s Senate term will expire in 2022, and he could seek re-election.

Ms. Harris continued to attend Senate sessions after her November election, and was in the Capitol for the certification of the election results this month when the building was stormed by a violent mob of Trump supporters.

Ms. Harris will be sworn in as vice president on Wednesday by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a ceremony in which the first woman of color to become vice president will take her oath from the first woman of color to sit on the Supreme Court.

Ms. Harris chose Justice Sotomayor for the task, according to a Harris aide who was confirming a report by ABC News. The vice president-elect and Justice Sotomayor have a shared background as former prosecutors. And Ms. Harris has called the justice a figure of national inspiration.

“Judge Sonia Sotomayor has fought for the voices of the people ever since her first case voting against corporations in Citizens United,” Ms. Harris wrote on Twitter in 2019. “As a critical voice on the bench, she’s showing all our children what’s possible.”

Justice Sotomayor, who was confirmed to the Supreme Court in 2009, swore in Joseph R. Biden Jr. for his second term as vice president in January 2013 (first in a private ceremony and again in public the next day because of a quirk of the calendar).

Members of the National Guard walking outside the Capitol in Washington on Sunday.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The last weekend of the Trump presidency wound down with state capitols across the nation ringed by barricades, military vehicles guarding closed-off streets and Washington, D.C., all but shut down. In the end, it was for a handful of protesters, most from the right, a few from the left, many looking more like ragtag stragglers than the furious mob of Trump supporters that ransacked the U.S. Capitol more than a week ago.

In Concord, N.H., five masked men dressed in tactical gear and carrying assault rifles gathered on the sidewalk in front of the statehouse lawn to express concerns about “government overreach.” In Lansing, Mich., National Guard soldiers watched as a dozen members of the far-right Boogaloo Bois group showed up with military-style weapons.

Across the country, legislative chambers — the people’s houses — became citadels. At least 17 states called up their National Guard.

In Washington, 15,000 troops, more than the nation has stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, established a Green Zone, adding to the impression of an occupied city. The National Guard said the troops came from all 50 states and three territories, a force that could grow to 25,000 by Wednesday.

The large presence of troops and police officers across the country came after warnings from the F.B.I. that armed protests were planned in all 50 capitals and following online chatter promising demonstrations or worse in the days leading up to Wednesday’s inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president.

The nation’s militarized streets on Sunday were a remarkable spectacle as police and National Guard officers faced off with promised right-wing protests that, at least on Sunday, were reduced to a whimper. Protesters in some states could be counted on one hand.

At the Massachusetts State House, where hundreds of police officers deployed around the perimeter, a pedestrian shouted, “What’s going on?”

“Maybe a demonstration, maybe not,” an officer responded.

But officials say they will remain on alert through Wednesday’s inauguration.

Joe Pillizzi, a 67-year-old retired salesman in Kenosha, Wis., who supports President Trump, said he believed the summer’s looting and rioting had “put a seed” in the minds of the mob that attacked the Capitol.
Credit…Lauren Justice for The New York Times

Immediately after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, all corners of the political spectrum repudiated the mob of President Trump’s supporters. Yet within days, prominent Republicans, party officials, conservative media voices and rank-and-file voters began making a rhetorical shift to try to downplay the group’s violent actions.

In one of the ultimate don’t-believe-your-eyes moments of the Trump era, these Republicans have retreated to the ranks of misinformation, claiming it was Black Lives Matter protesters and far-left groups like antifa who stormed the Capitol — in spite of the pro-Trump flags and QAnon symbology in the crowd. Others have argued that the attack was no worse than the rioting and looting in cities during the Black Lives Matter movement, often exaggerating the unrest last summer while minimizing a mob’s attempt to overturn an election.

The shift is revealing about how conspiracy theories, deflection and political incentives play off one another in Mr. Trump’s G.O.P. For a brief time, Republican officials seemed perhaps open to grappling with what their party’s leader had wrought — violence in the name of their Electoral College fight. But any window of reflection now seems to be closing as Republicans try to pass blame and to compare last summer’s lawlessness, which was condemned by Democrats, to an attack on Congress, which was inspired by Mr. Trump.

“The violence at the Capitol was shameful,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, tweeted at 6:55 a.m. the morning after the attack. “Our movement values respect for law and order and for the police.” But now, in a new video titled “What Really Happened on January 6th?” Mr. Giuliani is among those who are back to emphasizing conspiracy theories.

“The riot was preplanned,” said Mr. Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City. “This was an attempt to slander Trump.” He added, “The evidence is coming out.”

Suzanne Doherty, 67, who traveled from Michigan to be in Washington on Jan. 6 to support Mr. Trump, came away feeling confused and depressed over the invasion of the Capitol and not trusting the images of the mob.

“I heard that on antifa websites, people were invited to go to the rally and dress up like Trump supporters, but I’m not sure what to believe anymore,” she said. “There were people there only to wreak havoc. All I know is that there was a whole gamut of people there, but the rioters were not us. Maybe they were antifa. Maybe they were B.L.M. Maybe they were extreme right militants.”

The conjecture that the mob was infiltrated by Black Lives Matter and antifa has been metastasizing from the dark corners of the pro-Trump internet to the floors of Congress and the Republican base, even as law enforcement officials say there is no evidence to support it. The authorities are now flagging threats of violence and rioting leading up to President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration.

That has not stopped Republican lawmakers and some of their constituents from pushing these narratives to defend Mr. Trump.

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