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‘We have a lot on our plate’: Sen. Patty Murray says Senate’s new Democratic majority must balance COVID relief, reckoning with assault on Capitol

UPDATED: Mon., Jan. 11, 2021

WASHINGTON – With Congress reeling from last week’s riot inside the U.S. Capitol, Sen. Patty Murray said Monday the newly Democratic-controlled Senate will need to balance coronavirus relief and the incoming Biden administration’s legislative agenda with efforts brewing in the House to hold departing President Donald Trump accountable for inciting the violence.

House Democrats issued an ultimatum on Monday: Unless Trump resigns or his cabinet removes him by invoking the 25th Amendment, the House will convene Wednesday morning to impeach the president for the second time, exactly a week after he spurred his supporters to march on the Capitol and less than a year after his first impeachment ended in an acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Wednesday’s chaos – which left five people dead, including a Capitol Police officer – overshadowed the Democrats’ momentous double upset in Georgia’s Senate runoff election. When newly elected Sens. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are sworn in later this month, Democrats will control both the House and Senate, smoothing the path for President-elect Joe Biden.

Murray, a veteran Washington lawmaker and the Senate’s third-ranking Democrat, told The Spokesman-Review she supports efforts to remove Trump from office before his term ends Jan. 20, but Congress’ top priority should be passing another round of pandemic relief.

“I really believe that this president can no longer govern when he has incited violence to try and take over our country,” Murray said. “Whether it’s the 25th Amendment or impeachment, I think we have to pursue that.”

“But we have a lot on our plate, including this virus,” Murray said. “Getting our arms wrapped around that and making sure this country survives … and to get back on our feet and be stable is the critical, No. 1 issue we all need to be focused on.”

If a majority of House members vote to impeach Trump, the Senate would begin a trial that could occupy the upper chamber for weeks, slowing the confirmation of Biden’s Cabinet nominees and passage of a new relief package. To avoid that problem, House Democrats are mulling the possibility of impeaching Trump but not sending the article of impeachment to the Senate until other priorities can be addressed.

Two Republican senators – Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey – have called for Trump to step down, but it is unclear if there is enough support for impeachment among GOP senators for the two-thirds majority needed to secure a conviction. If convicted, Trump would be barred from running for office again.

Biden also said Monday he had asked congressional Democrats if they could multitask, holding an impeachment trial while continuing to conduct other business.

“My priority, first and foremost, is the stimulus bill,” Biden said, “and secondly to begin to rebuild the economy.”

While the impeachment process would not remove Trump from office before Biden’s inauguration, it would force Republicans to go on the record and either defend or condemn Trump’s two-month campaign to overturn the election results that culminated in Wednesday’s violent insurrection.

Murray said she approves of her colleagues in the House going ahead with the impeachment process, and thinks Congress can walk and chew gum at the same time.

“I think it’s important to have the process go forward,” Murray said, “for the House to have the debate, for people to really personally take responsibility as elected officials on how our country will … react to those who would incite violence or use violence to take over our country.

“We can do that, and have to do that, at the same time as we grasp these other big, huge issues that are in front of us.”

Murray – who, with the Democrats’ imminent Senate majority, will soon chair the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee – was a key architect of the pandemic relief legislation that Congress passed in March and December. Republicans have so far resisted the more expansive relief spending Murray has favored, but her party taking control of the White House and both houses of Congress could make those priorities more likely.

“There isn’t anybody who doesn’t want their kids back in school,” she said. “There isn’t anybody who doesn’t want to be able to go to a restaurant again without worrying about it, or to have their business open.”

Murray said she wants Congress to pass “a COVID package that really assures every American citizen that we are doing everything we can as a country together to provide them that stability, get us out of this chaos, and get our country back on track.”

With Democrats taking control of the Senate, Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell will chair the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch will become the ranking GOP members of the Finance and Foreign Relations committees, respectively.

Murray said she hopes the Senate can set an example of civility and help Americans come together.

“Are we divided?” she said. “You bet we are. But we have to use our voices to convince other people, we have to talk things out. You can’t do it by violence. It’s not just Democrats who understand that right now. There are good Republicans who do as well.”

Murray said she hopes Wednesday’s violence, a traumatizing event for Democrats and Republicans alike who fled as rioters forced their way past police, can bring the parties together as national tragedies have in the past.

“I hope and pray, as we get through this – and there’s a lot to get through right now – that our voices win. We can never allow violence to win in this country when it comes to how we govern ourselves.”

Orion Donovan-Smith's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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