WASHINGTON – Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that a coronavirus relief bill will be the top priority for his caucus but added that the recent violence at the Capitol shows the need to confirm President-elect Joe Biden’s national security team on “day one” of the new administration.
In a letter to colleagues shared first with The Associated Press, Schumer said the deadly Capitol riot by a mob loyal to President Donald Trump was “one of the darkest days in all of American history.”
The Jan. 6 insurrection “showed us we need qualified Senate-confirmed people (not in an acting capacity) in key national security positions” on day one, including secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security, secretary of state, attorney general and others, Schumer wrote.
“The economic challenges our nation faces also require having key economic nominees confirmed and on the job ASAP,” he said.
His comments were part of a broader push by Biden allies to encourage speedy confirmations of some of his top nominees.
The Senate typically confirms some nominees, particularly the secretaries of defense, state and treasury, on Inauguration Day, though raw feelings regarding Trump led to Democratic-caused delays four years ago. But this year it will also likely be convening Trump’s impeachment trial. The House is set to impeach Trump this week on a sole charge of inciting insurrection in the riot.
Before confirming them, the Senate will have to hold hearings for Biden's nominees. Four hearings have been slated so far: for homeland security nominee Alejandro Mayorkas, defense nominee Lloyd J. Austin, treasury designate Janet Yellen, and Antony Blinken as secretary of state. To confirm any of them on Inauguration Day requires the unanimous cooperation of all senators.
Republicans will chair all hearings conducted before Jan. 20, when Vice President-elect Kamala Harris promises to deliver control to Democrats.
Cabinet nominees need 51 votes for confirmation. Republicans currently control the upper chamber, but control will flip after the Democratic victors in two Georgia special elections are seated.
The national security posts, including Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, were already a Biden transition team priority, but the matter has only grown more urgent because of the cyber attack believed to have been carried out by Russia, the threat from domestic extremists that turned into a violent insurrection on Jan. 6 and the surprise resignation Monday of Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of DHS.
“During this period, our country is vulnerable, and we cannot afford any delays getting a national security team in place,” said Michael Daniel, who served as a special assistant and cybersecurity coordinator to President Barack Obama.
In his letter, Schumer also warned that, even as Democrats seek “to mitigate and hopefully remove the immediate and ongoing danger President Trump poses to our country,” there is a need to “remain vigilant against potential threats and future violence" ahead of the inauguration.
“Our caucus will make sure that the events are fully investigated and every necessary security measure is in place,” he wrote.
Schumer told his caucus that delivering Americans $2,000 direct COVID relief payments would be the first priority. He also laid out a laundry list of other goals, including “bold legislation to defeat the climate crisis," efforts to fix the health care and child care systems, plans to address income inequality and the pursuit of immigration, democracy and criminal justice reform.
“When and where we can, we will strive to make this important work bipartisan,” Schumer said. But he warned that if Republican "decide not to partner with us in our efforts to address these issues, we will not let that stop progress.”
Associated Press writers Ben Fox and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.