Senator Mitch McConnell on Monday dropped his demand that the new Democratic Senate majority promise to preserve the filibuster — which Republicans could use to obstruct President Biden’s agenda — ending an impasse that had prevented Democrats from assuming full power even after their election wins.
But as in past fights over the filibuster, the outcome is likely to be only a temporary solution. As they press forward on Mr. Biden’s agenda, Democrats will come under mounting pressure from activists to jettison the rule, which effectively requires 60 votes to advance any measure, should Republicans use it regularly to stall or stop the administration’s priorities.
In his negotiations with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the new majority leader, Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, had refused to agree to a plan for organizing the chamber without a pledge from Democrats to protect the filibuster, a condition that Mr. Schumer had rejected.
But late Monday, as the stalemate persisted, Mr. McConnell found a way out by pointing to statements by two centrist Democrats, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, that said they opposed getting rid of the procedural tool — a position they had held for months — as enough of a guarantee to move forward without a formal promise from Mr. Schumer.
“With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement.
Democrats had been anticipating a capitulation by Mr. McConnell and said they believed he had overreached in the negotiation.
“We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand,” said Justin Goodman, a spokesman for Mr. Schumer. “We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people.”
Even some lawmakers who have backed the filibuster strongly said they could change their minds if Republicans engaged in constant obstruction.
“I feel pretty damn strongly, but I will also tell you this: I am here to get things done,” said Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana. “If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change.”
Mr. McConnell’s demand for a pre-emptive surrender on the filibuster had infuriated Democrats who regarded it as evidence that the Republican leader intends to obstruct Mr. Biden’s proposals on pandemic relief, immigration, climate change, health care and more.
The stalemate created a bizarre situation in which most Senate committees were frozen under Republican control and new senators could not be seated on the panels even though Democrats now command the Senate majority.
Beyond the immediate logistical effects, the feud reflected a challenging dynamic in the 50-50 Senate for Mr. Biden. By holding out against Democrats eager to take charge, Mr. McConnell was exercising what leverage he had. But he also foreshadowed an eventual clash in the chamber that might otherwise have taken months to unfold over how aggressive Democrats should be in seeking to accomplish Mr. Biden’s top priorities.
Democrats say they must retain at least the threat that they could one day end the filibuster, arguing that bowing to Mr. McConnell’s demand now would only have emboldened Republicans to deploy it constantly, without fear of retaliation.
At issue is a rule that is at the heart of the consensus-driven Senate, which effectively mandates that any legislation draw 60 votes to advance. But like everything else in the chamber, the rule itself is subject to change if senators agree. As the majority party, Democrats could move to eliminate the filibuster and force through a change to the rules on a simple majority vote — a move known as detonating the “nuclear option” — if all 50 of their members held together and Vice President Kamala Harris cast the tiebreaking vote.
The Commerce Department has wide-ranging authority over issues as broad as technology exports and climate change. On Tuesday, President Biden’s nominee to run the agency, Gina M. Raimondo, will appear before the Senate commerce committee for a confirmation hearing. Ms. Raimondo, the current governor of Rhode Island, is a moderate Democrat and former venture capitalist.
Here are a few things to watch for as the hearing begins at 10 a.m.
Countering China’s growing technological reach
Senators of both parties are likely to question Ms. Raimondo on how she plans to use the Commerce Department’s powers to counter China’s growing mastery of cutting-edge and sensitive technologies, like advanced telecommunications and artificial intelligence.
The Trump administration made heavy use of the department’s authorities to crack down on Chinese technology firms, turning often to the so-called entity list, which allows the United States to block companies from selling American products and technology to certain foreign firms without first obtaining a license. Dozens of companies have been added to the Commerce Department’s list, including telecom giants like Huawei and ZTE.
The Commerce Department was also given responsibility for outlining President Donald J. Trump’s U.S. ban on the Chinese-owned social media apps TikTok and WeChat — actions that were subsequently halted by a court order. Mr. Biden has said he sees TikTok’s access to American data as a “matter of genuine concern,” but it’s unclear how the new administration will address these issues.
But the Commerce Department has other capabilities that some tech experts say were underused in the Trump administration, like the role it plays in setting global technology standards that private firms must operated under.
Jump-starting the economic recovery
As commerce secretary, Ms. Raimondo would wield authorities that could help struggling businesses and advance the Biden administration’s goals of building up domestic industry and revitalizing American research and development. That includes economic development programs and manufacturing partnerships that the Commerce Department offers to small and midsize enterprises, as well as its core mission of promoting American exports.
Delving into Ms. Raimondo’s past
Like some of Mr. Biden’s other nominees, Ms. Raimondo has faced a bit of backlash from progressive Democrats, who have criticized her close ties with venture capital and big tech firms. Before running for political office, Ms. Raimondo was a founding employee at the investment firm Village Ventures, which was backed by Bain Capital, and co-founded her own venture capital firm, Point Judith Capital.
Some progressives have also condemned certain actions she took as governor of Rhode Island, including clashing with unions during an overhaul of the state’s pension plans and extending some liability protections to nursing homes and health care facilities during the pandemic. But Democrats, who will support Ms. Raimondo’s speedy confirmation, are unlikely to press too hard on these issues, if at all.
Ms. Raimondo’s financial disclosure forms, released this month, also appear uncontroversial, showing an annual salary of $150,245 from the state of Rhode Island and $2.9 million to $7.5 million in cash, investment accounts and other assets, mainly mutual funds.
Eliyahu Weinstein got word that two-thirds of his 24-year sentence for investment fraud was going to be commuted by President Donald J. Trump after the White House chief of staff called a well-connected Washington lobbyist who had been hired to lead his clemency push.
Lawrence McCarroll learned that the petition he had filed with the Justice Department and the letter he had sent to the president had failed to win him a commutation of the remaining six years on his 33-year sentence for a nonviolent drug offense when his mother emailed from her home in Kenosha, Wis., to tell him his name had not appeared in news reports about Mr. Trump’s final round of clemency.
The contrast between the treatment of Mr. Weinstein and Mr. McCarroll underscores the two very different systems for determining who received clemency during Mr. Trump’s presidency.
In one system, people like the McCarrolls mostly hung their hopes on the regular process run by the Justice Department, which often took years to produce a response, if one came at all. In the other system, people like Mr. Weinstein skipped the line and got their petitions directly on the president’s desk because they had money or connections, or allies who did.
Of the nearly 240 pardons and commutations issued by Mr. Trump, only 25 came through the rigorous process for identifying and vetting worthy clemency petitions overseen by the Justice Department, according to a tally kept partly by a former United States pardon attorney.
In addition to rewarding people like Mr. Weinstein whose allies could afford to buy access to the highest levels of the administration, the results included pardons for people with direct personal relationships with the former president, such as his longtime adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., his former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his son-in-law’s father, Charles Kushner.
Twitter has permanently suspended MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell — one of President Trump’s most conspicuous remaining public defenders — for peddling debunked conspiracy theories about voter fraud in the 2020 elections.
Mr. Lindell’s Twitter account, which had nearly 413,000 followers, was permanently suspended “due to repeated violations of our Civic Integrity Policy,” Lauren Alexander, a Twitter spokeswoman, said in an email.
Mr. Trump’s own account was permanently closed earlier this month for much the same reason — setting off a chain of high-profile bans imposed amid concerns that Mr. Trump and his supporters would use the platform to incite more violence, like the storming of the Capitol earlier this month.
After the Capitol attack, Twitter said it had updated its rules to more aggressively police false or misleading information about the presidential election. As part of that move, Twitter has moved to suspend the accounts of more than 70,000 people who have promoted content related to QAnon, a fringe pro-Trump group that the F.B.I. has labeled a domestic terrorist threat.
Many of Mr. Trump’s most erstwhile defenders backed away from him in the days following the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, which was stoked by the former president’s fiery and false speech to supporters claiming massive voter fraud. Not Mr. Lindell.
A few days after the riot, he visited Mr. Trump in the White House — where photographers captured images of his notes, which while only partly visible seemed to suggest the president impose “martial law if necessary” to remain in office.
Dominion Voting Systems, the target of his unsubstantiated claims of massive, intentional voter fraud, threatened to sue Mr. Lindell last week, describing him as a leader of a “misinformation campaign” that has resulted in significant business losses and threats of violence against Dominion employees.
On Monday, Dominion Voting Systems filed a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit against Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, claiming he had personally profited by using his attacks against the company to promote commercial sponsorships.
Mr. Lindell, 59, filed a lawsuit of his own on Monday, suing the British tabloid The Daily Mail, over a recent report that he was having an extramarital affair, seeking $75,000 in damages.
His high-profile defense of Mr. Trump has earned him a devoted following on the right, but might have significant implications for his business. Bed, Bath & Beyond and several other chains have pulled MyPillow products from their shelves.
For the second time in just over a year, the House sent an article of impeachment against Donald J. Trump to the Senate for trial, thrusting his political fate into the hands of 50 Republican senators who for now appear reluctant to convict him.
On a day marked more by ceremony than substance, nine House managers on Monday walked across the Capitol to inform the Senate that they were ready to prosecute Mr. Trump for “incitement of insurrection,” a charge approved on a bipartisan basis after the former president stirred up a violent mob that stormed the Capitol this month. But senators planned to quickly hit pause, putting off the heart of the trial until Feb. 9 and buying Republicans time to prepare for a proceeding that will be as much a referendum over the future of their party as it will be on Mr. Trump himself.
Unlike Mr. Trump’s first impeachment, when Republicans quickly and enthusiastically rallied behind him, several Republicans, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, have signaled they are open to convicting the former president after a mendacious campaign to overturn his election loss that turned deadly. That would allow the Senate to bar him from ever holding office again.
But at least at the trial’s outset, their numbers fell well short of the 17 Republicans that would be needed to join Democrats in securing a conviction.
Instead, with the trial on hold, Republicans’ initial fury about the Jan. 6 attack appeared to be giving way to cold political calculations about the price they might pay for abandoning Mr. Trump, given his continued hold on the voters who make up the party’s base.
A survey by The New York Times on the eve of the trial found that 27 Republican senators had expressed opposition to charging Mr. Trump or otherwise holding him accountable by impeachment. Sixteen Republicans indicated they were undecided, and seven had no response. Most of those opposed increasingly fell back on process-based objections rather than defending Mr. Trump.
President Biden, in an interview with CNN on Monday, said that while he thought the trial was necessary, he did not believe 17 Republican senators would vote to convict Mr. Trump.
“The Senate has changed since I was there, but it hasn’t changed that much,” Mr. Biden said.
Carrying a slim blue envelope bearing the impeachment charge, the House managers, led by Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, walked through a Capitol where memories of the Jan. 6 siege were still fresh. They started in the House chamber, where lawmakers ducked for cover and donned gas masks as rioters tried to force their way in; past Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office suite, which was ransacked by the mob; through the Rotunda, where officers fired tear gas as they lost control over the throng; and into the well of the Senate chamber, where invaders cloaked in Trump gear congregated and took turns for photo ops on the dais the vice president and senators had been forced to evacuate moments before.
After Mr. Raskin read the charge in full, the managers left. The Senate planned to reconvene on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. to issue a summons to Mr. Trump to answer for the charge and formally agree to a trial schedule for the coming weeks.
Senators will also swear a special impeachment oath dating to the 18th century to do “impartial justice.”
Travel by noncitizens into the United States from South Africa will be banned over concerns about a coronavirus variant spreading in that country. And bans put in place last year on travel from Brazil, 27 European countries and Britain will be extended, the Biden administration announced on Monday.
The move comes as officials in the new administration try to get their hands around a fast-changing pandemic, with public health officials racing to vaccinate the public — and to expand the supply of vaccine — as more contagious variants of the coronavirus spread.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s leading infectious-disease specialist, has said that the variant of the virus in South Africa appears to be more highly contagious.
Moderna said its vaccine is effective against the new variants of the coronavirus that have emerged in Britain and South Africa. But the immune response is slightly weaker against the South African variant, so the company is developing a new form of the vaccine that could be used as a booster shot against that virus.
The new director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, has predicted the vaccine supply would not increase until late March. Federal health officials and corporate executives have said it will be impossible to increase the immediate supply of vaccines before April because of a lack of manufacturing capacity. But a third vaccine maker, Johnson & Johnson, is expected to report the results of its clinical trial soon; if approved, that vaccine would also help shore up production.
Mr. Biden’s travel ban will go into effect Saturday and apply to non-U.S. citizens who have spent time in South Africa in the last 14 days. The new policy will not affect U.S. citizens or permanent residents, officials said.
On his last full day in office, President Donald J. Trump tried to eliminate the Covid-19-related ban on travel from Britain, Ireland, 26 countries in Europe and Brazil, saying it was no longer necessary. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Monday that the ban would remain in place.
“With the pandemic worsening and more contagious variants spreading, this isn’t the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she said.
Ms. Psaki also said the Biden administration intended to hold regular public health briefings three times a week, beginning on Wednesday.
The first confirmed case of the Brazilian variant in the United States has been identified in Minnesota, the state’s health department said on Monday. It was found in a Minnesota resident who had recently traveled to Brazil.
The variant now spreading in South Africa appears to have not yet reached the United States. Over two dozen countries have now reported cases of the variant.
In addition to the travel bans, Mr. Biden issued an executive order last week requiring that all international travelers present negative coronavirus tests before traveling to the United States. The move extended a C.D.C. requirement for the tests that was issued by the Trump administration but was set to expire on Tuesday.