In this Jan. 26 image from video, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of former President Trump, swears in members of the Senate for the trial.

In this Jan. 26 image from video, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the president pro tempore of the Senate, who is presiding over the impeachment trial of former President Trump, swears in members of the Senate for the trial. Senate Television via AP

Senate To Take Up Impeachment Amid Confirming Key Biden Administration Nominees

President Biden has seven high-level nominees approved so far. 

After almost three weeks in office, President Biden has seven Cabinet-level nominees confirmed, but starting this week the Senate will have to balance additional confirmations with the impeachment trial.

The House voted to impeach President Trump on January 13 for incitement of violence at the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The trial will start in the Senate on Tuesday. Biden previously said he hopes “Senate leadership will find a way to deal with their Constitutional responsibilities on impeachment while also working on the other urgent business of this nation,” such as confirming nominees for “key” positions, “getting our vaccine program on track” for the ongoing pandemic and reviving the economy. 

Here is where things stand for the Cabinet and some other top officials, as of Monday afternoon:

  • Biden’s Treasury, State, Defense, Homeland Security, Transportation and Veterans Affairs secretaries and director of National Intelligence are confirmed.
  • The Commerce, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and Agriculture secretaries; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations; and Council of Economic Advisers chair nominees have been reported favorably of their respective committees. 
  • Hearings were held for the Small Business Administration and Environmental Protection Agency administrators and Labor and Education secretaries (committees will consider the Labor, Education and EPA picks during business meetings this week). 
  • There are hearings this week for the Office of Management and Budget director. 
  • The following nominees have just been announced and/or referred to their respective Senate committees: attorney general; U.S. Agency for International Development director; Health and Human Service and Interior department secretaries; CIA chief; Federal Emergency Management Agency director; and Office of Science and Technology Policy chief.
  • Biden has yet to name nominees to lead the General Services Administration and Office of Personnel Management. 

Last Thursday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, put a hold on Gina Raimondo’s nomination to be Commerce secretary. He tweeted on February 4 he will “lift the hold when the Biden administration commits to keep the massive Chinese Communist Party spy operation Huawei on the Entity List.” The list contains companies with which U.S. firms cannot do business and products they cannot use due to sanctions or other national security concerns, unless they receive specific permission from the federal government. 

The Congressional Research Service noted that, “holds are not mentioned in the rules or precedents of the Senate, and they are enforced only through the agenda decisions of party leaders.” 

Presidents have to fill about 4,000 political appointments, of which about 1,200 require Senate confirmation. The Senate confirmed 28 of President Trump’s nominees during his first 100 days in office, compared to 69 for President Obama and 35 for President George W. Bush. By the end of their first years, Trump, Obama and Bush had 321, 463 and 520 nominees confirmed, respectively, according to the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service’s Center for Presidential Transition

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor late on Monday afternoon that the Republican minority leader and House impeachment managers reached a "bipartisan resolution" on the impeachment format. 

"Each side will have ample time to make their arguments, 16 hours over two days for the House managers [and] the same for the former president's counsel," he said. "If managers decide they want witnesses, there will be a vote on that." Also, the trial will pause for the Sabbath, at the request of David Schoen, an attorney for Trump, then resume on Sunday. 

Update: This article has been updated to reflect the Senate confirming Denis McDonough to be Veterans Affairs secretary on Monday evening.