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Biden taking hands-off approach to Trump impeachment trial

White House officials say President Joe Biden is

White House officials say President Joe Biden is focusing on the COVID-19 relief package. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Saul Loeb

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden isn’t expected to tune in much to former President Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki, underscoring Biden’s hands-off approach to the proceedings that start Tuesday.

"I think it’s clear from his schedule and from his intention that he will not spend too much time watching the proceedings," Psaki said at Monday’s White House daily press briefing after listing some of the meetings on Biden’s agenda.

The president is expected to visit the National Institutes of Health and the Pentagon and will meet virtually with governors and mayors throughout the week as he pushes Congress to support his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, Psaki said.

Asked multiple times if Biden planned on watching Trump’s trial, or whether he would be briefed on the daily developments, Psaki repeatedly said Biden’s primary focus was the relief package.

"He will leave the pace and the process and the mechanics of the impeachment proceedings up to members of Congress," Psaki said.

Biden, asked on Monday morning whether senators should move to bar Trump from running for office again over his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, deferred to the Senate.

"He got an offer to come and testify, he decided not to. Let the Senate work that out," Biden told reporters before entering the White House.

Trump was impeached by the House a week after the attack on a charge of incitement of insurrection, but his legal team rejected a request by the Democratic-led House impeachment managers for Trump to testify. House Democrats making the case against Trump argue a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol, heeding his calls to fight against the congressional certification of Biden’s victory.

Biden and his team have sought not to let his predecessor’s trial overshadow Biden’s first 100 days agenda, and urged congressional Democrats in January to delay Trump’s trial until the new president’s key Cabinet picks were confirmed by the Senate. Last month, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reached a deal with GOP Leader Mitch McConnell to push the trial to February.

Psaki, when asked if Biden would be briefed on the trial’s daily developments by Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said the president’s conversations with the two Democratic leaders will continue to focus on a COVID-19 stimulus package.

"I don't expect that would be a primary topic," Psaki said referring to the impeachment trial.

Pressed on whether Biden should assert a position on whether to convict Trump, Psaki deferred to the Senate, saying that Biden, a former U.S. senator from Delaware, is "retired from the Senate."

"His focus is on getting relief to the American people, and that's exactly what he's conveyed publicly … and privately as well. I'll leave it to his former colleagues in the Senate … to determine the path forward," Psaki said.

Though a handful of GOP senators have signaled their willingness to convict Trump over the Jan. 6 attack, a procedural vote held two weeks ago indicated it’s unlikely that Democrats will persuade at least 17 Republicans needed to uphold Trump’s conviction.

As Biden continues to issue calls for bipartisanship, it's a "wise political move" not to expend his political capital on Trump's trial, said Washington, D.C.-based political strategist Brad Bannon, noting that there's not much Biden can do "to influence the outcome."

"Americans want him to focus on the pandemic and the economy," said Bannon. "Even though they may support Trump's conviction, Americans are a lot more concerned about the impact of the pandemic. They would prefer that Joe Biden expend his efforts to fight the pandemic and to reinvigorate the economy."

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