Biden team lays out plans as inauguration, Trump's impeachment loom

The US Capitol ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration from the National Mall in Washington, on Jan 17, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON (AFP) - United States President-elect Joe Biden's top advisers on Sunday (Jan 17) outlined his plans to tackle the nation's multiple crises while balancing the impeachment trial of Mr Donald Trump, as an historic inauguration week opens in the US.

Washington was under the watch of thousands of National Guard troops and ringed with security barriers ahead of Mr Biden's swearing in on Wednesday, in a nation still rattled by the Jan 6 attack on the Capitol.

Pro-Trump protests planned at state capitols nationwide got off to a quiet start with only small groups of armed demonstrators gathering in states including Ohio, Texas, Oregon and Michigan.

"The events of the past few weeks have proven just how damaged the soul of America has been and how important it is to restore it. That work starts on Wednesday," Mr Biden's incoming chief of staff Ron Klain told CNN. "We're inheriting a huge mess here, but we have a plan to fix it."

As the President-elect prepares to take power in a city where only two weeks earlier Trump supporters launched a violent attempt to overturn the election, Mr Biden faces overlapping crises: Not only the pandemic, but a struggling economy, climate change and racial tensions.

Mr Biden wants Congress to act quickly on a massive, US$1.9 trillion (S$2.5 trillion) stimulus package to revive the economy, and he plans a blitz to accelerate America's stumbling Covid-19 vaccine roll-out.

His target of seeing 100 million doses of coronavirus vaccine injected within his first 100 days in office is "absolutely" achievable, top US scientist Anthony Fauci told NBC on Sunday.

"The feasibility of his goal is absolutely clear, there's no doubt about it," said Dr Fauci, who will be Mr Biden's chief adviser on the virus, as he was Mr Trump's.

Shadow of uncertainty

But the coming Senate impeachment trial - an unprecedented second for Mr Trump - casts a shadow over Mr Biden's path forward.

Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have yet to say when the trial will begin.

"I don't think there's any promised date when Speaker Pelosi is going to present the articles of impeachment," Mr Dick Durbin, a Democratic leader in the Senate, told CNN.

"We understand, under the Constitution, we have a responsibility to act as quickly as possible."

Mr Biden has said he hopes Congress can deal with that stark distraction even while advancing his aggressive agenda.

Adding to the uncertainty is a badly riven Republican Party - divided over Mr Trump's false assertions that he won November's election, his fanning of emotions ahead of the deadly Capitol invasion, and on the future direction of the party.

'Socialised policy'

One frequent Trump confidant, Senator Lindsey Graham, warned Sunday on Fox News' Sunday Morning Futures that Republicans may not offer Mr Biden much of a grace period, if any - saying the President-elect might be trying to move too far too fast.

"I think we are going to have in the first hundred days by the Biden administration the most aggressive socialised policy effort in the history of the country," he said.

He added: "No good comes from impeaching President Trump (when he is) out of office."

But Mr Klain repeated Mr Biden's affirmation that the Senate - controlled only narrowly by Democrats - could handle both an impeachment trial and the new Biden agenda.

He added that Mr Biden would be able to take a flurry of executive actions - requiring no congressional approval - as early as Wednesday afternoon.

They will include returning the country to the Paris climate accord and ending the travel ban on some mainly Muslim countries.

A muted celebration

Plans for the inauguration - in normal times a bracing, even joyous, tribute to peaceful transition - had already been scaled down out of pandemic concerns. Fears of new violence by unyielding Trump supporters after the Jan 6 riot have cast a further pall.

US media reported small numbers of armed protesters outside state capitol buildings, including in Texas, Michigan and Kentucky, overseen by large security deployments.

Members of the Washington National Guard stand guard outside the state Capitol in Washington on Jan 17, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Thousands of National Guard troops were filling downtown Washington, the normal crowd has been banned, and streets have been blocked with heavy trucks and concrete barriers.

"This will be an inaugural like no other, in large part because of Covid-19," Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris said in an interview aired Sunday on CBS.

"But we are going to get sworn in. And we're going to do the job we were hired to do."

Mr Klain warned that the nation could reach a total of 500,000 Covid-19 deaths some time next month. The toll on Sunday surpassed 397,000, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

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