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Biden's COVID relief package faces opposition, less Republicans willing to 'stir the pot'

Yahoo Finance’s Akiko Fujita and Zack Guzman speak with Stanford University’s Hoover Institute Research Fellow Lanhee Chen about President Biden's stimulus package.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: Lanhee, love having you on to channel this, because you know how these things are going to move forward at a slow pace, when you consider where Republicans are digging in here. So how does maybe all of the impeachment side of this maybe impact the goal that President Biden has to really move through his $1.9 trillion proposal?

LANHEE CHEN: Yeah, it's difficult, because something like impeachment is an incredibly partisan exercise. It does tend to inflame passions on both sides. It's going to be a challenge for-- as Kamala Harris said, the Senate can walk and chew gum at the same time. It's actually really hard for the Senate to do that, because on the one hand, you're trying to negotiate a massive stimulus package about which there is clearly disagreement, and on the other hand, you've got this process going on-- impeachment-- which is, by its nature, a divisive one.

So I do expect things to bog down a little bit here. A few of Biden's nominees are going to get through, as you noted, without too much opposition-- Janet Yellen being one; Tony Blinken, the nominee for Secretary of State, being another one.

But aside from that, it is going to be a challenge to make much progress either on the question of what a stimulus package looks like or, on the other hand, trying to get more clarity around the impeachment trial. I think both of those things are going to bog down quite a bit here over the next week to 10 days.

AKIKO FUJITA: Lanhee, when you think about the conversations that played out in the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, Republicans on a majority were never on board with the impeachment process moving forward, but it did feel like there was some room for discussion here. How do you think that appetite has shifted over the last week? What conversations are you hearing within the party about how they're calculating whether, in fact, to support this or not?

LANHEE CHEN: Yeah, what's become clear to me is that the number of Republicans who would actually be willing to vote to convict the president has come down significantly over the last week-- not because of any great affection for former President Trump, but more out of a sense of reality that a lot of Republicans see this, again, as a partisan maneuver.

They believe that what's in the past is in the past. They'd like to move on and turn the page, so they're not really eager to stir the pot on this. There was some sense before that maybe the 17 votes required to convict Trump-- that that might be out there I think that has gone away. I just don't see there being even five votes now to convict the president.

I'd be surprised if there are more than three to five votes to convict President Trump at the end of this. I think most Republicans have come home, so to speak, on this one because they just don't desire to pick a huge fight with the Republican base at a time when Trump still has favorability ratings north of 60% to 70% with many Republican voters.

So I think the dynamic here has come back to one where Democrats will move forward. There may be a few Republican votes, but at the end of the day, it's not going to be enough to convict the president, which is why I think both sides really want a quick trial. I don't think they want to spend a whole lot of time on this, because there is other business that I think is more pressing for both sides on this.

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, so how much more political capital might that expected shift among the Republicans there give Democrats in trying to push some of the things through here, when we're still watching how things are going to shake out in the Senate, given that razor-thin majority they now have?

LANHEE CHEN: This has always been the challenge for Democrats. Governing with a bare, bare majority like they have is very, very difficult, and it is going to require probably some Republican support, if they want to pass anything through the regular order. It does require 60 votes to overcome a filibuster for legislative action in the Senate, unless Democrats decide to change those rules.

Democrats do have the ability to use something called budget reconciliation, but that's really a one, maybe two-shot kind of approach, where they can essentially bundle together a bunch of things they want and get them through with a simple majority. But they really can only use that once on the extreme twice a year, and it's going to take time to flesh that out-- maybe time that we don't have, given what we're seeing with the economy and where things are headed, given coronavirus.

So I do think Democrats would prefer a quick action on some kind of stimulus package, and then maybe bundling together some more legislative priorities they know will not get Republican support further down the road here as we get into the spring. So we'll have to see what happens, but I think the premium is going to be placed on quick action when it comes to economic stimulus.

AKIKO FUJITA: And on that quick action, in order for things to move forward, you've said since the election that it really is going to come down to the moderates in the Senate. When you look at what's actually included in the $1.9 trillion, what do you think those like Mitt Romney, for example-- what are they willing to come to the table on on that-- within the $1.9 trillion?

And is it about the amount? Is that the concern, or is it about the specifics in there that you think Republicans will have a hard time saying, yeah, we're going to sign on to this?

LANHEE CHEN: I think it's both, Akiko. I think there's concern about the amount-- the overall amount. A couple of senators have expressed concern. Look, we just did $2 trillion back a few months ago, and we want to do it to another $2 trillion now. It seems inconceivable. There's also this problem of there being a bunch of stuff in the package that, quite frankly, are non-starters for many Republicans-- the increase in the minimum wage, the dramatic increase in subsidies under Obamacare.

There's things in there that Republicans will certainly oppose. So it doesn't appear as though it's a serious bipartisan proposal. I think there are elements of it that could be-- for example, the additional funding on COVID-19 vaccines and on testing, funding for health care institutions for PPE, for example. That's still something that's floating around.

And I would say the expansion of unemployment insurance-- that's something that can get bipartisan support. But aside from that, the rest of this really probably is not going to garner a whole bunch of Republican support, so really, to get this through, Biden's going to have to decide how much he wants to trim the package. And is he willing to do essentially a skinny package now, and then put some of these other priorities, as I said, into a reconciliation bill later?