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White House Distances Biden from Trump Impeachment Trial

President Joe Biden, accompanied by Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, meets with business leaders to discuss a coronavirus relief package in the White House, Feb. 9, 2021.

U.S. President Joe Biden says while the impeachment trial of his predecessor is under way in the Senate, he will be focused on alleviating the suffering from the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am not,” Biden replied when asked by reporters Tuesday in the Oval Office whether he is watching the trial. “We have already lost over 450,000 people, and we could lose a whole lot more if we don’t act and act decisively and quickly. … A lot of children are going to bed hungry. A lot of families are food insecure. They’re in trouble. That’s my job. The Senate has their job, and they’re about to begin it, and I am sure they are going to conduct themselves well.”

The president added he will not be saying anything further about impeachment of former President Donald Trump, whom Biden defeated in last November’s election.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Feb. 9, 2021, in Washington.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House, Feb. 9, 2021, in Washington.

“He's not a pundit. He's not going to opine on the back-and-forth arguments, nor is he watching them,” replied White House press secretary Jen Psaki, when asked earlier in the day by a reporter about the historic proceedings, which began Tuesday.

Psaki was also asked how Biden, as the current officeholder, could not weigh in on whether it is constitutional for the Senate to put a former president on trial and whether it could set a dangerous precedent for the presidency.

The press secretary did not give a direct answer.

“He is going to wait for the Senate to determine the outcome of this,” she said during the White House daily media briefing. “His view is that his role should be currently focused on addressing the needs of the American people, putting people back to work, addressing the pandemic.”

Focus on issues, not impeachment

The White House is seeking to portray the president as focused on such issues while the impeachment trial takes place.

The White House has arranged visits by Biden to the Defense Department and the National Institutes of Health this week. Next Tuesday, the president is to travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he will participate in a televised town hall-style event.

During the February 16 live broadcast, the president will answer questions about his administration's efforts "to contain the coronavirus pandemic and jump-start a troubled economy," according to CNN, which will air the event. The cable network explained it will include “an invitation-only, socially distanced audience.”

Administration officials say there is no political advantage for Biden, a former senator and vice president, to inject himself into the impeachment trial, which would be seen as a political move so early in his presidency and at a time when Americans are looking for him to focus on alleviating the suffering caused by the pandemic.

Mob failed to stop certification

The House of Representatives last month impeached Trump for inciting violence against the government on January 6, when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol complex to try to halt the certification of electoral votes affirming Biden as the winner of last November’s election.

Biden “has put out multiple statements conveying that what the (former) president did and his words and his actions, and of course the events of January 6, were a threat to our democracy,” Psaki said Tuesday.

Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice. The first time was in December of 2019 when the House voted he had abused his power and obstructed Congress, stemming from a July 2019 phone call in which he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into Biden.

The Senate acquitted Trump on both counts last year.