Fewer people than usual attended Wednesday's inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, due to COVID-19 and security concerns. New Hampshire Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen was in attendance for the historic event, and she spoke with Morning Edition host Rick Ganley Thursday morning about her experience and the challenges facing the Senate going forward.
Jeanne Shaheen: Well, it was great to be able to be at the inauguration yesterday. It was a spectacular day. And despite all of the challenges, I think Joe Biden's message of the importance of unity, bringing the country back together to address the huge challenges that we face was one that it was really important for the country to hear.
Rick Ganley: Well, I want to ask you about how you felt. Obviously, it's different than previous inaugurations. This stands out for many reasons. For the first time, a woman of color, Kamala Harris, was sworn in [as Vice President]. Then there were the COVID precautions, the increased security measures. How did it feel to you compared to other inaugurations that you've attended?
Jeanne Shaheen: Well, when the sun came out and Joe Biden started speaking and his words were so uplifting, for me, it was feeling like America was back. The values that I hold dear about our country are being renewed. The importance of competence in government to address the challenges that we face was very clear as he went right to the White House and went to work. And that's going to be important as we address what's ahead of us. And he pointed out that things are not going to be easy. But I think if we have a leader who tells Americans the truth and who has a plan for how to respond to the crises, that, as he said, we will get through them.
Rick Ganley: The Senate will now be evenly split between the parties - Vice President Harris as a tie breaker on partisan matters, presumably. How do you see power sharing in the Senate working going forward?
Jeanne Shaheen: Well, it's not clear yet. There hasn't been an agreement signed between the leaders, between Chuck Schumer, who will now become the majority leader, and Mitch McConnell. So that needs to happen. But I thought it was a good sign that yesterday we were able to confirm the new director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, by 84 votes. So, a clear, strong bipartisan vote. And I hope that's a sign of things to come.
Rick Ganley: Do you feel like it is a sign, though? I'm wondering if there's, you know, a brief honeymoon period, and then things get back to the rancor that has marked politics for years now?
Jeanne Shaheen: Well, it's not going to be easy, Rick, and people are going to have to work at it. And it's important for the country that we do that. Now, I continue to work with a number of bipartisan members of the Senate. We were involved in putting forward the COVID package that I think led to the emergency aid that we got at the end of the year. And we have continued to meet to talk about the importance of continuing to work together, to move an agenda for the country, to respond to the coronavirus, which is obviously the number one threat that we need to address right now. But to help get our economy moving again, to address the importance of the environment and climate change, racial inequalities, all of those things need people to work together in order to respond to them. And I'm confident that that's what the Biden-Harris administration wants to do and that we have a good percentage of senators who understand that that's what we've got to do to address the challenges facing this country.
Rick Ganley: The House voted to impeach Donald Trump for the second time last week. Do you have any idea of a timeline of when the Senate might hold the second impeachment trial?
Jeanne Shaheen: I don't. And that's one of the things that's currently being negotiated between the leaders in the Senate. So I don't think we'll know that - maybe sometime today or by the end of the week. But it's one of the items that is still on the table.
Rick Ganley: Yeah. Does that take some of the oxygen out of the room for for other Senate work at the same time?
Jeanne Shaheen: Well, one of the things we're going to have to do is continue to address the agenda to get people confirmed for offices. We've got to get a national security team in place. It's very critical as we look at this period of time with threats to the country. We've seen from the Russian hacking of our agencies that the threat is very real. We know that China and Russia and Iran all want to do America harm. And so we need to get that national security team in place. Our secretary of state, secretary of defense, our head of the CIA, we need to make sure that those folks are - homeland security. Right now, we have Josh Hawley, who was one of the leaders of the insurrection in Congress, who is holding up the nominee to be secretary of homeland security. Hopefully he will drop his objections, because we need to get these folks in place to ensure security in this country.
Rick Ganley: Do you feel like there's a mood change, though, in Washington since [Jan. 6]?
Jeanne Shaheen: I do. I think people recognize very clearly just how fragile our democracy is, that it works only if all of us in the country participate in it and uphold our responsibility. You know, John Kennedy always said that the most important job in a democracy is that of citizen, an engaged citizen who knows what's going on and who supports our institutions. And we saw very clearly on [Jan. 6] that people, if they are lied to and misled, will do things that are in violation of the democracy, and that's the first time we've seen Americans try to overturn an elected government.