Happy New Year! Lawmakers returned today to Washington to begin the 118th Congress. Uncertainty swells around Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) bid to become Speaker.
As always, each Congress begins with a vote for House Speaker. After House Republicans won a majority during the midterm elections, then Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spent the rest of 2022 working to secure the 218 votes needed to ensure the Speakership. McCarthy has guaranteed votes from nearly 90% of the Republican Conference but given the slim majority (222 Republicans to 212 Democrats), he remains short. McCarthy failed to secure the necessary votes in three voting rounds and counting, ending 100 years of congressional precedent to elect a Speaker in the first round of voting. Voting will continue tomorrow, January 4th. Opposition is led by the most conservative flank of the Republican party dubbed “Never Kevins”. The McCarthy holdouts are demanding votes for provisions on a balanced budget, term limits for Members of Congress, and increased accountability on earmarks. From the last vote, the total number of Republican members opposing McCarthy currently stands nineteen. On Sunday, Kevin McCarthy released a House rules package with concessions for members of the House Freedom Caucus, but the proposal has seemingly not gone far enough for McCarthy to win over their votes.
Congress is faced with the likelihood of significant legislative gridlock during the 118th Congress. With Republicans controlling the House and Democrats controlling the Senate, there will be substantial roadblocks and negotiations as to what legislative items will ultimately receive action. Senate Democrats, according to Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), will focus on “Implementation (of IRA and BIL), foreign relations, and permitting reform.” Majority Leader-elect Steve Scalise (D-La.) shared a dear colleague letter outlining the first two weeks of the 118th Congress. Scalise also included 11 legislative items he plans to bring to the House Floor in the first two weeks of the session. The 11 “ready-to-go” pieces of legislation include several immigration, abortion, and oil and gas measures.
The Senate is in session today to formally begin the 118th session and go to recess until January 23. Of note, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will become the longest-serving Senate party leader in history. At 80, McConnell will eclipse previous record holder Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-Mont.), who held his leadership role for 16 years.