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Happy Monday morning.
Congress is back! There’s an enormous amount to do and say. Especially for Republicans.
The House and Senate will start the lame-duck session today. Government funding is the most important unfinished priority as appropriators face a Dec. 16 deadline. The defense authorization bill, Ukraine aid, same-sex marriage, Electoral College reform and maybe even a debt-limit boost will be debated over the closing weeks of the 117th Congress.
Yet what’s really at stake is the future of the Republican Party, both on and off Capitol Hill.
Former President Donald Trump is expected to announce Tuesday that he’s running for the White House again, setting off an intense debate about whether the GOP can and will move past Trump and Trumpism – and who his successor could be. Many in the party blame Trump for the 2022 election debacle even as he wants to talk about 2024. Trump has invited some members of Congress to Mar-a-Lago for his announcement.
The two parties are battling still for control of the House, with 19 races remaining uncalled. Having already lost any chance of gaining a Senate majority, Republicans face the prospect of entering January with a very narrow House majority at best. Currently, Republicans have won or are favored in 220 seats, Democrats 213, with California’s 13th and 22nd districts as true tossups. These aren’t official totals and could change. But House Republicans seem likely to be in the majority following some favorable vote dumps in Arizona and California on Sunday night.
House Minority Kevin McCarthy – a longtime Trump ally – faces a potential leadership challenge whatever the final tally is. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also could get a potential challenge from Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). The race for House majority whip between Reps. Jim Banks (Ind.), Drew Ferguson (Ga.) and outgoing NRCC Chair Tom Emmer – provided Republicans do win – is one of the most competitive in recent memory.
Let’s start in the House. GOP leadership candidates will present their case today as part of a candidate forum. Elections will be held Tuesday, despite the unresolved question of which party is in the majority. Republicans will vote on their rules package for the next Congress on Wednesday.
McCarthy is running unopposed for speaker at this point, although Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) is reportedly considering a long-shot bid in order to demonstrate that the California Republican can’t get to 218 votes, according to CNN’s Melanie Zanona. Some on the right are pining for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) to make a run for speaker. Jordan, however, has said he supports McCarthy’s bid. McCarthy is almost certain to win the internal House GOP election Tuesday, which is held at a simple majority threshold.
But if McCarthy emerges with fewer than 218 votes – a near certainty – he’ll be seen as weakened heading into a Jan. 3 floor vote for speaker. McCarthy is facing the same type of resistance that he faced in 2015 – right-wing lawmakers who have no specific policy gripes with him but don’t want McCarthy to be speaker.
Here’s some news: We got a sense of what conservatives are demanding from McCarthy. Essentially, they want to neuter the GOP leadership by revising the rules package that’s scheduled to be adopted by the Republican Conference on Wednesday. This effort is being led by Biggs, Reps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) and Bob Good (R-Va.), among others. They’ve floated a number of proposed amendments to the leadership-drafted rules package.
Conservatives – and by this we mean largely the House Freedom Caucus – want members of each committee to elect their chairs. Currently, the GOP Steering Committee, on which McCarthy has outsized sway, selects committee chairs who are then approved by the full conference. The risk here is that committee chairs become beholden to their committees, not the leadership.
Conservatives want each bill that could come to the floor to get voted on by the entire Republican Conference before it’s taken up by the House. This is to ensure a “majority of the majority” backs these measures.
Additionally, they want any amendment that gets 10% support inside the House Republican Conference to be ruled in order.
Conservatives are advocating not bringing any additional legislation to the floor if Congress hasn’t passed spending bills by Aug. 1. This is a curious push, considering the House can’t control what the Senate does.
Conservatives also want a say over the makeup of the House Rules Committee. This is a direct challenge to the speaker’s authority since the speaker selects those members. The Rules panel is how the speaker exercises their authority over legislation and the floor, so any change to that committee would have a huge impact on the speaker’s power over the whole body.
Another proposed amendment would bar omnibus spending packages, which conservatives have long opposed.
The motion to vacate the chair. This is the big one. Conservatives want to make it easier to take out a speaker by having the ability to force what is essentially a vote of confidence at any time. This is how the House Freedom Caucus began the process of taking out Speaker John Boehner back in 2015. McCarthy has strongly opposed this, preferring to stick to the current rule, which only allows the GOP or Democratic leadership to offer this motion.
The truth is every single member of the House Republican Conference – from the moderates to the conservatives – will be a kingmaker in 2023 if the GOP takes the majority. We’re only seeing the beginning of this dynamic play out.
Now this isn’t a full list, there are dozens of other proposals. All of them are aimed at reining in the power of McCarthy and House leaders. The critical questions are how far McCarthy will go in appeasing conservatives, can he ever win them over, and what happens to his potential speakership if he does make concessions? Right now, McCarthy is likely to be able to lose only a handful of votes – perhaps as few as two – in order to win a speaker contest on the floor. McCarthy needs to get through Tuesday’s internal leadership elections, then he will have six weeks to strike a deal to become speaker. The question is whether he can. And if not, who will?
On the Senate side, McConnell faces complaints from Rick Scott and others who are deeply disappointed by Tuesday’s election results. Scott hasn’t formally challenged McConnell – Scott can’t beat McConnell – but the Florida Republican and a handful of other GOP senators want to delay Wednesday’s elections, which will be held in the Old Senate Chamber. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) back a delay as well.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined the “Delay the elections” chorus on Sunday night, saying on Twitter that Senate Republicans should hold off until after the Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia:
“In light of #GASen runoff, it would be appropriate to delay Senate leadership elections until we know who is in the Senate Republican Conference.
I totally agree with Senator @TedCruz that to do otherwise would be disrespectful to @HerschelWalker …
All Republicans should be focused on winning in Georgia and trying to understand the midterm elections before Senate leadership elections or moving on to the 2024 presidential race.
Despite these cracks in his support, McConnell and other party leaders have no intention of delaying anything at this point, as Senate Republican Conference Chair John Barrasso (Wyo.) made clear last week. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and others reiterated their support for McConnell this weekend.
Despite Scott’s comments, McConnell clearly doesn’t feel like he’s responsible for losing Senate races in Pennsylvania, Arizona, Nevada and New Hampshire. Instead, the McConnell camp thinks Trump and Scott – especially Scott – have a lot to answer for on that front and they’re happy to have a debate, GOP senators and aides said. They noted that Scott was making a video touting a possible leadership run even before the election was held, as our friend Jonathan Martin of Politico reported, suggesting the Florida Republican should’ve been focusing more on winning Senate races than his own personal ambitions.
– Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan
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Washington waits for Pelosi
House Democrats will gather in a little more than two weeks to elect their caucus leaders. And yet no one knows who’s running or for what.
Of course, anyone with leadership ambitions is waiting for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say whether she intends to step down – as promised four years ago – or whether she’ll run for the top Democratic spot again.
Pelosi, in separate appearances on CNN and ABC Sunday, said she won’t make an announcement about her future until the fight for control of the House is called. Right now, Democrats have a slim but slowly shrinking chance at holding the majority, as we covered above.
“My decision will then be rooted in the wishes of my family and the wishes of my caucus,” Pelosi told CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday. “But none of it will be very much considered until we see what the outcome of all of this is.”
Pelosi said she will “of course” announce a decision by the time Democrats hold their leadership elections Nov. 30.
However, that leaves the rest of Democrats’ leadership team on hold. This includes House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who’s made no secret of his desire to be Democratic leader, and Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries, who many consider the heir apparent to Pelosi.
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark and Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar are in the mix too. Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (Wash.) have leadership ambitions as well. Jayapal told us on Sunday “I don’t rule anything out” in terms of a possible leadership run.
The New Three – as Jeffries, Clark and Aguilar are sometimes called – have been quietly reaching out to members of the caucus to gauge support for their leadership ambitions. But some Democrats have been asking Pelosi to stay another term, as we reported Friday.
We checked in with several Democratic lawmakers and aides across the caucus this weekend. The general consensus is that if Democrats somehow managed to hold onto the majority, Pelosi could make a credible play to stay one more term.
If Democrats don’t hold the House – losing by even just a few seats – the case for Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn remaining the top three party leaders becomes much harder, several Democratic insiders said. And that’s where things could get messy, fast.
Four years ago, when Pelosi clinched the term-limits deal that paved the way for her to become speaker again, she promised to be “a bridge to the next generation of leaders.”
The Democrats who negotiated with Pelosi – many of whom have left Congress or won’t be returning next year – said the accord would “make lasting institutional change that … will help develop the next generation of Democratic leaders.”
As part of that 2018 deal, Pelosi agreed to step aside after no more than four more years as the top Democrat. The agreement also limited Hoyer and Clyburn to two more terms, although the caucus never ratified that and these two senior Democrats made clear they wouldn’t abide by those terms.
“The speaker will make an announcement when she makes an announcement,” Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said Sunday when reached for comment. “Until then, let’s all enjoy watching Kevin McCarthy lose a speakership his party hasn’t even won in the first place.”
– Heather Caygle
What we’re watching
Monday: House Republicans will hear from their leadership candidates as part of a candidate forum.
Tuesday: The House Homeland Security Committee will hear from DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, FBI Director Chris Wray and Christine Abizaid, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center at DNI. Senate Banking Committee will have a hearing featuring the Fed’s Michael Barr. Senate Intelligence will get a briefing.
The House GOP will have its leadership elections.
Senate Democrats and Republicans will hold their regular weekly policy luncheons. Senators will discuss the agenda for the lame-duck session and the results of the midterm elections.
Wednesday: House Foreign Affairs will have a hearing on “Russia’s waning global influence” with former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The House Rules Committee will hold a hearing on “Legal and Procedural Factors Related to Seating a Cherokee Nation Delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives.” The Senate Judiciary Committee will have a DHS oversight hearing.
Senate Republicans will hold their leadership elections in the Old Senate Chamber starting at 9:30 a.m. This process will take several hours. A leadership press conference will be held afterward.
The House GOP will consider its rules package for the 118th Congress.
Thursday: Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on “Threats to the Homeland.” Mayorkas, Wray and Abizaid will testify.
– Jake Sheman and John Bresnahan
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New: Inside Connolly’s pitch to be the top Democrat on Oversight
One of the major storylines of the next Congress will likely be Republican investigations into the White House. There’s a fascinating race between three House Democrats — Reps. Gerry Connolly (Va.), Stephen Lynch (Mass.) and Jamie Raskin (Md.) — vying to be their party’s top voice on the Committee on Oversight and Reform, which will be in the middle of many of those probes.
Here’s a first look at Connolly’s pitch. A page on the Virginia Democrat’s website states that Connolly has “a record of fighting Obama-Era Republican witch hunts” and “a record of holding Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans accountable.”
“For 8 years in the minority, Rep. Connolly held the line against Jim Jordan, Trey Gowdy, Ron DeSantis, Jody Hice, and Trump’s Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, setting the record straight on GOP misinformation,” Connolly’s website reads.
The site also highlights a quote from the late Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the former chair of the committee, praising Connolly for being “tireless” and doing “a phenomenal job.” In addition, Connolly cites how former Oversight Chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said the Democrat has “often been the bane of my existence.”
Connolly is trying to make the case that he has the most relevant experience operating within the committee. Plus, Connolly is illustrating that he’s willing to tussle with Republicans and push back against their investigations.
Connolly currently chairs the subcommittee on Government Operations in the Oversight Committee. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chair, lost her primary this summer to Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and will see her 30-year congressional career come to an end in January.
— Max Cohen
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Happening this morning: President Joe Biden is meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
8:30 a.m.: Biden will speak to reporters and take questions.
6:45 p.m.: Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold a ceremonial swearing in for Rep.-elect Rudy Yakym (R-Ind.). Yakym was elected to replace the late Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.) for the remainder of this Congress.
“Extreme Candidates and Positions Came Back to Bite in Midterms,” by Jonathan Weisman and Katie Glueck
“Trump Wanted I.R.S. Investigations of Foes, Top Aide Says,” by Mike Schmidt
“Divided over Ukraine war, G-20 summit struggles on economic agenda,” by David J. Lynch in Bali and Emily Rauhala in Brussels
“Fed Official Warns Inflation Fight Has ‘Ways to Go,’” by Nick Timiraos
“Biden, Xi seek to ‘manage our differences’ in meeting,” by Seung Min Kim and Zeke Miller in Nusa Dua, Indonesia
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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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