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Happy Tuesday and welcome to our year-end review of The Canvass.
Our respondents were spot-on with their predictions for what was undoubtedly a chaotic year in the nation’s capital.
The year: We started 2023 with an unruly House Republican Conference trying to navigate a razor-thin majority and Democrats cheering their unexpected gains in the Senate.
The drama started immediately, with Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) only securing the speaker’s gavel after 15 exhausting rounds of voting. Of course, the deal McCarthy made with his right-wing detractors to secure the speakership would later result in his ouster.
In the spring, congressional leaders and President Joe Biden reached an agreement to raise the debt limit at the last minute, averting economic catastrophe. Congress also narrowly avoided two government shutdowns this year, went an unprecedented three weeks without a speaker in October and expelled the sixth House member in history earlier this month.
After cycling through four candidates, Republicans finally settled on Speaker Mike Johnson to lead their raucous conference in the second half of the 118th Congress. The next year is sure to be tumultuous, as Congress grapples with two government funding deadlines, a potential Biden impeachment and a contentious presidential election.
We’re excited to continue our partnership with LSG in our monthly sentiment tracking of senior Capitol Hill aides and Washington’s policy influencers.
In the meantime, here’s what we’ve got for you in this edition:
- What Capitol Hill and K Street expect from Congress in 2024
- How Canvass respondents accurately predicted the House speaker chaos this year and what they’re watching from Johnson in the months ahead
- The 2024 election outlook as Biden and former President Donald Trump appear to be headed for a rematch
- A retrospective on how Congress navigated the messy debt limit and government funding battles this year
Sign up: We’d love to have you as part of our Canvass community. If you are a senior congressional staffer, sign up here to participate in The Canvass Capitol Hill. And if you’re a leader downtown, sign up here to take part in The Canvass K Street.
— Elvina Nawaguna
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THE 118TH CONGRESS CONTINUED
What Capitol Hill and K Street leaders do — and don’t expect — in 2024
Throughout the year, we’ve asked leaders on K Street and Capitol Hill about their outlook for the 118th Congress. Expectations have remained low — not entirely surprising for a divided government.
The year is over, but this Congress is only just hitting its halfway point with the whole of 2024 to go. We’d like to highlight from our final surveys of the year what K Street leaders and senior Hill staffers expect — and don’t expect — from a Congress so far mired in extraordinary dysfunction and intraparty fights.
While there’s little to boast about legislatively this year, 2024 is a crucial election year with control of the House, Senate and White House all up for grabs. That means it’s unlikely Congress will do much next year beyond funding the government. But we’ll see.
Impeachment: House Republicans voted on Dec. 13 to open an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. A final impeachment decision could come early next year. But the Canvass community has consistently warned that’s a risky move for Republicans. At least 65% of Hill staffers and 72% of K-Streeters said it could hurt Republicans in the 2024 election.
Ukraine and border funding: Ukraine and the U.S.-Mexico border have little in common, but they’re now intertwined in a tenuous legislative battle. Republicans have grown increasingly hostile to the idea of sending more money to Ukraine and insist any negotiations must include restrictive border policy measures.
Still, 78% of top Hill aides say Congress will eventually pass funding for border security. And 64% of congressional staffers say lawmakers will approve additional aid for Ukraine.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer already scrapped the chamber’s holiday recess plans while negotiators continue to try to find an agreement. But a deal is unlikely before the end of the year. And then the real hiccup will be at the GOP-run House.
Bank CEO clawback pay: The bank failures earlier this year prompted a flurry of legislative proposals. That included the Senate Banking Committee’s RECOUP Act, introduced by Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). The bill would strengthen the power of financial regulators to claw back the pay of bank executives when their financial institutions fail.
When asked about the bill’s prospects in this Congress in June, 61% of senior Hill staffers and 55% of K Street said they don’t think the proposal will become law.
The RECOUP Act cleared the Senate banking panel on a nearly unanimous vote in June. The Senate could vote on it next year, but the GOP-controlled House isn’t in a hurry to take it up. Still, retiring House Financial Services Committee Chair Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) has made clear he’s open to dealmaking in 2024.
Cannabis banking: Measures to allow financial institutions to extend their services to legal cannabis businesses remain in limbo. There’s plenty of bipartisan interest in cannabis banking legislation, but most K Street leaders (61%) and senior Hill staffers (55%) believe it is unlikely the 118th Congress will pass the SAFER Banking Act.
The bill cleared the Senate Banking Committee in September with bipartisan support, a major victory for the cannabis industry and the financial sector. But it’s still likely to face some roadblocks. It hasn’t passed the Senate yet, for one. Getting a vote in the House isn’t a sure thing under the ultra-conservative Speaker Mike Johnson, either.
Artificial intelligence: Most Hill staffers (63%) believe it’s important for Congress to pass legislation to curb the risks of AI. And several lawmakers, including Schumer, have called for urgent action to mitigate cyber and AI-driven meddling in the 2024 elections.
Despite the urgency, just 21% of K Street respondents think this Congress will act on AI. This is somewhat surprising because congressional leadership has prioritized learning more about AI this year, and lawmakers have introduced a long list of bills in 2023 to regulate the technology.
An executive order Biden signed in October setting new rules for AI and privacy guidelines for federal agencies could provide a blueprint for Congress.
– Donna Baeck
THE HOUSE LEADERSHIP
Canvass respondents accurately predicted House leadership instability
The Canvass community was accurate in its predictions about the House leadership chaos this year. Survey respondents consistently said former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wouldn’t make it to the end of this Congress in the job.
McCarthy’s ouster in early October — punishment for working with Democrats to fund the government — kicked off an embarrassing three-week race to replace him.
From the onset of this Congress, we asked both Hill staffers and K Street leaders about McCarthy’s tenure, and the results were pretty consistent. When we polled K Street in January, 69% of respondents said he’d be out before 2025. In February, 60% of Hill staffers said he’d be out of the speaker’s job before the end of the Congress.
Of those who thought McCarthy wouldn’t last the whole Congress, many correctly predicted he would be out within seven to 12 months. He lasted 10 months.
As it turns out, the California Republican also wouldn’t last as a member of Congress for the entire term. McCarthy is retiring at the end of this year, foregoing the rest of his tenure.
On the other hand, Capitol Hill staffers give Speaker Mike Johnson better odds than they gave McCarthy. About 73% said Johnson would remain speaker for the rest of this Congress when we polled them in November.
Remember, Johnson was a relatively unknown lawmaker going into the speaker’s race to replace McCarthy. He emerged as the GOP consensus pick after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Majority Whip Tom Emmer and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) all tried and failed to secure the gavel.
While Canvass respondents think Johnson will stay in office for the rest of the 118th session, you can be sure it’s not going to be a smooth ride. The same far-right crew that kicked out McCarthy has already criticized some of Johnson’s early moves.
Johnson must also contend with whether to provide aid to Ukraine, a possible Biden impeachment and another government funding debacle come January.
— Robert O’Shaughnessy
PRESENTED BY BP
THE FISCAL FIGHTS
A chaotic Congress somehow avoided a debt-limit crisis and government shutdown
Despite the non-stop chaos, the 118th Congress was able to briefly hold itself together just long enough to avoid a self-inflicted financial crisis and side-step a potentially painful government shutdown this year.
Our Canvass community wasn’t exactly hopeful, but respondents were right on two key counts. The first: Congress would do what it needed to before calamity struck, and that’s about it.
In May, a good majority (57%) of our K Street respondents said they were confident President Joe Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and former Speaker Kevin McCarthy would come to some sort of deal to raise the debt limit. The Fiscal Responsibility Act was passed by Congress and signed by the president in June, just in time to avoid a financial catastrophe.
The Fiscal Responsibility Act capped federal spending levels for two years. This was arguably McCarthy’s first major legislative test as speaker. His ability to bring Biden to the negotiating table and deftly navigate Republicans’ tiny House majority were accomplishments alone.
Those good times did not last. McCarthy’s final test as speaker was funding the government before the end of September. After repeated clashes with his far-right flank, McCarthy ultimately turned to Democrats to help pass a short-term spending package. That prompted a small group of Republicans to oust him.
The House has been a mess ever since, even with the subsequent election of Speaker Mike Johnson. (On some counts, Johnson’s approach has arguably added to the chaos.)
That brings us to the second correct call from our Canvass respondents: 86% of K Street leaders believed this Congress would be ineffective at passing meaningful legislation. Probably not the toughest prediction we’ve asked our readers to make, but a win’s a win.
A lot of reform legislation has fallen victim to congressional dysfunction this year. For instance, after the mini-banking crisis over the spring, the Senate Banking Committee introduced a bipartisan package with new accountability standards for bank executives. It won’t see a floor vote until next year at the earliest.
Lawmakers also spent a lot of time this year trying to craft aviation reforms as part of a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, including pilot training procedures. So far, Congress has had to settle for short-term extensions as negotiations drag on in the Senate.
Suffice it to say that split control of Congress was not a productive environment for lawmakers to address the nation’s problems.
But there’s at least one twist to keep in mind as we limp into the New Year. What would normally be a year-end spending battle to fund the government has been pushed to January and February.
Lawmakers have already told us they see opportunities to attach financial reform proposals to those packages, assuming Congress manages to fund the government in the first quarter and not punt further into 2024.
So maybe 2023 is a bit of a bust for legislation. But we’ll know soon whether 2024 is shaping up to break that mold or sink further into it. Heading into an election year – and thus, historically, pretty unproductive – we’re not holding our breath.
— Brendan Pedersen
Democrats stand behind Biden as GOP casts doubt on Trump
As we approach 2024, our Canvass Capitol Hill and K Street surveys offer fascinating insights into how both parties are viewing the presidential election.
Democrats on the Hill and downtown are standing behind President Joe Biden, even with his middling poll numbers. Republicans, meanwhile, are wary of former President Donald Trump despite his large primary lead.
On the Democratic side, a large majority of both senior Hill staffers and K Street respondents consistently told us they believe Biden is their party’s best option for winning in 2024. Canvass respondents have remained firm in their position even as polls show Biden struggling among Democrats.
In our January K Street survey, 59% of respondents said Biden was the party’s best option to win in 2024. In the October K Street edition, this number stayed consistent at 62%. In February, 76% of senior Hill staffers went with Biden. In November, the tally was 72%.
In July, 93% of K Street Democrats said it was unlikely Biden would face a serious challenger. In September, 98% of senior Democratic staffers said the same.
Bidenomics is a Biden-don’t: Even though Democrats see Biden as their party’s standard bearer in 2024, our surveys found there was widespread discontent with “Bidenomics” as a political message.
Forty-seven percent of senior Hill Democratic staffers said they don’t believe the White House’s economic rebrand is an effective campaign message for the party. According to our October K Street survey, 51% of downtown Democrats agree.
The Trump factor: Unlike Democrats, Republicans largely told us they didn’t believe Trump is the GOP’s best option for taking back the Oval Office in 2024. Some glaring numbers: In March, just 1% of downtown Republicans said Trump is the best option. The highest mark Trump got all year was 13% of support from Hill respondents in November.
GOP respondents told us they thought Trump’s legal challenges would help them in the Republican primary, however. In our September survey, 80% of top Republican Hill staffers said that Trump’s multiple indictments have helped him amass a commanding lead in the presidential primaries.
And in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s first indictment in Manhattan, 75% of GOP downtown leaders said the indictment would boost his primary chances.
— Max Cohen
PRESENTED BY BP
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Editorial photos provided by Getty Images. Political ads courtesy of AdImpact.
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