Congress faces leaders in flux, big to-do list post-election

Congress is back to an extremely volatile post election landscape. With control of the House undecided and party leadership in flux, Congress is likely to have a lame-duck session containing legislation regarding gay marriage, Ukraine, and government funding.

The new Congress members arrived Monday morning amid bitter disappointments for Republicans. This set up difficult internal party leadership elections for Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell. Republicans were disappointed by the fact that a powerful red wave was not forecast for the House, which led to one of the worst midterm outcomes in decades.

The Democrats did better than expected. They retained narrow control in the Senate while pressing for a long-shot race for the House. They also face leadership turmoil as Republicans win House seats towards majority control, which would put a halt to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s hand.

Pelosi stated Sunday that there are many ways to exert influence. She was referring to questions about her future, if Democrats lose control. “Speaker has incredible power, but I will always be influential.”

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In the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection, Capitol Hill is a different place. The Republican Party has split over its ties with former President Donald Trump. Democrats are looking at generational leadership changes. Biden has just weeks to achieve his goals and ensure that Washington remains Democratic controlled. Many of the action will take place behind closed doors at private caucus meetings.

McCarthy tried to calm down the unrest against this background as he sought support from his GOP colleagues ahead of Tuesday’s closed door leadership elections. This would allow him to replace Pelosi (D-Calif.), with the House speaker’s chair if Republicans win majority control.

McCarthy, R-Calif. wrote to his GOP colleagues, “I will listen every bit as much Speaker,” he said in a letter.

McCarthy is a weak leader who enters the race for speaker because he is confronted with his party’s losses as well as demands from his restive right flank, which includes the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, and its ties to Trump. McCarthy is supported by the former president, but Freedom Caucus lawmakers call for elections to be delayed.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said that elections should not be held before all data has been compiled and numbers have been analyzed.

Republican Cory Mills (an Army combat veteran who won a seat in Florida) said that among the newly elected legislators: “You have actual races that haven’t been called yet, and you want to go and have leadership votes?”

However, Mike Lawler, who lost in New York to Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (chair of the Democrats’ campaign panel), said that McCarthy has “my complete support.”

As Trump prepares to announce his 2024 candidacy for the White House, Capitol Hill is in turmoil. The GOP is divided between those who remain loyal to Trump and those who feel he caused the midterm losses. Because of their work on Capitol Hill, some lawmakers pleaded with Trump to allow them to join him at Mar-A-Lago for the announcement.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), stated Sunday that “The Republican Party has a decision.” “I tell the Republican senators, and to Leader McConnell that we are open to working with you to get things done in the best interest of the American people.”

In the last weeks of the year, top priorities include funding to keep the government operating past Dec. 16 funding deadline. Aid for Ukraine, bipartisan legislation to protect same-sex marriages in state where they are legal and potential Supreme Court challenges.

McConnell is facing his own intraparty turmoil as he prepares for Wednesday’s closed-door race for the leadership. His right flank also wants it postponed while they examine what went wrong with the midterm elections in general, and the Georgia race that is heading towards a Dec.6 runoff.

“We need serious discussions,” stated a draft letter written by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) and signed by several other GOP senators.

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) stated it bluntly in a tweet: “The old party has died. It’s time to put it to rest. Make something new.

Democrats have delayed their internal elections until after Thanksgiving. At that time, Pelosi said she would decide if she would continue as party leader.

The younger generation of Democrats is eager to assume the House leadership once Pelosi, Jim Clyburn (South Carolina) and Steny Hoyer (Maryland) decide whether they will stay or leave.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are getting ready for the final weeks of the session’s legislative sprint — possibly the last chance Biden has to retain Democratic control of Congress.

There are many must-do bills on the agenda, including funding for the government to continue operating or risking a shutdown. Conservatives want to take advantage of the December funding deadline to get their policy priorities from McCarthy. They are particularly keen to fulfill their pledges to cut spending and to refuse to increase the nation’s debt limit.

The fiscal showdown is expected to also include disaster funding for Florida’s hurricane-hit areas. It could be a glimpse of what’s coming in the new year.

After McCarthy’s warning that Republicans would not provide a blank check for overseas spending, the outgoing Congress is working quickly to secure another round of funding for Ukraine.

Biden and his party consider post-Jan.6 legislation as a priority. This will modernize the Electoral Count Act. It is an update to late 19th-century law.

A landmark bill, which would require the recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages in legal states, has been supported by both sides amid concerns that the Supreme Court might repeal marriage protections. After passing the House, it is now being put to the Senate.

The U.S. is also considering legislation to help young immigrants, known as Dreamers, in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program.