New Congress set to convene as uncertainty plagues McCarthy's bid for speaker
Washington — The new year brings with it a new Congress that is set to convene Tuesday, kicking off two years of divided government and resistance for President Biden from a GOP-controlled House intent on thwarting his agenda.
The House and Senate will meet Tuesday at noon to mark the start of the 118th Congress, for which Democrats are maintaining their control of the upper chamber but the House will be held by a narrow Republican majority. Eighty-two new members are set to be sworn in for the first time — 47 Republicans and 36 Democrats — including several who are making history and one, GOP Rep.-elect George Santos of New York, who is under scrutiny after he admitted to fabricating parts of his resume.
But before members take their oaths of office, the House must elect a new speaker, and this year, the vote on the House floor is sure to be anything but straightforward.
Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is vying for the speaker's gavel after four years as minority leader, and while he won the nomination in a closed-door vote by the House GOP conference in November, it's unclear whether he has locked up the votes needed to prevail Tuesday on the House floor, with all members voting.
To win the race for speaker, McCarthy must win an absolute majority of the votes — not the majority of the full membership. If all representatives are present, he will need 218 votes. But that number could be lower if there are absences or if members respond "present."
McCarthy met with several of his detractors and allies in the Speaker suite Monday evening, CBS News confirmed. There was no word on whether any progress was made.
The chair of the House GOP conference, Rep. Elise Stefanik said in a tweet Tuesday morning that she would nominate McCarthy on the floor.
Ahead of the new Congress, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi's name was removed from the name plate on the office.
Facing opposition from some members of the conference's right flank, McCarthy has made a number of concessions in an effort to secure their votes. But his attempts to appease some of his GOP colleagues appear to have been unsuccessful, as McCarthy is still facing resistance from at least nine House Republicans who said his promises fall short.
"At this stage, it cannot be a surprise that expressions of vague hopes reflected in far too many of the crucial points still under debate are insufficient," nine members and members-elect wrote in a letter on Sunday. "This is especially true with respect to Mr. McCarthy's candidacy for speaker because the times call for radical departure from the status quo — not a continuation of past, and ongoing, Republican failures."
McCarthy's commitments, the group lamented, come "almost impossibly late to address continued deficiencies ahead of the opening of the 118th Congress."
The California Republican laid out his promises to his re-elected and incoming GOP colleagues in a letter over the weekend, in which he notably pledged to make it easier to trigger a vote to remove the speaker from the post, a reversal of his stance on the procedure known as the motion to vacate. Under McCarthy's plan, any five Republican lawmakers can initiate a vote to oust the speaker.
A rules package put forward by the incoming House GOP majority — formalizing McCarthy's compromises — also ends proxy voting and remote committee proceedings; eliminates fines for members who don't wear masks and flout security screenings outside the House floor; and establishes a select subcommittee on the "Weaponization of the Federal Government to investigate the Biden administration's assault on the constitutional rights of American citizens."
For House Democrats, the 118th Congress ushers in a new generation of leadership, with Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York serving as the party's leader, Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts as Democratic whip, and Rep. Pete Aguilar of California as caucus chairman.
The new class of soon-to-be lawmakers includes several firsts, including Becca Balint, a Democrat who is the first congresswoman and openly gay person to represent Vermont, and Maxwell Frost, a Democrat from Florida who at 25 years old is the first member from Generation Z.
There will be 156 House Republicans in the next Congress who have cast doubt about the validity of the 2020 presidential election, including one incoming GOP member, Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin, who attended former President Donald Trump's rally at the Ellipse on Jan. 6, 2021, and was photographed at the Capitol during the riot.
While the first two years of Mr. Biden's first term was marked by legislative packages delivering on Democrats' priorities and numerous bipartisan achievements, the second half of his first term is likely to bring his agenda to a halt on Capitol Hill due to opposition from the GOP-led House.
The White House is also bracing for a wave of investigations mounted by Republican lawmakers, including into the business dealings of Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden's son, the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Biden administration's border policies.
Anita Dunn, senior adviser to Mr. Biden, told "Face the Nation" after the midterm elections in November that the White House "has and will continue to comply with fair and legitimate oversight," but criticized Republicans for advancing a political agenda.
"The president is going to be focused on the priorities of the American people," she said. "And we would hope that the Republicans who've just suffered a substantial defeat in terms of both their expectations and what historically midterm elections tend to do, would also listen to the American people, focus on the priorities of the American people."
In the Senate, meanwhile, where Democrats will control 51 seats to Republicans' 49, the expanded majority makes it easier for Mr. Biden's nominees to move through committees and to the Senate floor.
Nikole Killion and Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.
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