Welcome to the new Congress.
Lawmakers convene in Washington on Tuesday for the 115th Congress, kicking into high gear as they prepare for the incoming Trump administration and lay the groundwork to pass major GOP priorities.
Since Republicans will control all the levers of power in Washington for the first time in almost a decade, they’ll hit the ground running on some issues: Both chambers, for example, hope to pass a budget blueprint that makes a critical down payment on repealing Obamacare even before Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
But it won’t take long for the inherent divide between Senate and House Republicans to rear its head. The House wants to pass a number of bills to scrap Obama-era rules and curb executive branch regulatory powers. But those will be a much heavier lift in the upper chamber.
Here’s a look at what Hill Republicans will try to accomplish the first month of the 115th Congress — and their likelihood of success.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has vowed that the chamber’s first order of business will be starting the process of scrapping President Barack Obama’s health care law. The Kentucky Republican is making good on that promise this week by bringing to the floor a budget that would unlock a fast-track process enabling Republicans to jam repeal through Congress along party lines.
After the Senate acts, the House will follow suit, as soon as the second week back from the holiday recess. And Republicans hope to clear the budget before Trump’s inauguration.
Technically, the bill won’t include an official repeal. Rather, the fast-track process, known as reconciliation, contains instructions for committees to write repeal bills. Republicans want to pass repeal legislation in the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency, but there could be disagreements about which elements of Obamacare they want to demolish and how to achieve their goals.
The resulting sprint could feel more like a marathon as Democrats lay plans for a messaging offensive against Trump and the GOP, charging them with depriving millions of Americans of health care with no clear plan for what comes next.
Snags: Internal GOP disagreements over the substance of the repeal bill are likely. Democratic resistance, most significantly in the Senate, is guaranteed.
Outlook: Almost assured. Timing hiccups may crop up, but it’s a matter of when — not if — a repeal bill passes.
The Senate is heading toward a partisan showdown over Trump’s Cabinet. Incoming Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned McConnell against scheduling simultaneous confirmation hearings. And Democrats are already turning Rex Tillerson, tapped for secretary of state, into a test case for a broader push to vet the tax returns of Trump’s multi-billionaire cast of advisers.
But the ExxonMobil CEO won’t be the only Trump nominee subject to intense scrutiny by Democrats, who are in no mood to treat the president-elect with the same deference on nominations that Republicans showed Obama in 2009.
"I don’t know how they’re going to put all this together, but the American people have a right to know who’s running these agencies and what their goals are, whether they’re working for the taxpayers or working for their own interest," Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the incoming No. 3 Democratic leader, said in a brief interview.
Thanks to a rules change pushed through by Democrats in 2013, Trump’s non-Supreme Court nominees will need only a simple majority to be confirmed. Given Republicans’ 52-vote majority, that means they can lose as many as two votes even if Democrats succeed in keeping their moderates in the fold on opposing nominees seen as particularly egregious.
The GOP is already prepared to force Democrats’ hand if they try to delay confirmations.
"While Democrats may want to create a new, unprecedented standard for Senate consideration of nominees, they will not be successful,” one Senate Republican aide said. "If they attempt these extraordinary, dilatory tactics, the Senate will confront it with votes potentially at all hours. It’s really up to them."
Snags: The Senate clock.
Outlook: Confirmation of Trump’s entire Cabinet slate is almost assured, barring unexpectedly damning information uncovered during hearings.
House Republicans’ schedule for January has a theme: "restoring" and "reclaiming" congressional authority under Article 1 of the Constitution, which they say Obama has whittled away over the past eight years. Now it's the Hill GOP's turn to seek revenge on the outgoing president for, as they see it, ignoring Congress while making policy through regulations.
This week, House Republicans plan to pass the "REINS Act," a measure they’ve been trying to enact for the better part of a decade. It would require congressional approval of any executive-branch regulation that costs more than $100 million. They also intend to approve a so-called "midnight rules" bill that would allow Republicans to repeal a host of Obama-era regulations in clusters using the Congressional Review Act.
That law lets Congress axe any regulations that have been approved in the prior 60 legislative days with a simple majority in both chambers. Republicans are already making lists of which Obama regulations they want to repeal, from a Labor Department overtime rule to Interior Department restrictions on the coal industry.
But each challenge takes a separate debate and vote, forcing the GOP to make tough choices about which Obama rules to target. The "midnight rules" bill would ease that hurdle.
The House is expected to once again pass a law overturning the Supreme Court precedent known as "Chevron deference," which requires courts to accept an agency’s interpretation of ambiguous laws.
Snags: The Senate, where eight Democratic votes are likely needed to approve the "REINS" and "midnight rules" bills. And while the GOP needs only a simple Senate majority to dismantle some of Obama’s newer regulations, his older rules won’t be eligible for the fast-track tool.
Outlook: One or more Obama rules are likely to be killed using the Congressional Review Act. But expect many of the House’s hopes and dreams for Article 1 to die in the Senate.
One of the first pieces of legislation expected to clear the new Congress is a resolution disapproving of the U.N. Security Council’s recent action condemning Israeli settlement expansion in the Palestinian territories — a direct rebuke of Obama's failure to veto the U.N. measure during his final days in office.
That resolution, which will be approved by the House this week or next and head to the Senate thereafter, would give Trump a symbolic early victory on foreign policy.
Ryan’s reeelection as speaker
Conservatives once plotted his demise and Trump supporters even toyed with taking him out over his lack of support of the president-elect. But now Trump says he wants to work with Ryan, even comparing him to a “fine wine” during a December rally in Wisconsin.
Conservatives are hardly in the mood to tick off the incoming president, so they’ve dropped their knives and will give Ryan another term as speaker.
Snags: None. Some staunch conservatives may vote against Ryan, but he’ll get the votes to keep the gavel.
Outlook: Consider it done.
New House rules
For the first time in the nation’s history, House GOP leaders want to delegate the chamber’s punishment authority to a nonpartisan officer of the House — a contentious move that’s currently scheduled for a Tuesday vote. The new rule — a GOP response to the Democrats’ 25-hour gun control sit-in last June — would allow the sergeant-at-arms to fine lawmakers $2,500 for livestreaming or taking pictures of the House floor.
Snags: Democrats are up in arms, and former House lawyers say the proposal raise constitutional issues since the full House typically must vote to sanction lawmakers.
Outlook: Iffy, in its current form.
Author: Rachael Bade and Elana Schor