WASHINGTON — The US is heading into another era of divided government in the new year, as Republicans are poised to reclaim control of the House of Representatives on January 3. Democrats will wield an expanded majority of 51 seats in the Senate and control the presidency.
As recent decades have shown, divided control of Congress can become complicated in an era of growing partisanship and political acrimony. And the dynamics at the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue will set the backdrop for the 2024 presidential election.
Here are four battles coming up on Capitol Hill this year.
A fight for the leadership of the Chamber
Can Kevin McCarthy win, or keep, the speaker’s deck?
McCarthy, a Republican from California, is facing a rebellion by a band of conservative flamethrowers who have vowed to deny him the presidency on Tuesday when the House votes on the first floor of the new Capitol.
If the rebels, led by Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. — keep their word, they could send the speaker’s vote to multiple ballots for the first time in a century.
McCarthy, who has led the minority House Republicans for the past four years, won his party’s nomination for president in a closed-door secret ballot in November. In fact, he defeated Biggs, 188-31, winning 85% of his Republican conference.
But he will need 218 plenary votes to secure the presidency.
In a call with House Republicans Sunday night, McCarthy outlined the concessions he would be willing to make to get the gavel, including a rule change that would dilute the power of the speaker, according to CNN, who cited multiple sources on the call. The change would make it easier for rank-and-file members to remove a speaker in the middle of Congress, and was a key demand from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who had been withholding their support.
Still, nine current and incoming House Republicans said in a letter dated Sunday obtained by NBC News that McCarthy still had to do enough to win their support.
On top of that is the smaller group of five “Never Kevins” who say they will not back McCarthy under any circumstances.
McCarthy can only afford a handful of Republican defections due to a slim party majority. McCarthy allies say conservative guerrilla tactics will only delay the House’s new Republican majority from getting off to a good start and launching investigations into the Biden administration, because the House can’t conduct any business until it has elected a speaker. .
Avoid government shutdowns
Even if a divided Congress leads to a legislative deadlock, you’ll still have to keep the lights on. That won’t be an easy task: Republican-led chambers have caused shutdowns under the past two Democratic presidents. Will President Joe Biden be an exception?
McCarthy’s fierce objections to a bipartisan government funding bill just before the holidays show that the House has very different priorities from Biden and the Senate. She has described the funding bills as a vehicle to force Democrats to swallow some conservative policy objectives, such as tightening border controls and cutting long-term retirement spending.
“The benchmark is too high. The spending is too much. We need to cut spending,” McCarthy told reporters after a meeting with Senate Republicans on Dec. 21. you’re missing that.”
Democratic leaders are in wait-and-see mode.
“It is too soon to judge what is going to happen in the Chamber. There is so much confusion and disunity on different sides of the Republican caucus,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., told reporters before the holiday recess. “I have always gotten along with Kevin McCarthy. We disagree on a lot of things, but I try to work with whoever I can to get things done for the American people.”
Preventing a Catastrophic Debt Default
One of the most daunting tasks for the new Congress will be to raise the country’s debt ceiling in 2023 to make sure the US can pay its bills and avoid a catastrophic default. Wall Street is already spooked by the prospect of brinkmanship, particularly after the last Democratic president to face a Republican House came within days of missing a debt limit.
Conservative lawmakers say the GOP House should block a debt limit increase without major policy changes to rein in spending.
“We need fiscal restrictions and we must demand them. And if we’re not going to have fiscal restraints, we shouldn’t be voting to raise the debt ceiling. It’s that simple,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. “Neither side of the aisle gives a shit about cutting spending. And we should… You shouldn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling without structural change.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Wisconsin Republican, said the issue “will require a lot of robust caucus discussions” before a strategy is set. “At certain key inflection points, such as [the] debt ceiling, we’re going to have to find a way forward, “he said.” Everyone will have to realize that they can’t get 100% of what they want.”
Schumer said the issue must be addressed “in a bipartisan manner, and we will work in the next Congress to achieve that.”
Republican investigations, and impeachment?
After four years in the political wilderness, newly empowered House Republicans are eager for the chance to investigate Biden and his administration.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who is likely to be the next chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, said Republicans plan to start investigations, beginning with the immigration and Covid response.
“Our first two hearings will probably be at the border … and the second will probably be Covid,” Comer said in an interview.
The House will “eventually” call Dr. Anthony Fauci, who retired as the government’s top infectious disease specialist late last year, to testify, Comer said, adding that his committee wants new information about how the government handled the covid. — which began during the Trump administration — before putting him on the bench.
The committee also plans a thorough investigation of Biden’s son Hunter Biden and the presidential family’s business dealings, just a year before a likely Biden re-election bid in 2024. Comer told reporters he has no interest in attack members of the Biden family. “This is an investigation of Joe Biden, the president of the United States,” he said.
And with the investigations could come calls for impeachment, not necessarily from Biden, but perhaps from others in his administration. Some House Republicans are already calling to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for his department’s handling of immigration policy.