Capitol Hill Update: January 3, 2017


The House and Senate are in session this week.


The 114th Congress will finish out its term the morning of Tuesday, January 3 and adjourn sine die. The 115th Congress will convene at noon. The first vote of the session will be a quorum call, after which members will move next to the election of the Speaker of the House, the swearing-in of members, and the adoption of the rules of the chamber.

While there are not any surprises anticipated in the rules package, which is typically adopted on a party-line vote, it will have some aspects relating to the process by which the House will begin repeal of ObamaCare. The budget resolution with reconciliation instructions to repeal the law will likely be taken up the week of January 9.

While the House is expected to take up some legislation during the week under the suspension of the rules, the Midnight Rules Relief Act, sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, introduced by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), will come out under a structured rule, which limits the number of amendments that can be offered from the floor.

The Midnight Rules Relief Act would allow Congress to disapprove of any rules en bloc within 60 legislative days of its submission by a federal regulatory agency through a single resolution. Currently, Congress can consider only one rule at a time within 60 days of its submission for review. The Midnight Rules Relief Act passed the House in November by a vote of 240 to 179. The Senate did not bring it up for a vote.

The REINS Act passed the House in each of the last three congresses but never received a vote in the Senate. This bill would subject economically significant rules — those with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more — to congressional approval. Both chambers would have to vote on a proposed rule and the president would have to sign it before enforcement of the rule can begin. The bill would give Congress 70 days to pass a resolution to approve a rule. If a resolution is not passed, the rule cannot take effect.


The Senate will convene in pro forma session Tuesday, January 3 at 11:55 am. The upper chamber will spend its first few weeks working on the confirmations of President-elect Donald Trump’s executive nominees. Currently, only the confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to serve as attorney general and the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee for Andrew Puzder have been scheduled.

Typically, cabinet appointees are confirmed January 20, when the new administration comes into power, or the days after. In the past two administrations, only a handful of nominees saw their confirmations extended into February or beyond. While Republicans have only a 52-seat majority, the elimination of the filibuster for executive level nominees and federal circuit and appellate court nominees makes the confirmation process easier for administrations, provided no more than two Republicans break from party ranks. In a 50-50 tie, the vice president, Mike Pence, would cast the tie-breaking vote.

Joint Session:

The House and the Senate will convene for a joint session on Friday, January 6 at 1:00 pm to count the electoral votes for president and vice-president. An April 2016 Congressional Research Service report, The Electoral College: How It Works in Contemporary Presidential Elections, has a detailed explanation of this process. An objection to individual electors and state electoral votes can be submitted in writing. Such an objection must have the signature of one member of each chamber. If the objection is deemed valid, the joint session will recess, and each chamber will convene separately to consider it for no more than two hours.

An objection was last considered in January 2005, when Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) tried to have the electoral votes from Ohio thrown out because of alleged voting irregularities. The House rejected the objection by a vote of 31 to 267, while the Senate rejected it by a vote of 1 to 74.

While no evidence has been presented to show that Russia altered or influenced the vote totals of the 2016 presidential election, the recently published Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation report on hacks of Democratic officials’ email addresses could lead to objections during the electoral vote counting process.