Capitol Hill Update: January 3, 2019


The 116th Congress begins on Thursday, January 3, at 12:00 pm.


The Clerk of the House presides over the initial business until the election of the Speaker of the House. The first vote that will be taken is a quorum call. Members will vote present. It is expected that 434 members will be seated, with election in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District disputed over allegations of voter fraud.

The next order of business will be the election of the Speaker of the House. Candidates for the post are nominated. Anyone may be nominated. In the 114th Congress, for example, in addition to Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.), Rep. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.) were nominated. The vote is taken through a roll call, with members stating the name of the nominee to cast their vote. Members may also give the name of someone who wasn’t nominated. The votes are tallied by members, called “tellers,” and submitted to the clerk. A majority of the House is required to win the speakership.

The oath of office will be administered to the speaker by the Dean of the House, who is the longest serving member of the chamber. Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), who was elected in 1973, has been the Dean of the House since December 2017. Rep. Young is the first Republican to serve as Dean of the House since Rep. Gilbert Haugen (R-Iowa), who was dean between May 1928 through March 1933.

The oath for members will be administered by the speaker. Other business is conducted through privileged resolutions. These are housekeeping measures that include the election of officers such as the clerk, sergeant-at-arms, chief administrative officer, and chaplin and notification to the Senate and the president, separately, of the election of the speaker and the clerk. Rep. Pelosi, who is likely to be the speaker, has already named Cheryl Johnson as her preference to serve as the next clerk.

After the election of ths speaker, oaths, and housekeeping measures, the House will consider the rules governing the chambers, H.J.Res. 6. We haven’t had much time to go through the changes, but we’ve noticed some things thanks to this section-by-section of the proposed rules. The changes include revisions to committee names. Here are summaries of changes that we noticed.

  • The Oversight and Government Reform Committee will now be called the “Oversight and Reform Committee” and the Education and the Workforce Committee will be called the “Education and Labor Committee.”
  • Term limits for committee chairs and members of the Budget Committee will be eliminated.
  • If legislation has received 290 cosponsors for 25 days, the leader sponsor may make a motion to place the bill on the Consensus Calendar, which is a legislative calendar created under the rules from which the House will consider a bill each week. (The House already has five calendars.)
  • The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) will no longer be required to provide macroeconomic analysis, generally known as “dynamic scoring,” of legislation.
  • Consideration of discharge petitions will no longer be limited to the second and fourth Mondays.
  • The supermajority requirement to increase the federal income tax will be eliminated.
  • The “pay-as-you-go” (PAYGO) point of order will come back. This change has prompted opposition to the rules package from Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who claim it’s “terrible” and “bad” economics. (This rule literally didn’t matter the last time Democrats had control of the House, and it won’t matter now because the rule governing legislation that will increase the deficit will waive the requirement. If such bill is on the suspension calendar, the rules are waived by the nature of being on suspension.)
  • Members indicted of a felony offense punishable by at least two years in prison should resign their committee and related assignments.
  • If House passes a budget resolution, a suspension of the debt limit is deemed to have also passed the House and sent to the Senate for consideration.
  • The House will be able to involve itself in the ObamaCare case, Texas v. United States, and in rulemakings by the Department of Agriculture to implement work requirements on food stamps.
  • The clerk will be required to make publicly available any Article V application for an Article V convention of the states during the 116th Congress or rescissions from previous applications. The clerk, as the discretion of the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, may also make previous applications or rescissions publicly available.

The House and Senate met in pro forma on New Year’s Eve but didn’t take any action on government funding, kicking the issue to the new Congress. Part of the federal government has been shut down since December 22 because of the dispute over funding for the border wall. The White House demanded $5 billion in funding for the border wall. Congressional Democrats aren’t willing to vote for any government funding bill that appropriates the money. The president canceled his holiday plans in Mar-a-Lago to stay at the White House, where he urged Democrats to come back to town to make a spending deal.

House Democrats plan to move a CR and an omnibus on Thursday. The omnibus, H.R. 21, is a 1,070-page bill that would complete six of the remaining seven appropriations bills through September 30. H.J.Res. 1 is the CR for the Department of Homeland Security that would fund operations through February 8. If there were the $5 billion border wall funding demanded by the White House in this bill, which there isn’t, it would be in the Homeland Security appropriations. H.J.Res. 1 has $1.34 billion that could be used to build a border wall, according to the Republican Study Committee. The CBO has scored H.R. 21 and H.J.Res. 1 at $394.334 billion.

It’s worth noting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already dismissed House Democrats’ government funding bills. The Senate will not take consider the bills if the House passes them. Oh, these bills, H.R. 21 and H.J.Res. 1, are coming to the floor under what appears to be a closed rule. For all the grief we gave Republican leadership for essentially shutting down the amendment process, Democratic leadership is signaling that they aren’t going to govern the House any differently despite their criticism.


The composition of the Senate will be 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats, including the two independents. The business in the Senate will begin with the presentation of certificates of election signed by the relevant state official or officials. Vice President Mike Pence will administer the oath of office to senators, including the nine new members of the chamber, including Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), who has been appointed to fill the remainder of the seat recently vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). Members will be sworn in groups of four, in alphabetical order.

After the oath is administered, Leader McConnell will ask for a quorum call before considering the housekeeping measures, including the rules of the chamber and notice to the House and the president that the Senate is assembled. The Senate will proceed to the election of the president pro tempore. The previous occupant of this post, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), retired. Other housekeeping business will also be conducted through unanimous consent. This includes any authorizations for committees to meet, granting authority for the secretary to receive messages from the House and the president during recess, and the handling of technical and clerical corrections to engrossed bills.

Politico reports that Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Sen.-elect Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) will serve on the Judiciary Committee. In the 115th Congress, there weren’t any female members in the majority of the committee.

The Senate approved 79 nominees by unanimous consent on Wednesday, including several U.S. attorneys, U.S. marshals, assistant secretaries of several departments, and commissioners.