What to expect on Capitol Hill in 2023

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Besides being as crabby as the last Congress, what will the new Congress look like now that there is a slightly larger Democratic advantage in the Senate and a slight Republican advantage in the flipped-to-red House? To discuss the details, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin

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Best listening experience is on Chrome, Firefox or Safari. Subscribe to Federal Drive’s daily audio interviews on Apple Podcasts or PodcastOne.

Besides being as crabby as the last Congress, what will the new Congress look like now that there is a slightly larger Democratic advantage in the Senate and a slight Republican advantage in the flipped-to-red House? To discuss the details, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin spoke with WTOP Capitol Hill Correspondent Mitchell Miller.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin
The curtain opens, Mitchell, and we have these slight changes and shifts. Let’s talk about the Senate first. What’s going on there, do you think?

Mitchell Miller
Well, I think for the 118th Congress, the Democrats are feeling pretty confident in the U.S. Senate because they have that extra vote. And so for a time, of course, we have that 50-50 split, and Vice President Kamala Harris had to come over here to the Capitol all the time to break that 50-50 vote. We’re not going to have that this year. So Democrats are feeling pretty good on the Senate side, they feel like they can continue to get a lot of judges through on the Judiciary side for President Biden. However, as you well know, it’s going to be probably blocked up in a lot of different ways because of what’s happening on the House side.

Tom Temin
Yes. And on the House side, first of all, is Kevin McCarthy going to be the speaker? Because that is something they’ve got to settle first, before they can move on.

Mitchell Miller
Right? That’s the big question today: Kevin McCarthy. This is going to be a historic day because Kevin McCarthy really faces more opposition probably than any incoming House Speaker that we can recall in recent memory. And this could be a historic vote, or series of votes I should say, that goes back almost 100 years since we’ve really had a floor fight. There is still a lot of question about who is going to support him and who is not going to support him. As you know, it only takes five people to vote against him for him not to be elected on that first ballot. So the way it works is the full House has to vote on the House Speaker. Obviously, no Democrats are going to vote for the incoming Republican. Kevin McCarthy still remains confident and has been speaking confidently that he somehow will get to the 218 majority that he needs. Interestingly enough, the majority for Republicans in this house is going to be to 222 to 212, currently with one vacancy. That’s essentially the same majority that Democrats and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had in connection with the Democrats. We have 77 New House members along with seven new senators, 84 lawmakers in total, that are being sworn in today as new members. But this is going to be a very unwieldy Republican conference that Kevin McCarthy, if he does become speaker, and eventually, it is likely that’s going to happen, although I think we are going to have a lot of political drama today before that actually takes place.

Tom Temin
Because one thing you can say about Nancy Pelosi, she was a master at keeping all of her cats herded.

Mitchell Miller
Absolutely. And she did not have the most uniform caucus either herself on the Democratic side. Obviously, you had a lot of people on the very far left, you had centrists who are trying to basically stay reelected in districts that are both blue and red. And she was really masterful, whatever you think of her politically, being able to, as you say, herd those cats make sure that they all stayed on the same page. And that is what Kevin McCarthy is going to have to do this year, if he becomes House Speaker, because he is going to need to have to get the people on the far right, which is the House Freedom Caucus — a lot of people there not happy with him — along with these moderates who were in similar districts only with a more democratic tilt on the moderate side.

Tom Temin
And of course, there is some new leadership on the minority side.

Mitchell Miller
That’s right. Hakeem Jeffries is the new Democratic leader, succeeding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He is really untested in that position, although he has been the head of the Democratic Caucus for some time. And there’s a lot of question about what’s going to happen with the Republican controlled House committees as well. What will happen with some of these committees like House Oversight and Government Reform, which has been led by Carolyn Maloney, the Democrat, for a long time, but she lost her race. That is now being taken over by James Comer of Kentucky, he has indicated he’s interested in a lot of different things, including Hunter Biden’s laptop, among other things. You have the Judiciary Committee, Jim Jordan and a lot of scrutiny of the FBI and the Justice Department. So a lot of changes coming. The Democrats saying that they’re going to push hard as minority members of those committees, but it’ll be interesting to see how Hakeem Jeffries works with that sometimes unwieldy Democratic majority because he really has not had the experience at the level that House Speaker Pelosi has had. She of course, was in the leadership position for decades. This will be a real test for him as well.

Tom Temin
I guess it’s fair to say, though, that if she supported him, he does have her as counsel. He can just step over quietly to the backbench and say, Hey, Nancy, how would you handle this?

Mitchell Miller
Right, exactly. And she has made it clear that while she’s not going to try to overstep her bounds and give too much advice to these leaders, she is going to be there when they need that advice and he comes to her. And that is certainly going to be valuable to him because she knows exactly where to find all of these alliances and pull people together and how to push and pull and get the pressure on the lawmakers without seeming like she’s going to be overbearing, as we’ve talked about, as her being essentially a backbencher now, although she certainly has a little bit more power than that, after all of her years leading the Democratic Party.

Tom Temin
Yeah, she’s more Yoda than Jabba the Hutt, you might say.

Mitchell Miller
That’s right.

Tom Temin
We’re speaking with Mitchell Miller, WTOP’s Capitol Hill correspondent. And there’s an immediate problem in the aftermath of that situation with Southwest Airlines. And you’ve got people blaming the Transportation Department and the Secretary (Pete) Buttigieg. And is that going to come up in the immediate short term for Congress or this will just blow away?

Mitchell Miller
No, this will actually absolutely take place. There will be a lot of scrutiny in connection with that. I know that these incidents tend to fade away for a lot of people. But this affected so many people with Southwest. And it really was a meltdown, as many people have described and a lot of people are still going to be trying to get refunds, trying to get money back from staying at hotels or renting cars. And among the people who have said that they will be looking at this in a congressional committee is the chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, Maria Cantwell. She said last week that they are going to look at what she calls the root causes of this meltdown and the impact on travelers to see whether they go beyond just the regular weather results. Because as we know, many of the other airlines, while they dealt with the issues with the snow and ice initially, they didn’t have nearly as many problems last week as Southwest will. And on the House side, I think you’re going to see some scrutiny of that as well. So a lot of people say, Well, this will just turn into a lot of noise and nothing will happen. But don’t forget, it was several years ago that after all that attention came on planes that were stuck on tarmacs for six to eight and even more hours, Congress did act in connection with that. And now there is a limit that airlines cannot allow people to stay on the tarmac for more than two hours. They have to at least get back to the airport or do something so that they’re not sitting inside of a plane for that long. So these investigations and these hearings sometimes do actually lead to results for consumers.

Mitchell Miller
And maybe they’ll put trapdoors required in place for when the blue water runs out after eight hours. Just open that and do what you need to do right on the tarmac. New meaning to sitting on the tarmac. Now, we do have a full year appropriation, President Biden signed that late last week. And so we’re good through September 30. But it’s really not that long till budget talks will have to come around again for 2024.

Mitchell Miller
Right. And I think you’re going to see that early on this year, you’re going to start to see areas where the House Republicans are pushing back on a lot of the things that the Democrats have been doing over the last two years. They were able to get things through through budget reconciliation, and that’s just not going to happen anymore. So I think what you’re going to see, as we move through the year, a lot of push and back and forth between the Republicans and Democrats and the House Republicans have made it very clear they’re not going to want to spend the kind of money that Democrats have. They’re going to scrutinize a lot of these departments, including Homeland Security, in connection with immigration and try to get through some reforms there. And I think at some point, we’re going to see whether or not there’s really going to be a stalemate involving the House and the Senate. Many Republicans in the Senate have a very different attitude toward these big spending issues in connection with at least the omnibus and trying to get them through than the House Republicans do. So some people are already talking about the fact that come September, we’re going to hear that dreaded word “shutdown” again, because many House Republicans have indicated they’re willing to go to that level if it comes to whether or not they’re going to spend billions and billions of dollars more that they don’t think it should be spent or that they think is wasteful. So it’ll be very interesting to see what happens as we move through this year and get to the end of the fiscal year.

Tom Temin
I think it was Robert Byrd that used to say the House doesn’t matter. But actually this year it does.

Mitchell Miller
It does. It matters a lot this year.

 

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