Recess and Election Update
October 28, 2016
Sarah Strup Herbert
Congressional Leadership Election
House conservatives are reportedly undecided on who they will vote for as Speaker of the House should the GOP keep the majority. Nine House Republicans rejected current Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) in the special election to replace Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last year.
Ryan is almost certain to face a tougher reelection fight after tumultuous year in which he has publicly feuded with Donald Trump.
The far-right Freedom Caucus has threatened to oust Ryan from the Speaker’s chair over his handling of Trump, but do not have a clear alternative to replace him. No one is actively fielding a candidate, and not a single lawmaker has yet announced they’ll seek the job.
Freedom leaders now are pressing Ryan to delay the House GOP leadership elections until after the lame-duck session. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and other conservatives say they want to see how Ryan handles a FY17 spending bill and other items after the election before voting to give him another two years. But there is no indication that Ryan plans to grant their request.
Republicans will first hold closed-door leadership elections next month, where only a majority vote within the conference is needed for victory. The more critical vote will come in January, a public roll call in which lawmakers will shout out the name of their choice for Speaker from the House floor. Ryan will need 218 votes for victory.
The House currently holds a 246-seat GOP majority, but Republicans are expected to lose seats in the November 8 election.
House and Senate Races
Based on the latest state and national polls, Democrats and Republicans are neck and neck for the Senate majority, with a slight tilt toward Democrats to take over.
The Senate is currently controlled 54-46 by the Republicans. Every election cycle, at least one-third of the Senate is at stake. The 2016 cycle is bad for the GOP (the 2018 cycle is bad for Democrats): of the 34 seats up for election, 24 are defended by the GOP and 10 by the Democrats. Seven of those 24 seats are in states that Obama won twice.
The Democrats can take control of the Senate by either gaining five seats to take a 51-seat majority, or by gaining four seats and wining the White House (Vice President Kaine would break the tie for a 50-seat majority).
Right now, of the 34 Senate races, the ten most competitive are:
- Arizona: Ann Kirkpatrick vas John McCain (R) – Sitting Senator McCain is suffering Trump collateral damage making this race too close for comfort, but still is likely to oust Rep. Kirkpatrick.
- Florida: Patrick Murphy (D) vs. Marco Rubio (R) – Rubio is currently favored in the polls and his favored to win, but will face a tough battle to defend his seat against Rep. Murphy.
- Illinois: Tammy Duckworth (D) vs. Mark Kirk (R) – Rep. Duckworth is all but guaranteed to take over sitting Senator Kirk’s seat.
- Indiana: Evan Bayh (D) vs. Todd Young (R) – If the election were held today, Bayh would reclaim his seat as a Democratic Senator, but the GOP has been spending a lot of money on this race to push Young ahead.
- Missouri: Roy Blunt (R) vs. Jason Kander (D) – Democrats are using the anti-establishment momentum to push against Sen. Blunt for this toss-up race, but the GOP is still slightly up at +1.0.
- Nevada: Joe Heck (R) vs. Catherine Cortez Masto (D) – this open seat left by Minority Leader Harry Reid is a toss-up with Rep. Heck at a slight advantage at +1.4
- New Hampshire: Kelly Ayotte (R) vs. Maggie Hassan (D) – Governor Hassan is doing her best to associate Senator Ayotte with Trump and take her seat, very tight race with Democrats +0.8.
- North Carolina: Richard Burr (R) vs. Deborah Ross (D) – Senator Burr is has a close race in increasingly purple North Carolina, but is still favored over Ross +2.8.
- Pennsylvania: Katie McGinty (D) vs. Pat Toomey (R) – This is probably the most expensive Senate race in the Country, Sen. Toomey is fighting to keep his seat with a slight lead of +1.3.
- Wisconsin: Russ Feingold (D) vs. Ron Johnson (R) – Another slam dunk for Democrats, former Senator Feingold will take Johnson’s current seat.
The House is on track to keep a Republican majority, but the GOP is expected to lose 15-20 seats.
Attached is an inside look at both Clinton and Trump’s transition teams, the policy and personnel experts serving the campaigns; just click here – the-presidential-transition-roadmap-people-to-watch
After the November 8th election, Congress will return November 14-18, will recess November 21-25 for Thanksgiving, and return November 28 to December 16 to finish out the lame duck session.
This leaves Congress four weeks to tackle a multitude of issues, first and foremost being to fund the government beyond December 9, when the current stopgap measure (PL 114-223) lapses.
Attached is the GOP House floor schedule for the remainder of the year; just click here – house-gop-schedule
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan have said they would like to pass small groups of appropriations bills, known as minibuses, rather than rolling all of the remaining bills into one omnibus package.
In addition to the spending bills, GOP leaders in both chambers also expressed interest in passing a 21st Century Cures Act during the lame-duck. The measure is aimed at promoting medical research and developing innovative medical solutions.
Other top priorities for the lame duck session include:
- The National Defense Authorization Act – The House and Senate have finished their respective NDAA bills and need to conference before sending to the President. The biggest obstacle to an agreement is unrelated language in the House-passed bill (H.R. 4909) on the greater sage-grouse which the Senate bill doesn’t contain. To further complicate matters President Obama spoke out this week saying he would veto the bill if it includes a provision currently in the House bill that would allow some forms of discrimination in federal contracting.
- Water Resources Development Act – A water infrastructure bill has been passed by both chambers, who still need to iron out the differences the House (H.R. 5303) and Senate (S. 2848) versions, the main difference being the amount of funding for aid to Flint, Michigan to address lead contamination in its drinking water system.
- Energy policy modernization bill – Lawmakers are working through a host of controversial issues in the Senate (S. 2012) and House (H.R. 8) energy bills in order to wrap up a conference. The main items of contention are western drought, wildfire spending and natural gas pipeline permitting, while still trying to find common ground on energy efficiency and grid infrastructure measures.
- Criminal justice reform bill – This is a priority of Speaker Paul Ryan who will push to move on a bill. The House Judiciary Committee has already reported out 11 bills on the matter.
- Taxes – Congress in recent years has passed legislation extending provisions of the tax code that are set to expire, as lawmakers did in the FY16 omnibus (PL 114-113). More than 30 tax provisions are set to expire at the end of 2016, with roughly half dealing with renewable energy and energy conservation. Other expiring provisions affect homeowners and their mortgages and rum producers, as well as owners of race tracks and race horses. House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has said he’d rather address the issue of expiring tax provisions within the context of a tax code overhaul or through regular order, by marking up legislation in committee and considering it on the floor. But Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has said a tax extenders bill is possible for the lame-duck session, with the final decision is up to leadership.
The next regular issue of Weekly Legislative Update will cover the week of November 14-18 when Congress returns to session.