November 23, 2016

Breaking Down the 115th Congress – Part I of II

Posted by smaguffin



In the wake of the election there are many unknowns regarding how the 115th Congress (which begins in January 2017 with the newly elected members of Congress) will choose to legislate. What is known, apart from three Louisiana races and one in California, are the incoming congressmen and women. With the 2017 roster nearly set, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have begun the process of electing leaders, the consequences of which will determine committee and subcommittee assignments, rule changes, and the future of this country’s science policy for years to come.

Leadership Transitions

On Tuesday 15 November, Congressman and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI-1) was nominated by his Republican colleagues to be reelected to lead the House; though Ryan will still officially need 218 floor votes in January, it is all but certain as the GOP will control at least 239 House seats. Other key GOP leadership positions were sorted as well; California Congressman Kevin McCarthy (R-CA-23) will remain the Majority Leader, while Ohio Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH-15) will replace Oregon’s Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR-2) as chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-OR-5), was reelected as Republican conference chair and will remain the only woman in House GOP leadership., in what is generally seen as wavering support of current Minority Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-12), House Democrats have delayed their leadership elections until 30 November. Pelosi is being challenged for the Democratic leadership position by Congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH-13).

Senate Democrats had no such delays; with the retirement of Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid (D-NV), Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has been elected as his successor. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) will remain Senate Minority Whip while Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) will be the Assistant Democratic Leader and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) will chair the Democratic Policy & Communications Center. First time leadership positions were also awarded to Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Vice Chair of the Conference; Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Chair of Outreach; Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Senate Democratic Conference Secretary; and Joe Manchin III (D-WV), Vice Chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) will remain as the Ranking Members on the Energy and Natural Resources and Commerce, Science, & Energy committees, respectively. You can see a complete list of the Democratic leadership and ranking member committee assignments here.

Although no GOP committee chair decisions have been made public yet, we do know the 115th Congress’ Senate GOP leadership will look very similar the current one. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was reelected to stay on as Senate Majority Leader, as were Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Majority Whip; John Thune (R-SD), Conference Chairman; John Barrasso (R-WY), Policy Committee Chair; and Roy Blunt (R-MO), Conference Vice Chair. Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) was elevated to leadership for the first time as Senatorial Committee Chairman.

Rule Changes

In addition to electing their leaders during this current lame duck session, the House is also considering several rule changes. Notably, they may modify current rules to limit midnight rulemaking and reverse past earmark reform. Limiting midnight rulemaking would make it easier for a future Trump Administration to reverse Obama Administration regulations enacted within the last 60 legislative days of his Presidency. Reversing earmark reform is already seeing opposition due to the perceived call for transparency from voters during the 2016 elections.