Congress faces changing leaders, big post-election to-do list

By LISA MASCARO and FARNUSH AMIRI, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is returning to a highly volatile post-election landscape, with control of the House of Representatives still in a tie, party leadership in flux and a potentially momentous lame duck session of gay marriage legislation, on Ukraine and government funding.

Newly elected members of Congress came for orientation Monday amid staggering disappointments for Republicans, setting up rocky internal party leadership elections for GOP leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. Republicans suffered one of the most disappointing mid-term results in decades when a powerful red wave forecast for the House of Representatives never materialized.

The Democrats performed better than expected, maintaining narrow control of the Senate and pushing for a long race for the House of Representatives. But they, too, face leadership turmoil as Republicans take seats in the House of Representatives toward majority control that would threaten Speaker Nancy Pelosis’ gavel.

“There are all sorts of ways to exert influence,” Pelosi said Sunday, deflecting questions about her future if Democrats lose control of the House. “The speaker has incredible power, but I will always have influence.”

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It’s a changed place on Capitol Hill after the first election since the Jan. 6, 2021 riot, with the Republican Party struggling over its ties to former President Donald Trump, the Democrats targeting a generational shift in leadership, and With just weeks to go, Biden has split goals with guaranteed Democratic control over Washington. Much of the action will take place behind closed doors in private caucus meetings.

Against this backdrop, McCarthy has sought to stem the unrest as he asked his GOP peers for their support ahead of Tuesday’s closed election, which would put him in line to smash the Pelosi, D-House Speaker’s gavel Calif Republicans are reversing majority control.

“I will be as much a listener as a speaker, striving to build bottom-up consensus rather than top-down command of the agenda,” McCarthy, R-Calif., wrote in a letter to his GOP peers .

But McCarthy enters the speaker race as a weakened leader, faced with his party’s losses and the demands of his recalcitrant right flank, led by the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus and its ties to Trump. The former president backs McCarthy as a speaker, but Freedom Caucus lawmakers are demanding the election be postponed.

“I certainly don’t think we should have an election until we’ve got everything counted and know what our numbers are,” said Rep. Chip Roy, a member of the Freedom Caucus, R-Texas.

Among the newly elected lawmakers, Republican Cory Mills, an Army combat veteran who won an open seat in Florida, said, “You have actual races that haven’t been called yet, and you want to go out and have leadership votes?”

But Mike Lawler, who inflicted a stunning defeat on Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, chairman of the Democratic campaign committee, in New York, said McCarthy had “my full support.”

The commotion on Capitol Hill comes as Trump plans to announce his bid for the 2024 White House on Tuesday. The GOP is torn between those loyal to the former president and those who blame him for the mid-term losses and prefer to stray from his Make America Great Again brand. Because of their own work on Capitol Hill, some lawmakers have asked to join Trump at his Mar-A-Lago club to make the announcement.

“The Republican Party has a choice,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., said Sunday. “I say to Republican Senators and Leader McConnell, we stand ready to work with you to get things done for the American people.”

Funding to keep the government going past a December 16 funding deadline, aid to Ukraine, and bipartisan legislation that would protect same-sex marriages from potential Supreme Court challenges in states where they were legal top priority in the last weeks of the year .

But McConnell faces his own intra-party turmoil ahead of Wednesday’s race for the lead, which his right flank also wants to postpone as they review what went wrong in the midterm elections in general, and the Georgia race now on heading for a runoff on December 6th.

“We need to have serious discussions,” said a draft letter led by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., and signed by a handful of other GOP senators.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., put it more bluntly in a tweet: “The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new.”

The Democrats have delayed their own internal elections until after Thanksgiving. At this point, Pelosi has announced that she will decide whether to attempt to remain party leader.

A younger generation of Democrats has been eager to take the reins of the House once Pelosi and top leaders Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina decide whether to stay or leave.

At the same time, lawmakers are strapping in for one final week-long legislative sprint of this session — potentially the last chance Biden will have with Democratic control of Congress and monopoly party power in Washington.

On the upcoming agenda are bills that urgently need to get done – most notably funding to keep the government going or risk shutting down the federal government. Conservatives are eager to use the December funding deadline to begin extracting their policy priorities from McCarthy, particularly her promises to cut spending and refuse to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

The fiscal showdown, which is also expected to include a round of disaster funding for hurricane-hit Florida and other areas, could be a preview of what’s next in the new year.

The outgoing Congress is also moving swiftly to secure another round of funding for Ukraine to fight Russia, especially after McCarthy signaled Republicans will refuse to write a “blank check” on foreign spending.

One of Biden’s and his party’s top priorities is post-January. 6 Legislation modernizing the Electoral Counts Act, a late 19th century update of the Act.

A landmark law that would require same-sex and interracial marriages to be recognized in states where they are legal has also garnered bipartisan support amid concerns the Supreme Court could roll back marriage protections. It is promised for a Senate vote after it has already passed the House.

Legislation to help young immigrants, known as Dreamers, stay in the United States in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is also under consideration.

Associated Press contributors Kevin Freking and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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