WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are poised to take control of the House of Representatives on January 3, ushering in a new era of divided government in the United States. Democrats will have a 51-seat Senate majority and will control the presidency.
Split control of Congress, as recent decades have demonstrated, can be messy in an age of rising partisanship and political acrimony. And the dynamics on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue will set the stage for the presidential election in 2024.
Here are four looming battles on Capitol Hill this year.
A battle for House leadership
Can Kevin McCarthy win — or keep — the speakership?
McCarthy, R-Calif., is facing a revolt from a group of conservative flamethrowers who have vowed to deny him the speakership when the House holds its first floor vote of the new Congress on Tuesday.
If the rebels, led by Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., keep their word, the speaker’s vote could be cast on multiple ballots for the first time in a century.
McCarthy, who has led House Republicans in the minority for the past four years, was elected speaker in November in a closed-door, secret-ballot vote. In fact, he defeated Biggs 188-31, winning 85% of his Republican conference.
However, he will need 218 votes on the floor to be elected speaker.
McCarthy outlined concessions he would be willing to make in order to obtain the gavel in a call with House Republicans Sunday night, including a rule change that would limit the speaker’s power, according to CNN, which cited multiple sources on the call. The change would make it easier for rank-and-file members to oust a speaker in the middle of the Congress, and it was a key demand from conservative House Freedom Caucus members who had been withholding their support.
Nonetheless, nine House Republicans — current and incoming — said in a letter obtained by NBC News on Sunday that McCarthy had not done enough to earn their support.
Furthermore, there is a smaller group of five “Never Kevins” who say they will never support McCarthy under any circumstances.
McCarthy can only afford a few GOP defections due to the party’s razor-thin majority. Conservative guerrilla tactics, according to McCarthy allies, will only delay the new House GOP majority from getting off to a strong start and launching investigations into the Biden administration — because the House cannot conduct business until a speaker is elected.
Keeping the government open
Even if the divided Congress causes legislative gridlock, the government must keep the lights on. This will not be an easy task: Under the last two Democratic presidents, Republican-led Houses triggered government shutdowns. Will former Vice President Joe Biden be an exception?
McCarthy’s vehement opposition to a bipartisan government funding bill just before the holidays demonstrates that the House and Senate have very different priorities. He has described funding bills as a means of forcing Democrats to accept some conservative policy goals, such as tightening border controls and cutting long-term retirement spending.
“The starting point is too high. Spending is excessive. “We need to cut spending,” McCarthy said after meeting with Senate Republicans on December 21. “We’re passing up an opportunity to get some border security.”
Democratic leaders are waiting to see what happens.
“It’s too early to predict what will happen in the House. “There’s so much discord and disunity on different sides of the Republican caucus,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters ahead of the holiday recess. “I’ve always had a good relationship with Kevin McCarthy. We don’t always agree on everything, but I try to work with everyone I can to get things done for the American people.”
Avoiding a disastrous debt default
One of the more difficult tasks for the new Congress will be to raise the country’s debt ceiling in 2023 in order to ensure that the United States can pay its bills and avoid a catastrophic default. Wall Street is already concerned about the prospect of brinkmanship, especially since the last Democratic president who faced a Republican-controlled House came within days of exceeding the debt limit.
Conservative lawmakers say the GOP House should oppose raising the debt ceiling without major policy changes to rein in spending.
“Fiscal restraint is required, and we should demand it. And if fiscal restraint isn’t forthcoming, we shouldn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling. It’s as simple as that “said Texas Rep. Chip Roy. “Neither side of the aisle cares about cutting spending. And we should…. You should not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless structural changes are made.”
Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconsin, said the issue will necessitate “a lot of robust debates within the caucus” before a strategy is developed. “We’re going to have to figure out a way forward on certain key inflection points, like the debt ceiling,” he said. “Everyone will have to accept that you can’t get everything you want.”
Schumer stated that the issue should be addressed “in a bipartisan manner — and we will be working on that in the next Congress.”
Republican investigations — and impeachment?
After four years in the wilderness, newly empowered House Republicans are eager to investigate Biden and his administration.
Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who is expected to be the next chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, said Republicans intend to start with immigration and Covid response investigations.
“Our first two hearings will most likely be at the border… and the second will most likely be at Covid,” Comer said in an interview.
The House will “eventually” call in Dr. Anthony Fauci, who retired as the government’s top infectious disease specialist at the end of last year, to testify, according to Comer, who added that his committee wants to gather new information about how the government handled Covid — which began during the Trump administration — before putting him on the hot seat.
The committee also intends to conduct a thorough investigation into Biden’s son Hunter Biden and the presidential family’s business dealings, just one year before Biden’s likely re-election bid in 2024. Comer told reporters that he has no intention of going after Biden’s family members. “This is a probe into Joe Biden, the president of the United States,” he explained.
With investigations, there may be calls for impeachment — not necessarily of Biden, but of others in his administration. Some Republicans in the House have already called for the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over his department’s handling of immigration policy.