Passage Also Expected on Respect for Marriage Act
The clock is running on full Democratic control of Congress, with major issues hanging in the balance of the lame duck session that include an omnibus spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act and the Electoral Count Act.
Congress already acted on legislation requested by President Biden to impose a contract without paid sick leave days on rail workers, averting a paralyzing nationwide strike. It appears likely Congress will pass the Respect for Marriage Act that codifies in federal law recognition of same-sex and interracial marriages.
It’s uncertain whether the tight pre-holiday schedule will allow Democrats to push through an increase in the national debt ceiling, thereby foregoing a political battle next year when Republicans reclaim control of the House.
Washington, DC has been hopping with a state dinner, lame duck congressional session and pending release of the January 6th Committee report.
National Political News
House Democrats chose New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries to lead their caucus when the new Congress convenes in January. Jeffries is the current leader of the House Democratic caucus. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior House Democratic leaders stepped down to allow younger leadership to take over.
California Republican Kevin McCarthy has received a majority of his caucus to become the next House Speaker, but he may not have 218 GOP votes to win the job on the House floor. He appears to be taking hardline positions on some issues to convince wavering conservatives to support him.
Georgia voters will decide next Tuesday between Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock or his Republican challenger Herschel Walker in a run-off election. If Warnock retains his seat, Democrats increase their margin to 51-49. If Walker wins, the Senate will remain in a 50-50 tie, with Vice President Kamala Harris giving Democrats effective control.
The Democratic National Committee moved closer to holding their party’s first 2024 presidential primary in South Carolina rather than caucuses in Iowa. The move reflects the political shift in Iowa toward Republican domination. South Carolina offers Democratic candidates a chance to appeal to a more diverse set of voters. In the 2020 election, Biden’s flagging presidential campaign was given a boost when he won the South Carolina primary behind strong Black voter support.
Biden hosted French President Emmanuel Macron at his first black-tie state dinner as President this week. Biden and Macron pledged to stand “shoulder to shoulder” on critical issues, including defense of Ukraine from Russia’s invasion. Macron privately raised concern about Biden’s “Build in America” preferences for electric vehicles and other goods produced in Europe and sold here. First Lady Jill Biden’s decorative design featured red, white and blue, the shared colors of both nation’s flags. There were 300 guests who attended, including McCarthy and his mother.
Former President Donald Trump didn’t have a great week. The Supreme Court cleared the way for the release of six years of Trump’s federal tax filings, which were delivered to the House Ways and Means Committee that has sought them for three years. An Appeals Court ended the special master review of documents seized at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, which could speed up potential legal charges involving the mishandling of classified documents. And prosecutors wrapped up their arguments in a New York criminal case alleging tax fraud by the Trump Organization.
British Prince William and Princess Kate started their tour of America with a stop in Boston where they attended a Celtics basketball game and met Biden. The royal visit centers on handing out Earthshot awards given to persons who develop innovative ideas to preserve the environment. It’s their first trip stateside in eight years.
FY 2023 Appropriations
Agreement has been reached among Democrats and a smattering of Republicans for a $1.65 trillion spending bill. Disagreement remains on how to divide the pie between military and domestic spending. Deliberations include supplemental spending requested by Biden for Ukrainian assistance and post-pandemic vaccines and medications. There is some resistance from conservative Republicans to additional aid to Ukraine, as well as a call for an audit of how the money has been spent.
Congressional directed spending, commonly call earmarks, are included in the negotiations. There still is a possibility Republicans will balk at an omnibus bill in a move to let them have more say on spending when they control the House.
House Republicans resoundingly defeated by a 52 to 158 vote a proposed rule in their caucus to eliminate earmarks next year. House Republicans are expected to modify rules for vetting earmark requests, both they may not vary much from the process and parameters used under Democratic control.
Other Key Congressional Action
The Respect for Marriage Act passed the Senate on a bipartisan 61-36 vote and now must be re-passed in its current form in the House. The earlier House version was supported by majority Democrats and 46 Republicans. The legislation would repeal provisions of the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act by ensuring marriage equality under federal law and repealing existing provisions that allowed states the authority not to recognize interracial marriages.
There is bipartisan interest in clarifying the congressional role in certifying Electoral College results in presidential elections. A version of the Electoral Count Act has passed the House, but an alternative version is being developed in the Senate. There is speculation a compromise could be tagged on to the omnibus spending measure.
The outlook for a debt limit increase is chancier at this point, even though the political motivation for Democrats is high to avoid a standoff next year with House Republicans demanding huge spending cuts as their price for support.
The January 6th Committee will release its final report this month, as incoming House Republican leaders threaten to investigate the committee’s investigation next year. Most of the committee’s findings have been telegraphed in a set of choreographed public hearings that featured live and videotaped testimony. The biggest remaining question will be how much blame the report assigns to former President Biden for summoning a crowd to Washington and encouraging them to go to the Capitol, where at least 2,000 people forcibly entered, fought with police, vandalized property and hunted for Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Four protestors died in the attack. Numerous police officers were injured and one died.