This Week on the Hill: Leadership Elections; Lame Duck Negotiations

November 14, 2016

Not much policy-making is expected in the first week of the lame-duck session. Orientation is scheduled to begin today for newly elected members of Congress. Leadership elections are expected to occur this week, though not all have been scheduled. Senate Democrats are scheduled to pick their leaders on Wednesday. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is a shoe-in to replace retiring Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. But there could be a contest for the No. 2 spot, where incumbent Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois could be challenged by Sen. Patty Murray of Washington. The Senate GOP leadership elections have not been scheduled, but could occur as soon as this week. The House GOP conference is scheduled to vote on their leaders on Tuesday. The GOP's strong outing on Election Day makes it unlikely that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) will face strong opposition for another term. The House Democratic leadership election will be held Thursday.

Among the notable legislative action expected this week, the House is scheduled to vote tomorrow on legislation (H.R. 5711) to renew the Iran Sanctions Act. Another measure (H.R. 5982) on the House floor this week would let Congress use just one resolution of disapproval to block multiple “midnight rules” – the regulations completed during the final year of a president’s term. Both measures fall into the category of “message bills” that Republican leaders have used to highlight their party’s legislative agenda, even if the measures have no chance of being enacted under a Democratic president. Next year, Trump will have the authority to cancel regulations or block aircraft sales to Iran, without any action by Congress.

With the dust still settling after a surprising election outcome, the outlook for the remainder of lame duck remains uncertain. Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell are surveying their caucuses and coordinating with the Trump transition team to determine the scope and length of lame duck session. With several policies in the “must pass” category, including fiscal year 2017 spending bills and the National Defense Authorization Act, and others in the “wanting to pass” including 21st Century Cures and Mental Health Reform, a framework exists for Congress to get unfinished work completed. Tempering that perspective is the reality that Republicans will control both chambers and the White House in January and many will push to have a limited lame duck, empowering Republicans to put their party’s stamp on many of these bills.