The 115th session of Congress will convene in the U.S. Capitol this week and, for the first time since 2006, Republicans will control both legislative chambers and the executive branch of government. The GOP retained its majority in the House and Senate in November’s election, and the unexpected (at least based on the pre-election polling) election of Donald Trump to serve as the 45th President of the United States provides the Republican party at least two years of unified government in Washington, D.C. Despite Hillary Clinton’s win in the popular vote nationally, Republican congressional leaders have expressed their view that the election outcome provides them with an electoral mandate for their agenda and they plan to waste no time in pursuing significant policy changes. Members will commence legislative business this week facing an ambitious conservative agenda for 2017 that seeks to shrink the government and reverse many of the policies set by the Obama Administration over the past eight years.
This first week of the new session will largely be administrative and ceremonial. The first day of the new Congress, established as January 3 by the 20th Amendment to the Constitution, includes the administration of the oaths of office, formal leadership elections, and the adoption of the rules for the House. The first votes of the new Congress will be roll call votes to elect the leaders in both chambers. In the House, members are expected to re-elect current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. In the Senate, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is expected to be re-elected as President Pro Tempore, a largely ceremonial post held by the senior member of the majority party. The House is also expected to pass a package of rules changes to govern the activities of the chamber for the next two years (the Senate is considered a continuing body and does not have to re-adopt its rules every two years). On Friday, the House and Senate are scheduled to meet for a Joint Session of Congress to count and certify the electoral college ballots for President and Vice President of the United States.
In addition to the administrative proceedings in the House this week, there are several legislative items that will be considered under suspension of the rules. On Tuesday, members will consider two pieces of legislation from the Veterans Affairs Committee. On Friday the House will consider five bills from the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a resolution from the Natural Resources Committee.
Following disposition of the suspension bills, the House is expected to take action on three additional measures. The first two items are bills that target new or recently issued federal regulations. First, members will take up the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017 (REINS Act). The bill would require federal agencies to submit any major rule, i.e., those with an annual economic impact of $100 million or more, to Congress for approval before the rule could take effect. This legislation passed the House previously in 2011, 2013, and 2015 but did not move in the Senate and is opposed by President Obama. Consideration of the REINS Act will be subject to a rule.
The second item up for consideration is the Midnight Rules Relief Act, subject to a rule. “Midnight regulations” refer to agency regulations issued during a President’s final days in office. Such rules have been highly controversial at the end of the past several administrations, with Democrats crying foul prior to the onset of the Clinton and Obama presidencies and Republicans doing the same prior to the start of the George W. Bush administration and now the incoming Trump administration. The legislation would amend the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to allow en bloc disapproval of multiple regulations issued by a President in his final year in office. Under current law, Congress is authorized to use the CRA to disapprove of one regulation at a time. This legislation passed the House previously in November by a vote of 240-179.
Finally, the House may vote on a resolution of disapproval regarding the recently adopted United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 condemning Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The UN resolution stated that Israeli settlements in the West Bank “had no legal validity, constituting a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the vision of two States living side-by-side in peace and security.” The resolution was adopted by the UN Security Council by a vote of 14-0, with the United States abstaining from the vote. The abstention has provoked anger among Israel’s allies on Capitol Hill.
No legislative action is currently scheduled for the Senate floor this week. The Senate is likely to spend the first weeks of the new session focused primarily on confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s Cabinet nominees, with hearings in several committees already scheduled for the week of January 9.
Currently, there is a single hearing on the Senate schedule this week. The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing Thursday morning on “Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States.” The focus of the hearing will be the recent confirmation of Russian cyber hacking during the 2016 election. Last Thursday the Obama Administration imposed sanctions against Russia in retaliation for the attacks and expelled more than 30 diplomats from the United States. Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain (R-AZ) has condemned the Russian cyberattacks as an “act of war” and is one of several Republican members calling for the creation of a special congressional committee to investigate Russia’s hacking, as well as other cybersecurity threats to the United States. National Intelligence Director James Clapper and National Security Agency Director Admiral Michael Rogers are among the witnesses scheduled to provide testimony before the committee.
Other congressional committees are expected to begin their official business next week, once committee membership is finalized. House and Senate Democrats have announced the committee assignments for the 115th session of Congress, but the Republican majorities in both chambers have yet to release their official rosters. Deliberations over Republican conference assignments and notices of member designations can be expected this week.
Thursday, January 5, 2017
Foreign Cyber Threats to the United States
Senate Armed Services
Full Committee Hearing
9:30 a.m., G-50 Dirksen SOB