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Legislative Update

Senate. The 117th session of Congress opened Sunday, with the Senate and House convening at noon. The Senate has no legislative business scheduled this week. A copy of the Senate’s schedule for 2021 is attached. (The House calendar can be found here.)

House. In a process that took two and a half hours because of Covid precautions on the floor, Rep. Nancy Pelosi was re-elected Speaker on Sunday. The final count was Pelosi, 216; Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, 209. Five Democrats did not cast votes for Pelosi. Rep. Jared Golden (Maine) voted for Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth (Ill.), Rep. Conor Lamb (Pa.) voted for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), and Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Abigail Spanberger (Va.), and Mikie Sherrill (N.J.) voted “present.”

Today the House approved rules that will govern the legislative process for the new Congress, including a continuation of proxy voting. Among the more notable changes is the elimination of the motion to recommit a bill to committee with instructions. Members would still be allowed to recommit a bill to committee without instructions. The change takes away a tool used primarily by the minority to force the majority to take votes on controversial motions to instruct.

The new rules also provide for exemptions from the pay-as-you-go (Paygo) requirements to offset the cost of certain legislation. The House Budget Chair would be allowed to exclude the budgetary effects of legislation dealing with the “economic or public health consequences” of the pandemic or the “economic, environmental, or public health consequence resulting from climate change.”

A less notable rules change allows only the majority leader, or a designated member, to offer amendments that would change the title of a bill. In July 2019, the House defeated an amendment by Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) to rename legislation as “A bill to kick the can down the road, and for other purposes.”

Joint Session. On Wednesday at 1 p.m., the House and Senate will convene for a Joint Session to count the electoral ballots for the President and Vice President. Vice President Pence will preside and call the roll of states. The tellers announce the results for each state. As Speaker Pelosi outlined in a letter to her Democratic colleagues yesterday, “if a written objection is lodged by a Member of the House and Senate, we then meet in our individual chambers for up to two hours of debate…. Unless both the House and Senate vote to reject the Electoral count for the state in question, the objection is rejected. We then reconvene and proceed to the next state in the roll call. At the end of the day, which could be the middle of the night, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be officially declared the next President and Vice President of the United States.”

The maximum of two hours of debate is for each objection signed by a member of both chambers. It’s unknown how many state results will be challenged; thus, the uncertainty as to when the final votes will be taken. Since President-elect Biden has 306 electoral votes, at least 37 electoral votes would have to be rejected by both houses in order for him to fall below 270.

Committee Assignments. On Thursday, the House Republican Steering Committee will begin making committee assignments, a process that Democrats started shortly before the holiday break.

NDAA. Before the 116th Congress came to an end at 11:59 a.m. on Jan. 3, lawmakers voted to override President Trump’s December 23 veto of the National Defense Authorization Act. The vote in the House on Dec. 28 was 322-87, while the Senate vote on Jan. 1 was 81-13, with both tallies comfortably exceeding the necessary two-thirds margin.

Political Update

Georgia Senate. In case you hadn’t heard, there are runoff elections tomorrow for Georgia’s two Senate seats. Three million Georgians have already voted. While turnout is down about 20% from the general election in November, it’s already eclipsed that of any statewide runoff by about a million voters. President-elect Joe Biden traveled to Georgia today for a drive-in rally with Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, while President Trump will host a rally tonight with Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler. Republican Sen. David Perdue will attend the rally virtually as he is currently quarantining after coming into close contact with a staff member who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Special Elections. Louisiana is expected to hold two special elections on March 20 to fill the seats of Democratic Rep. Cedric Richmond, who is joining the Biden administration, and Republican Luke Letlow, who passed away from Covid-related complications on Dec. 29, before he could be sworn in to the new Congress on Jan. 3. All candidates for each seat, regardless of party, will appear on the ballot, and if no candidate gets over 50% of the vote, a runoff between the top two vote-getters will be held on April 24. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has not officially called for the special elections and will wait until Richmond submits his resignation to make that race official.

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