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Legislative / Policy Update

Democratic Decisions. As House Democrats prepare to move into the majority next year, they are already confronting a number of internal issues showing that, not surprisingly, they are not always on the same page.

The most visible skirmish is obviously over who will serve as Speaker of the House. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and her backers are confident she will have the votes to become Speaker again. A group of dissidents continues to oppose Pelosi, but a challenger has yet to emerge and Pelosi has been meeting one on one with many lawmakers, particularly the newly elected Members, to line up support. The House Democratic Caucus will meet Nov. 28 to elect its leaders, and only a majority is needed for Pelosi to secure her party’s nomination for Speaker. Opponents, however, will try to make the case that Pelosi won’t have the votes needed when the full House chooses the Speaker in January. House rules provide that the Speaker is chosen in January by a majority of those present and voting. It’s important to keep in mind that if some Democrats vote “Present,” they could fulfill their pledges to not vote for Pelosi, while also lowering the 218 threshold for a majority, thereby giving Pelosi more wiggle room to win the Speakership.

In addition to who should lead them in the new Congress, House Democrats also are experiencing a division in the ranks related to climate change. While they agree that climate change is a priority, there's a difference of opinions that breaks into three camps on how to address the issue. Pelosi has said she strongly supports re-establishing the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, a fact-finding panel she created in 2007 when Democrats were in the majority. That step is not enough to appease some Democrats and environmentalists, who want a select committee that will draft legislation transitioning the U.S. to a 100% renewable energy economy. Still a third faction of Democrats says a select committee is not necessary. This is the argument made by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who is slated to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee. Pallone argues that his panel will be actively engaged on the issue, with hearings already planned for early next year, and that, in fact, a select committee will just add another layer of bureaucracy and slow down the process.

One more area where dissent is bubbling up concerns the rules of the House, in particular the process for tax legislation. A draft version of House rules that was presented for review to the Democratic Caucus last week included proposals requiring that bill text must be available for a full 72 hours before floor consideration and that every bill that goes to the Rules Committee must have a hearing and a mark-up before it reaches the floor. The new rules would also eliminate the use of dynamic scoring. Still another proposal would eliminate the Republican rule requiring a three-fifths supermajority to approve any income tax increases and replace it with a three-fifths requirement for legislation that would raise income taxes on the lowest-earning 80 percent of taxpayers. The problem for Democrats is this: While they want to do away with the Republican rule, there’s concern that such a move could be seen as voting to make it easier to raise taxes on everyone so they had to come up with a replacement. However, some feel that the replacement rule could be too restrictive. Democratic leaders are in the process of hearing from rank-and-file members before the package is presented for a floor vote in January.

Senate Committee Changes. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced Nov. 16 that he will give up the gavel at the Judiciary Committee in order to replace retiring Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) as chairman of the Finance Committee. Under Republican term limit rules, Grassley has two years left of eligibility to chair Finance. He previously served as chair from January 2001 to June 2001 and from January 2003 to January 2007. Grassley’s decision means that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) will head up the Judiciary Committee.

On the Democratic side, Senator Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) loss leaves an opening at the top of the Commerce Committee. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) is expected to take Nelson’s slot as Ranking Member on Commerce, which, in turn, means Democrats will have to select a new Ranking Member to take Cantwell’s place on the Energy Committee. The question is will it be Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) or Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who would have to give up her position as Ranking Member on the Agriculture Committee.

Infrastructure Panel. The biggest roadblock to passage of legislation to improve the nation’s infrastructure is how to pay for it. To specifically examine this issue, incoming House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) may create a new infrastructure financing subcommittee headed by Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).

Elections Update

Big Picture. The House currently stands at 232 Democrats and 199 Republicans, with four races yet to be called. Democrats have flipped 41 House seats and Republicans have flipped three, leaving the Democrats with a net pick up of 38 seats. Over the weekend, the vote was finalized in the race to replace Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.), with Democrat Gil Cisneros winning the seat, thereby solidifying Democrats’ heavy gains in California and leaving Republicans with only eight seats across the state and none in the former GOP stronghold of Orange County.

Of the four remaining open contests, one is a Republican seat held by Rep. Claudia Tenney (NY-22), where the Democratic challenger is leading, while the other three (UT-4, GA-7, NY-27) have Republican incumbents (Mia Love, Rob Woodall, and Chris Collins) who are ahead in ballots that have been counted so far.

The Senate stands at 52 Republicans versus 47 Democrats, as we await the results of a Nov. 27 runoff in Mississippi between Republican incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith and Democrat Mike Espy in a race to fill the remaining two years of retired Senator Thad Cochran’s term. President Trump will visit the state twice in the coming weeks to rally Republicans while Espy hopes to replicate the success that Senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) had in the deep South only a few months ago. Espy would be the first African American to represent Mississippi in the Senate since Blanche Bruce in 1881.

Factoid #1. The 123 women who will serve in the next Congress will be the most ever. Of the 113 women who are projected to be winners this year, 98 are Democrats and 15 are Republicans. In addition, there are 10 female Senators who were not up for re-election this cycle.

Factoid #2. About 62% of first time midterm voters in 2018 voted for Democrats while 36% chose Republican candidates. For non-first time midterm voters, the numbers were estimated to be 53% for Democrats and 46% for Republicans.

For a live tracker of the key races from 2018 please check out PSW’s tracker linked here.

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