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Legislative Update

Covid-Relief Legislation. The House and Senate are expected to pass legislation later tonight funding all 12 FY 2021 appropriations bills and providing further relief to address the Covid pandemic.

NDAA. If the President vetoes the National Defense Authorization Act, the House plans to hold an override vote on Dec. 28.

House Committee Appointments. The House Democratic Steering Committee last week nominated new and returning Members for appointments to nine committees. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leadership team put forth a slate of preferred candidates for all the open committee spots with the exception of a fifth seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee. The Steering Committee accepted all of the proposed nominations and then voted 46-13 by secret ballot to choose Rep. Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) over Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) for the Energy and Commerce slot.

The Steering Committee’s recommendations will now be put to a full caucus vote. The slate of nominees for the Appropriations, Energy and Commerce, Financial Services, and Ways and Means committees can be found here and the slate for the Education and Labor, Foreign Affairs, Judiciary, Natural Resources, and Transportation and Infrastructure committees can found here.

Speaker Election. When the House convenes for the 117th Congress on Jan. 3, C-SPAN viewership may be slightly higher than usual as interested parties tune in to watch the election of the Speaker. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is expected to prevail (since the alternative – electing Republican Kevin McCarthy – is not a viable alternative for Democrats), but she and her allies are no doubt working behind-the-scenes to ensure there are no surprises when the vote is taken.

Next year, Democrats will have the slimmest margin in modern history, and Pelosi cannot afford to lose many votes in her bid to retain the speakership. The count for the new Congress currently stands at 222 Democrats and 211 Republicans, with the possibility that the winners in the IA-02 and NY-22 races will not be determined until after the vote for Speaker. The 222 total includes three Democrats who have been chosen to serve in the Biden administration but will still be serving in the House on Jan. 3.

The vote for Speaker will be presided over by the Clerk of the House and take place before Members are sworn in, although Members-elect will participate in the vote. According to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service, “Since 1839, the election has been by roll-call vote, a quorum being present. Votes are cast viva voce, meaning that each voting Member states aloud the surname of the candidate whom he or she favors for Speaker.”

To be elected Speaker, a candidate must receive a numerical majority of the votes cast “for a person by name,” not the 218 majority of the full House because some Members may not be present, some may vote “present,” and, in this case, two are unlikely to be seated because of election challenges.

When Pelosi was elected Speaker in 2019, 15 Democrats did not support her, but she prevailed 220-192 over McCarthy. Of those 15, three lost their re-election bids in November – Reps. Joe Cunningham (S.C.), Max Rose (N.Y.), and Ben McAdams (Utah) while one, Rep. Jeff Drew (N.J.), switched to the Republican party. Two Democrats have said they will not vote for Pelosi next year – Reps. Elise Slotkin (Mich.), who voted “present” in 2019, and Jared Golden (Maine), who voted for Rep. Cheri Bustos (Ill.) last time.

Because “present” votes lower the threshold for a candidate to prevail, Pelosi can afford to lose a handful of Democrats if they vote “present.” For example, if five of the expected 222 Democrats vote “present” and all 211 of the expected Republicans vote for McCarthy, Pelosi would win because she would exceed the 215 votes deemed a majority of those voting “for a person by name.”

Political Update

Georgia Senate. With just over two weeks to go before the Georgia Senate runoff on Jan. 5, almost 1.5 million people have already cast their votes. This is down about 6% from the 2020 General Election turnout at the same point. The state Republican party has suffered two legal defeats leading up to the runoffs. Last week a federal judge blocked an attempt to segregate all ballots cast by new voters who registered to vote between Nov. 3 and Dec. 7 this year, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals shot down an attempt to tighten the signature verification process for mail-in ballots.

House Vacancies. Three Democratic House Members – Reps. Cedric Richmond (La.), Marcia Fudge (Ohio), and Deb Haaland (N.M.) – are poised to join the Biden administration next year, narrowing House Democrats’ already thin margin even more. All three will be sworn in as House members on Jan. 3 and according to an AP interview with Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, the Biden administration will stagger the official nominations so all three are not vacating seats at once.

Rep. Richmond is joining the administration as a Senior Advisor, which is not a Senate-confirmed position, and will leave his seat shortly after Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20. Biden will hold off on formally nominating Rep. Haaland for Interior Secretary and Rep. Fudge for HUD Secretary until after the special election to replace Rep. Richmond in early March. Reps. Haaland and Fudge will be able to remain voting members of the House until they are confirmed by the Senate.

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