Washington Update

Inside (the Beltway) Scoop

By: Ellen Kuo
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
118th Congress Starts with Contention in the Air

On January 3, the U.S. House of Representatives convened with 434 representatives-elect, with one vacant seat to be filled in the first quarter of 2023. This seat became vacant after the death of Rep. Donald McEachin (D-VA), who won his seat during the midterm elections. The U.S. Senate also welcomed seven new senators and has a current split of 51 Democrats to 49 Republicans. Meanwhile, the House has 74 new members with a split of 222 Republicans to 212 Democrats. 

Vying for the House Speaker position, Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) sought the 218 votes that he would need to win the position. In the first round of voting, he received 203 votes, while Hakeem Jefferies (D-NY) received 212. With neither receiving enough votes, 14 more rounds of voting took place over four days until McCarthy negotiated terms with conservative Republicans that gave him a sufficient number of 215 votes to win the speakership on the 15th ballot. Present votes lowered the threshold for him to win.

Six Republicans who had been withholding support for McCarthy voted present on the final ballot—Andy Biggs, Arizona; Lauren Boebert, Colorado; Eli Crane, Arizona; Matt Gaetz, Florida; Bob Good, Virginia; and Matt Rosendale, Montana. Meanwhile, other Republican holdouts finally gave McCarthy their votes after good faith negotiations addressed their concerns about his leadership.

If McCarthy had not received the required number of votes to win the speakership, the business of the House would have temporarily stalled, including the swearing in of all House members and approval of the House Rules for the 118th Congress. 

Accompanying McCarthy’s win of the speakership are new negotiated House Rules which eliminate proxy voting; offset mandatory spending increases with a corresponding cut in mandatory spending; and charge the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic with investigating the origin of the virus, gain-of-function research, and the economic and societal impacts of forced COVID shutdowns.

Other big legislative items that will take attention this year are raising the debt ceiling, immigration, and the 2023 Farm Bill, which comes up for reauthorization every five years. The last enactment of the Farm Bill was in December 2018. This bill sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy.