‘Squad’ adds new members
The group of young, progressive lawmakers of color dubbed the “Squad” added two new members Sunday as the House of Representatives convened for the 117th Congress.
“Squad up,” said Rep.-elect Cori Bush, D-Mo., in a Twitter post with a picture of her, Rep.-elect Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.; Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.; Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.; and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.
“Unbought and unbossed,” responded Omar in a tweet.
The group of lawmakers had sparred with President Donald Trump during the last Congress, frequently drawing his ire on Twitter and in his campaign rallies.
– Nicholas Wu
Pence swears in 6 new senators as new Congress begins
New and reelected senators were given their oaths of office Sunday afternoon, swearing to defend the Constitution and marking a new start for the upper chamber in a post-Trump Washington.
The batch of senators, including those elected in November, were escorted two at a time on the Senate floor and read their oath of office by Vice President Mike Pence.
“Do you solemnly swear that you will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic?” Pence read each time as senators placed their right hands in the air. Most appeared to have a Bible they placed their left hand on as Pence read the oath, though one is not required.
Each time, Pence and senators elbow bumped, some offered their fist for a bump as well. Fellow senators offered thumbs up and applause as they congratulated their new and returning colleagues.
“Today six new members are joining our ranks for the first time,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor ushering in the new 117th Congress. “We congratulate our new colleagues, as well as their families. We look forward to the ways in which their unique experiences, their ideas, and their priorities will enrich this institution and strengthen our shared work for the nation.”
The new senators sworn in Sunday include:
- Bill Hagerty, Republican of Tennessee
- John Hickenlooper, Democrat of Colorado
- Ben Ray Luján, Democrat of New Mexico
- Cynthia Lummis, Republican of Wyoming
- Roger Marshall, Republican of Kansas
- Tommy Tuberville. Republican of Alabama
Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., was sworn in Dec. 2.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, senators who would typically be gathered in full on the Senate floor were spaced, many were not in attendance.
Republicans still hold a slim majority in the Senate, but control of the chamber will be decided on Tuesday in two runoff races in Georgia. Democrats will need to beat both incumbent Republican Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler for the party to take control of the Senate.
– Christal Hayes
House makes changes for members ahead of tight vote for speaker
The House made special provisions for members of Congress to vote during the COVID-19 pandemic and erected a special enclosure to allow members who are supposed to be quarantining the ability to vote on Sunday.
The change was announced by Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician at the U.S. Capitol. He noted in a statement that while these lawmakers would typically be quarantining at home, “essential workers, in order to ensure continuity of operations of essential functions, are permitted to continue work following potential exposure to COVID-19 provided they remain asymptomatic and additional precautions are implemented to protect them and the community.”
He noted this precaution fell in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
The enclosure is only being used by those who are in quarantine status, a condition of which is having recently tested negative for the virus, according to a U.S. Capitol official. The official added two Democrats and one Republican can use this facility.
The House had passed proxy voting rules during the last Congress to allow some members to vote remotely as a precaution against COVID-19, but the rules expired at the end of the Congress, which concluded Sunday morning, and must be passed again.
Several lawmakers had announced positive COVID-19 diagnoses before the new session of Congress began and signaled they would stay home, but some members said they were cleared to travel to Washington, D.C.
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., who had announced a positive COVID-19 test on Dec. 28, wrote on Twitter, “My quarantine is over and I am medically cleared to travel.” Under CDC guidelines, people who test positive for COVID-19 should quarantine for 10 days after the onset of symptoms, though Moore had announced her diagnosis six days ago.
Her office said she had cleared quarantine but did not elaborate on when she was first diagnosed.
Democrats took some criticism for the changes made to allow members to travel.
– Christal Hayes and Nicholas Wu
McConnell, Pelosi to swear in new members of Congress
WASHINGTON – A new historically diverse Congress takes office Sunday with control of the Senate undetermined, a still-roaring COVID-19 pandemic and scars left after a brutal two years of bitter partisanship.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will administer the oath of office to new and reelected members to their chambers at the U.S. Capitol on Sunday.
The 117th Congress is the most diverse yet, with at least 121 women and 124 people of color set to take office.
But the new Congress, no matter what it looks like, faces tough challenges. With vaccines in distribution, it’s tasked with leading the U.S. out of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed hundreds of thousands, shuttered businesses and upended daily life in America. It will need to work with a new but familiar president in Joe Biden, lead a nation reckoning with racial strife and help heal divisions following a fierce presidential election and President Donald Trump’s turbulent administration.
‘Her toughest test yet’:Nancy Pelosi to wield speaker’s gavel with thin majority in what may be her last term
Attempts to pass a relief bill in December ran into a wall of partisan acrimony as lawmakers struggled to pass a stimulus bill. That fighting followed months of impasse over relief as COVID cases spiked and people were put out of work.
Among the new Congress’ first order of business: Give the final seal of approval on Biden’s presidency. Trump continues to baselessly claim the election was stolen from him, despite dozens of failed legal efforts and his own Justice Department saying the election was legitimate. On Wednesday, the new House and Senate meet to count and vote on the Electoral College results.
Normally a symbolic occasion, this year, several members of Congress have threatened to object to the counting of electoral votes from some states. A dozen sitting and incoming Republican senators and incoming plan to object to the certification of the election’s results on Wednesday. The plan drew sharp criticism from fellow GOP senators like Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who called it an “egregious ploy” that “dangerously threatens our Democratic Republic.”
Their objections are unlikely to overturn the results in any states, since majorities in both the House and Senate would have to agree to exclude them, but the ensuing debate will further cast doubt among Republicans about the results of the election, and residual bitterness from the 2020 elections could cloud Congress’ first few weeks in session.
This Congress will have a different relationship with the White House than it did under the Trump administration. Unlike the outgoing president, who was a political outsider when he came to Washington four years ago, Biden has close relationships with many sitting in leadership from his 36 years as a Delaware senator and 8 years as vice president. His cordial relationship with House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be tested as he tries to push Democratic policies through Congress. But partisan divisions in both chambers have hardened in the four years since Biden last held public office.
Both chambers will have tighter majorities this time around.
Democrats will return with a diminished advantage in the House, the result of election losses and several members leaving to join Biden’s administration.
Once Reps. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana and Deb Haaland of New Mexico resign to take positions in the White House, there will only be 219 Democrats in the House, giving them one of the slimmest House majorities in decades and could limit Biden’s ability to pass legislation through the House.
On the other side of the Capitol, Republicans successfully held off tough Democratic challenges in Senate races across the country on Election Day. But there’s a possibility Republicans could lose their majority if two liberal challengers unseat incumbent Republicans in crucial Georgia Senate runoff elections on Tuesday.
Both parties have poured money and effort into winning the races, where incumbent Republicans Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are facing off against Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff. Even if Loeffler and Perdue successfully defend their seats, Republicans will have a slightly smaller advantage in the Senate, making moderate lawmakers a crucial aspect if Biden wants to pass legislation in the Senate.
The day, usually a formal affair when members and their families greet the speaker of the House and pose for a photo, has been significantly altered to take precautions against COVID-19 as cases continue to climb across the country.
Lawmakers plan to hold a moment of silence for the late Rep.-elect Luke Letlow, R-La., who died of COVID-19 complications last week.
Any family members traveling with members-elect have to show a copy of their negative pre-travel COVID-19 test, and new members are given only one ticket for a guest to minimize the number of people in the Capitol.
Rep.-elect Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., a first-term member from San Diego, told USA TODAY she was “really excited and honored” to be in the Capitol for her swearing-in, even though the incoming House Democratic freshman class was “smaller than we had hoped.” She planned to wear a mask throughout the entire day and had brought her father as her sole guest.
Whatever the final party makeup of the Congress, it will be the most diverse Congress yet, with gains in representation on both sides of the aisle.
Among the historic firsts in representation:
- The first Korean American women: Reps. Marilyn Strickland, D-Wash.; Young Kim, R-Calif.; and Michelle Steel, R-Calif.
- The first openly gay Black men: Reps. Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., and Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y.
- The first Native American Republican woman: Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M.
It’s also expected to be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s last term in the role. In mid-November, she told reporters she’ll likely abide by a deal to limit terms for Democratic leaders she struck with progressives to secure their support in 2018.
“I don’t want to undermine any leverage I may have, but I made the statement,” she said.
With a smaller Democratic majority in the House, she can only afford to lose a handful of Democratic votes. She lost 15 Democratic votes when she sought the position in 2019. But Pelosi expressed confidence in a Sunday morning letter to Democratic colleagues.
“I am confident that the Speaker’s election today will show a united Democratic Caucus ready to meet the challenges ahead,” she wrote.