The 2019 Texas legislative session is bearing down on us, but our representatives at the federal level start the 116th Congress today, Jan. 3. There’s been a lot of buzz about the start of this two-year session, mostly for the following three reasons:
- Women: Nearly 1 in 4 members of the 116th Congress will be women, including much-talked-about freshmen on the Democratic side like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (pictured above at left).
- Pelosi: Nancy Pelosi made history in 2007 when she became the first-ever female speaker of the House. It’s also highly unusual for a speaker to lose the majority and then return to it years later — as Pelosi will do today. Texan Sam Rayburn served three separate stints as speaker in the mid-20th century, but no speaker since then has lost power and then returned to it.
- Divided Government: Perhaps most interesting is that this will be the first time Donald Trump has experienced divided government. For the past two years, he’s enjoyed a Republican House, a Republican Senate and a right-leaning Supreme Court — which should (in theory) make governing easy. It will no longer be so easy with a Democratic majority in the House.
As talked about as Ocasio-Cortez and others have been in the past few months, newcomers to Congress enjoy little in the way of power. Upon arrival, they take a seat as back-benchers who will spend years waiting to chair committees and enjoy other positions of influence.
So, in practical terms, what can we expect from the 116th Congress and its new Democratic majority? Look for three things to happen almost immediately:
- A Bill to Reopen the Government: Before the government shutdown, the Senate passed a continuing resolution by a margin of 100–0. That’s right: Every single senator voted for it. Paul Ryan refused to bring that continuing resolution to the House floor, instead opting for a bill with funding for a border wall. That bill failed, shutting down the government. Pelosi and the Democrats will now pass their own continuing resolution — but expect Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to now refuse to bring to the floor this same bill that passed his chamber unanimously just a few weeks ago.
- Symbolic Bills: There’s not a ton the House majority can do in a divided government. That said, expect them to pass a series of symbolic bills (protection for Dreamers, requirements that presidential candidates share tax returns, environmental protections) that will die either in the Senate or on the president’s desk.
- Oversight: For the past two years, Republicans in the House have abdicated their oversight responsibility. Now that Democrats are in power, expect them to begin investigations into: the failed hurricane response in Puerto Rico, Trump’s corrupt business dealings, family separations, ethics violations in Trump’s cabinet, etc.
The next couple of years are going to be absolutely fascinating. We’ll see real oversight of this president as Democratic candidates gear up to challenge him in 2020. It will be frustrating at times, but this is going to be a huge improvement over what we’ve experienced the past two years.