Georgia Runoff – While it may be 2021, the 2020 election cycle is still with us with the Georgia runoff on January 5th. With December 31st as the last day for in-person early voting in most Georgia counties around 3 million Georgians have voted in-person and absentee by mail. By comparison, 3.9 million Georgians turned out for early voting before the general election. More than 114,000 Georgians who didn’t vote in the general election have already voted in the runoffs.
On January 4th, President Trump will rally his base in Dalton, Georgia, a key county seat for Republicans. It will be a late-night on January 5th, and may take days, or even a week, before the final victors are announced (similar to the general election). With the chance of litigation, a certified outcome could be pushed even further. This means that Georgia will be without one senator for some period of time as Sen. David Perdue’s (R-GA) term ends on January 3rd. Sen. Kelly Loeffler’s (R-GA) term does not expire until 2023.
117th Congress Begins – In the Senate, swearing-in will be at noon today, with 51 Republican senators and 48 Democrat senators. Returning and new senators will take their oaths followed by a live quorum call to begin the 117th Congress. Until the two Georgia runoff races are finalized, there will be no organizing resolution, and Senate committee assignments will remain in their current form. Members have been submitting their committee requests, and nine committees will eventually have new Republican leaders.
If Republicans retain the majority in the Senate, then organizing the Senate can occur quickly. If Democrats win both Georgia seats, resulting in a 50-50 tie, organizing negotiations will have to occur between leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), something that has not occurred since January 2001.
On the House side, there is little room for error for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to be reelected as Speaker. House Democrats will have a 222-211 edge to start the 117th Congress, with one race yet to be resolved and one vacancy, with the tragic death of Representative-elect Luke Letlow (R-LA). The vote must be in person so members will be present and voting in groups for hours throughout Sunday. For a handful of Democratic members, this will be their first time voting in person since last March.
The House will also vote on a new rules package this week with some significant changes, most notably to the motion to recommit. The House minority will no longer be able to amend or recommit a bill with instructions before final passage on the House floor. Motions to recommit will now only send legislation back to the committee of jurisdiction and the motion will be non-debated. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Republican members are livid over this maneuver. With the motion to recommit essentially eliminated, House Republicans might shift their focus to the use of discharge petitions. If momentum were to ever build behind using discharge petitions, bills can be automatically scheduled for floor consideration if supporters garner at least 218 signatures.
The rules package also includes the so-called “Gephardt Rule,” which would automatically increase the debt limit if the House passes a budget resolution. The debt limit is currently suspended until July 31st. Through the Treasury Department’s “extraordinary measures,” this date of fiscal reckoning can be pushed into the fall. This could lead to the interesting confluence of negotiations over the debt, annual government spending measures, and the expiration of key program authorizations, all at the same time.
Also under the new rules package, PAYGO rules can be waived for measures that “prevent, prepare for, or respond to economic, environmental, or public health consequences resulting from climate change.” This means it would be easier to pass major Democratic spending and stimulus packages.
Earmarks were not specifically mentioned in the package, leaving the issue to be resolved by the respective House Democratic and Republican conferences.
The rules package will also extend remote voting rules from the 116th Congress; it also requires the House Clerk to submit a new process by February for House members to be able to indicate their support for Senate-passed measures that have been received by the House.
Election Certification – At 1:00 PM on Wednesday, Congress will meet jointly to count certifications of electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election. Eyes are on a select number of House and Senate Republicans to see if they will jointly file an objection to any state certificates. If a joint objection is heard, then there will be two hours of debate in both the House and Senate on the objection, and then a vote will occur on whether to approve or deny the questioned electoral votes for an individual state. The entire process could go late into Wednesday night. The last time this occurred was in 2005. Senate Republican leaders are not supportive of these objections and have told their conference not to support any objections by House Republicans. If any objection votes are called, some Senate Republicans up for re-election in 2022, and worried about potential primary opponents, may join forces with other Trump allies. Leader McConnell has reportedly said any votes on certifying the 2020 election will be “the most consequential I have ever cast.”