Outlook: Lame-Duck Session Begins Amid Election Aftershocks

As they mull the meaning of Trump’s victory, lawmakers will elect their leaders and begin work on the last bills of the 114th Congress.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (left) shows President-elect Donald Trump, his wife, Melania, and Vice President-elect Mike Pence the view of the inaugural stand that is being built and Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Speaker's Balcony on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Nov. 13, 2016, 8:01 p.m.

After weeks of campaigning back home, Congress returns to Capitol Hill Tuesday to a new and unexpected reality: Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.

Republican members in the House and Senate just hoped to keep their majorities. That happened, but so has the unthinkable—and Republicans are eagerly, warily, looking at what is now possible on a range of issues, including regulatory reform, health care, immigration, taxes, infrastructure, trade, etc. Democrats are privately making dark jokes about “The Purge.”

The next immediate steps for the lame-duck session are to pass a bill funding the government into next year and consider passing tax-break extensions, the annual defense policy package, a major energy bill, and the 21st Century Cures medical-research bill. The first vote up for the Senate Tuesday is on the Gold Star Families Voices bill, which the House has already passed.

Congress will also hold elections to determine party leaders. The most intrigue surrounds who will be incoming Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer’s deputy—likely either Sen. Dick Durbin or Sen. Patty Murray, who as of Friday hadn’t explicitly said she wants the position. While Durbin has served as whip to outgoing Democratic Leader Harry Reid, few know exactly what Schumer wants, and some think Murray could benefit as Democrats look to put women in higher-profile positions of power. The Democrats’ elections will be held Wednesday morning.

The Senate Democrats will gain at least two seats next year but still remain in the minority, and so the game of musical chairs continues. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving Democrat in the chamber, looks to lead his party on the Appropriations Committee. That would open up the top Democratic spot on the Judiciary Committee to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who could then help lead the party’s strategy on Trump’s Supreme Court nomination.

House Republicans, meanwhile, will elect their leaders Tuesday in a gathering that will show for the first time whether a massive sweep election has smoothed over some conservative anger at Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ryan and Trump had feuded over differing visions for the GOP during the election, but now that Trump has won, there are signs the two men have put that to rest.

In a show of strength, leaders called for a swift leadership election, opting to hold it the first full day they return after the election. As a result, any challenge to Ryan will be purely for protest, as he can easily win half of the GOP Conference.

None of the other top-tier leadership elections are expected to be competitive. But outgoing Republican Study Committee Chairman Bill Flores is facing off against Rep. Doug Collins for the conference’s vice chairmanship. The conference-secretary race is wide open, as well.

House Democrats will hold their leadership elections Thursday, with no sign so far of any shake-up at the top.

The House floor, too, will be a place for Republicans to rally this week. The main bill being taken up would extend sanctions on Iran that are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

ENERGY

A long-awaited bipartisan, bicameral energy bill may emerge as a casualty of the short calendar. The House- and Senate-passed bills had major differences—Senate Democrats had especially worried about language on the California drought and some energy-efficiency language opposed by the White House—that have not been resolved yet. There is also the question of whether House Republicans would want to continue negotiating now, or wait until next year when they could try to work on a more conservative bill without threat of a veto.

The House Natural Resources Committee will consider a bill from Rep. Diane Black that would give states more power over permitting for energy development on federal lands.

National Highway and Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind will testify before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee Wednesday about his agency’s regulatory guidance and role in monitoring the growth in autonomous vehicles. The House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on commerce will also look into self-driving cars at a Tuesday hearing.

HEALTH

Congress returns with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s emphasis that the 21st Century Cures Act is still a priority for the lame-duck session. But it remains unclear whether the Republicans have reached a deal with the Democrats on mandatory funding for the National Institutes of Health, which has been a major stumbling block for the legislation.

“The president’s interested in the precision-medicine part of that; the vice president is interested in the cancer-moonshot part of it; I’m interested in the regenerative-medicine part of it,” McConnell said during a press briefing on Wednesday. “I’d like to see us finish that important new measure this year. And the president and I discussed those two matters this morning.”

Beyond continued Cures negotiations and other possible legislative health policy initiatives, such as mental health reform, committee activity is light on health care this week.

The Congressional Mental Health Caucus is holding a briefing on school-based mental-health programs on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the group 340B Health will be hosting a lunch briefing on the postelection outlook for hospitals and the 340B discount drug program.

TECHNOLOGY

Two House Energy and Commerce subcommittees will team up Wednesday for a joint hearing on “Understanding the Role of Connected Devices in Recent Cyber Attacks.” On the same day, a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee will convene for a session on lessons learned from the Office of Personnel Management data breach.

WHITE HOUSE

President Obama will spend the week overseas on his final official foreign trip. He leaves Washington Monday evening, arriving Tuesday morning in Greece for his last state visit to a country. There, he will discuss the economy and the continent’s refugee crisis and give the major speech of the trip on Wednesday, discussing the political response to globalization. On Thursday, in Berlin, he will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as with the leaders of the Quint, the four leading NATO countries—Britain, France, Germany, and Italy—to discuss the ongoing battle against terrorism. On Friday, he flies to Peru to attend the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. There he will meet with the other signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and with Chinese President Xi Jinping. On Sunday, the summit concludes and, after meeting with the prime minister of Australia, Obama will return to the United States.

Jason Plautz, Erin Durkin, Ben Geman and George E. Condon Jr. contributed to this article.
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