Congress has returned to Washington, D.C., after the midterm elections for the “lame duck” session, in which the current crop of elected officials — including members who lost re-election Nov. 6 and those who are retiring when their terms expire in January — vote on last-minute policy proposals before their congressional careers end.
This lame duck session will be dominated by two issues: Funding the government, and electing a new slate of House leaders — given that Democrats wrestled away control of the lower chamber from the GOP, gaining over 30 seats.
Government funding currently runs out on Dec. 7, giving Congress less than a month to agree to a spending package that will both keep the lights on and appease President Donald Trump, who has been demanding funding for his pet border wall project between the U.S. and Mexico since before he took office.
Given that Democrats will have a comfortable majority in the House when the new Congress is sworn in early next year, this may be Trump’s last chance to secure funding for the wall — which he once said Mexico would be paying for.
“We need the money to build the wall — the whole wall, not pieces of it all over,” the president said at a post-election news conference on Wednesday.
However, there does not appear to be much appetite on Capitol Hill to give Trump that money. “If it’s wall or nothing, they’re going to get nothing,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), said Monday on a conference call with reporters.
Even Trump allies on Capitol Hill don’t believe wall funding is in the cards. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), told the Washington Post he is “not optimistic” that Congress will be able to pass wall funding, but said Trump should push for it.
“It’s going to have to be the president who decides whether he’s willing to fight for the funding,” Meadows told the Washington Post. “The House certainly will.”
Meanwhile, Republicans plan to hold their House leadership elections on Wednesday to pick the nominees they want to guide the party through their newfound minority status. Whomever wins the nominations on Wednesday will go to a final vote before the full House in January, after the new members of Congress are sworn in.
Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring, meaning Republicans will need a new leader. Current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California is running for the job of House minority leader, and is expected to win. He does face a challenge from GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus that has rankled Republican leadership for years.
Rep. Steve Scalise is expected to keep his job as Republican whip, while GOP Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney — is running to be Republican Conference chair. The current Republican Conference chair, GOP Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, is not running for re-election in the role, though she is returning to Congress.
Democrats are not holding their leadership elections until after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 28. Current House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is running for her old job of speaker, which she held from 2007 until 2011.
A number of incoming Democratic members of Congress said during the campaign that they would not vote for Pelosi for speaker. Yet there is no one currently challenging Pelosi for the job, and as the old saying goes: You can’t beat someone with no one.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House Democratic whip, is running unopposed to be House majority leader — the role that is second in command of the Democratic House majority. As majority leader, Hoyer would set the schedule for what bills move to floor votes.
While Pelosi and Hoyer are running unopposed, there are competitions for the next three leadership roles on the Democratic side: majority whip, assistant Democratic leader and caucus chair.
As government funding fights rage on, and as both sides run internal elections to choose their leadership, newly elected members of Congress are already in town for orientation. Much like freshman orientation at colleges and universities across the country, new members of Congress learn the ropes of how the Capitol runs, get advice on how to hire a staff, take tours of potential office spaces and become acquainted with their new colleagues.
In some cases where races have yet to be officially called, both candidates in those contests attend orientation — though some might never actually make it to Capitol Hill.
One of the most colorful days of orientation comes on Nov. 30, when new members will enter a lottery to pick their office spaces on Capitol Hill, according to the Capitol Hill outlet Roll Call. Those who draw the first numbers get the best offices up for grabs.
The 116th Congress is set to convene on January 3, 2019.