118th Congress Opens With Intrigue, Meanwhile McConnell Makes History

January 3, 2023 by Dan McCue
118th Congress Opens With Intrigue, Meanwhile McConnell Makes History
(Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON — House Republicans held a last ditch, closed door meeting in the Capitol Tuesday morning, with Rep. Kevin McCarthy, D-Calif., trying once again to rally support for his bid to be the next speaker of the House.

With reporters gathered outside the door, raised voices could be heard filtering into the hallway.

At one point, McCarthy loudly told his Republican colleagues that he had earned the right to be speaker, at another, he was clearly heard uttering a “God dammit” as he vowed to stop negotiating for the position.

While all this was going on, the 117th Congress met for one last time for a little legislative housekeeping and promptly adjourned.

The House was scheduled to meet at noon to convene the 118th Congress.

After a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, it is expected that there will be a quorum call, followed by the election of the new speaker and the swearing in of members.

As of 11 a.m. Tuesday, McCarthy did not have the votes to prevail on a first ballot, and in a press briefing, several of his opponents said the California congressman had rejected a deal last night that would have ensured his election on the first vote.

The opponents said they believe they’ve been “strung along” by McCarthy and that he is refusing to negotiate.

Given their opposition, it now appears certain the election of the speaker will be kicked to a second ballot and potentially more. Voting will continue until a speaker is chosen.

The election itself is held by manual roll call vote, with each member called individually in alphabetical order by the clerk.

It is only after the speaker is elected that the oath of office is administered to members and delegates.

During that moment, all eyes will likely be on newly elected Rep. George Santos, R-N.Y., who has been embroiled in a scandal over scores of lies he’s told about his professional and personal life.

At one point this morning, Santos tried to make his way to his new office in the Longworth building, but turned on his heels when he saw a large number of reporters waiting for him. He was later seen in the underground tunnel leading from the Longworth to the Capitol.

Following the swearing in of members, the House is expected to begin one hour of debate on the rules of the 118th Congress. Once it votes on that package it is scheduled to take up debate and vote on the Family and Small Business Taxpayer Protection Act.

Things are expected to go a lot more smoothly on the Senate side of the Capitol today.

The Senate will convene at noon, and when it does, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., will make history as the chamber’s longest-serving leader, breaking the record previously held by Sen. Mike Mansfield, D-Mont.

Mansfield was the Democrats’ leader from 1961 to 1977, and McConnell, who became a Senate leader in 2006, plans to give a speech on Mansfield’s legacy, and then go on to talk about the leadership styles of different Senate leaders.

“The greatest honor of my career is representing the Commonwealth of Kentucky in this chamber and fighting for my fellow Kentuckians,” McConnell says in excerpts of the speech shared with The Well News Tuesday morning. “But the second-greatest honor is the trust that my fellow Republican senators have placed in me to lead our diverse conference and help them achieve their goals.”

Now serving in his ninth Congress, the 80-year-old senator will note that designated party floor leaders have been a feature of the Senate for more than 100 years, and that “no two have done the job exactly alike.”

“Some notable Leaders have built influence through bookish mastery of procedure — such as the Massachusetts Republican Henry Cabot Lodge and the West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd,” McConnell will say.

“Other leaders are remembered less for parliamentary wizardry than for tackle football. Joseph Taylor Robinson of Arkansas delivered much of the New Deal through the Senate for F.D.R. — with a lively repertoire that included cutting deals, red-faced rants, pounding his desk, and almost ending up in fisticuffs here on the floor,” he’ll continue.

“When Robinson died of a heart attack, Roosevelt’s pick to fill the vacancy was Kentucky Sen. Alben Barkley. Even with that endorsement, Barkley only won his first election as leader by one vote — in part because Senate Democrats were afraid the president’s hand-picked man might have mixed loyalties. 

“But Barkley won his colleagues’ trust. In 1944, when he resigned during a dramatic showdown with the White House over tax policy, his conference reinstalled him on a unanimous vote the very next day.

“There was our late friend and colleague Bob Dole of Kansas, a sharp competitor who excelled both at partisan combat and bipartisan compromise — plus a wicked sense of humor,” McConnell will say.

“The Texas Democrat Lyndon Johnson was a towering interpersonal force who mastered relationships. Decades earlier, the Ohio Republican Robert Taft had been more introverted and cerebral; he mastered policy. But each man’s approach made him a strong force and a powerful thorn in the side of opposite-party administrations.

“Then there’ve been leaders who rose to the job through lower-key, behind-the-scenes styles; who preferred to focus on serving their colleagues rather than dominating them. And that, Mr. / Madam President, is how Sen. Michael Joseph Mansfield of Montana became the longest-serving Senate leader in American history until this morning,” McConnell will say.

The Senate is also expected to adopt a resolution today naming Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., as president pro tempore of the Senate. 

Murray is the second-longest serving Democrat in the senate after Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who declined the pro tem role. 

In her new post, Murray will be third in the line of succession to the presidency.

Following the swearing in of its new and returning members, the Senate will go back out on recess until Jan. 23.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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