The Recently Split Congress Portends a Massive Gridlock

by Sydney Wiser ‘23

The 118th Congressional session was supposed to begin on January 3 for the first time with the changes from the 2022 midterms. The Republicans flipped the House securing a slim 222-person majority. Democrats retained control of the Senate.

Due to shifts in Congressional majorities, this session saw a change in House leadership. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is serving his first term as the first black House Minority leader. Former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was replaced by Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). It took McCarthy fifteen voting rounds over four days to be elected Speaker on January 6, making his bid the longest in over a century. In order to gain enough votes, McCarthy made concessions including reducing the number of members required to sponsor a resolution to vote out the Speaker from five to one. Now that McCarthy has been elected, he has the difficult job of rallying a divided GOP.

The midterms brought a young and energetic freshmen class to the Capital, 18 of which are in their twenties or thirties, including the first-ever Gen-Z Congress-member Maxwell Frost (D-FL). However, with the split Congress, it’s uncertain how much they will be able to accomplish in their first Congressional session due to policy gridlock. Also, in the lead-up to the 2024 Presidential election, Republicans will likely try to block Democrat-backed bills to hinder Joe Biden’s chances of securing reelection.

In the final weeks of the last Congressional session, the Democratic lame-duck Congress rushed to pass bills. They codified protections for same-sex and interracial marriages under the Respect for Marriage Act. The bipartisan Electoral Count Bill, designed to prevent future threats of insurrections like the one on January 6, was passed as part of the annual Omnibus Bill. The bill clarified that the Vice President’s role in certifying election results is ceremonial and raised the threshold from one member from each chamber needing to object to the certification of a state’s election results to 20 percent of each chamber needing to object.

Last session, Congress narrowly managed to avoid a government shutdown after disagreements over the Omnibus Bill and its $1.7 trillion federal budget. With a more divided Congress, there’s a possibility for a government shutdown at the end of the fiscal year in September. Shutdowns occur when legislation that determines the funding for government agencies is not passed. Essential government agencies like the IRS and the FDA continue working during government shutdowns, but they perform only vital functions which are often delayed.

The January 6 Committee was dissolved after Republicans took control of the House. At its final meeting, the Committee referred former President Donald Trump to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and recommended he face four criminal charges, including engaging in a conspiracy to defraud the U.S. and obstruction of an official proceeding. Under the new Republican majority, the House Oversight Committee has opened an investigation into the Biden family’s business dealings.