With assists from Melanie, Heather, Burgess, Andrew, and Kyle
It’s less than 24 hours into the 117th Congress and we’ve already seen Republicans break out into a civil war, Democrats renew calls to impeach President Donald Trump and quarantined members being forced to vote from the confines of a plexiglass case in the House chamber. Welcome to 2021.
THE GOP TURNS ON ITSELF: An intra-party battle is heating up within the Republican Party as two bitterly divided sides clash over the decision of at least 12 GOP senators, and dozens more House Republicans, to challenge the certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win.
The effort is snowballing as more Republicans join the Trump-guard led by Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Josh Hawley (Mo.) in the Senate and Rep. Mo Brooks (Ala.) in the House, while the old guard like Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) is warning that this effort is jeopardizing the nation’s democratic values.
With nearly a quarter of Senate Republicans taking part in the effort, against the urging of top GOP Senate leaders, it is also becoming clear just how much of a force Trump will be in the Republican Party even once he’s out of the White House. As one top House Republican told Huddle: “[Trump’s] the 800 pound gorilla.” They don’t want to cross him.
The tensions have jumped so high that individual GOP senators are now directly headbutting one another, with Toomey accusing Cruz, Hawley and other Republicans of undermining the right to participate in direct elections and Hawley decrying Toomey’s arguments and “shameless personal attacks.”
“I’m concerned about the division in America, that’s the biggest issue, but obviously this is not healthy for the Republican Party,” lamented Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.). “This is bad for the country and bad for the party.” Burgess and Marianne with the story. http://politi.co/3odDYcZ
THE TOUCH, THE FEEL OF COTTON: Late Sunday night, another 2024 aspirant — Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) — weighed in on his colleagues’ gambit. But Cotton, in something of a surprise, condemned Cruz and Hawley’s efforts, which he said, “will only embolden those Democrats who want to erode further our system of constitutional government.” Full statement
ROY’S PLOY: Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), a conservative hardliner and longtime aide to Cruz, emerged Sunday evening as one of fiercest opponents of the anti-certification effort that is being led in part by his former boss. Shortly after the speaker’s vote, Roy forced his GOP colleagues to take a recorded vote that challenged the seating of the House delegations from Arizona, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada over GOP claims of systemic fraud.
His point? If House Republicans are claiming the election results in those five states were fraudulent, then they must concede that the House elections in those delegations are also rigged. (The ploy worked: Only two Republicans, both members of the House Freedom Caucus, voted against seating their colleagues.)
RELATED READ: Republicans Begin New Congress Feuding Over Bid to Overturn Election, by NYT’s Carl Hulse: http://nyti.ms/356z22f.
LEAVE IT TO BEAVERS — Huddlers! If you haven’t heard the news: The fabulous Melanie Zanona is handing over the reins of the newsletter to me, your new Huddle host, and I am very excited to be part of your AM routine. Huddle won’t look too different, but your Huddle host has a lot of exciting ideas for new features. More on those ideas a little further down.
HAPPY MONDAY! Welcome to Huddle, the play-by-play guide to all things Capitol Hill, on this Jan. 4., where your Huddle host has made it her year end goal of having this ice cream party happen.
COME CONNECT: If we haven’t met before, please, please come introduce yourself — either in the Capitol hallways or via email. While I am more of a Legistorm gal myself, you can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Additionally, to all you cool cats and comms friends — please add me to your email lists, it’ll be much appreciated.
LORDY, THERE’S A TAPE: A newly surfaced audio recording revealed that Trump directly pressured Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to put him ahead of Biden during a phone call with Georgia election officials on Saturday. The audio of the call — first revealed by the Washington Post — prompted immediate scrutiny from legal experts, who said it might have violated federal and state laws against soliciting election fraud.
How it came about: When the president and his team reached out to talk to Raffensperger on Saturday, the GA secretary of state and his team decided to record the phone call, an adviser told my colleague Marc Caputo. The tape was a classic CYA move — added security — for a president who is quick to bend the truth to fit his own whims. After the call, Raffensperger’s team sat on the tape — that is, until Trump claimed on Twitter Sunday morning that Raffensperger was “unwilling, or unable, to answer” questions about the supposed voter fraud. And then — kaboom! — the recording came out and pretty much broke the internet on Sunday, to say nothing of its effect on the Georgia runoffs.
“So if he’s going to try to dispute anything on the call, it’s nice to have something like this, hard evidence, to dispute whatever he’s claiming about the secretary,” one adviser told Caputo. More from Marc: http://politi.co/354xc1x
ANOTHER TRUMP CALL TRIGGERS IMPEACHMENT TALK: Some Democrats are calling for a criminal investigation into Trump’s comments to Raffensperger, with some of them even dropping ye olde “i” word.
“This disgraceful effort to intimidate an elected official into deliberately changing & misrepresenting the legally confirmed vote totals in his state…merits nothing less than a criminal investigation,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), the No. 2 Senate Democrat.
“If it was up to me, there would be articles on the floor quite quickly,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told reporters Sunday in response to the recording, adding that she believes Trump’s conduct rises to “an impeachable offense.”
But it’s likely too late for that, as Rep. Ann Kuster (D-N.H.) told Sarah Ferris. While she thought Trump’s conduct was impeachable, Kuster said House Democrats won’t take action because the president is just days away from leaving office.
The silence is telling: The GOP reaction has been mostly quiet so far, a sign Republicans know this call doesn’t look good. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) was one of the few blasting Trump and his allies over such an effort, living up to his name with this zinger: “To every member of Congress considering objecting to the election results, you cannot- in light of this- do so with a clean conscience.”
FIRST IN HUDDLE: The Republican Study Committee, under the new leadership of Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), is planning to release a major election reform bill later this week that seeks to address what conservatives view as gaps in election security, sources tell your Huddle Host.
Some bill highlights: The bill is expected to in part propose banning universal mail-in voting in federal elections, ballot collection boxes in federal elections and ballot harvesting. It would require that mail-in and absentee ballots are counted and recorded immediately after being received, and the results of which would not be disclosed until after polling polls closed on the day of the election. It will also propose a series of new voter I.D. requirements, including mandating a photo I.D. for in-person voting as well as absentee voting in federal elections.
This bill, which comes amid Republicans’ efforts to object to the 2020 election certification, is all but likely to fail in the Democrat-controlled House, especially since Democrats have argued that strict voter ID laws and limits on mail-in voting will obstruct voters of their right to vote and reduce participation in elections. Still, this bill shows Republicans will be hammering election security for weeks to come.
DEMS DEVISE: Democrats are also strategizing how to respond to the GOP objection efforts, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announcing in a Dear Colleagues letter that they will host a caucus call Monday at 9 a.m. to discuss the joint session.
Keep in mind, each time a member of the House and Senate object, lawmakers will then meet in their individual chambers for up to two hours of debate … So, buckle up — it could be a very long process.
PELOSI PULLS IT OFF: Not even the coronavirus pandemic and a diminished House majority could stand in the way of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) securing the speaker’s gavel for another — and possibly final — term. But the vote count was incredibly tight, which gives Democrats and Republicans a first preview of how delicate a process it might be to garner enough votes for key legislative priorities these next two years.
While Pelosi ran unopposed this year, she still had to make sure she could get the bare majority of votes, given that she has the thinnest House majority since World War II and with Covid-19 roaring.
Pelosi couldn’t afford many absences: Her office worked hard to ensure virtually every Democrat physically showed up on Sunday, sending emails up until the very last-minute to reconfirm lawmakers’ attendance.
Special arrangements were even made to allow members under quarantine orders to vote in person (more on that in bit). In the end, just one Democrat — Rep. Alcee Hastings (Fla.) — was absent.
In the end, Pelosi pulled off a win with 216 votes vs. 209 for Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (Caption this picture.)
Not My Speaker: Both Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Conor Lamb (Pa.) voted for someone other than Pelosi. And Reps. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.). Abigail Spanberger (Va.) and Mikie Sherrill (N.J.) all voted “present.” Heather, Sarah, and your Huddle host with the lowdown: http://politi.co/3pHEIaL.
RELATED READ: Congress adopts rules governing Jan. 6 Electoral College count from our own Kyle and Melanie: http://politi.co/3547L0o.
I’M PLEXI AND I KNOW IT: Yesterday was an unconventional opening day — and not just because it took place on a Sunday. Because of the coronavirus, three members who were under quarantine orders (but had tested negative for Covid-19) were sworn in and voted from a plexiglass box that had been erected in the House gallery.
Some lawmakers and officials were outraged by the move. Here’s Rep. Rodney Davis, the top Republican on the House Administration Committee: “To build a structure like that, in the dark of night, to only protect the votes that Speaker Pelosi needs to get reelected Speaker, is shameful.”
Meanwhile, Democrats stewed as some GOP lawmakers were also seen blatantly flouting rules on the House floor.
At one point, a dispute broke out over mask policies in the chamber after several House Republicans, including firebrand freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), appeared not to wear their masks on the House floor for minutes at a time. More from Sarah, Heather, and yours truly: http://politi.co/3nfwjtf.
WHAT A WEEK AHEAD: Here is else what is on tap, sparknotes edition:
- Monday, Jan 4: The House will also vote on its new rules package, which would weaken the minority party’s “motion to recommit,” among other things. … Trump is expected to fly to Georgia for one final Senate stump before the special election.
- Tuesday, Jan. 5: The Georgia special election comes to a head on Tuesday, which will determine the fate of the Senate majority as Sen. David Perdue (R) fights off a challenge from Democrat Jon Ossoff and Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R) goes up against Rev. Raphael Warnock (D).
- Wednesday, Jan. 6: Congress is set to certify the 2020 presidential election results by counting and validating the Electoral College’s votes for President-elect Joe Biden, but dozens of loyal GOP allies of Trump are expected to contest the outcome. Large rallies and demonstrations over Congress certifying Biden’s 2020 win are also expected to take place in D.C. that day.
- Thursday, Jan. 7: The GOP election certification shenanigans could spill into Thursday morning, depending on how many objections Republicans make. … The House GOP Steering Committee will also begin doling out committee assignments.
RELATED READS: Trump to give ally Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the Post’s Ashley Parker: http://wapo.st/2KP66oA. Pressley is poised to wield more power in Washington in her second term from the Boston Globe’s Jazmine Ulloa: http://bit.ly/3naFBa0
IN MEMORIAM: For a Congress that has been largely insulated from Covid fatalities, the death of Rep.-elect Luke Letlow (R-La.) coursed through Capitol Hill last week, bringing realities of the pandemic back to the beltway just before the start of the New Year.
Letlow died from complications with the virus on Tuesday, just days away from when he was slated to be sworn in as a new member of Congress. He leaves behind a wife and two young children. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) says he will call a special election on March 20 to fill the seat.
To honor Letlow, lawmakers gathered together on the House floor after the speaker vote for a moment of silence. Members also wore Louisiana lapel pins for him on Sunday.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) shared a personal Facebook post about how his family struggled to cope with the sudden loss.
RELATED READ: Raskin announces memorial fund in son’s name, by the Post’s Martin Weil: http://wapo.st/3hIHXvF.
CONGRESS LOOKS DIFFERENT THIS YEAR: More women — including women of color — will fill the Capitol halls this year than ever before, including a record number of female GOP members.
In the House, 27 of the 60 incoming new members are women. Republicans more than doubled their ranks, with 29 women this Congress compared to the 13 last term — a leap that defeats Republican’s 2005 record of 25 women serving in the lower chamber.
Democrats still maintain the lead of women serving in their ranks with 89 total, including nine new fresh(wo)men.
Some interesting firsts:
- Rep. Stephanie Bice (R-Okla), who defeated freshman Rep. Kendra Horn (D), is the first Iranian American to serve in Congress. She is also the first woman to be elected the GOP’s freshman class president.
- Rep. Cori Bush (D), who beat longtime Rep. Lacy Clay in a primary, is the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress.
- Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.), who defeated freshman Rep. Xochitl Torres-Small (D), is the first Republican Native American congresswoman.
- Reps. Michelle Steel and Young Kim, both immigrants from South Korea who defeated Democratic incumbents in their respective districts, will be the only Republican women representing California in this Congress.
- Rep. Marilyn Strickland (D), the first Black representative from Washington state, also joins Steel and Kim as being among the first members of Congress to be born in Korea.
- Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) was born in Soviet Ukraine and now she is the first Ukrainian-born person to serve in Congress.
- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) became the first Republican woman elected to represent Georgia in the House for a full term.
A breakdown of the historic numbers of this Congress by CNN’s Ethan Cohen, Liz Stark and Adam Levy: http://cnn.it/3odbS1s.
How some of the new leading ladies feel: “The Republican Party has been portrayed as just a group of stuffy white men who can’t relate to the everyday American. I’m glad that we’re getting more diversity so that we can’t be misrepresented that way,” freshman Mary Miller (R-Ill.) told POLITICO.
Check out POLITICO’s awesome interactive that has more interviews with the badass new class of women in Congress: http://politi.co/2X815JX.
NEW SQUAD ALERT: The progressive squad is growing.
THAT OTHER GEORGIA RACE — Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams might not be on the ballot on Tuesday, but their political futures are at stake alongside the Senate majority and the direction of the country for the next two years. The Senate runoffs are already setting the stage for a 2022 rematch between Kemp and Abrams, with Abrams’ stock on the rise and Kemp’s starting to falter as he comes under heavy fire from Trump. Andrew has more from Savannah, Ga. http://politi.co/3926JDd.
STILL OUT THERE FIGHTING: It’s still unclear who will represent New York’s 22nd Congressional District, as incumbent Rep. Anthony Brindisi and GOP challenger Claudia Tenney duke it out in court over roughly 2,500 rejected ballots. More from Syracuse.com’s Patrick Lohmann: http://bit.ly/38bKCeh.
NEW YEAR, NEW HUDDLE … Starting soon, we will be spotlighting a member/staffer each week. And we are relying on YOU to help us find the great people who should be featured as a Member/Staffer You Need to Know. Send me your pitches. And then we will have all you Huddlers help vote to pick who should be featured.
Your new Huddle host will seek to go beyond lawmakers’ cherry-picked talking points and really try to learn what makes a member tick. We’ll seek to discover what their pet issue is, what values and priorities they emphasize among their staff, who inspires them, their pet peeves, and more. As a Bachelor date card might read: “Let’s dig deep.”
AND NAME NAMES: Your Huddle host also plans to include more Congress-related reporting from outside the Beltway, so please shoot me an email and let me know the names of reporters from your state/district who you like and respect. I’m making a list.
Send me your pitches and reporter names here → [email protected]
Mitchell Hailstone will be the new communications director for the Republican Study Committee (RSC) under Chairman Jim Banks (R-Ind.), and Buckley Carlson will be taking on the deputy communications director role at the RSC.
Rachel Bissex will be deputy COS and chief counsel for Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). She previously was deputy COS for A.G. Bill Barr.
Matt Schuck will be comms director for incoming House Budget ranking member Jason Smith (R-Mo.). He currently is comms director for HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and is a Sean Duffy alum.
Liz Payne will be legislative director for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.). She most recently has been legislative director for Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.).
Olivia Hnat will be comms director for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She currently is deputy COS for Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.).
Amanda Gonzalez Thompson will be deputy COS and comms director for freshman Rep. Beth Van Duyne (R-Texas). She has previously served as comms director for former Reps. Doug Collins and Trey Gowdy.
Sean Brislin will be legislative director for Rep.-elect Matt Rosendale (R-Mont.). He previously was deputy campaign manager and political director for Rosendale’s campaign.
Rep.-elect Jake Auchincloss (D-Mass.) is adding Tim Hysom as COS and Matt Corridoni as comms director. Hysom previously was COS for Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.). Corridoni previously was a spokesman for Senate Majority PAC and is a Pete Buttigieg alum. Dana Hanson, who worked in the City of Newton Mayor’s office, is also joining as district director, while Jessice Mulligan, who previously worked for Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), is joining the office as legislative director.
Mason Di Palma will be comms director for Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio). He most recently was campaign manager for Rep. Mike Turner’s (R-Ohio) reelect.
Michael Zona is heading over to Bullpen Strategy Group, where he will be a vice president in their strategic communications and public affairs advisory practice. Zona previously served as comms director for the Senate Finance Committee majority as well as comms director for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
The House meets at 10 a.m. for legislative business, with the first vote predicted as early as 10:00 a.m. and the last vote predicted sometime in the evening.
The Senate is adjourned until 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), ranking member on the House Administration Committee, will hold a photo opp for the freshman GOP members at 9 a.m. on the House front steps.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, and Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. in HVC Studio A.
Dec. 23rd’s WINNER: Patty Rhee was the first person to guess that the longest government shutdown in history lasted 35 days and started in 2018.
TODAY’S QUESTION: From Patty: What year (and under which president) did the tradition of the White House New Year’s reception start? The first person to correctly guess gets a mention in the next edition of Huddle. Send your answer to [email protected].
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