This article was originally published on abajournal.com.
The 118th Congress began earlier this month with President Joseph R. Biden still in office and a divided government. After hard-fought midterm elections, the Democrats retained majority control in the Senate, but with a slim 51-to-49 margin that includes three Independent senators in the majority, two of whom will caucus with the Democrats. The new Senate was sworn in as scheduled on Jan. 3, and the Senate leaders remain the same.
In the House of Representatives, Republicans took majority control with 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats. Members of the House were not sworn in, though, until Jan. 7 after the Speaker of the House was finally elected. Unlike previous speakers elected on the first vote throughout the last 100 years, this year it took four days, 15 floor votes and multiple concessions to hardline conservatives before Speaker Kevin McCarthy was finally elected with the minimum votes required to win.
The chaos and confusion among House Republicans throughout these votes highlight the uncertainty of the next two years as the 118th Congress gets underway. A new generation of leaders now occupying all three of the top House Democratic positions will further complicate any progress.
Narrow margins in each chamber will mean every vote counts as party leaders try to advance their legislative agendas. A Republican House will clash on most issues with the Democratic Senate, with bitter fights expected over even basic functions, including funding the government.
Massive turnouts during the midterm elections and close election results revealed that the American people are dissatisfied with their elected officials, and both parties will need to dial back the rhetoric and improve the quality of potential candidates to restore public confidence in our system of government in advance of the looming 2024 presidential election cycle.
Political unity and bipartisanship matter more than ever, but as we have already seen at the beginning of this 118th Congress, they will be difficult to achieve. A new era of gridlocked government in Washington, with bitter stalemates over legislation and critical fiscal issues, is expected.
Against this uncertain backdrop, our Governmental Affairs team will continue to communicate with the administration, new and returning members of Congress, and agency officials to advocate for ABA legislative priorities and on issues important to the legal profession. The ABA Board of Governors will vote on the association’s priorities for this new two-year Congress on Feb. 3rd at the 2023 ABA Midyear Meeting, and the Governmental Affairs team will post them online.