The 117th Congress began Jan. 3, and two topics are dominating lawmakers’ attention in the first week of the new session: a special election that will decide Senate control and certification of Electoral College votes.
On Tuesday, residents of Georgia will vote in a special election for two Senate seats. The outcome of the contests will determine which party controls the Senate. If both Democratic candidates succeed, the Senate will be split 50–50 between the two parties. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who would then be vice president, would provide tie-breaking votes to give Democrats control of the chamber. At least one Republican victory in the special election will ensure Republicans maintain control of the Senate for the next two years.
Both the House and Senate on Wednesday must certify Electoral College votes to declare Joe Biden and Harris as president-elect and vice president-elect, respectively. Republicans in both chambers have indicated they will challenge the vote certifications. While this will not impact the outcome of the certification, it will delay what has historically been a noncontroversial procedural task because Congress will have to recess to debate the challenges. Media reports indicate this process could extend into the late hours of Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was re-elected speaker of the House by a narrow vote of 216–209. The chamber also adopted new rules and procedures, including continuing to allow remote voting by proxy in response to COVID-19.
Veto Override, Last-Minute Spending Bill Wrap up 2020
There was no shortage of activity leading up to the new Congress. In the waning days of 2020, both the House and Senate voted to override a presidential veto of the annual defense authorization bill. This is the first veto override during President Donald Trump’s term.
After Congress on Dec. 23 passed a critical year-end spending and COVID-19 relief bill, Trump expressed hesitation to sign the legislation because it did not include $2,000 individual stimulus payments (the legislation instead included $600 individual payments, a compromise to ensure Republican support). The Democrat-controlled House subsequently voted on supplemental legislation to increase the payments to $2,000, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not pass the supplement. After a tense standoff, the president on Dec. 27 signed the legislation without increased payments, narrowly averting a government shutdown during a public health and economic crisis.