Chamber will dive Jan. 3 into votes for the speakership and a rules package, before certifying the presidential election Jan. 6

WASHINGTONThe House will begin the new session of Congress with an important to-do list: swearing in new members, electing a speaker in the House, defining the rules of the new Congress and certifying the results of the presidential election.Democrats will have little wiggle room, with a margin of just a few votes as Republicans push to stop the majoritys plans.SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
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Underscoring the sense of urgency, the House and Senate will start the session on a Sunday, for the first time on record. The Constitution dictates that Congress starts on Jan. 3, but in the past when the day has fallen on the weekend, lawmakers have come to an agreement to move the date to start during the workweek. But this year, Democrats wanted to start as early as possible, with the certification of
Joe Bidens
election win set for Jan. 6 and Democrats wanting to avoid any recess appointments by President Trump, which could occur if there is any gap between sessions.
House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi
(D., Calif.) has been shoring up support to be able to carry a majority of those voting on the House floor when Congress comes back. Democrats have 222 seats to Republicans 211, with two races uncalled, making getting the 218 votes necessary tough. More than 40 lawmakers have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and Democrats dont want to further dent their majority if members fall ill.
Mrs. Pelosi faced no opposition within her party to remain the leader. But she will need to hold most of her caucus together as she seeks approval from the full House.
In 2018, 15 Democratic lawmakers, including one who is now a Republican, voted present or for someone other than Mrs. Pelosi on the floor. At least 10 of those Democrats are expected to come back in the next Congress, with one race in New York disputed. Some, like Reps.
Jason Crow
(D., Colo.) and
Jim Cooper
(D., Tenn.), plan to back Mrs. Pelosi for speaker in the new Congress. Rep. Jared Golden (D., Maine) plans to oppose Mrs. Pelosi for speaker. Others havent said whether their vote has changed.
House Democratic leaders are urging lawmakers to stay safe over the holiday break to ensure they can return to Congress at the start of the new session, as the party guards its narrow majority amid the nationwide Covid-19 resurgence.
What we want to make sure is that people in these next few weeks take great care to follow the best medical and scientific advice in how they conduct themselves, said House Rules Committee Chairman
Jim McGovern
(D., Mass.). I know it cramps everybodys style on the holidays, but celebrate Christmas in June if you have to.
While Mrs. Pelosi has expressed no concern about the vote, party leadership has stressed the importance of appearing in person, as proxy voting will expire with the current Congress and will need to be re-established by an in-person vote of the new Congress. The vote will likely be on partisan lines because Republicans are disputing the rule change in court.
House Minority Leader
Kevin McCarthy
(R., Calif.) has called proxy voting an unconstitutional power grab and Republicans argue that it violates the Constitutions quorum requirement.
Our leadership has asked us, please dont do this, we dont want to jeopardize our legal case here and we dont agree with it anyway, said
Rep. Tom Cole,
the top Republican on the rules panel, of the vote to re-establish proxy voting.
On Jan. 6, lawmakers will convene for a joint session of the House and Senate to count Electoral College votes and declare the winner of the presidential election. The process also allows a lawmaker to object to the returns from any state as they are announced. Should a senator and a House lawmaker submit such a protest in writing, the two chambers will consider the objection.
Several House Republicans have said they plan to object, which is another reason House Democrats say they want everyone in placeto be able to defeat any objection that should arise.
Democratic lawmakers are also pushing to change the rules on a procedural maneuver that the GOP minority has used repeatedly to put vulnerable Democrats in a tough spot. Known as the motion to recommit, it is a last-minute vote that can change a bill before its final passage.
Republicans have successfully won eight efforts to amend bills, such as adding a requirement to notify immigration officials when an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun through the national background-checks system in the bill expanding background checks for gun purchases passed last year. Democrats used the same tool when they were in the minority, but were less successful.
Rep. Stephanie Murphy
(D., Fla.) and 19 other Democrats sent a letter to their leadership asking them to change the rules to require a two-thirds majority to pass a motion to recommit, instead of the simple majority. Republicans oppose the change. Democratic leaders haven’t yet commented on whether they will change the rule.
The first day is generally one full of cheers as lawmakers are sworn in, the speaker is selected and the chamber votes on a rules package. Ceremonial photos are taken, as well as selfies on the House floor during the brief period before new rules are adopted banning the use of cameras on the floor. But in this Congress, celebrations will be replaced by masks and other safety measures.
Instead of 435 House lawmakers raising a hand and taking the oath together, lawmakers will be sworn in by small groups because of social distancing. They will then vote in clusters, as has become protocol during the pandemic. Mr. McGovern has been warning lawmakers to be ready to wait and said it may mean that the traditional votes stretch into two days.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that swearing in will take place on Jan. 3, but he didnt offer any details.
The often jovial affair that welcomes children onto the House floor and families into the gallery will be more somber: Only the new incoming House members will be allowed a guest, and they are allowed one ticket.
My husband gets the ticket, said incoming Iowa GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson. Her family will be with her in Washington, but she also plans to celebrate later when it is safer to do so.
Write to Natalie Andrews at
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