Heading into the new year, House Democrats unveiled their plan to end the partial government shutdown — a series of bills they plan to vote on Thursday evening after officially taking control of the House with the start of the new, 116th Congress.
Notably missing from the legislation: President Donald Trump’s demand for billions of dollars in border wall funding.
After meetings Wednesday at the White House, Republican lawmakers called the Democrats’ proposal a non-starter, a sign the shutdown could drag on for several more days, if not longer.
In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of government workers from nine federal agencies have been furloughed from their jobs.
Shutdown aside, there are several other items on Democrats’ agenda. Here’s what to expect as the new Congress convenes today.
Pelosi takes the gavel again.
On top of the chamber’s to-do list today was the final vote for speaker. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was elected as the new speaker in a 220-192 vote.
Pelosi had spent weeks shoring up support in the House Democratic caucus after the midterms. That involved Pelosi making concessions, such as agreeing to limit her term as speaker to no more than four additional years.
Once Pelosi released a statement saying she was “comfortable” with the plan, a handful of Democrats who originally opposed her return as speaker agreed to back her for the role, which Pelosi previously held from 2007 to 2011.
After the vote, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. handed the gavel to Pelosi. In her first speech as new House speaker, Pelosi said the American people “demanded a new dawn.”
Video by PBS NewsHour
The new Senate, where Republicans have retained the majority, also convened today.
Republicans will have a 53-47 majority in the upper chamber, which will include some new faces including 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who will be sworn in as the junior senator from Utah. Sen. Mitch McConnell was re-elected as Senate majority leader in November.
Democrats will vote on legislation to end the shutdown
Later Thursday, Democrats will vote on their legislation to end the shutdown.
The House will hold two separate votes:
- Six spending bills. This package includes a handful of appropriation bills that will fund several agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, that are closed because of the shutdown. The funding would run through the rest of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.
- A stopgap measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 8, including $1.3 billion for border security. This does not include money for Trump’s border wall.
The plan won’t draw much support from House Republicans. But if it passes the House on a largely party-line vote, as expected, it would place more pressure on Senate Republicans to act. If GOP lawmakers reject the larger bill without border security funding, they’ll be “complicit with President Trump in continuing the Trump shutdown and in holding the health and safety of the American people and workers’ paychecks hostage over the wall,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. said in a joint statement Monday.
Still, it’s unclear how the votes Thursday will change the calculus on both sides, or if it will bring lawmakers closer to striking a deal. After a meeting on border security at the White House on Wednesday, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders remained in disagreement about how to proceed, as the shutdown continued into its second week.
Trump said the shutdown would continue for “as long as it takes” until Democrats agreed to his $5.6 billion border wall plan. McCarthy said he hoped to see a Democratic counter-offer on border wall funding Friday.
Pelosi has called the border wall “immoral” and an ineffective way to protect the border, and has so far offered no signs publicly that she would back down and agree to Trump’s demands.
The “Gephardt Rule” and other rule changes
Every two years, the majority party in the House drafts new rules that set the tone for how the chamber is governed for the remainder of the congressional session. Ahead of the new year, Democrats outlined what procedures they wanted to approve.
Among the changes is the resurrection of the so-called “Gephardt Rule,” a parliamentary rule first introduced in 1979 that automatically raises the debt ceiling — the country’s absolute limit on borrowing — whenever the House passed a budget. Under House Republicans in recent years, standoffs over the debt ceiling became a common point of contention.
The change would ostensibly diminish the threat of the U.S. defaulting on its loans in the future, Democrats say.
Other changes include strengthening ethics rules, the creation of a committee to address climate change, and allowing House lawmakers to wear religious headwear in the chamber, NPR reported.
The rules package also includes a requirement that new government spending be offset by increases in revenue or budget cuts. The rule, known as “Paygo,” faces opposition from some House Democrats who argue it makes it harder to boost spending on health care and other issues.