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What to watch on Congress’ first day back

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Your rundown of Day 1 of the 114th Congress
  • Boehner in jeopardy? Not exactly
  • The new Congress’ priorities
  • McDonnell faces up to 12 years in prison today

Welcome to the 114th Congress. How does this work exactly? Both the House and Senate, which will have a new majority leader in Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell, will gavel in for the new Congress at noon EST today. The chambers each begin with a prayer, but then have slightly different choreography. Short version: the Senate has many more steps, the House has more action.

The Senate, led by Vice President Joe Biden, will go through a 22-step process beginning with presentation of credentials and the swearing-in of senators. (It will take a few minutes — done in groups of four.) No photos, please. Those generally aren’t allowed in the chamber and will be taken at a for-the-cameras swearing-in down the hall in the Old Senate Chamber later.

Boehner’s not in jeopardy, but could lose the most in two decades: The House jumps right into a vote, an electronic vote to establish quorum. Next, a defining political moment — electing the Speaker of the House. That roll call vote, by voice, is expected around 12:45 p.m. EST. Members may vote for anyone of their choosing, include Americans who are not in Congress. By the way, House Speaker John Boehner is not in jeopardy of losing the gavel, though, as The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake reports, there could be more defections in a vote for speaker since 1923. There are anywhere from as few as 12 — which is how many he lost in 2013 and was the most in two decades — to two dozen conservative members, who might vote against him. Conservatives opponents are HOPING to get 29 votes against Boehner, because it would drop his votes to 217. That would require Boehner going to second ballot, which hasn’t happened in 92 years. (That would also be one fewer than the number needed to pass legislation.) But that scenario is unlikely to happen.

White House pushes Scalise flap: Another person who will be up for election is House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Over the holiday break, Scalise landed in some controversy with the revelation that he addressed a white supremacist group 12 years ago (about taxes, not apparently about race). Asked about Scalise Monday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said, “[T]here is no arguing that who Republicans decide to elevate into a leadership position says a lot about what the conference’s priorities and values are. I mean, ultimately, Mr. Scalise reportedly described himself as David Duke without the baggage. So it will be up to Republicans to decide what that says about their conference.”

Whilst watching the new faces, also pay attention to two significant seniority changes that come with the 114th.

New president pro-tem: As the longest-serving Republican (38 years), Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah will become the new president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and third in line to the presidency after the vice president and speaker of the house.

New dean of the House: At least when it comes to seniority, the House is not as partisan as the Senate. Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, with 50 years in office, will be the new dean of the House and is expected to administer the oath of office to the speaker-elect today.

So what will Congress get to work on immediately? Energy and health care. In the Senate, one of those 22 steps will be introduction of a bill on the Keystone Pipeline. The House is expected to address the 30-hour work week requirement to get health-care coverage and vote on Keystone Friday.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1919, former President Theodore Roosevelt died. Roosevelt was the first president to be awarded to Nobel Peace Prize, for brokering a peace deal between Japan and Russia. Which presidents have also earned this prize? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

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