Democrats rush to pass legislation before Republicans take control of House

Back from the Thanksgiving holiday, the Democratic-controlled Congress is up against a ticking clock. There are now just five weeks until Republicans take over the majority in the House of Representatives. There’s a long list of priorities lawmakers are trying to pass before the end of the year. Congressional Correspondent Lisa Desjardins reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Back from the Thanksgiving holiday, the Democratic-controlled Congress is up against a ticking clock. There are just five weeks until Republicans take over the majority in the House of Representatives and there is a long list of priorities that lawmakers are trying to pass before the end of the year.

    Our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins, is here to walk us through it all.

    So, hello, Lisa. A lot to be watching right now.

    We know, tonight, potentially historic movement on an important issue. Tell us where we are.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We're talking about same-sex marriage.

    And let's go right to the Senate floor, where the Senate is now in the midst of passing a bill that would essentially codify same-sex marriages that are recognized by any state. Now, I want to talk about this bill. It does need 60 votes .It is expected to get 60 votes in coming minutes.

    Let's talk about exactly what this bill does and does not do. First of all, this would mean that states, every state must recognize same-sex and international marriages that are recognized in any state. Any state that licenses such a marriage must be recognized everywhere.

    However, it does not mean there would be a national right to same-sex marriage. Essentially, this would be the same effect as, say, the Dobbs decision for abortion. However, we know that same-sex marriage right now has been found constitutional. It's a constitutional right under current Supreme Court law.

    But it is not clear. Some are worried that the Supreme Court may change that and reverse that right, as it did with Roe vs. Wade. So this idea for this bill is to protect same-sex marriages in states where that is recognized.

    I will say, when that Obergefell decision was made and same-sex marriage was deemed a national right, 35 states had laws on the books that meant same-sex marriage was not allowed there. So this is something that for a very large group of Americans is concerning, and Congress is moving on it tonight.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, a lot going on. We call this the lame-duck session, but it's actually a very busy, jam-packed period of time, as we were suggesting, including some big deadlines, including that railway strike issue.

    Tell us where we are with that.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This is an incredibly juicy lame-duck, to be a little bit cheesy about it.

    But there are very high-stakes issues here. We are just over a week away from a potential deadline that could cause a national railway strike. Today, President Biden called the four top leaders in Congress to the White House to talk about this and other issues. You can see there they were, the White House decorated, but this — all of them have very serious faces.

    All of those leaders left saying that they are serious about passing something to either extend the deadline for this strike for negotiators or to force negotiators into a deal, a kind of beginning deal that they set earlier.

    Now, here's what we heard specifically from President Biden about that.

    Joe Biden, President of the United States: There's a lot to do, including resolving the train strike and the train — the — what we're doing now. And Congress, I think, has to act to prevent it. It's not an easy call, but I think we have to do it. The economy's at risk.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, the will from leadership is there, Judy. But this is going to be a very heavy lift in the Senate, where this kind of idea of, trying to avert a strike, would need 60 votes, and we'd need it by next week.

    Senator Bernie Sanders, among others, is someone who thinks that perhaps workers should get a better deal. He's holding out for a vote on an idea that he has. I talked to him today. Also, some moderate Republicans who are needed, like Senator Susan Collins, I talked to her today. She's not sure that she thinks Congress should have to get involved. She thinks that the White House made a mistake here. So we're going to watch that carefully.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And then the last thing I want to ask you about, Lisa, is something that matters a lot. It's funding the government. That's money that's running out. And the clock is ticking, as we said.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Oh, they have a whole two-and-a-half weeks to try and fund government.

    Usually, that's actually a lot of time, Judy. But in this case, lawmakers are behind and getting things together. They haven't even agreed yet on basics, like, how much should government spend? So they have a lot to do in just a couple of weeks. And there are a lot of decisions to be made, in particular about whether to have another short-term deal for maybe a week or so or a couple of months.

    Maybe they kick this to January. Or do they try and finish the whole year's funding now. Here is incoming House — the current House Republican leader, Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to be House speaker in January, talking about that perhaps he doesn't want a full deal right now. Here's what he said today.

  • Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):

    I'm not going to sit back and let some bill pass in the middle of the night. I'm not going to let them continue to do this runaway spending.

    I'm not going to let them continue to ignore the challenges that we have in America when it comes to our energy policy, our border policy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    These dynamics are complicated. He doesn't run the House yet.

    However, he has a lot of votes there. And he also has sway with Republicans potentially in the Senate. So, all of these groups have to agree on some kind of large appropriations bill or a short-term deal very quickly.

    And, Judy, on top of all of that, let's just look at the calendar.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Everything that's ahead of us coming up.

    First of all, one of those deadlines I mentioned, December 9, that is the deadline to avoid a railway strike. Then, just a week after that, December 16, that is the deadline for the government funding bill. It needs to be passed by then.

    Now, December 15, the day right before, that's the last day the House is supposed to meet for the year. They don't have any time after that on the schedule. And then, of course, as mentioned just a couple of weeks after that, January 3 is when the new Congress is set to begin.

    And, oh, Judy, I haven't even talked about electoral account reform. There's a land bill. Some folks are talking about immigration. This is a very wild lame-duck session ahead of us. We're going to be talking about it a lot.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, nobody's better equipped to cover it than Lisa Desjardins.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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