GOP Congress storms into Trump era

© Provided by The Hill. GOP Congress storms into Trump era
Republican-controlled Congress to be sworn in on Tuesday

Congressional Republicans are returning to Washington on Tuesday with high hopes for a new era under President-Elect Donald Trump.

GOP lawmakers are eager to start work on an ambitious legislative agenda after gaining control of both Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade.

Though many congressional Republicans tepidly embraced Trump during the campaign, they're increasingly optimistic that they'll be able to work with him to pass big-ticket items like tax reform that have been non-starters during the Obama years.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of House leadership, said his Republican colleagues were "almost giddy" about the new session that's beginning.

"[Trump's] really reached out to Congress in the transition," he said. "We've got so much more favorable relationship with the new administration. ...We know if we can get things to the president's desk that they'll be signed."

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) echoed those remarks, telling a local radio station that Republican lawmakers are "beside ourselves" with excitement.

The era of good feeling is spilling over into the upper chamber, where GOP senators will be responsible for clearing Trump's Cabinet nominees as well as approving his pick to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court seat.

GOP Sen. David Perdue (Ga.) called the first 100 days - long used as a yardstick for presidential achievement - "an enormous moment of opportunity."

"It's time for bold changes that will get our economy growing again, and get Americans working again," Perdue wrote in an op-ed outlining priorities for Congress and Trump.

Republican lawmakers have been preaching unity with Trump since a surprise election sweep handed them the White House and Congress.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) - who never publicly campaigned with Trump - set the tone, declaring to reporters: "Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government."

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled the same message recently, saying he has a "terrific relationship" with the president-elect and predicting that 2017 will yield major legislative achievements.

Though Trump won't be sworn in until Jan. 20, Republican leadership aren't waiting until the inauguration to get their agenda in motio

They'll hit the ground running this week, laying the groundwork for a long-promised repeal of ObamaCare.

Cole said the decision to make ObamaCare the first item on the new Congress's agenda is important for the legislative process, but has a symbolic meaning as well.

"The fight against ObamaCare probably built the modern Republican majority," he said. "[Also] frankly we think it's in a death spiral."

The Senate is expected to move first on instructions that will allow for Congress to roll back the Affordable Care Act, with a House vote expected next week, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

"We will move right after the first of the year on an ObamaCare replacement resolution and then we will work expeditiously to come up with a better proposal than current law, because current law is not sustainable," McConnell told reporters, laying out the 2017 agenda.

GOP lawmakers in both chambers also point to tax reform and regulatory reform as top priorities for 2017. The two areas, they argue, would help bolster economic growth, and would also allow Republicans to rack up legislative victories in the early part of Trump's administration.

"This is a really important two years," Cole said. "You can't afford to fumble the ball in the first quarter."

Republicans could try to go it alone on tax reform, though they would have a narrow window to get the measure through the Senate. GOP lawmakers are signaling they will use reconciliation, a procedural shortcut allowing them to clear legislation with only 50 votes, to overhaul the tax code.

House and Senate Republicans have also identified regulations Trump could roll back on day one without help from Congress, as well as rules from Obama that they could reverse legislatively.

"There are procedural means by which we can basically repeal those regulations, going back to last summer, using something called the Congressional Review Act, so you'll see a lot of action there," Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said during a conference call with local reporters.

The Senate is also expected to start confirmation hearings on Trump's Cabinet nominees as soon as the week of Jan. 8, with Republicans hoping to be able to confirm some of his picks on the first day of the new administration.

Democrats are pledging to use the media frenzy surrounding the confirmation hearings to try and buttonhole Trump's picks and air lingering concerns about the president-elect. But they'll face an uphill battle to stop any of the nominations, as they will need only a simple majority for Senate confirmation.

Trump's Cabinet picks have mostly gone over well with congressional Republicans, fueling their optimism about the next four years.

He's named five sitting lawmakers to his administration, as well as Elaine Chao, the wife of McConnell, to be his Transportation secretary.

Despite Republicans efforts to sync with the incoming administration, there's likely to be intra-party tension in the months ahead.

In addition to a looming split over Russia, Sen. Rand Paul is threatening to vote against any budget that doesn't balance, potentially throwing plans to repeal ObamaCare into limbo.

The Kentucky Republican floated that heading into the new Congress he does "have a little bit of leverage here."

Senate GOP leadership can only afford to lose two Republican senators before they would either need to flip Democrats or have the vice president break a 50-50 tie.

That means Congress' work on repealing ObamaCare could be delayed until after the inauguration, when Vice President-elect Mike Pence would replace Vice President Joe Biden and be able to break a Senate split.

"We'll see in the next couple of weeks are they willing to negotiate. Right now I think there's at least two of us that are saying no," Paul told FreedomWorks in a recent interview. "So they don't have the power to do what they want without my vote."


The Note: Day One for the 115th Congress



INAUGURATION COUNTDOWN: 17 days

NOTABLES

--HOUSE REPUBLICANS EFFECTIVELY GUT ETHICS WATCHDOG: Late last night, House Republicans voted to put the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under control of the chamber's Ethics Committee -- a move that Democrats slammed just hours before the new Congress is sworn in. The language limits the reviews that can be conducted as well as the time frame in which alleged violations can be considered, reports ABC's TOM LIDDY. It also prohibits the board of the new office from employing a press spokesperson. And it stipulates that if criminal violations are uncovered that they'll be sent to the Ethics Committee first. The new U.S. House will vote on the new rules this afternoon. http://abcn.ws/2j2uZ0b

--HOW BOTH SIDES ARE RESPONDING: "Republicans claim they want to ‘drain the swamp,’ but the night before the new Congress gets sworn in, the House GOP has eliminated the only independent ethics oversight of their actions," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. "Evidently, ethics are the first casualty of the new Republican Congress." Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who offered the amendment, said in a tweet that it "strengthens" the OCE, "improves upon due process rights" and "does nothing to impede OCE's work." And on "Good Morning America" this morning, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said she hadn't spoken with Trump directly about the issue, but "there's been an over-zealousness in some of the processes over the years" but insisted that “gutting it doesn’t mean there won’t be a mechanism” to investigate ethics allegations. U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on MSNBC this morning that he didn't think it was the "right time" for a controversial change to the chamber's independent ethics watchdog, but said he still plans to vote in favor of the rules package this afternoon. "I didn't think it was the right time to do it. I personally believe most of these reforms are bipartisan-supported reforms," he told the hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" this morning.

--ANALYSIS -- ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Swamp status? Murky, icky, and growing deeper. The first official actions of the Republican Congress in the Trump era came late at night and behind closed doors on a federal holiday. Even before getting to work on taking apart Obamacare, Republican lawmakers in the House moved to dismantle the ethics-reform regime put in by Democrats a decade ago – enacted after they took control from the scandal-plagued Abramoff-era GOP. What happened late Monday not something leadership is going to want to talk about: The independent Office of Congressional Ethics will now be put under the control of a congressional committee, and will be prohibited from taking anonymous tips and publishing its findings. (The office will be explicitly barred from employing “any person for a position involving communications with the public.”) There are, no doubt, high-minded arguments to be had about members’ due process in the ethics process. But would any member of Congress like to argue in public that ethics enforcement has been too aggressive in recent years? Would Donald Trump like to make that argument? This becomes an early test for Trump: He’s found time to Tweet about the cover photo used in a campaign book, not to mention false reports that he actually won the popular vote. Will he take an early stand on his promise to “drain the swamp,” even if that means clashing with rank-and-file Republicans on Capitol Hill?

--FROM TRUMP'S TWITTER THIS MORNING: 7:51 AM: The Democrat Governor.of Minnesota said "The Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) is no longer affordable!" - And, it is lousy healthcare. 7:46 AM: "People must remember that ObamaCare just doesn't work, and it is not affordable - 116% increases (Arizona). Bill Clinton called it "CRAZY"" 7:30 AM: "General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to U.S. car dealers-tax free across border. Make in U.S.A.or pay big border tax!"

--DAY ONE FOR THE 115TH CONGRESS: Today, 52 freshmen in the U.S. House and seven new members of the U.S. Senate will take the oath of office for the first time as the 115th session of Congress is seated, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON reports. The 114th Congress will meet briefly at 11 a.m. to wrap up that session of Congress and adjourn sine die. The new Congress will get underway at noon. After a roll call establishes a quorum of members present in the House chamber, lawmakers will pray and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Then Paul Ryan is expected to be reelected by a majority of Members to his first full term as Speaker of the House. The 115th Congress will then vote on its new rules package, including controversial changes to their ethics rules.

--ON THE CALENDAR FOR TOMORROW: Senior sources confirm to ABC News that Vice President-elect Pence will be on Capitol Hill Wednesday to meet with House Republicans. Pence's meetings will focus on the incoming White House agenda, including repealing and replacing Obamacare.

SPEED READ with ABC’s ADAM KELSEY

TRUMP TO NOMINATE ROBERT LIGHTHIZER AS U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE. President-elect Donald Trump officially says he intends to nominate Robert Lighthizer as United States Trade Representative, reports ABC's KATHERINE FAULDERS. The Cabinet-level post will likely play a crucial role in the upcoming Trump administration, as the President-elect campaigned on renegotiating trade deals with China and Mexico and opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. "Ambassador Lighthizer served under President Ronald Reagan as Deputy United States Trade Representative, playing a major role in developing trade policy for the Reagan Administration and negotiating roughly two dozen bilateral international agreements on a variety of topics from steel to grain. These agreements were uniformly tough and frequently resulted in significant reductions in the shipment of unfairly traded imports into the United States," said a transition team statement.

KELLYANNE CONWAY SAYS TRUMP 'NOT MAKING POLICY AT THE MOMENT' ON NORTH KOREA TWEET. Donald Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said this morning that while the president-elect is putting North Korea "on notice," he’s also "not making policy at the moment" regarding his tweet that North Korea will not be able to develop a nuclear weapon capable of reaching the United States. Trump's tweet referred to the annual New Year's address given by North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-un, in which he said that his country is in the "final stages" of preparing an intercontinental ballistic missile, reports ABC's MICHAEL HAYDEN. North Korea has previously conducted several medium and long-range missile tests, and has been rebuked in the past by U.S. leaders for its nuclear ambitions. Conway categorized Trump's remarks as a warning to North Korea against pursuing such ambitions, which she said "could be deployed to reach Seattle almost immediately," according to unnamed experts. "The president of the United States will stand between them and missile capabilities," Conway said of North Korea. http://abcn.ws/2j3ZIdo

TRUMP ON WHETHER HE THOUGHT HE WOULD LOSE OR WIN ELECTION. Donald Trump is pushing back against "media outlets" and "pundits" that he said he was going to lose the election, but one person may disagree with that assertion -- Donald Trump. "Various media outlets and pundits say that I thought I was going to lose the election. Wrong, it all came together in the last week and.....I thought and felt I would win big, easily over the fabled 270 (306). When they cancelled fireworks, they knew, and so did I," Trump tweeted last night, reports ABC's TOM LIDDY. But in Wisconsin last month, during a leg of his "Thank You" tour, he appeared to give the opposite impression, recounting a lengthy discussion he had with his wife on election night. "But anyway - so I got the bad news from my daughter," he told the crowd in West Allis. "And I said, that's too bad. So I go and see my wife. I said baby, I tell you what. We're not going to win tonight because the polls have come out...It's just looking bad, but you know what, I'm okay with it because of the fact that I couldn't have worked any harder." http://abcn.ws/2j2EE7d

DONALD TRUMP IS NO 'EMAIL PERSON' BUT 'KNOWS THINGS ABOUT HACKING.' Although Donald Trump said this weekend that he knows “things that other people don’t know” about email hacking, he has also repeatedly admitted that he is “not an email person” and “almost never” sends it. Asked Saturday about the Russian hacking allegations, President-elect Trump continued to cast doubt on the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies. “If you look at the weapons of mass destruction, that was a disaster, and they were wrong. And so I want them to be sure,” Trump told reporters, apparently referring to U.S. intelligence.

WHO'S TWEETING?

@rickklein: Conway says there's been an "overzealousness" of congressional investigations under old regime. So, no Trump Tweet on topic? @GMA

@kfaulders: Welp. Trump's name did appear in the credits of the season premier of Celebrity Apprentice tonight...

@RepGoodlatte: Rules amdt approved by House GOP strengthens Office of Cong Ethics & improves upon due process rights. Does nothing to impede OCE’s work.

@matthewjdowd: Yes, washington dc fundamentally needs to change. Starting with better ethics, solid integrity, rebuilding trust, and more humility.


The new faces in the 115th Congress

The new 115th Congress is now in session, and Republicans are in control in the House, holding a majority of 241 to 194. Though the number of women drops by one in 2017, the House will still have more diversity in its ranks, having elected more African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans.

There are 55 new members -- here are a few of the freshman class:

Charlie Crist, D-Florida

He’s the former Republican governor who switched parties in 2010. Trailing Marco Rubio in the 2010 U.S. Senate race, Crist left the Republican party to pursue an independent bid for the seat. Rubio won anyway. Crist also ran for governor afterward but lost to incumbent Rick Scott. In the House, he’ll represent Florida’s 13th congressional district and will serve as a Democrat.

Val Demings, D-Florida

Also hailing from Florida is Val Demings, the former Orlando police chief, and the first woman to be named to head Orlando’s police department. This was her second run for Congress. She’ll represent the new 10th congressional district, which was formed by redistricting.

Stephanie Murphy, D-Florida

Stephanie Murphy is the first Vietnamese-American woman to serve in Congress, defeating 12-term incumbent Republican Rep. John Mica for the state’s 7th congressional district seat. Murphy’s parents fled Vietnam’s communist regime by boat when she was an infant. 

Brian Mast, R-Florida

One more from Florida -- Brian Mast is an Army veteran and double amputee who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan. He was a bomb technician serving in Kandahar, when, according to the New York Times, he stepped on a roadside bomb while crossing a bridge on a night in Sept. 2010. Mast will represent Florida’s 18th congressional district.

Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington

Pramila Jayapal, who will be filling the vacancy left by the retirement of Rep. Jim McDermott, is the first Indian-American woman elected to Congress. She previously served in Washington’s state senate.

Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming; Jimmy Panetta, D-California

Former Vice President Dick Cheney’s daughter won Wyoming’s only House seat, and Jimmy Panetta, son of former Defense Secretary and CIA Director Leon Panetta, will be representing CA-20.

The Senate is also seeing some new faces -- it, too, remains under Republican control, albeit with a slimmer majority of 52-48. The House may have seen its number of women diminish, but in the Senate, there will be a record number of 21 women -- 16 Democrats and five Republicans. A record number women of color will also be serving in the Senate -- four. 

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, is the first Thai-American elected to the Senate. Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran, is a double amputee who also served in the House. 

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, will be the first Latina Senator. Sen. Kamala Harris, the former California attorney general, is part African-American and part Indian-American, and she will be both the first Indian-American and the second African-American female senator elected to the Senate. These women join Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who immigrated to the U.S. from Japan as a child.

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