Lawmakers Hold Congressional Leadership Elections

Lawmakers returned to Washington last week, where dozens of newly elected members attended freshman orientation on Capitol Hill and lawmakers elected leaders for the 116th Congress. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) was re-elected as the leader of the Senate Democrats. Dick Durbin (DIll.) will continue to serve as the party’s whip, and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) will continue to serve as assistant Democratic leader. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) will lead the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) will continue serving as vice chairs of the conference. Schumer stated last week that lowering health care costs and improving coverage will be the top priority of Democrats in the 116th Congress.

Senate Republicans reelected Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). John Thune (R-S.D.) was picked as the number two Republican and GOP whip. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) will serve as Senate Republican Conference Chairman, Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) will be the Policy Committee Chairman, and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) was elected vice chairwoman of the GOP conference. Current House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) defeated co-founder of the Freedom Caucus Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in a race to lead House Republicans next year as the Minority Leader. McCarthy will succeed Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who did not run for reelection, as the top Republican in the House. The vote was 159-43. Current Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) was elected Minority Whip. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) was elected GOP Conference Vice Chairman, and Jason Smith (R-Mo.) will continue serving as GOP Conference Secretary. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) was elected as Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Gary Palmer (R-Ala.) will serve as GOP Policy Committee Chairman.

Leadership elections for House Democrats are scheduled to be held November 28. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the leading candidate for Speaker of the House, though she is facing tougher than expected resistance. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) is considering a challenge.

Committee Leaders Reveal Agendas for 2019

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who is in line to become the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee for the 116th Congress, stated last week that his top priorities will be allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices and speeding the approval of less-expensive generic drugs. Pallone noted his support for the CREATES Act, in particular. CREATES would prohibit alleged tactics used by branded drug companies that prevent or delay generic competition from coming to market. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) announced her bid for chairmanship of the Health Subcommittee last week. Her priorities would include strengthening health insurance consumer protections, reducing the cost of health care and prescription drugs, and strengthening the Medicare and Medicaid programs.

Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who is set to chair the House ways and Means Committee next Congress, has said that his number one priority for the panel will be a vote on a bill to reinforce the ACA’s protections for preexisting conditions. While it is not yet clear what such a bill would entail, members met last week to discuss the legislation. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) or Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) are the two most likely candidates for chairing the Health Subcommittee.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced his decision to step down as chairman of the SenateJudiciary Committee, a post he has held since 2015, to lead the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley has said that he is looking forward to working on economic issues and reforming health care. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is expected to be elected to lead the Judiciary Committee.

Trump Nominates OIRA Official for DC Circuit Court

President Trump has nominated Neomi Rao to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit left by Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The D.C. Circuit is regarded as one of the most important in the nation due to its consideration of most administrative law cases. Rao currently serves at the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The office reviews all significant agency rules and enforces the White House’s regulatory policies. Rao has enforced the President’s deregulatory agenda during her time at OIRA, requiring agencies to take two deregulatory actions for every new rule issued. She was formerly a constitutional and administrative law professor, associate White House counsel under George W. Bush, and clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. The Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on her nomination before the Senate holds a confirmation vote.

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