If ever Congress needed a fresh start, that time is now.
After an acrimonious debate over how to resolve the fiscal cliff and a much-derided decision not to immediately move ahead with a Hurricane Sandy relief bill, Capitol Hill is ready for something new.
And the complexion of Congress will certainly be different once the members of the 113th Congress are sworn in today. As ABC's Sunlen Miller reported, the Senate will have a record-breaking 20 female senators - 4 Republicans and 16 Democrats. There will also be 81 women in the House of Representatives.
The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe and Rosalind S. Helderman note a number of other firsts:
"For the first time, a Hindu, Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), will take office in the House. And Hawaii's Mazie Hirono (D) will become the first Buddhist senator. The first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), will be seated, as well as the first openly bisexual member of either chamber, incoming congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)." http://wapo.st/UdBP19
After today, Republicans will still hold the majority over Democrats in the House - 233 to 200. And Democrats increased their majority slightly over Republicans in the Senate - 55 to 45.
And despite Congress' fresh start, lawmakers will be carrying a lot of baggage from the 112th. Namely, important unresolved fiscal conundrums, including what to do about the debt ceiling and the deep spending cuts to defense and other programs - debates that were only delayed by a couple of months by this week's deal to avert the "fiscal cliff."
Beyond that, the new Congress does not appear to herald a halcyon era of cooperation - or even communication - between the GOP leadership and the White House.
As The Hill's Russell Berman notes, Boehner "is signaling that at least one thing will change about his leadership during the 113th Congress: he's telling Republicans he is done with private, one-on-one negotiations with President Obama." http://bit.ly/UGUTlZ
ABC's AMY WALTER: The first day of a new Congress is usually a day of great expectations. Like the first day of school, everyone starts with fresh pencils and a clean slate. This year, however, the new members walk into the middle of a drama that is well underway. How will the newest members of Congress respond to the latest instance of congressional dysfunction? Will they follow the already developed plot line or will they try and write a new chapter?
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Here's guessing Chris Christie won't keynote any more Republican National Conventions - unless, of course, it's his own. Christie's typically colorful rant against Congress and his own party's leadership in Washington amounted to a declaration of independence - as if he needed one - not just from the GOP establishment but from politics as usual. The press conference had its immediate desired effect of forcing House Speaker John Boehner's hand when it comes to quick approval of Sandy aid. It also takes another step in setting up Christie as the go-to voice for anger and frustration at the way things are happening in politics these, a more powerful post even than that of governor.
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-TEA PARTY GROUP WANTS SECRET BALLOT FOR SPEAKER ELECTION. The country's largest Tea Party group, the Tea Party Patriots, announced today its call for a secret ballot in the House of Representatives as members elect the next Speaker. The group says it wants members to be able to "vote their conscience without fear of retribution from leadership." Jenny Beth Martin, national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said in a statement: "Through this 'fiscal cliff' crisis Congress has demonstrated once again its incapability of actually cutting government spending and preventing tax hikes. Republicans who stood on principle, and did not cave to political pressure instead should not be impeded from voting for a Speaker with whom they have confidence will help take the country in the right direction. The American people deserve nothing less than strong, conservative leadership. Members in the House must be able to vote for whom they think can stand firm for the principles they were elected to uphold, prevent the further erosion of the Constitution and slow the growth of government, without fear of retribution."
with ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)
INAUGURAL PLANS TAKE SHAPE. "While Washington probably won't see the record turnout from 2009, officials are planning for a bigger-than-average crowd for President Barack Obama's second inauguration," according to the Associated Press' Brett Zongker. "District of Columbia officials have pieced together early data projecting 600,000 to 800,000 people will crowd onto the National Mall on Jan. 21. That projection is based on past attendance and data such as current hotel and restaurant reservations and chartered bus permits. The National Park Service is making plans for crowds to spread across about 12 blocks of the National Mall, from the Capitol to 12th Street. The Metro transit system is making plans for a similar-size crowd, based on its past ridership. Transit officials say they will run the system at maximum capacity with peak rush-hour service for 17 hours on Inauguration Day, from 4 a.m. to 9 p.m. The inauguration is the biggest event every four years in the capital, followed by the annual July Fourth celebrations. The 2009 inauguration broke records when 1.8 million packed in shoulder-to-shoulder to see the first black president take the oath of office. The latest figures project a far lower attendance than in 2009, but more than President George W. Bush's second inauguration in 2005, when there were 300,000 to 400,000 people on the Mall…" http://apne.ws/135TgB9
SENATE INTEL LOOKING AT CIA, 'ZERO DARK THIRTY.' Reuters' Mark Hosenball reports: "After the Senate Intelligence Committee's chairwoman expressed outrage over scenes that imply "enhanced interrogations" of CIA detainees produced a breakthrough in the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the panel has begun a review of contacts between the makers of the film "Zero Dark Thirty" and CIA officials. In the latest controversy surrounding the film, Reuters has learned that the committee will examine records charting contacts between intelligence officials and the film's director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal. Investigators will examine whether the spy agency gave the filmmakers 'inappropriate' access to secret material, said a person familiar with the matter. They will also probe whether CIA personnel are responsible for the portrayal of harsh interrogation practices, and in particular the suggestion that they were effective, the person said. The intelligence committee's Democrats contend that is factually incorrect." http://reut.rs/WlJmG1
SEN. MARK KIRK TO CLIMB CAPITOL STEPS AS HE RETURNS FROM STROKE. ABC'S Arlette Saenz reports: Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., will walk up the steps of the Capitol Thursday morning as he returns to the Senate for the first time since he suffered a stroke early last year. Nearly one year ago, doctors determined Kirk suffered an ischemic stroke after finding a carotid artery dissection in the right side of his neck. Kirk underwent surgery to reduce swelling around his brain and has gone through rehabilitation over the past year. In an interview with the Daily Herald of suburban Chicago, Kirk said the idea of climbing those Capitol steps served as an inspiration for him during his recovery. "I kept imagining going back to work," Kirk told the Herald, "and the irreducible physical amount of effort I had to put in." http://abcn.ws/ZWDuLb
WHO NEEDS THE HOUSE GOP? After President Obama signed a fiscal cliff deal crafted in talks with Senate Republicans, not their House counterparts, The New York Times' Jonathan Weisman writes: "[N]egotiations over the fiscal impasse pointed to a new and unlikely path as more fiscal deadlines approach. In this case, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader and a veteran legislative dealmaker, initiated negotiations with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., which instigated talks between them and the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. That produced sweeping tax legislation that averted large tax increases for most Americans and across-the-board spending cuts. Then both Senate leaders worked hard to deliver the votes of a vast majority of their reluctant members, isolating House Republican leaders, who found themselves with no way forward other than to put the bill before the House and let Democrats push it over the finish line. 'I think this is the fourth time that we've seen this play out, where Boehner finally relents and lets the House consider a measure, and Democrats provide the votes to pass it,' said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat. 'When they reach the point where their hand is forced, where there's no other place to turn, they'll do the right thing.'" http://nyti.ms/WmZkja
THE FURY OF CHRIS CHRISTIE. The AP's Katie Zezima and Jeff Mulvhill sum up the governor's tirade/press conference: "Gov. Chris Christie's blunt talk has long been one of his hallmarks. But Christie, who has verbally tangled with many, showed Wednesday he's willing to aim his barbs at the highest echelons of his own party. In a State House news conference, Christie blasted Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio for delaying a vote on a $60 billion aid package for Superstorm Sandy recovery. 'Do your job and come through for the people of this country,' Christie pointedly said about Boehner. Harsh criticism of Boehner by elected officials in New York and New Jersey turned into a bipartisan affair Wednesday. But it was Christie's remarks that drew the most attention, both for what he said and his willingness, as a Republican with higher aspirations, to so forcefully take on Boehner and Congressional Republicans." http://abcn.ws/Umay7J
CHOICE CHRISTIE QUOTES. The Star Ledger's Matt Friedman has more quotes from Christie: "It's why the American people hate Congress" … Christie accused Boehner and other House Republicans of "duplicity" and of using suffering residents as "pawns on a chessboard" … "There's only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner." http://bit.ly/Wlfyth
SANDY FUNDING: HOW THE 112TH WILL BE REMEMBERED? The Washington Post's Dana Milbank writes: "The end-of-term reviews of John Boehner's House speakership are in, and they aren't pretty. … The spark: Boehner's last-minute decision to let the 112th Congress fade into history without a vote on the $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package for the Northeast. In a sense, this was an outrage, because such recovery bills traditionally pass without a fuss. But in another sense, it followed a familiar script: Tea party Republicans balked at taking up the spending bill (it had enough votes to pass), and because the tea party rules the House GOP, Boehner obeyed rather than risk his reelection as speaker on Thursday. The Sandy sidestep provided a perfect coda for the first two years of this Republican-controlled House, which only by a loose definition can still be called a legislative body." http://wapo.st/Tywj6X
@robertcostaNRO: As he continues to rise as a national GOP player, Rubio hires 2 former Romney advisers for his DC staff http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/content/rubio-adds-two-staffers-washington-office …