4 Things to Watch as Republicans Take Control of 115th Congress

Congress is back in session today with an ambitious agenda.

ByBenjamin Siegel
January 03, 2017, 1:13 PM

— -- Republicans return to Washington this week with ambitious, conservative plans for the country’s health care system and tax code, and aim to roll back many of President Obama’s executive actions and his environmental legacy.

But while they prepare for Donald Trump’s administration, Republicans must also guide his Cabinet picks through confirmation in the Senate, and address persistent calls to investigate Russia’s alleged role in the 2016 election.

As Republicans map out their most conservative agenda in decades, here are four areas to watch in Washington this year:


For years, Republicans have promised a repeal and replacement of Obamacare. Now, with control of Capitol Hill and the White House for the first time since 2006, they must navigate the dismantling of Obama’s signature health care law without disrupting coverage for millions of Americans.

They’re planning to pair a quick vote to repeal major elements of Obamacare with a plan to phase out the provisions over several years, giving Republicans time to craft their replacement plan.

While Trump and some Republican leaders agree on keeping several basic elements of Obamacare – such as pre-existing coverage and allowing children to stay on their parents’ health care until they turn 26 – the party has not coalesced around a single GOP blueprint to replace the law.

For their part, Democrats are vowing to fight any major changes, and will discuss defending the law with Obama on Capitol Hill Wednesday.


Congress will also take aim at executive actions and regulations of the Obama years, beginning today, the first day of the 115th Congress.

The House and Senate are expected to quickly take up a bill from Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., that would give Congress oversight over major executive actions. The REINS Act, which has been previously introduced and passed by the House, has never had the support of the commander in chief.

Under the proposal, Congress would have to sign off on any new major regulations.

Speaking Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week," incoming White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Trump plans to “repeal a lot of the regulations and actions that have been taken by this administration” after he takes the oath of office.

Members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus have also put together a list of more than 200 actions Trump can immediately repeal, including environmental regulations and school lunch nutrition standards championed by first lady Michelle Obama.

Russia and the Election

Democrats and a handful of prominent Republicans are calling for aggressive congressional review of alleged Russian hacking in the 2016 election, which Trump has repeatedly downplayed in the weeks after the election.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has scheduled a Thursday hearing with top intelligence officials on foreign cyberthreats, with a focus on Russia’s actions.

McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., have advocated for a new bipartisan investigation of alleged Russian activity, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., want the committees of jurisdiction to continue their own closed-door probes.

While many lawmakers support beefing up sanctions against Russia, Trump has dismissed the potential action, setting up a potential clash with his own party on Capitol Hill. “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said in a recent statement.

The president-elect says he plans to meet with intelligence officials to discuss the issue later this week.

Confirmations and Supreme Court

Trump’s Cabinet nominees will face resistance from Senate Democrats in their confirmation hearings later this month. Democrats plan to target eight of Trump’s picks and slow down their confirmation unless the nominees provide Congress with more background information, according to a senior Democratic aide.

“Any attempt by Republicans to have a series of rushed, truncated hearings before inauguration day and before the Congress and public have adequate information on all of them is something Democrats will vehemently resist,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement. “If Republicans think they can quickly jam through a whole slate of nominees without a fair hearing process, they’re sorely mistaken.”

Among the nominees Democrats say they will focus their efforts on: ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, Trump’s pick for secretary of state; Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., his pick for health and human services secretary; and Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs banker whom Trump has named his pick for treasury secretary.

Trump will also have to fill the vacant Supreme Court seat left open by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, along with a slew of openings on the federal bench. He released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees during the campaign, which was well received by conservatives.

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