Four major battles face Congress in 2023

WASHINGTON – The United States is headed for another era of divided government in the new year as Republicans prepare to claim control of the House of Representatives on January 3. Democrats want an expanded 51-seat Senate majority and control of the presidency.

As recent decades have shown, divided control of Congress can get messy in an era of rising partisanship and political ugliness. And the dynamics at the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue will set the stage for the 2024 presidential election.

Here are four battles looming on Capitol Hill this year.

A head of house battle

Can Kevin McCarthy win – or hold on to – the speaker’s gavel?

McCarthy, R-Calif., is facing a rebellion from a group of conservative flamethrowers vows to deny him the podium on Tuesday when the House takes its vote on the first floor of the new Congress.

If the rebels – led by Reps. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. — do their word, they could send the speaker’s vote to multiple votes for first time in a century.

McCarthy, who has led House Republicans in the minority for the past four years, won his party’s nomination for speaker in a closed-door, secret ballot in November. Actually he moved Biggs, 188-31, wins 85% of his GOP conference.

But he needs 218 votes on the floor to secure the speaker’s seat.

In a call with House Republicans on Sunday night, McCarthy outlined concessions he would be willing to make to get the hammer, including a rule change that would dilute the speaker’s power, according to CNN, who cited multiple sources on the call. The amendment would make it easier for rank-and-file members to oust a speaker in the middle of Congress, a key demand from members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who had withheld their support.

Still, nine House Republicans — current and future — said in a letter dated Sunday and obtained by NBC News that McCarthy had not yet done enough to earn their support.

On top of that, there is the smaller group of five”Never Kevin” that says they will not support McCarthy under any circumstances.

McCarthy can only afford a handful of GOP defectors because of the party’s razor-thin majority. McCarthy allies say the guerilla tactics by conservatives will only delay the new GOP majority in the House from getting off to a good start and launching investigations into the Biden administration — because the House can’t conduct any business until it elects a speaker.

Avoid government shutdowns

Even if the divided Congress leads to legislative gridlock, it will still need to keep the lights on. That will be no easy task: Republican-led houses have triggered shutdowns under the last two Democratic presidents. Will President Joe Biden be an exception?

McCarthy’s vehement objections to a bipartisan government funding bill just before the holidays shows that the House has very different priorities from Biden and the Senate. He has described funding bills as a means of forcing Democrats to swallow some conservative policy goals, such as tightening border controls and cutting long-term pension spending.

“The baseline is too high. The spending is too much. We have to cut spending,” McCarthy told reporters after a Dec. 21 meeting with Senate Republicans. “This would be an opportunity for us to get some security on our border – we’re missing out.”

Democratic leaders are in wait-and-see mode.

“It’s too early to judge what’s going to happen in the House. There’s so much discombobulation and division on different sides of the Republican caucus,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told reporters before the holiday break. “I have always been with Kevin McCarthy. We don’t agree on a lot of issues, but I try to work with everyone I can to get things done for the American people.”

Preventing a Catastrophic Debt Default

One of the more daunting tasks for the new Congress will be raising the nation’s debt ceiling in 2023 to ensure the United States can pay its bills and prevent a catastrophic default. Wall Street is already spooked by the prospect of brinkmanship, especially after the last Democratic president faced a GOP House came within days of exceeding the debt limit.

Conservative lawmakers say a GOP House should block an increase in the debt limit without major policy changes to rein in spending.

“We need fiscal restraint, and we should demand it. And if we’re not going to get fiscal restraint, we shouldn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling. It’s that simple,” said Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas. “Neither side of the aisle gives a s— about reducing spending. And we should… You shouldn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling without structural changes.”

Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wis., said the issue will “require a lot of robust debate within the caucus” before a strategy is settled. “At certain important inflection points, e.g [the] debt ceiling, we’re going to have to find a way forward,” he said. “Everybody’s going to have to realize that you can’t get 100% of what you want.”

Schumer said the issue needs to be tackled “in a bipartisan way — and we will work in the next Congress to get it done.”

GOP Investigations – And Impeachment?

After four years in the political wilderness, newly empowered House Republicans are salivating at the chance to investigate Biden and his administration.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., who is likely to be the next chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, said Republicans plan to launch investigations, starting with immigration and the Covid response.

“Our first two hearings will probably be on the border … and the second one will probably be Covid,” Comer said in an interview.

The house will “eventually” ring in Dr. AS Anthony Fauciwho resigned as the government’s top infectious disease specialist at the end of last year, to testify, Comer said, adding that his committee wants to obtain new information about how the government handled Covid – which began under the Trump administration – before it puts him in the hot seat.

The committee is also planning a thorough investigation of Biden’s son Hunter Biden and the presidential family’s business connections, just a year before a likely Biden 2024 re-election bid. Comer told reporters he has no interest in attacking Biden’s family members. “This is an investigation of Joe Biden, the president of the United States,” he said.

And with investigations may come calls for impeachment — not necessarily of Biden, but perhaps of others in his administration. Some House Republicans are already calling for impeachment Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, over his department’s handling of immigration policy.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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