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Unpacking the Invasion of the Capitol and the 117th Congress

This blog post is written by AACTE consultant Jane West and is intended to provide updated information. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect the views of AACTE.

U.S Capitol, U.S. Flag, and Declaration of indeoendenceThe 117th Congress Begins

Members of the 117th Congress were sworn in on January 3. Just three days later, they faced the unimaginable trauma of a breach of the Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters disrupting the certification of the electoral votes that would confirm Joe Biden as the next president of the United States. Despite the mayhem, chaos, and fear, after the Capitol was cleared, lawmakers went back to work and at 3 a.m. on January 7 confirmed the results of the election. Challenges to the electoral results by over 100 Republican Members of Congress were defeated, as both Republicans and Democrats—including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT)—railed against the tactic.

Just days before the Capitol breach, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was voted in, once again, as the Speaker of the House—albeit by a narrow margin. The vote seals Pelosi in the record books as the first woman, and the first person in six decades, to regain the speaker’s gavel—now twice—after losing it.

The 117th Congress is the most diverse Congress the nation has ever seen. Members who are women, Black, Latinx and LGBTQ are represented in greater numbers than ever before.  Republican women in the House doubled their numbers from 13 to 26.  Democrats remain in control of the House with a slimer margin than in the last Congress—222 Democrats to 211 Republicans, with 2 vacancies yet to be filled. 

With the stunning victories of Raphael Warnock and John Ossoff in Georgia, control of the Senate will flip to Democrats, with a 50-50 split. Since incoming Vice President Kamala Harris will cast the tie-breaking 51st vote, Democrats will be in the majority, though by the slimmest of possible margins. The Senate will welcome eight new Senators and will now be comprised of 25 women, 3 Black members, 6 Latinx members and 2 LGBTQ members. 

Being in charge of the Senate, the Democrats gain multiple advantages. Every Committee will be chaired by a Democrat and they will have more staff. They will control the agenda in both Committees and on the floor. In other words, they will determine what issues, what nominations, and what bills will be considered and when. They are likely to approve nominees and judicial picks recommended by incoming President Biden. And the big bonus is they will be able to use an obscure process called “reconciliation” to pass major spending bills and make budget changes. Generally, the Senate needs 60 votes to pass a bill (thus clearing a filibuster), but with the reconciliation process, only 51 are needed. 

While all of the Committee chairs for the 117th Congress have not been announced yet, a few key appointments are known.  Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) will serve as the next chair of the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee and she will retain her post as Subcommittee Chair of the Labor/HHS/Education Subcommittee. This dual role provides her an even larger platform for her fierce advocacy for education and working families. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will again lead the House Committee on Education and Labor, and Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) will remain as the ranking Republican.   

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) will ascend to the chair of the Senate HELP Committee to take the place of retiring Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN). Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) is in line to be the ranking Republican on the Committee. One of the earliest tasks of the HELP committee will be a hearing to confirm President-Elect Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. With Democrats now in control of the Senate, the likelihood of swift confirmation for Cardona and other Cabinet nominees is quite good.

As soon as Sen. Warnock (D-GA) and Sen. Ossoff (D-GA) are certified in Georgia and sworn in to the Senate, they will be seated. The timing of that is not yet clear, but it will surely be before President-Elect Biden’s inauguration on January 20. Right after Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is sworn in as vice president, her replacement—California’s Secretary of State Alex Padilla—will be seated and the Senate will have its full complement of members for the 117th Congress.

Read the full Washington Update on my website for more information. I look forward to seeing you on Twitter @janewestdc.


Jane E. West

AACTE Education Policy Consultant