When Nancy Pelosi retakes the gavel in the House today -- the first speaker since Sam Rayburn to do so -- she will be launching a reign that looks to be both more transparent and more tightly controlled.
First, remember all the grumbling last fall about the 78-year-old Californian retaining her grip on power. Pelosi pretty much squashed that. There will be some votes against her from Democrats today, but not many.
And that paves the way for the new rules for the 116th Congress in the House. Among the well-publicized items are provisions to allow new Muslim members to wear a head-scarf, crackdowns on sexual abuse, and the extension of legal protections for gender identity.
As far as transparency, Pelosi is instituting what is supposed to be a real 72-hour rule that requires bills to be available for three days before they hit the House floor. They often haven't been before, despite that requirement. Other steps in that vein are requiring hearings and markups on bills (many have been airdropped from the speaker's office onto the floor in the past), making it easier (though still hard) for members to advance their own legislation outside the restrictive committee process, and making more documents available in a machine-readable form. There are also related ethics reforms barring members from sitting on corporate boards, calling for indicted members to step down (specifically indicted Reps. Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins), and bans on former members who are lobbyists or foreign agents from using the House gym.
On the control side, beyond the aforementioned ability of Pelosi to wrangle Democrats, there was an old rule that let any member offer, via what's known as a privileged resolution, a motion to vacate the chair. Basically, that amounts to a vote of no-confidence against a speaker. The Freedom Caucus/tea party members of the GOP forced out John Boehner with the threat of a motion to vacate, and it surfaced again late in Paul Ryan's reign. Pelosi's new rule bars an individual member from offering such a motion. It will have to come from a party caucus. So, no rebellions from the lefties or the right-wing Dems under Speaker Pelosi.
It will be interesting to see if anyone in her party raises an objection while the rules package is debated, which is supposed to take a couple of days. I doubt there will be any, but we'll see.
The first order of business after the swearing-in will be reopening the shuttered portions of the government. There's been no progress since the leaders met with President Trump Wednesday. But the idea of Democrats is still to pass the six appropriations bills that Republicans in the Senate backed already, and do an extension of the Department of Homeland Security until Feb. 8. That gives a month for everyone to keep arguing about border security.
Democratic sources feel that with government funding severed from the great wall debate, it puts the onus on the GOP in the Senate to explain why they want the rest of the government to remain closed. Mitch McConnell summarily rejected the move Wednesday. (Here's a wrap I contributed to in the New York Daily News.)
"I don't think any particular progress was made today," McConnell told a group of reporters at the Capitol elevators, where we waited for him returning from the White House. "We're hopeful that somehow in the coming days and weeks we'll be able to reach an agreement."
Asked about his use of the word "weeks," and whether there was any chance of taking up the Democrats' funding bills, McConnell said, "the Senate will only be voting on a measure that's been agreed to by the Democrats and by the president, therefore guaranteeing a signature and a resolution of the issue."
But it bears watching to see if Republicans facing reelection in 2020 start to crumble on that front.