The 116th Congress officially began their first session on Thursday, January 3, 2019. As expected, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) returned as Speaker of the House for the new Democratic Majority and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) returned as the Senate Majority Leader.
For Speaker Pelosi, she now becomes the first woman and only the second person since Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) to return to the speakership after a break due to losing the majority. She continues to be the only woman to serve in that leadership position. For Senator Mitch McConnell, he builds on his record as the longest serving Republican Senate Majority Leader. McConnell returns with a slightly bigger Republican Majority rising from 51 to 53. For Pelosi, she serves as speaker in a House that now includes 106 women (93 Democrats and 13 Republicans), the highest total in history. The Senate is up to 25 women (17 Democrats and eight Republicans).
There were some organizational changes and committee assignments that are gradually being revealed. In the Senate, Republicans selected Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) as new members to the Senate Judiciary Committee making them the first two Republican women to serve on that committee (there are four Democratic women).
The Senate Finance Committee will add three new Republican members upping their total membership by one to 15. Senator James Lankford (R-OK), Senator Steven Daines (R-MT) and Senator Todd Young (R-IN) have been added. The Committee lost two Republicans with the retirement of Senator Orin Hatch (R-UT) and defeat of Senator Dean Heller (R-NV). For Democrats two vacancies are being filled keeping their number at 13. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) are filling the vacancies left by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) who both lost their re-election bids.
On a Senate status note, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) announced he will retire at the end of this Congress. He joins Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) who made a similar announcement last month. Both senators have made some effort at reaching across the isle in the past two years. Alexander helped to craft some bipartisan measures on education and drug abuse issues while Senator Roberts formed a bipartisan wall (along with Democrat Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) against the Republican House version of a reauthorization of the 2018 farm bill.
The House leadership quickly adopted new governing rules, requiring PAYGO (pay-as-you-go) spending rules and eliminating “dynamic scoring” in calculating the impact of tax cuts on deficit spending. The House also changed the name of the Education and Workforce Committee back to Education and Labor Committee, the name it held the last time Democrats controlled the House.