Congress convenes with new faces but same problems


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Newly elected Congresswoman Summer Lee, an ardent progressive, represents Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district. The district includes all of Beaver County and parts of Allegheny, Cambria, Lawrence, Somerset, and Westmoreland Counties.

The United States Congress has served as the legislative branch of the American government since its founding in 1789. This past November, elections were held to determine which party would control both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Republican Party won a five-seat majority in the House, while the Democratic Party held onto the Senate with a one-seat majority. Thus, the 118th Congress of the United States opens with a divided government, which is when at least one chamber of Congress is not controlled by the President’s party.

With a divided government, the parties will have to work together to pass legislation, a process known as bipartisanship. While bipartisanship used to be frequent, recently divided Congress’s have shown that the parties do not work together effectively, a trend likely to continue; it has been made even more unlikely due to the influence social media has had on voters, Representatives and Senators.

American History teacher Mr. Majoris commented on the political divide. “It will be difficult to get anything done with the division in Congress and in the country. Even Republicans can’t agree with each other.”
However, the divide doesn’t just exist between the parties, but also within them, particularly the Republican Party. The Republican divide was demonstrated when the party conference could not agree on a Speaker of the House, the presiding officer who must be chosen before the House can properly function. A far-right freshman group of Republican representatives joined together in the House Freedom Caucus, the far-right caucus in the House, and refused to back Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (CA-20). The Speaker vote dragged from Tuesday, January 3, to Saturday, January 7, and McCarthy was only elected after a promised set of rule reforms that empower the House Freedom Caucus. Even with the proposed reforms, he was not elected until the 15th round of voting, which occurred on early Saturday morning.

The other chamber of Congress, the Senate, has also made history this Congress, with the first female Senate President Pro Tempore, Patty Murray (D-VT), the presiding officer of that chamber. Also, no incumbent senator up for reelection in 2022 was defeated, which has not happened since the elections of 1914. This Senate has a Democratic majority and will have to work with the Republican-controlled House to pass legislation. 

The 118th Congress is the most diverse ever, with a record number of female members. The first member of Generation Z, Maxwell Frost (FL-10) was also elected to the House of Representatives in 2022, and the first African-American party leader was chosen, Democrat Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), as House Minority Leader.

Majoris addressed Congress’ diversity: “They represent what America is, and it is exactly what Congress should be.”

The divide in both Congress and its majority party has worried many Americans, who believe that Congress will not be able to avoid a government shutdown or debt ceiling crisis with a polarized House and Senate.

Senior Andrew Harshman shares this worry about Congress, stating, “I hope [that Congress and the President will avoid a shutdown]. I hope that they have learned from past errors.”

 With a divided Congress, President Biden is unlikely to achieve many parts of his economic and social agenda in this Congress, possibly affecting the races in 2024, in which the President is up for re-election.