A new era of divided government dawned in Washington on Thursday as the 116th Congress convened at noon, with Democrats in control of the House for the first time in eight years and Republicans adding to their slim majority in the Senate. The shake-up in the balance of power sets the stage for amped-up confrontations between Congress and President Trump’s administration, even as the ongoing partial government shutdown stretches toward the two-week mark.
As expected, Nancy Pelosi was elected speaker of the House, becoming the first representative to reclaim the gavel since the legendary Sam Rayburn in 1955. She will preside over a House that includes a record number of women, 102, and is the most racially and ethnically diverse ever. Among the firsts in the new Congress, per CNN:
- Kansas and New Mexico elected the first Native American women to Congress, Democrats Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland.
- Democrats Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota are the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
- Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, 29, becomes to youngest woman ever in Congress.
- Republican Marsha Blackburn will be the first female senator from Tennessee.
- Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith is the first woman elected to Congress from Mississippi.
- Democrat Kyrsten Sinema became the first female senator representing Arizona. She is also the first openly bisexual senator.
- Democrats Veronica Escobar and Sylvia Garcia will be the first Latinas to represent Texas.
- Democrat Ayanna Pressley is the first black congresswoman to represent Massachusetts while Democrat Jahana Hayes is the first black congresswoman from Connecticut.
What to Expect from the Democratic House
“Trump has had two years to set the country's sole policy agenda - that dynamic changes today,” analyst Chris Krueger of the Cowen Washington Research Group wrote, adding that House Democrats will be working along two tracks, one legislative and the other focused on investigations and oversight of the Trump administration.
“The Democratic majority is largely due to Democrats in Trump-won districts from 2016,” Krueger says, “so expect a lot of legislation with high approval ratings first in the queue: infrastructure, drug pricing, immigration reform (protections for DREAMers), shoring up the ObamaCare exchanges/protecting pre-existing conditions, gun control, voting rights, etc.”
Those legislative priorities might already have been delayed or derailed by the ongoing shutdown, Krueger says — and they could soon be overwhelmed by numerous investigations into Trump.