After defeating thirty sitting Republican lawmakers and gaining a net of forty seats in the 2018 elections, Democrats will officially take charge of the U.S. House Thursday afternoon on Capitol Hill, as a record number of women will serve in the 116th Congress, with Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) resuming the post of Speaker, the first person to do that since Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-TX) in the 1950’s.
“Democrats will be ready to deliver For The People on Day One,” Pelosi told her colleagues this week, as the new House will approve a plan from Democrats to end a funding lapse for part of the federal government, with the goal of ending a partial shutdown, though that plan was seen as dead on arrival in the U.S. Senate.
While the shutdown looms over Capitol Hill, it wasn’t diminishing the return to power of Democrats, as the halls of the House office buildings were humming with last minute preparations for the start of the 116th Congress, as the staff of new lawmakers got settled in their offices, amid halls crowded with trash bins, extra furniture, packing crates, empty computer boxes, mounds of tangled computer wires, and a lengthy line of staffers getting their Congressional ID cards.
But all of that couldn’t obscure the historic nature of the 116th Congress.
The number of women in the House will be a record, as will the number of minorities; the first Muslim women will be sworn into office, the first Native American woman, the first Palestinian-American, the first Korean-American, as white men will find themselves to be a minority within the Democratic Party.
“I spent 2018 fighting for the chance to make a change,” said Lucy McBath, who won a seat in the Atlanta suburbs for Democrats. “In 2019, I will continue this fight to serve my constituents and the people of this great country.”
McBath’s name plate was up on the wall along with dozens of other new members, as over 20 percent of the House – more than one of every five lawmakers – will be new to the Congress in 2019, just shy of the turnover from the Tea Party wave election of 2010, which benefited Republicans.
The signs of change were everywhere in the halls, with stacks of packing crates, TV camera crews, friends and family of new lawmakers, and clear messages from new Democrats about the change they hope to bring.
“Who would pick their office in here?” a woman asked me as we navigated by a number of hallway obstacles on the eve of the new Congress.
At the office of Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – a hand written sign made clear her desire to do more than just be a member of Congress.
On the other side of the aisle, the change in power in the House will be something new for many Republicans who will serve in the new Congress.
“I’ve never been in the minority before,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA), who narrowly survived a strong Democratic challenge in his suburban Atlanta district, emblematic of the struggles that GOP lawmakers had across the country.
Woodall said he hoped there could be bipartisanship on everything from the budget, to infrastructure spending – and the issue looming over everything else right now – immigration.
“We need to do it,” Woodall said of immigration reform, acknowledging that Republicans had failed in the last two years to get any bill to President Trump’s desk.
“Every day we don’t do it, it’s worse for everybody,” Woodall added, as many Democrats believe the political fallout on immigration is one which benefits them at this point, and not the President or GOP lawmakers in Congress.
One Republican who thought he had won election to the House – Mark Harris of North Carolina – won’t be present when members of the 116th Congress are sworn in, as allegations of election fraud in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District have left that office vacant.
In the interim – while it’s determined whether there will be an entirely new election in North Carolina – the office of the Ninth District will be staffed, and directed by the Office of the Clerk of the House, but there won’t be a member of Congress for that seat until later this year.
Another newly-elected Republican, Ross Spano of Florida, was opening his House office on Wednesday like other lawmakers, even as questions continued over election law violations that he admitted after the 2018 election, acknowledging that he funneled personal loans into his campaign, wrongly characterizing the contributions as his own money.
It was not apparent if Spano would be subjected to any investigation by the House Ethics Committee, but there was no talk that he would be barred from taking his seat in the House.