CSAC Bulletin Article

California Congressional Election Results

November 10, 2016

Lawmakers Returns Next Week to Begin Lame Duck Session

Key Committee Assignments for the 115th Congress

President-elect Trump will start his term with a Republican House and Senate, bringing unified party control to Washington for the first time since the early days of the Obama administration. While Democrats were able to net six seats in the House and cut into the Republican majority, it was far short of what party leaders had predicted. 

In addition, key victories in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin, and North Carolina helped Republicans defy forecasts and retain their Senate majority.  Democrats picked up only two seats as Representative Tammy Duckworth defeated incumbent Senator Mark Kirk ® in Illinois, and Governor Maggie Hassan unseated Senator Kelly Ayotte ® in New Hampshire.  With the outcome of one race still outstanding, Republicans are set to control at least 51 seats to 48 for Democrats. 

The GOP’s narrow majority in the upper chamber means the party will be far short of the 60-vote supermajority that is needed to advance most legislation of consequence.  Except in limited cases – such as budget reconciliation (which requires a simple majority) – Senate Republicans will need Democratic cooperation in order for major legislative initiatives to move forward.  In contrast, House Republicans, who will hold a roughly 45 seat advantage in the 115th Congress, should be able to advance their legislative agenda without the need to reach across the aisle, provided GOP leaders are able to keep their rank-and-file members unified.

California Results

Across Capitol Hill, at least 46 members of California’s 53-member congressional delegation will be returning to the nation’s capital in January.  While two races are too close to call, the incumbent has a slight edge in both.  As of this writing, Democratic Congressman Ami Bera leads his Republican challenger, Scott Jones, by just over 2,000 votes; likewise, GOP Congressman Darrell Issa leads his Democratic challenger, Retired Marine Colonel Doug Applegate, by several thousand votes.  If these results hold, Representative Mike Honda will be the only incumbent in the state to lose his seat to a challenger.  He was ousted by fellow Democrat Ro Khanna, in what was a repeat of the 2014 election.

In addition to Khanna, four new Democratic members will join the California congressional delegation.  In the 24th district, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Salud Carbajal defeated former Capitol Hill staffer Justin Fareed to replace Congresswoman Lois Capps, who announced her retirement last year.  Monterey County Deputy District Attorney Jimmy Panetta will succeed retiring Congressman Sam Farr in the 20th congressional district.  Notably, Jimmy Panetta is the son of former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who represented the Central Coast for 15 years. 

In addition, Hermosa Beach Councilwoman Nanette Barragan narrowly beat state Senator Isadore Hall to succeed Representative Janice Hahn, who ran for Los Angeles County supervisor.  Finally, former state Senator Lou Correa defeated Garden Grove Mayor Bao Nguyen to replace Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who gave up her seat to run for the Senate.  Based on the current results, the state will send 39 Democrats and 14 Republicans to Washington in 2017.

In California’s US Senate election, California Attorney General Kamala Harris handily defeated Representative Loretta Sanchez to replace retiring Senator Barbara Boxer.  Harris, the daughter of Indian and Jamaican parents, becomes the first Indian-American and only the second black woman to serve in the Senate.  She is also the first woman of color to represent California in the upper chamber.

Key Committee Assignments for the 115th Congress

A number of House and Senate committees will have leadership changes next year due to retirements, term limits imposed by House and Senate Republicans, or other factors.  Most committee chairmen and ranking members are selected by their respective steering committees and then approved by the larger party caucuses.  The steering committees are expected to meet sometime in December.  Noted below are some of the key congressional committees that deal with issues of interest to CSAC.

House Appropriations Committee:  This important committee is responsible for allocating the actual funding for all federal programs, including transportation, health and human services, and criminal justice programs.  Current Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) is term-limited and will not seek a waiver to continue serving as the top Republican on the panel.  Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), who currently serves as the chairman of the Defense Subcommittee, is the next most senior GOP lawmaker on the committee and is favored to become the next chairman.  Representative Nita Lowey (D-NY) will most likely stay on as ranking member. 

House Education and Workforce Committee:  This committee has jurisdiction over a number of health, employment, and labor programs.  Chairman John Kline (R-MN) is retiring at the end of the year, and Congresswoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) is the frontrunner to replace him.  Foxx has been a harsh critic of the Obama administration and will seek to reverse a number of recent actions by the Labor Department.  Meanwhile, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) is expected to continue serving as the top Democrat on the panel.

House Energy and Commerce Committee:  Among many other responsibilities, the committee has jurisdiction over various health-related programs, including the federal-state Medicaid program.  Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) is term-limited and will not seek a waiver to stay on in his current role.  There will be a three-way race to succeed him as Representatives John Shimkus (R-IL), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Joe Barton (R-TX) have all expressed an interest in replacing Upton.  Given the committee’s widespread jurisdiction and the unpredictable nature of the race, this will be the most watched committee contest.  On the other side of the aisle, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) is expected to retain the top Democratic spot on the panel.

House Ways and Means Committee: This committee has jurisdiction over certain health programs and family support issues.  The Ways and Means Committee likely will be chaired again by Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX).  Representative Sander Levin (D-MI) is expected to return as the panel’s leading Democrat.

House Judiciary Committee:  Among other issues, this panel has programmatic jurisdiction over criminal and juvenile justice legislation in the lower chamber.  Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) is expected to retain the gavel, while Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) is likely to stay on as the top Democratic member of the committee.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee:  This is the largest committee in the House of Representatives and handles virtually all transportation legislation in the lower chamber, including the reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration, which is set to expire on September 30, 2017.  It is unlikely that the top GOP or Democratic posts on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will change in the 115th Congress.  Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) and Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR) are expected to retain their positions on the committee.

Senate Appropriations Committee:  Like its House counterpart, the committee funds various federal programs, including transportation, health and human services and criminal justice programs.  Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) serves on the committee and is a member of six of its subcommittees, including the Interior, Commerce-Justice-Science, Agriculture, Defense, and Transportation subcommittees.  She is also currently the Ranking Member on the Energy and Water Subcommittee.  The committee chairmanship is expected to be retained by Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), but the panel’s Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is retiring at the end of the year.  Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Patty Murray (D-WA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and potentially Dianne Feinstein are all viable candidates to replace Mikulski. 

Senate Finance Committee:  One of the key committees in the Senate, the Finance Committee has jurisdiction over a whole host of health issues, including Medicaid and child welfare issues.   In 2017, the committee will be likely be led again by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), with Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) expected to hold on to his position as the panel’s top Democrat.

Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee:  This committee has jurisdiction over certain health programs and labor issues.  During the past few years, the committee has operated in a bipartisan fashion and is expected to continue to do so in the 115th Congress.  Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is largely expected to continue on as chairman, but it is unclear who will serve as ranking member.  Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) currently occupies that role, but she is also a candidate to become the lead Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.  If she moves on, Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Bob Casey (D-PA) have expressed interest in the position.

Senate Judiciary Committee:  This committee handles virtually the same issues as its House counterpart.  It is also responsible for filling judicial vacancies, including the Supreme Court.  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is expected to retain his chairmanship.  However, it is unclear whether Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will stay on as ranking member, as he will have an opportunity to serve as the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee.  It should be noted that Senator Feinstein also serves on the panel and is expected to continue to do so in the next Congress. 

Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee:  Among other things, the committee has jurisdiction over a number of transportation programs, as well as the nation’s environmental policy.  The panel is currently led by Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Barbara Boxer.  However, Inhofe is term-limited under Republican Senate rules and Boxer is retiring.  Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) is widely expected to ascend to the chairmanship, but there are several Democrats who could become ranking member.  Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) would be next in line in terms of seniority, but he could also choose to take the top Democratic spot on the Homeland Security Committee.  This would create an opportunity for Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), or Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

It should be noted that Senator Barrasso is the current chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs.  Assuming Barrasso takes the post of the EPW Committee, the top spot on the Indian Affairs panel will become vacant.  As of this writing, it is unclear who would succeed Senator Barrasso as the chair of the Indian Affairs Committee.

Outlook for the Remainder of 2016

Members of the 114th Congress are scheduled to return to Washington, D.C. next week for what is expected to be a relatively brief lame-duck session.  In addition to holding organizational meetings and electing their leaders for the next Congress, lawmakers have unfinished legislative business that will need to be addressed before year’s end.

At the top of the priority list is the 11 (of 12) fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills that have not been enacted into law.  With the current short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) set to expire on December 9, lawmakers will have little time to negotiate an end-game strategy on the unresolved components of the budget.

For his part, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed his preference for concluding all outstanding appropriations-related work before Congress adjourns.  If lawmakers clear a final fiscal year 2017 budget package, it would mean that the incoming GOP-controlled Congress and president-elect Trump could start their tenure without the need to address overdue fiscal matters.

Members of the conservative wing of the House Republican caucus, however, are strongly in favor of leaving all final decisions on the current budget to the 115th Congress and the new administration and are therefore aggressively pushing congressional leaders to pass another short-term CR.  After conceding to President Obama on various fiscal and policy matters within the context of previous budget bills, House conservatives are anxious to send to a Republican White House a budget package that reflects their priorities.

In addition to a long-term budget measure, lawmakers may look to finalize a major energy reform bill and a Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) reauthorization package.  All three of the aforementioned bills are possible candidates to carry provisions dealing with the ongoing drought in California.

Finally, with regard to organizational business, Senator McConnell is expected to stay on as majority leader.  For their part, Senate Democrats are poised to name Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) as the successor to current Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who is retiring at the end of the 114th Congress.  Across Capitol Hill, House Republicans are likely to retain Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) as speaker, while Democrats are expected to again tab Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as minority leader.

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