The 118th Congress opened with a tumultuous start, featuring a prolonged and contentious process to elect a House speaker, resulting in the resignation of the GOP speaker who had vowed never to quit. The House witnessed internal censures, expulsions, and the initiation of an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden. Despite the historic nature of these events, the first year of the 118th Congress has been characterized as one of the least productive sessions in recent times, with only 27 bills and resolutions signed into law.
The political upheaval primarily originated from House Republicans, who led the chaos, including the removal of indicted GOP Representative George Santos of New York. Even the Senate, typically tending toward moderation, experienced dysfunction, notably illustrated by a single Republican senator, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, causing a crisis in the Defense Department by blocking military officer promotions.
The influence of Donald Trump continued to cast a shadow over Congress, affecting border security talks and compelling the GOP to align with his positions. As the nation heads into a tumultuous presidential election year, the need for a functioning Congress becomes more crucial, especially given ongoing global conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East.
Philip Wallach, author of “Why Congress” and a senior scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, emphasized the low expectations for this Congress, grading it on a curve due to what he sees as symptoms of institutional and cultural breakdowns. Looking ahead to 2024, new House Speaker Mike Johnson faces pressure to pass legislation to fund the government, beginning on January 19, amid challenges from the hard-right Freedom Caucus and its allies, many aligned with Trump, who resist compromises.
The GOP’s right flank has been instrumental in deploying procedural tactics, such as privileged resolutions, to censure Democrats and attempt to impeach Biden. This has led to a bottom-up approach, forcing Republican-era speakers to relinquish control and seek compromises with Democrats to navigate the challenges within the party.
The shift in dynamics, marked by retirements and lawmakers leaving their positions, reflects a changing landscape where far-right voices gain influence. As the year concludes, it’s clear that Congress, particularly the House, is grappling with internal divisions, making the prospect of legislative accomplishments more challenging in the face of political polarization and ideological clashes.