Reporter’s Notebook: A warning for Congress after the November midterms

I should warn you now.

Remove the goofy skeletons dangling from your porches for Halloween. Return the Halloween costumes to the rental shop – be they Dani from “Hocus Pocus,” Harley Quinn or something from “Stranger Things.” 

Feed your jack-o’-lantern to the squirrels. And just go ahead and devour all the “fun size” Snickers, Reese’s Cups and Nestle Crunch bars. You’re going to need the sugar.

Swap everything Halloween out for Christmas.

If you’re a lawmaker or work on Capitol Hill as an aide or a journalist, you may as well plan on Congress canceling Christmas this year. So if you’re going to get Christmas in, forgo the ghouls and goblins of Halloween this month and roll Yuletide. 


Decorate a Christmas tree. Deck the halls. Hang the stockings. Go caroling. You may get the side-eye from trick-or-treaters if you’re belting out “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” But caroling in October is sure a lot warmer than the middle of December.

We have written in this space that two months on the calendar are always pure mayhem when it comes to Congress: August and December.

This is ironic because the House and Senate schedule themselves to be out of session for most of those months. 

It almost never happens.

The dome of the U.S. Capitol is seen behind an Engelmann spruce during the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony.
(Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The Senate conducted round-the-clock weekend sessions in early August this past year to pass the Democrats’ health, tax and climate package. The House then returned to session in mid-August to sync up with the Senate. 

The House is scheduled to cut town this year for the holidays on Dec. 15. That’s already laughable because lawmakers just approved an interim spending bill to avoid a government shutdown this fall which runs through Dec. 16. Everyone knows that the House and Senate will likely be rattling around, trying to approve an omnibus spending package – or maybe even another short-term Band-Aid, right up until the last minute on Dec. 16. And this probably means lawmakers are in session the weekend before Christmas if not the week after Christmas. In fact, one senior congressional source suggested that the current, 116th Congress would blow through New Year’s – right up until the final moments when this Congress expires at 11:59:59 a.m. on Jan. 3. 

Is that enough stress for you?

I told you to keep the Snickers and Reese’s Cups around. Stress eating the Halloween candy now will undoubtedly help with a Christmas Congress – though it may not assist with your waistline.

Here’s why things will be so hectic.

For starters, a big class of incoming lawmakers will filter into Capitol Hill in mid-November after the election. It’s possible the election may even drag on for a bit with uncalled races and even challenges to results. Remember, this is the post Jan. 6 riot world in which American politics now operates. The Senate is 50/50. Brace yourself. It’s possible there could be another runoff for Georgia’s Senate seat just like in January of last year. Georgia requires a runoff if neither Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., nor GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker secures 50.1 % of the vote. The last runoff came days after the new Congress began. This one will unfold Dec. 6. It’s possible that a December runoff – just like the one which elected Warnock – could decide control of the Senate.

It’s not unusual for Georgia’s Senate contests to go to runoffs. The state saw post-election day runoffs for Senate in 1992 and 2008.

Everyone seems to think that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is in good shape to become majority leader if the GOP captures control of that chamber. But expect former President Trump and Trump-aligned Republican senators to express displeasure in McConnell if Republicans aren’t in charge in 2023. 

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
(Getty Images)

Anticipate a turnover on Capitol Hill with an exit of longtime congressional hands packing up after either losing or retiring. Then, there are the scores of bewildered new faces getting lost in the Cannon Tunnel as they try to find a meeting room in the Capitol basement.


There will be added intrigue among the freshman class at their fall orientation if voters elect controversial candidates like Republican North Carolina House nominee Bo Hines or GOP Ohio House hopeful J.R. Majewski.

But an even bigger story could supersede everything on Capitol Hill: the future of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Does she stay or does she go? Who succeeds Pelosi as the top Democrat in the House if she departs? There’s a long list of new blood who aspire to seize the leadership reins: House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., Vice Democratic Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Any departure of Pelosi represents a tectonic shift on Capitol Hill. That’s to say nothing of what happens to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. The triumvirate of Pelosi, Hoyer and Clyburn has led House Democrats for years.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(Getty Images)

Of course, the fall could also see the potential rise of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to speaker if the GOP wins the majority. Expect the congressional press corps to pepper McCarthy and other Republicans with ad nauseam questions about whether the new majority will try to impeach President Biden, impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas or go after retiring White House chief medical officer Anthony Fauci.

House Republicans will pledge to end proxy voting. And there will be lots of drama over the Republican brass seating controversial Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., on committees.

We haven’t even gotten to the legislative stuff Congress needs to do during the lame duck session.


The Senate will quickly delve into a debate about the annual defense policy bill. Expect amendments over funding the war effort in Ukraine, dealing with Saudi Arabia and if the Pentagon should reinstate service personnel who were fired or disciplined because they refused to take the COVID vaccine.

Don’t forget that some lawmakers have suggested the defense bill could (could) be the legislative vehicle for Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to finally pass his deal to expedite energy permits and approve a pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia. 

The Senate could also vote on a bill to codify same-sex marriage. Legislation is banging around to possibly ban lawmakers and senior congressional staff from trading stocks. A bill to modernize the process for certifying the Electoral College results has bipartisan support and will likely move through Congress late this year. 

We haven’t even gotten to the one bill Congress MUST tackle in the lame duck session: a bill to avoid a government shutdown in mid-December. Congressional Democrats would prefer to approve what’s called an “omnibus” spending bill. That measure would blend all 12 annual spending bills together and run the government until Sept. 30, 2023 – the end of the government’s fiscal year.

But if Republicans seize control of the House, Senate or both, it’s highly likely they will push for a shorter spending package that avoids an immediate shutdown and punts just a few weeks into the new year. If Republicans control Congress, they can immediately try to implement their spending priorities rather than the Democrats. That’s why Democrats demand an omnibus bill. A Democratic spending plan would remain in place longer – even if Republicans flipped one or both chambers of Congress.

A short-term, GOP spending bill would also dare President Biden to veto their plan. A new House Republican majority would embrace an immediate showdown with the president to flex their political muscles in the new Congress.

Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applaud as President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, April 28, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol.

Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applaud as President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress, April 28, 2021, in the U.S. Capitol.
(Melina Mara/The Washington Post via AP, Pool)

Lawmakers met through the holidays in late 2020 and into the early days of 2021 with no break. That paled in comparison to the House and Senate meeting during the holidays in 2012 and 2013. Then-Vice President Biden came to the Capitol around 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve in 2012 for negotiations so Congress could avoid what was then termed the “fiscal cliff.” The Senate began a vote series after 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day, 2013. The House followed during the daylight hours later that Jan. 1 – stretching into the wee hours of Jan. 2.

With everything that’s on the books, it’s possible lawmakers could endure similar congressional calisthenics this holiday season.


Trade in Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s “Monster Mash” for Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You” sooner rather than later. Ditch Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arise and watch Charlie Brown hauling home a rinky dink Christmas tree.

Christmas comes but once a year. If you need a little Christmas on Capitol Hill, get it in now.