Key Issues in the 118th Congress - Meet the Freshmen

Key Issues in the 118th Congress

This report provides a broad overview of the new members that will shape the 118th Congress. The landscape has shifted somewhat since the Biden administration took office in January 2021. At this stage, control of the House and Senate is very much up in the air, with Democrats slightly favored to retain control of the Senate and Republicans slightly favored to have a small majority in the House – and each party will enter the new term with very different goals.

During the 117th Congress, Democrats and the Biden administration accomplished many of their longtime priorities, including a massive infrastructure package, lowering prescription drug prices, a bipartisan gun safety bill, and the largest investment in combating climate change in history. These accomplishments were upstaged when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and hinted that other personal freedoms that had previously been protected under the 14th Amendment might be in danger of being repealed.[i]

The 117th Congress also saw 15 special elections to replace members who had retired or passed away. These races spanned the country and political spectrum and introduced several new voices to the national conversation, including Claudia Tenney (R-NY-22), Julia Letlow (R-LA-05), Troy Carter (D-LA-02), Jake Ellzey (R-TX-06), Shontel Brown (D-OH-11), Melanie Stansbury (D-NM-01), Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick (D-FL-20), Mike Carey (R-OH-15), Connie Conway (R-CA-22), Brad Finstad (R-MN-01), Mary Peltola (D-AK-At large), Mayra Flores (R-TX-34), Mike Flood (R-NE-01), Joseph Sempolinski (R-NY-23), and Patrick Ryan (D-NY-19) to the House floor. These special elections flipped one seat from Republican to Democrat (Mary Peltola in Alaska) and one from Democrat to Republican (Mayra Flores in Texas).[ii]

Beginning in the 118th Congress, the likely Republican Speaker of the House will have to walk a line between policy pragmatism and providing culture-war red meat for the MAGA wing of the party. Conventional wisdom suggests Kevin McCarthy would be in line to assume the speakership, but he could face a challenge from his right depending on the size of the Republican’s majority. Questions remain as to the Speaker’s ability to hold the party together. Prominent Republican leaders like Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) – as well as some powerful new committee chairs like Jim Jordan (R-OH), who will take over the investigative powers of the House Judiciary Committee – have already stated their plans to pursue investigations of the Biden administration.[iii]

In the Senate, some Democrats, including freshman John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, have stated their intent to abolish the filibuster[iv], which could put an end to the outsize influence of centrist Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

What the Senate can pass on a straight party-line vote will depend on the House, but Democratic Senate priorities for the 118th Congress will likely include codifying Roe v. Wade and extending reproductive rights nationwide, codifying same-sex marriage and other personal freedoms that Democrats fear are under attack from the conservative Supreme Court, making further progress on gun safety and longtime Democratic goals of extending the child tax credit and providing free pre-K and childcare subsidies.

Even with divided government, there are agreements and opportunities for bipartisan cooperation. On foreign policy, Big Tech, and the 2023 Farm Bill, Democrats and Republicans could find common ground.


[i] John Fritze & Marina Pitofsky, “Clarence Thomas calls for Supreme Court to ‘reconsider’ gay marriage, contraception after Roe v. Wade falls,” USA Today, June 24, 2022, available at https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2022/06/24/clarence-thomas-gay-marriage-roe-v-wade-falls/7723535001/?gnt-cfr=1.

[ii] “Vacancies and Successors, 117th Congress (2021-2023),” US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives, accessed November 7, 2022, available at https://history.house.gov/Institution/Vacancies-Successors/117/.

[iii] Annie Grayer, “Jordan sends letters to DOJ and FBI previewing what GOP controlled House Judiciary Committee would investigate,” CNN Politics, November 2, 2022, available at https://www.cnn.com/2022/11/02/politics/jim-jordan-letter-doj-fbi.

[iv] Jake Johnson, “At Packed Rally, Fetterman Vows to ‘Be That Vote to Scrap the Filibuster and Codify Roe,” Common Dreams, September 12, 2022, available at https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/09/12/packed-rally-fetterman-vows-be-vote-scrap-filibuster-and-codify-roe.

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