What to Expect in the 116th Congress

The mid-term elections held on November 6, 2018 will bring change to Washington, D.C., though as of this writing, it is unclear exactly how much. Democrats will take the majority in the House of Representatives, while Republicans are expected to maintain a slim majority in the Senate. (See table 1 for preliminary election results in both chambers.)


Two weeks after the election, newly-elected House Republicans chose their leaders for the 116th Congress. Rep. Kevin McCarthy was elected House minority leader, while Rep. Steve Scalise moved up to the second-ranking Republican position as minority whip. House Democrats were scheduled to select the new Speaker at the end of November. The vote to ratify the Democrats’ choice for Speaker will take place on January 3, 2019 when the 116th Congress convenes. Soon thereafter, both parties will formally make committee assignments. House Democrats are then expected to focus on conducting oversight investigations of the Trump administration and advancing their priority issues such as health care, gun control and infrastructure spending. However, passage of any legislation will require the support of the Republican-held Senate and the White House.


Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, currently the ranking member on the House Science committee, is in line to become the chair of that committee, which oversees the NSF and NASA. She would replace retiring Republican Chair Lamar Smith, who was a vocal critic of climate change and other politically charged fields of science. Leadership of the House Appropriations Committee will also be handed over to the new Democratic majority, but that will likely produce less of a change since members of that committee from both parties have demonstrated an ongoing commitment to federal funding for scientific research.


Although Republicans are expected to see a slight increase in their majority in the Senate, they will still fall short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture, meaning that they will need the support of Democrats to pass significant legislation. Senate leadership will remain unchanged in both parties with the re-election of Senator Mitch McConnell as majority leader for the Republicans and Senator Charles Schumer as minority leader for the Democrats.


The new Congress will also include seven new members with STEM or health care backgrounds.

Table 1. 2018 mid-term election results as of mid-November
  Democrats Republicans Undecided/TBD
House of Representatives 228 199 8
Senate 47 (includes 2 independents) 51 2