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New Members May be the Power Players of the 118th Congress

When the 118th Congress officially launches on January 3rd, over 80 new members of the House of Representatives and Senate will be sworn into office (see our profile of new members in the 118th Congress). In most years, new members have little influence within the Capitol – having no control over committee agendas, the House floor, or the direction of most legislative negotiations. They often work behind the scenes to get small legislative victories that can be easily messaged back home but are not often “in the room” when key decisions are made. They have also generally been a reliable vote for their majority. However, they may assume a bigger role come January 3rd. Given narrow majorities on both sides of Capitol Hill, new members will have outsized influence that most of their predecessors did not (and still may not) have.

With the omnibus likely to be completed prior to the holidays, the House and Senate will not have urgent matters that need to be addressed immediately in January (other than the election of the House Speaker and passage of the House rules package). The House and Senate will take some time to finalize committee chairs, rank-and-file committee members, and committee staff. However, when the House and Senate floors (and even committees) begin considering legislation, a small group of policymakers will have the unusual ability to dramatically impact the process. New members will suddenly become critical votes (for both parties), their influence on key legislation will be significant, and leadership will need to be responsive to changes or demands they have. Until majorities grow significantly, these new members will become power players instantly upon being sworn in.

While it remains unknown how this unusual dynamic will take shape in the 118th Congress, it is clear that any strategy to advance legislation (either internally within Congress or among stakeholders) needs to consider the potential impact of new members. Leveraging their influence to get issues across the finish line or to prevent movement is, suddenly, a real possibility. House and Senate leadership are certainly considering this curveball and will be working to keep new members aligned with their respective agendas.

While everyone remains important in Washington, DC, watch for new members to take an unusually big step up the ladder of influence in the 118th Congress.


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