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Politics & Government

Republicans Return To Capitol Hill After Tumultuous Election


Congressional Republicans come back to work in Washington today, victorious after winning the White House and retaining control of both the House and Senate. Now, before the election, some of them struggled to endorse and sometimes even to defend Donald Trump. That was especially true of House Speaker Paul Ryan, who today faces an election of his own. And let's hear about that from Susan Davis, who covers Congress for us. Sue, good morning.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So Speaker Ryan, I mean, is he going to have a hard time winning support of people in his party after, you know, his lackluster support of candidate Trump? Is that a fair way to put it?

DAVIS: You know, it's funny the difference an election makes, right?

GREENE: Yeah, I guess so.

DAVIS: So House Republicans - it's a very different tune about Paul Ryan. The theme this week in talking to lawmakers was it's all about party unity. It's all about coming together and that today's vote is really a test vote of that party unity. The real vote for speaker, of course, is on the first day of the congressional session. Today, just House Republicans are going to elect their leadership team.

GREENE: Oh, OK, so we'll get a sense for whether Ryan gets that strong support.

DAVIS: Yes, and the more votes he gets from his colleagues, the show of support he's going to have. He formally announced he would run again for speaker in a letter to his colleagues in which he promised to, in his words, go big and go bold.

GREENE: OK. Well, if he goes big and goes bold, he'll probably be working with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Republican. They are working with what will be a Republican president on an agenda presumably. I mean, what - any sense for what that agenda will look like and how it will take shape?

DAVIS: Yeah, very much so. So the big three that they're already talking about is repealing and replacing President Obama's health care law.

GREENE: Which Donald Trump has said he still wants to do but maybe with some caveats now.

DAVIS: And maybe keep some of the more popular parts of the law. We'll see how that plays out. They want to cut taxes, particularly on the business side of the tax code and, of course, talk of border security and if and how they're actually going to build that wall. There's also a conversation about spending and infrastructure. You know, Donald Trump campaigned on big-league spending. He wanted to build better airports and roads, and that's going to be a real pressure test of the next Congress where Republicans have been kind of resistant to new spending.

GREENE: Now, there is another party. They don't control the White House or either house now, but the Democrats are still there and very determined to be in a strong opposition. They're holding leadership elections this week. I mean, is this a party that is going to try and make some huge changes after this election?

DAVIS: You know, there is the first real stirring of discontent in the Democratic Party after these elections. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is so far not challenged for her leadership position, but there is an effort to delay those elections. Members are circulating a letter to try and get them pushed back. They want to have a conversation. And there's an effort to recruit Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan to run against her because he represents the kind of district of white working-class voters that the Democratic Party lost. But so far, there's no real challenge emerged, but there are - there is some internal stirring about it.

GREENE: And briefly, are we going to see anything happen in the Congress in the lame duck session as we - during the next few weeks?

DAVIS: The only thing they have to do is keep the government running when the funding runs out December 9. Republicans say they are now waiting for President-elect Donald Trump to decide what he wants, and they'll defer to him on that.

GREENE: OK. That is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thanks as always, Sue.

DAVIS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.