Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., conducts a news conference in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall on Thursday, January 12, 2023.
Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images
WASHINGTON – The new Republican House majority used its first full week in office to quickly pass six pieces of legislation that showcased the party’s political priorities.
Following Republicans’ historic intraparty battle for the speakership earlier this month, GOP House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s first week was an exercise in party unity. The Republican caucus overwhelmingly supported all six of the bills, two of which also won over a large bloc of Democrats.
As long as Democrats control the Senate, however, bills that pass in the House on a party line vote have little chance of becoming law.
Instead, their purpose is largely to fulfill campaign promises that Republican candidates made in the 2022 midterms. Some could also potentially serve as leverage in negotiations over the federal budget and the debt ceiling, both expected later this year.
Yet even as Republicans worked efficiently on the House floor, party leaders were beset by questions over the fate of newly sworn-in Rep. George Santos.
The embattled New York Republican has admitted to lying about his background, prompting howls of bipartisan criticism and calls for his resignation. But Santos this week vowed to stay in Congress and serve out his full two-year term, a decision McCarthy backed.
“Voters have elected George Santos,” McCarthy told reporters Thursday in the Capitol. Rather than move to expel Santos, McCarthy appeared to put his faith in a House Ethics Committee investigation of the lawmaker.
“If anything is found to be wrong, he will be held accountable, exactly as anybody else in this body would be,” said McCarthy.
The furor over Santos cast a shadow over the Republican caucus. It also drew attention away from the week’s accomplishments, among them that McCarthy was able to pass two bipartisan pieces of legislation.
The bipartisan bills both targeted China, and they underscored the breadth of support in Congress for anything that promises to strengthen America’s hand relative to its global competitors.
The first of the two measures created a new select committee to investigate China’s long-term threat to the United States. It received more votes than any other this week, as every Republican present and 146 Democrats voted for it on Tuesday.
The committee will expose the Chinese Communist Party’s “coordinated whole of society strategy to undermine American leadership and American sovereignty,” its new chairman, Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher, said on the House floor.
The second China-related bill would prohibit oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve from being sold to China. On Thursday, 115 Democrats joined the entire GOP caucus to back the ban. But it was unclear whether it would be taken up by the Democratic-controlled Senate.
In addition to China, the new Republican majority made abortion a centerpiece of its agenda. This follows a midterm election in which the Supreme Court decision to overturn the right to an abortion, enshrined in Roe v. Wade, played a prominent role. It served to galvanize Democratic voters, and as a result the party held the Senate and lost fewer House seats than expected.
On Wednesday, two measures related to abortion were approved on a party-line vote.
The first was a bill requiring health care providers to attempt to preserve the life of infants who are born alive during or after an attempted abortion. Under U.S. law, it is already considered a crime to deliberately kill a child who is born alive.
The second abortion-related vote was on a resolution to condemn “recent attacks on pro-life facilities, groups and churches.”
Read more of CNBC’s politics coverage:
While the resolution does not require Senate approval, the other bill, called the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act” has no chance of being taken up by the current Senate or of being signed into law by President Joe Biden.
This is the same fate that awaits another big Republican priority bill that passed on Monday: A measure that effectively rescinds Democrats’ efforts to bolster the IRS last year with nearly $80 billion in funding over the next decade.
The IRS bill was the first one that passed the House after McCarthy won the speaker’s gavel, fulfilling an election year promise.
“The government should be here to help you, not go after you,” McCarthy declared on the House floor shortly after he clinched the speakership.
The IRS is one of two government agencies that Republicans put in their sights this week. The other is the Biden Justice Department.
In addition to the select committee on China, Republicans approved the creation of another new subcommittee.
The mandate of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government is effectively to investigate the agencies that investigated former President Donald Trump during his one term in office.
The new panel will be chaired by GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, a Trump ally who frequently assails the Justice Department over its far-reaching probes of Trump.
Approved on a party line vote Tuesday, the subcommittee is officially charged with investigating how executive branch agencies “collect, compile, analyze, use, or disseminate information about citizens of the United States, including any unconstitutional, illegal, or unethical activities committed against citizens of the United States,” according to the resolution’s language.
In addition to investigative subpoena power, the House legislation explicitly grants the new subcommittee access to highly classified information typically available to members of the House Intelligence Committee.
House Democrats decried the new committee as a ploy by Trump allies to demonize people and agencies that probed the former president and the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol by Trump’s followers.
Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts likened the new panel to the anti-communist hearings led by the late Sen. Joe McCarthy.
“I call it the McCarthy committee, and I’m not talking about Kevin; I’m talking about Joe,” McGovern said on the House floor Tuesday.