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With some elections undecided, Congress returns for a busy lame-duck session

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

While votes are still being counted in the midterm elections, Congress is back this week for what is shaping up to be a busy lame-duck session.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

After Democrats clinched control of the Senate, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pleaded for both parties to work together.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: Let us proceed in the next two years by putting people first and getting things done, even if we have to compromise. We may not accomplish everything we want, but if we can get real things done, that will measure how good a Congress we can be.

FADEL: In the House, Republicans are one win away from taking the majority and a passing of the gavel from Speaker Nancy Pelosi to a Republican leader.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales has more. Claudia, so even with the Senate race in Georgia in a runoff, Democrats are moving forward on their agenda. What's next for them?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Right. Last night, they took the next steps to get legislation to codify marriage equality on the Senate floor next. This is an issue Democrats have wanted to take up since before the midterms. It came up as a top issue after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and ushered in new questions about other protections that could be under threat. Schumer also pleaded for Republicans to work with Democrats. This is - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell noted this election was another reminder that the country remains closely divided. And we could have divided government again once these House elections are settled. This leaves a long to-do list in the coming weeks, especially as legislating will become a harder task with the House poised to come under Republican control.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So speaking of the House, where do things stand there?

GRISALES: Right. As you mentioned, Republicans are just one race away from taking control in the House. So House Democrats are getting ready for a transition here, to relinquish control of the chamber and making plans for playing defense in the House come next year. But Republicans are projected to gain control of this chamber by a small margin. And this upends all sorts of plans for Republicans who were expecting a red wave.

MARTÍNEZ: And they're set to hold their internal leadership elections today. So what does it mean for House Republicans?

GRISALES: Yeah, so Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was the presumptive speaker if the GOP saw a red wave. But without it, there's a much more turbulent road ahead. He tried to downplay those worries with reporters at the Capitol last night.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: It's going to be a tight majority, so everyone's going to have to work together. We'll be successful as a team and we'll get defeated as an individual if we don't all work together.

GRISALES: Yeah. So he's emphasizing there that if they don't work well together, they will be defeated. So McCarthy only needs to get a majority of his conference to vote for him behind closed doors today. But he's going to need a majority on the House floor next year. And it's unclear if he can get that. There are Republican House members considering challenging him here. For example, members of the House Freedom Caucus have made clear they're not ready to co-sign a McCarthy speakership.

MARTÍNEZ: It's a lame-duck session through the rest of the year. What are we looking at now?

GRISALES: Right. It's going to be busy, perhaps chaotic, because if Democrats do indeed lose the House next year, as is expected, that means they're going to be on notice to get critical legislation through that may not be possible come next year. So it's quite the sprint to the end of the year for both chambers as they head into this new Congress That includes wrapping up a government funding package this year, a defense bill reforming the Electoral Count Act and also the work of the House Select January 6 Committee.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, the January 6 Committee is supposed to sunset by the end of the year. What's left for the panel to do, and actually, what becomes of their work come next year?

GRISALES: Right. One major priority is they need to sort through final witness interviews. And former President Trump, who was subpoenaed, is on that list, but he's not expected to cooperate. He could run out the clock with the new lawsuit that he filed against the panel. Now, the committee was already set to sunset by December 31. So they've made plans to issue a comprehensive report in this final month that includes a deeper look at their interviews with more than a thousand witnesses and other findings of evidence over the past year. That said, the GOP is slated to take that majority next year in the House so they could try and turn the tables on Democrats and investigate the panel's work.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.