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After Kevin McCarthy's election as speaker, Congress looks ahead

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

After a tumultuous week, members of the U.S. House are finally sworn in and set to begin their work for a new Congress. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said after the historic stalemate and public fights among members of his own conference, he is betting his Republican majority is ready to get on the same page.

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KEVIN MCCARTHY: I think what you will see by having this now, we've worked out how to work together.

RASCOE: But with a divided government, working together could be an elusive goal. Joining me to discuss the next steps for Congress is NPR's congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Welcome to the show, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Great to be with you, Ayesha.

RASCOE: So after the events of this week, what are Republicans' plans in this new era of divided government?

GRISALES: There are plenty. Speaker McCarthy laid out a lot of those details in his speech after his election to lead the chamber. He said they'll focus on oversight of the Biden administration, lower government spending to help cut costs for families and address rising energy bills. This is all part of what he argues is a message voters sent during the midterms when a narrow Republican majority for the House was elected.

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MCCARTHY: You voted for a new direction for our country. You embraced our commitment to America, and now we're going to keep our commitment to you.

GRISALES: He went on to say that his party's first bill will move to decrease funding for the IRS, that they'll push legislation to address immigration at the southern border. And the border will be the subject of one of their first hearings. But much of these efforts are not expected to go far with a Democratic Senate and White House.

RASCOE: Still, the House already lost a week because of Republican infighting. Now they've got to play catch up. What's on tap for this week?

GRISALES: Before they can do anything, they have to pass a rules package for how this chamber will operate, as well as set up committees. This is on tap starting for Monday, and these rules are expected to include a slew of the deals McCarthy cut with his defectors. He comes into this role as one of the weakest speakers in recent memory. For example, one of the rules would allow one member, just one member, to trigger a vote to oust him as speaker in addition to allowing these defectors, who are largely hardline right Republicans, to sit on key committees. And we're expecting to learn more about this deal with his opponents as they work through the rules package in the coming days. And already, some moderate Republicans are expressing opposition to the plan, so this could bring a whole new fight to the floor for the GOP.

RASCOE: OK, and now that Democrats are in the House minority, what's ahead for them?

GRISALES: Democratic leader Hakeem Jeffries did touch on this in his speech over the weekend as they wrapped up the proceedings early Saturday morning. And in between digs against extremist elements in the Republican Party, Jeffries said this will not be an area where his party will compromise when we look at these extremist elements. He said the American people are understandably confused after the events of this week on the next direction for Congress. And he said while he doesn't pretend to answer what that direction is, he said Democrats are ready to try to work together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAKEEM JEFFRIES: But we do extend our hand of partnership to you and want to make clear that we extend and intend to try to find common ground whenever and wherever possible on behalf of the American people.

GRISALES: But now Democrats will be playing defense as they face new GOP oversight efforts and investigations into the Biden administration and top Democrats.

RASCOE: In about the 30 seconds we have left, with all of this division, like, what does it mean for major must-pass legislation?

GRISALES: Well, that's the biggest concern. If Congress can get on the same page to keep the government funded and reach a deal on how to address the debt limit without allowing the country to go into financial default - spending was a key concern in this fight over the speaker's gavel, and the infighting we saw doesn't bode well for these concerns. But somehow, Congress and President Biden will have to find some sort of bipartisan path to get those major bills passed.

RASCOE: That's NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales. Claudia, thank you so much.

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

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.