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Both Parties Must Navigate Split Priorities In New Congress

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And the pressure campaign from the president in Georgia comes as a new Congress is being sworn in today. Democrat Nancy Pelosi was narrowly reelected as speaker of the House, leading an historically narrow majority. The balance of power in the Senate is still undecided, waiting on Georgia's runoffs. Republicans are openly warring over the decision by some members to object when Congress gathers Wednesday to certify President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College win.

NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell has been following these battles, and she is with us now.

Kelsey, it's good to hear from you.

KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start with the Republicans. A dozen Senate Republicans say they're going to join a group of House Republicans to contest the Electoral College votes on January 6. What will this mean for the process?

SNELL: So this is being led by Ted Cruz of Texas, and he's joining Josh Hawley of Missouri. They have the power to slow the process and force extended debate in direct defiance of Republican leaders. You know, other Republicans like Mitt Romney of Utah and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are calling these people out directly. And a bipartisan group put out a statement today saying that the voters have spoken, and Congress must fulfill their constitutional responsibility.

You know, the objectors are saying that they're standing up for people who don't trust the election results, but that distrust is based on misinformation and false claims shared by Trump and others. And this is all happening, as that audio you mentioned has been released, as kind of - I mean, it really is just driving an enormous rift in the Republican Party. It is a clear demonstration that Republicans fear the backlash from Trump supporters and that Trump's influence on the party just isn't going to disappear when he leaves office.

MARTIN: And the important question is, will this have any effect on the outcome of this vote?

SNELL: Well, this will force Republican leaders and those who disagree with the objectors to publicly split with Trump to uphold the election results. But Joe Biden won the election, and that reality is expected to be certified by Congress this week.

MARTIN: Let's go to the Democrats now. Nancy Pelosi was reelected as speaker, but the margin was extremely tight. How will her narrow majority affect the Democrats' ability to enact Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' agenda after they take office?

SNELL: You know, moderates and progressives each claim that they are the ones who are responsible for delivering the win for Biden and Harris. They also have very different visions about one of the - priorities should be for their party. You know, they do generally agree, though, that COVID-19 is the top priority and that the focus of the party needs to be on relief and recovery.

But the issues I'm watching in particular are how the party navigates where they're really divided now, like student loan debt relief or the role of climate policy and, you know, how they're going to approach that in the first hundred days. This split isn't new, but the ranks of the outspoken progressives has grown a little bit, and a large portion of the losses for Democrats in 2020 came from the more moderate wing.

You know, that means that it may be more difficult to find legislation that can appease both sides of the party and get enough votes to actually pass the House.

MARTIN: And some of those decisions will certainly be influenced by the outcome of the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, right?

SNELL: Yeah, absolutely. You know, Biden's ability to enact his agenda would be significantly changed by Georgia. Republican Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue are fighting to keep their jobs. And if they win, they - Republicans will retain control of the Senate and control over what gets a vote on the Senate floor. And that's critical. If Democrats win, they can shape the - basically, the entire path of Biden's term. And it'll be largely decided by those two runoff races.

MARTIN: That was NPR congressional correspondent Kelsey Snell.

Kelsey, thank you so much.

SNELL: Glad to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.