This post was written by Danielle Heiberg, Senior Manager, Policy & Advocacy, and Victoria Rodriguez, Advocacy Associate.
Midterm Elections and the 116th Congress
This past Election Day marked the highest voter turnout numbers for a midterm election since 1914. As of this writing, six House races and one Senate race have yet to be determined. Democrats picked up 36 House seats and could gain a few more (as of this writing, there will be 231 Democrat and 198 Republican members). On the Senate side, Republicans gained two seats (53 Republican and 47 Democrat members). With the high number of retirements, including Senator Bob Corker (R-TN), Congressman Ed Royce (R-CA), and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and losses by moderate Republicans, including Congressmen Daniel Donovan (R-NY) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ), the incoming Congress will have lots of new faces.
So, what will the 116th Congress look like? Many new members are medical professionals, like former nurse Lauren Underwood (D-IL), physician Kim Schrier (D-WA), and former naval physician John Joyce (R-PA); have a background working in U.S. agencies, like former Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala (D-FL) who served in the Clinton administration; have military experience, like former combat platoon leader Max Rose (D-NY) and former White House National Security Officer who also served as a civilian military adviser, Andy Kim (D-NJ); and personal narratives closely linked to work in global health, like Ilhan Omar (D-MN) who migrated to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia.
With the large number of new members and the Democrats taking control of the House but losing seats in the Senate, there will be some changes to committee assignments. Committee and subcommittee assignments are still being determined, but here is a chart of anticipated changes to current Senate and House Committee and Subcommittee assignments.
With the loss of a number of global health champions – of the House Republicans who signed the fiscal year 2019 maternal and child health funding Dear Colleague letter two-thirds lost their races or are retiring – educating new members and their staff on global health and foreign assistance will be critical. GHC and the global health advocacy community will be on Capitol Hill during the first few months of the new Congress doing educational outreach and cultivating new global health champions, GHC will launch the next version of the Global Health Briefing Book on February 27. To learn more about GHC’s upcoming advocacy opportunities, email email@example.com.
View the full list of new Congressional members.
Lame Duck Session
When Congress returns after Thanksgiving, they will continue work on the seven remaining Fiscal Year 2019 appropriations bills, including State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs), in hopes of avoiding a partial government shutdown.
While it’s still not clear exactly how the remaining bills will be passed, there is talk of bundling the remaining bills into several “minibuses,” but the major challenge will continue to be the negotiations over funding for the border wall. If this is the way forward, it is rumored that SFOPs would be bundled with the Department of Homeland Security and Commerce and Justice, making the passage of SFOPs challenging. Recently, Republican members met with the President to discuss what final funding for the wall could look like, and it appears that a government shutdown is unlikely. A short-term CR may be needed to give time for Congress to wrap up the final spending packages.
On November 13, the House passed the PEPFAR Extension Act (H.R. 6651), which reauthorizes PEPFAR for five more years. The Senate is expected to pass the reauthorization legislation in the coming days. Remarks from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA).
U.S. Recommits to GHSA
At the Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) Ministerial meeting earlier this month, the Trump administration recommitted the United States to the second phase of GHSA from 2019-2024. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar stated that, “We have the opportunity, at this time in history, to make a significant step forward toward securing our countries from infectious disease threats.” In addition, Secretary Azar announced the administration would commit $150 million to ongoing global health security activities. Read Secretary Azar’s full statement.
Dr. Redfield Provides Update on Ebola Outbreak in DRC on Capitol Hill
In mid-November, Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of CDC, provided an update to Congressional staff on the ongoing Ebola outbreak in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Dr. Redfield discussed the challenges in responding to an outbreak in a conflict-zone, where dozens of armed militias operate. In late August, the United States pulled back responders from CDC because of security concerns. Dr. Redfield cited some success with vaccinating contacts, but ongoing mistrust of the government is hampering efforts. Dr. Redfield stated his belief that the disease could become endemic in the region, but WHO and the U.S. government has since downplayed that possibility. To date there are over 350 cases, 305 of them confirmed, and 210 fatalities in the outbreak, now in its fourth month.