A divided and new US Congress convened Tuesday noon amid a bitter House leadership battle and the snowballing scandal of a congressman-elect lying about his biography.
The session came nearly two months after the 2022 midterm elections, in which Republicans flipped the US House of Representatives and Democrats held onto their majority in the Senate.
US Congressman Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, lost an initial vote for House speaker on Tuesday afternoon after 19 Republicans voted for others, sending the election to a second ballot.
All House Democrats voted for Congressman Hakeem Jeffries from New York to lead the Democratic minority, set to make him the first African American lawmaker to lead a party in either chamber of the US Congress.
If no candidate wins a majority of votes in the next round, House members will vote on and on until a speaker is elected.
US Congressman-elect George Santos, a 34-year-old Republican from New York, is among those who are waiting to be sworn in after the speaker vote.
Santos has recently admitted to lying about his educational history and professional biography but rejected bipartisan calls for him not to take office.
“My sins here are embellishing my resume. I’m sorry,” embattled Santos acknowledged last week while alleging that the controversy would not deter him “from having good legislative success.”
Former US Congresswoman and Fox News contributor Tulsi Gabbard commented, “Washington has created a culture where it’s acceptable to lie to further your own interest.”
“But even when politicians do get caught, people just shrug their shoulders and move on,” Gabbard continued. “So, no one should be surprised that the American people don’t trust these politicians.”
Public trust in the US Congress reached an all-time low, with only 7 percent of Americans expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in it, according to a Gallup poll released in the summer of 2022.
Americans’ approval of Congress, a separate survey that Gallup conducted following last year’s midterm elections suggested, remains largely negative, with 73 percent of US adults expressing disapproval.
US Vice President Kamala Harris presided over the opening day of the Senate with Democrats having a slim 51-49 majority over Republicans, and she swore in 35 either newly elected or reelected senators Tuesday afternoon.
Chuck Schumer from New York and Mitch McConnell from Kentucky, both Senate veterans, will continue to serve as the chamber’s majority leader and minority leader, respectively.
The divided Congress with Republicans controlling the House is likely to stall US President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda in the next two years.
In addition, top House Republicans have vowed to launch a series of investigations into the Democratic administration, poised to augment partisan discord on Capitol Hill.
“Our politics has gotten so angry, so mean, so partisan,” Biden said late last year. “And too often we see each other as enemies, not as neighbors; as Democrats or Republicans, not as fellow Americans. We’ve become too divided.”
Divided government has been the reality for all US presidents since Ronald Reagan for at least part of their term.