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Congress searches for a path forward as control of the House remains in limbo

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Congress is back this week for what's shaping up to be a busy lame duck session. Democrats in the Senate are breathing a sigh of relief after retaining control of that chamber. Here's Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: The American people stepped back from the precipice and chose progress and getting things done rather than the voices of divisiveness, nastiness and lack of complete truth and honor.

CHANG: But it is still unclear where things stand for the House, where control still remains in limbo. NPR congressional correspondent Claudia Grisales joins us now with more. Hey, Claudia.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: OK. So even with the Georgia Senate race in a runoff in December, we already know now that Democrats will be going into the next Congress with control of the Senate. Do we know what's going to be on their agenda?

GRISALES: Right. We're getting some hints. And you raise a good point about the Georgia Senate race. This is between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker. That is a critical one, even after Democrats are going to control the Senate chambers - they learned this weekend after their win in the Nevada Senate race.

But now, they're going to move forward with their lame duck session plans and their plans for a new Congress next year. Schumer pleaded for Republicans to work with Democrats in the new Congress. That could include judicial nominees and bipartisan legislation. But this is going to be a harder task if the House falls under Republican control.

CHANG: Exactly. OK. So what about the House? Like, where do things stand there at this moment?

GRISALES: Yes. A lot of critical races remain outstanding, so it can't be called yet. We don't know for certain if Republicans will take control, but the odds are in their favor. It could be by a very thin margin and upend all sorts of plans for Republicans who are expecting a red wave.

CHANG: Yeah. So then, what does this mean for House Republicans who, I understand, are going to be holding their internal leadership elections tomorrow?

GRISALES: Right. There's a lot in limbo here. Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was the presumptive speaker if the GOP saw a red way. But without it, there's a much more turbulent road ahead. Members such as Texas Republican Chip Roy have said McCarthy does not have the majority of the chamber to be speaker, to be elected speaker. And so now, he's part of a GOP group pushing for a delay in leadership elections.

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CHIP ROY: Yeah, I would argue that it'd be better for us to at least have the final tallies completed, I think, in the Senate and the House. I think that would be a better way to do things.

GRISALES: So tomorrow, McCarthy only needs to get a majority of his conference to vote for him behind closed doors, but he's going to need a majority on the House floor come next year. It's unclear if he'll get that. There are Republican House members who are considering a challenge here.

CHANG: OK. Well, Congress, as you said, is back today. What do you think all of this means for the lame duck session through the rest of the year?

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

CHANG: That is NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thank you, Claudia.

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

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.