The Beltway Buzz is a weekly update summarizing labor and employment news from inside the Beltway and clarifying how what's happening in Washington, D.C. could impact your business.
118th Congress Takes Shape. The Buzz certainly didn't think we'd still be dissecting the results of the 2022 midterms ten days after Election Day, but here we are. Some thoughts on the continued fallout from the elections:
- Dems keep Senate, Republicans flip House. The makeup of the 118th U.S. Congress is becoming clearer. Earlier this week, the Republicans finally secured the minimum 218 seats needed for a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Additionally, with Senator Catherine Cortez Masto winning reelection in Nevada, Democrats have secured a majority in the U.S. Senate, regardless of the results of the pending Senate runoff election in Georgia on December 6, 2022.
- Elections matter. Speaking of that runoff election in Georgia between incumbent senator Raphael Warnock and challenger Herschel Walker—while the race won't determine control of the Senate, it will have a significant impact on how the Senate operates. If Warnock prevails, Democrats will have a true majority, as opposed to the "fifty-plus-one" majority (i.e., fifty senators and the vice president of the United States, who casts tiebreaking floor votes in the Senate) that they have maintained in the 117th Congress. In this scenario—an outright majority—membership on Senate committees would tilt in favor of the Democrats, rather than be divided equally, as has been the case during the last two years. An extra vote also means that Democrats would not be required to schedule critical votes around Vice President Kamala Harris's schedule. This would ease Democrats' ability to confirm nominees to the federal bench and agencies.
- Out with the old. Longtime House Democratic leaders, Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Steny Hoyer (MD)—the top two Democrats in the House—announced that they would not seek positions in the party leadership in 2023. Pelosi has served in Congress for thirty-five years, including twenty years in leadership positions within the Democratic Caucus. She was the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives, and she has served two stints as Speaker (from 2007 to 2011 and from 2019 to the present). During his forty-two-year congressional career, Hoyer, the longest-serving member of the House of Representatives from Maryland in history, served in the Democratic leadership for thirty-six years.
As for the Republicans, Mitch McConnell (KY) staved off a minor challenge this week and will continue serve as leader of the Republicans in the U.S. Senate. In the House, Republicans nominated Kevin McCarthy (CA) by a vote of 188–31 to be the next Speaker of the House. The actual vote for Speaker will occur in early January 2023, and McCarthy will need at least a majority of the votes to win the job.
Ban on NDAs Heads to President Biden's Desk. Following on the passage of the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 earlier this year, this week the House of Representatives passed the Speak Out Act (S. 4524), which had already cleared the Senate. The act would prohibit nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements (NDAs) relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment disputes that were entered into before the disputes arose. It does not cover agreements related to trade secrets or proprietary information. The act would apply to claims filed on or after the law's date of enactment. President Biden is expected to sign the bill into law. Justine Abrams, Phillip Kilgore, and Zachary Zagger have the details.
Senate Votes to End COVID-19 Emergency Declaration. On November 15, 2022, the Senate passed a resolution terminating the COVID-19 national emergency declared by President Trump on March 13, 2020. The vote was 61–37, with Senate Democrats Schumer (NY), Cortez Masto (NV), Hickenlooper (CO), Kaine (VA), Klobuchar (MN), Manchin (WV), Murphy (CT), Rosen (NV), Shaheen (NH), Sinema (AZ), Tester (MT) and Warner (VA), and Independent Angus King (ME) voting yay. While the resolution would still need to pass the House, the White House has already promised a veto, stating that because of the national emergency declaration, "the federal response to COVID-19 continues to save lives, improve health outcomes, and support the American economy."
EEOC Commissioner Dhillon Resigns. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner (EEOC) Janet Dhillon notified President Biden that she would resign her position, effective November 18, 2022, at 5:00 p.m. (EST). Technically, Dhillon's term expired in July 2022, but the holdover provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had allowed Dhillon to remain on the Commission because her successor had not been appointed. President Biden nominated Kalpana Kotagal to the Commission, but she has not been confirmed by the Senate. (If she is not confirmed by the Senate by the end of the year, her nomination will expire and she will need to be renominated, absent a procedural agreement in the Senate.) Upon Dhillon's resignation, the Commission will consist of Chair Charlotte Burrows and Commissioner Jocelyn Samuels (both Democrats), as well as Commissioners Andrea Lucas and Keith Sonderling (both Republicans).
Dhillon joined the Commission as chair in May of 2019 and held that position until January 2021. The Buzz chronicled some of Dhillon's accomplishments earlier this year.
House Committee Examines Warehouse Safety. On November 17, 2022, the House Education and Labor Committee's Workforce Protections Subcommittee held a hearing entitled "Unsafe and Untenable: Examining Workplace Protections for Warehouse Workers." Democratic subcommittee members and their witnesses spent much of the hearing criticizing particular retailers and pushing for new U.S. Department of Labor and National Labor Relations Board joint-employer tests, as well as increased enforcement and a heat stress standard from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Republicans and their witness touted voluntary improvements to workplace safety and health that employers have implemented, and they noted that OSHA could help improve outcomes through increased education via practical guidance documents, compliance assistance, and partnership programs.
A Senate First. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) announced earlier this week that he would nominate Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to serve as Senate president pro tempore in the 118th Congress. The president pro tempore is the second-highest position in the Senate, behind the vice president, and the position is third in the presidential line of succession (behind the vice president and the House Speaker). By tradition the president pro tempore is the most senior senator from the majority party. The current president pro tempore, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), will be retiring at the end of this Congress. If chosen, Murray would be the first woman to serve as president pro tempore.
The Buzz will be on hiatus next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will return on December 2, 2022.
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