With several races still too close to call, Republicans maintained and expanded their majority in the Senate, while Democrats picked up enough seats to take control of the House. Once in the majority, House Democrats can be expected to exercise their oversight, and if necessary, subpoena authority to compel responses from the Administration to inquiries from the minority on a host of controversial topics that were not answered due to the process that only committee chairs could compel those responses. Despite the increased political rancor that comes with a divided Congress, there are important and bipartisan issues such as consumer data security and privacy reforms, federal infrastructure programs, and immigration reforms that could receive bipartisan agreement. There will also be new leadership on key committees like Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation that will influence policymaking in technology, telecommunications, innovation, and other key areas.
Below find an overview of expected changes in leadership on congressional committees that shape policies that determine how businesses can integrate emerging technologies to be competitive in today’s economy. We also explore the potential agenda for the 116th Congress as it may impact companies with a stake in issues ranging from data privacy to antitrust, oversight, and technology and innovation policy.
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee has one of the broadest portfolios in Congress. With jurisdiction over consumer protection, some energy issues, telecommunications, and transportation technologies ranging from drones to autonomous vehicles and space travel, its members play a key role in technology and innovation policy development. Its current chairman, Senator Thune (R-SD), is likely to give up his gavel to join the Senate Republican leadership ranks, setting up Senator Wicker (R-MS) to chair the committee in the 116th Congress. Ranking Member Nelson (D-FL) is trailing his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott, and state law will likely trigger a recount. If the results hold, Senator Cantwell (D-WA) can be expected to succeed Nelson as ranking member should she decide to give up the same position on Energy and Natural Resources. If not, Senator Klobuchar (D-MN)is next in line to serve as ranking member. Senator Heller (R-NV), an active Committee member, also lost his bid for reelection, while the newest member of the Committee, Senator Tester (D-MT), narrowly defeated his Republican opponent Matt Rosendale.
Wicker intends to develop a federal consumer privacy framework as a top priority for 2019. In the wake of a series of high-profile data breaches, the Committee held a series of hearings in late 2018 examining efforts like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) as potential models for a federal privacy framework in the United States. The hearings coincided with the Department of Commerce and other federal agencies embarking on their own efforts to examine the need for federal action to preserve consumer privacy, but bipartisan members of the Committee, including Wicker, have publicly signaled to the Administration their belief that only Congress can implement a federal privacy standard.
There is some uncertainty surrounding the Senate Judiciary Committee leadership for the 116thCongress. The current chair, Senator Grassley (R-IA), may opt to take the Senate Finance Committeegavel upon Senator Hatch’s (R-UT) retirement. Since President Trump took office, Grassley has played a leading role in shaping the American judiciary, including shepherding through two of Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. Grassley may opt to continue in this role rather than move to Finance, where there is likely to be less action in a divided Congress.
If Grassley does move to Finance, Senator Graham (R-SC) is poised to chair the Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, though he is also a potential candidate to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions. If neither Grassley nor Graham take the reins on Judiciary, it creates an opening for Senator Cornyn (R-TX), who is about to be term-limited out of Republican leadership. Senator Feinstein (D-CA), reelected in California to a sixth term, will remain as the ranking member.
After Congress enacted legislation in April to modify Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, originally designed to protect platforms from liability for user-generated content, Graham floated the idea of further modifications to what many consider the foundation on which the internet has developed into what it is today. This is consistent with President Trump’s comments that internet companies may need additional regulation.
Aside from judicial nominations, the Judiciary Committee plays a critical role in US antitrust policy and enforcement, which is increasingly under scrutiny as technology and innovation test the limits of existing law. The Committee also has jurisdiction over immigration, an area of potential compromise in a divided Congress.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee also has a prominent role in technology policy, particularly amid increasing concerns about cybersecurity and threats posed by new technologies. A drone countermeasures bill offered by the Committee’s bipartisan leadership was incorporated into the long-term FAA reauthorization bill that reached the President’s desk earlier this fall. It is also the Senate’s chief oversight panel. Senator Johnson (R-WI) will keep his gavel in the 116thCongress. With Ranking Member McCaskill (D-MO) and Senator Heitkamp (D-ND) losing their bids for reelection, Senator Peters (D-MI) is positioned to become the Committee’s top Democrat.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee (HELP) will resume its work in the 116thCongress under the continued leadership of Chairman Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Murray (D-WA). With strong economic indicators, many believe that workforce issues will be a central focus of the 116th Congress due to an imbalance in skills training and the rise in the number of citizens that work for themselves without a safety net or benefits. HELP will have to navigate workforce issues such as portable benefits, training and retraining, and reexamining traditional models of employment to ensure the American workforce is poised to compete in the 21st century economy. Workforce issues have also been a priority agenda item for this Administration.
The Senate Finance Committee, the chamber’s tax-writing panel, also has jurisdiction over government-sponsored healthcare programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are increasingly looking at new technologies for innovative solutions to manage costs and create efficiencies as these programs experience exponential growth in enrollment. If Senator Grassley (R-IA) does not opt to succeed retiring Chairman Hatch (R-UT), Senator Crapo (R-ID) is poised to take the Finance gavel. Senator Wyden (D-OR) will stay on as ranking member.
Chairman Shelby (R-AL) and Ranking Member Leahy (D-VT) will continue to play influential roles in shaping federal agencies’ policies through directed spending at the helm of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The 115th Congress sent the President eight spending bills before the midterm elections and has until December 7 to process the remaining four FY19 bills before a short-term continuing resolution expires.
Other Senate Committees
Several other committees are expected to maintain their current leadership in the new Congress, including:
Agriculture: Chairman Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Stabenow (R-MI) Armed Services: Chairman Inhofe (R-OK) and Ranking Member Reed (D-RI) Budget: Chairman Enzi (R-WY) and Ranking Member Sanders (I-VT) Environment and Public Works: Chairman Barrasso (R-WY) and Ranking Member Carper (D-DE)
A few others will or may see leadership changes due to retirements or jockeying among committee chairs:
Banking, Housing, and Urban Development: Chairman Crapo (R-ID) remains in place unless he ends up with the Finance gavel. Senator Brown (D-OH) continues as the Committee’s top Democrat. Energy and Natural Resources: Chairman Murkowski (R-AK) stays on. Ranking Member Cantwell (D-WA) will have the option to become the ranking member on the Commerce Committee if the results hold and Senator Nelson (D-FL) loses his bid for reelection after a recount. Senator Manchin (D-WV) is the most senior Democrat who does not currently serve as ranking member on another committee. Foreign Relations: Chairman Corker (R-TN) is retiring and Senator Risch (R-ID) is next in line for the gavel. Ranking Member Menendez (D-NJ) stays on.
Small Business: Chairman Risch (R-ID) is poised to become the next Foreign Relations chair, setting up Senator Rubio (R-FL) to chair Small Business. Senator Cardin (D-MD) remains the ranking member. Veterans’ Affairs: Senator Isakson (R-GA) will continue to chair the Committee in the next Congress alongside Ranking Member Tester (D-MT).
New Members of the Senate
At least seven new senators will be sworn into office in January with several races still too close to call. Bios of each can be found below.
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) defeated Phil Bredesen (D) to succeed Senator Bob Corker (R) Mike Braun (R-IN) defeated Senator Joe Donnelly (D) Kevin Cramer (R-ND) defeated Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D) Josh Hawley (R-MO) defeated Senator Claire McCaskill (D) Martha McSally (R-AZ) is leading Kyrsten Sinema (D) to succeed Senator Jeff Flake (R) Mitt Romney (R-UT) defeated Jenny Wilson (D) to succeed Senator Orrin Hatch (R) Jacky Rosen (D-NV) defeated Senator Dean Heller (R) Rick Scott (R-FL) is leading Senator Bill Nelson (D) going into a recount
Like the Senate Commerce Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee enjoys broad jurisdiction through which it influences technology, telecommunications, and consumer protection. The Committee’s current leadership – Chairman Walden (R-OR) and Ranking Member Pallone (D-NJ) – are slated to swap roles in the new year.
Pallone is a strong advocate for comprehensive privacy legislation, an area of potential collaboration in the divided Congress that will likely be at or near the top of the Committee’s agenda for the 116thCongress. Another area of potential bipartisan collaboration is drug pricing. Through its jurisdiction over the government-sponsored Medicare and Medicaid, there may be room for Pallone and the Administration to work together on efforts to lower drug prices.
While drones largely fall outside of its portfolio, it is the committee of jurisdiction for autonomous vehicles. While the bipartisan SELF DRIVE Act easily moved through both the Committee and the full House in 2017, look for Democrats to leverage the fact that the Senate counterpart stalled in the 115thCongress to reopen the bill in 2019.
Drone policy falls under the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which Rep. DeFazio (D-OR) will lead in the next Congress. Rep. Shuster (R-PA), is retiring upon reaching his term limit as chairman. Reps. Graves (R-MO) and Denham (R-CA) have been actively campaigning to succeed him. Denham’s race remains too close to call, though the incumbent holds a slight edge over his Democratic challenger Josh Harder.
Infrastructure will top DeFazio’s agenda for the 116th Congress as a potential area for work with the Administration and the Senate. This fall, Congress sent the President a long-term FAA reauthorization bill, clearing from the Committee’s agenda legislation that has stalled since 2015. The bill imposes upon the FAA a long list of mandates, however, and DeFazio will oversee the Committee’s oversight as FAA implements the legislation. The Committee is also beginning to explore future transportation technologies like urban air mobility, a shared an area of interest for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee. Rep. Johnson (D-TX) takes the helm of that committee. Reps. Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Weber (R-TX) are jockeying for the top Republican slot vacated by retiring Rep. Smith (R-TX), but Rohrabacher is currently trailing his Democratic challenger, Harley Rouda.
Rep. Nadler (D-NY) is poised to take the gavel on the House Judiciary Committee and potentially act on a host of issues including immigration reform, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, Mobile Workforce, the Business Activity and Simplification Act, digital goods taxation legislation, and other internet, security, and competition-related issues. There is no certainty yet as to who will be Nadler’s Republican counterpart. Outgoing Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) was term-limited and opted to retire. Reps. Chabot (R-OH) and Collins (R-GA) are seeking to succeed him.
Rep. Scott (D-VA) will take the helm at the House Education and Workforce Committee, typically styled Education and Labor Committee in a Democratic-controlled House. He swaps roles with Rep. Foxx (R-NC), who becomes ranking member. Job training, reskilling, and other efforts to equip the American workforce to compete in a 21st century economy are areas of potential collaboration with the Senate and the Administration.
Rep. Lowey (D-NY) is poised to become the first female chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Her Republican counterpart remains to be seen as a crowded field seeks to succeed retiring Rep. Frelinghuysen (R-NJ). Reps. Aderholt (R-AL), Granger (R-TX), Simpson (R-ID), Cole (R-OK), and Graves (R-GA) are among the so-called “cardinals” seeking to move up.
Other House Committees
Several other committees are expected to maintain their current leadership with current chairs and ranking members swapping roles to reflect the new Democratic majority in the new Congress, including:
Agriculture: Chairman Peterson (D-MN) and Ranking Member Conaway (R-TX) Armed Services: Chairman Smith (D-WA) and Ranking Member Thornberry (R-TX) Budget: Chairman Yarmuth (D-KY) and Ranking Member Womack (R-AR) Natural Resources: Chairman Grijalva (D-AZ) and Ranking Member Bishop (R-UT) Ways and Means: Chairman Neal (D-MA) and Ranking Member Brady (R-TX)
A few others will or may see leadership changes due to retirements or other departures:
Financial Services: Rep. Waters (D-CA) is poised to take the gavel. Current Chairman Hensarling (R-TX) is retiring. The race to be ranking member is largely dependent upon whether or not there is an opportunity for Chief Deputy Whip McHenry (R-NC) to move up the Republican leadership ranks. If he does not pursue the top GOP slot on Financial Services, the list of potential candidates includes Reps. Lucas (R-OK), Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Huizenga (R-MI), Duffy (R-WI). Foreign Affairs: The current ranking member, Rep. Engel (D-NY), becomes the chair. Outgoing Chairman Royce (R-CA) is retiring. Rep. McCaul (R-TX), term-limited on Homeland Security, is interested in the Foreign Affairs post, as are Reps. Wilson (R-SC) and Yoho (R-FL). Homeland Security: Ranking Member Thompson (D-MS) takes over as chair. Outgoing Chairman McCaul (R-TX) is term-limited. Rep. Rogers (R-AL) is likely to succeed him as the Committee’s top Republican. Oversight and Government Reform: Rep. Cummings (D-MD) takes over as chairman of the House’s chief investigative panel. Rep. Russell (R-OK) was looking to succeed retiring Rep. Gowdy (R-SC) as the Committee’s top Republican, but unexpectedly lost his bid for reelection. Rep. Jordan (R-OH) is the most senior Republican returning to Congress, though he is running for Republican leader. Rep. Amash (R-MI) follows. Small Business: Rep. Velazquez (D-NY) is slated to slide over from ranking member to chair, but the current chair, Rep. Chabot (R-OH), is seeking the top spot on Judiciary. The next most senior Republicans on the Committee are Reps. King (R-IA), Luetkemeyer (R-MO), and Brat (R-VA). Veterans’ Affairs: Ranking Member Walz (D-MN) ran for governor. Rep. Takano (D-CA) is the next most senior Democrat on the Committee. Chairman Roe (R-TN) is expected to become the ranking member.