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With House under GOP control, Minnesota’s lawmakers head for new roles in the next Congress

Omar may be the most affected after the new Congress is gaveled in on Jan. 3. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who hopes to become the next speaker, vowed to strip Omar of her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Tom Emmer, right, speaking to reporters on November 15 as House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy looks on.
Rep. Tom Emmer, right, speaking to reporters on November 15 as House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy looks on.
REUTERS/Michael A. McCoy

WASHINGTON — They all won re-election, yet the midterm elections will propel members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation into very different roles next year.

The flipping of the House by the GOP means some lawmakers will be in the majority for the first time in their congressional career, including Reps. Pete Stauber, R-8th, Michelle Fischbach, R-7th, and Brad Finstad, R-1st.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th, will trade his job as head of the House Republican campaign arm, the National Republican Campaign Committee, for the third most powerful position in the House, that of majority whip.

Emmer’s main role as majority whip will be rounding up votes to get Republican legislation approved in the House, and he will be present when GOP priorities and strategy are discussed. That means, when there are discussions about the budget and other key pieces of legislation, “Minnesota may get benefits it would not ordinarily have,” said University of Minnesota Morris political science professor Tim Lindberg.

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Other Minnesota lawmakers will be new to the minority, including Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-5th, Dean Phillips, D-3rd and Angie Craig, D-2nd.

Omar may be the most affected after the new Congress is gaveled in on Jan. 3.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who hopes to become the next House speaker, on Sunday reiterated his vow to supporters and fundraisers to strip Omar of a key platform: Her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar
McCarthy made his latest threat to Omar on Fox News, and also repeated his pledge to remove two other House Democratic progressives, Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff, both from California, from their committees.

But McCarthy, even if he is elected House speakers, does not have the authority to do that. He can reinstate Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to committee assignments that were stripped from her in a February 2021 vote by House Democrats, who were joined by 11 House Republicans. Removing Omar or any other lawmaker from a committee assignment would also require a majority vote in the House.

That might not be difficult, even with a slim GOP majority, and serve to unite the disparate factions of the House GOP, Lindberg said.

“Stripping Omar of committee assignments will get support across the board (of GOP House members,)” Lindberg said. “While impeaching President Biden may not.”

Omar reacted quickly and vigorously to McCarthy’s threat.

“From the moment I was elected, the Republican Party has made it their mission to use fear, xenophobia, Islamophobia and racism to target me on the House floor and through millions of dollars of campaign ads,” she said in a statement.

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Omar also said “whether it is Marjorie Taylor Greene holding a gun next to my head in campaign ads or Donald Trump threatening to ‘send me back’ to my country (despite the fact that I have been a proud citizen of the United States for more than 20 years), this constant stream of hate has led to hundreds of death threats and credible plots against me and my family.”

As a member of the “Squad,” Omar has been a lightning rod for conservative ire. McCarthy said he took aim at Omar over what he said were anti-Semitic remarks by the Minnesota lawmaker. In 2019, Omar implied in a tweet that political support for Israel is based on campaign donations from AIPAC, a pro-Israel lobbying group. Omar later apologized for her remarks.

Not a fun place for Democrats

Meanwhile Rep. Betty McCollum, D-4th, will lose her gavel as the subcommittee chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with authority over the Pentagon’s budget. McCollum will remain the top Democrat on that committee, which often works on a bipartisan basis to fund the nation’s military.

“I look forward to continue making strategic investments in keeping America safe, strong, and successful into the future,” McCollum said.

Rep. Betty McCollum
Rep. Betty McCollum
Bipartisanship in that committee may be more difficult in the next Congress as many House Republicans have become critical of continued U.S. funding of Ukraine’s war effort and McCollum and other Democrats push back against the effort.

McCollum, 68, a friend and ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is stepping down from her leadership post in the next Congress, is the dean of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, having served for 22 years. She may consider retiring from Congress, Lindberg said.

“Betty McCollum may not run again in 2024 if she thinks Democrats won’t retake the House,” he said. “It’s not a very fun place to be in the minority.”

Before the House flipped, Craig was in line to chair a House Agriculture subcommittee with oversight of commodities and farm credit programs, but no more.

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While Craig will no longer be able to set the agenda on an important panel of the Agriculture Committee as Congress takes up the next farm bill, all Minnesota lawmakers who are on that committee – whether they are in the majority like Finstad and Fischbach or in the minority like Craig – will likely have a role in drafting the massive, five-year bill that will reauthorize all federal farm and nutrition programs. With a divided Congress, the farm bill is expected to be the result of compromises between Democrats and Republicans.

“I’m excited to have a seat at the table,” Finstad said.

Rep. Brad Finstad
Rep. Brad Finstad
Although he was elected to Congress just months ago, in August, to fill the remainder of the late Rep. Jim Hagedorn’s term and served a very short time in the minority, Finstad said “there’s a lot of education going from the minority to the majority.”

Meanwhile, fellow Republican Stauber is in line to become chairman of the Natural Resources minerals and energy subcommittee, which has authority over mining.

Now he can hold hearings and push forward legislation on what he believes are Iron Range priorities.

“The priorities we have are in the energy and mining space,” Stauber said. “That includes permitting reform to allow mine permitting to be done in a timely fashion.”

Stauber said he would introduce “thoughtful, pragmatic legislation” that would allow more U.S. mining of key minerals that he said were currently mined through the use of child labor overseas.

But while Stauber and other Republicans have vowed to push for more mining and domestic natural gas and oil exploration, they will be stymied by their narrow majority and the Democratic-led Senate.

So, much of the legislation approved by the new GOP-controlled House is expected to be “messaging” bills that have little chance of surviving the Senate filibuster. So House Republicans plan to invest a lot of energy into investigations into Biden’s family and the president’s policies, probes that McCarthy promised would begin “from day one.”

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Fischbach is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, a panel that’s expected to investigate how the Biden administration is handling border issues and the FBI seizure of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago, former President Trump’s Florida home.

Rep. Michelle Fischbach
Rep. Michelle Fischbach
Those investigations may help boost Fischbach’s profile in the new Congress, Lindberg said.

Meanwhile, despite his new status in the minority, Phillips is vying to become the co-chair of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee (DPCC), which involves trying to get the fractious Democratic caucus to adopt a unified message.

Candidates for that position, which include Reps. Susan Wild, D-Pa., Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, and Lauren Underwood, D-Ill., will be elected by members of the Democratic caucus in their party’s leadership elections on Nov. 30.

Massive battles ahead

Minnesota’s Democratic senators, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, will remain in the majority, since their party held on to control of the Senate. The two will keep their committee assignments and continue to accrue seniority, which helps determine clout in the Senate, but their roles will undergo some change.

Klobuchar said in the past few years Congress was able to enact bipartisan legislation to expand health care for veterans and improve the nation’s infrastructure.

“I’m committed to continuing that progress over the next few months and in the next Congress,” Klobuchar said.

That may be difficult.

As the last votes were still being counted in the midterm election, the campaign for the 2024 presidential elections came to life, boosted by former President Donald Trump’s announcement that he will run for the White House again. So work on bipartisan issues will be rare, Biden’s agenda will stall and partisanship and gridlock is expected to freeze much action in the next Senate, except for the confirmation of the president’s judicial nominees, which only requires a majority vote in the chamber.

A divided Congress heading into the 2024 elections will also likely turn some of the key functions of Congress, like funding the federal government and lifting the debt limit, into massive battles as factions within each party use crucial deadlines for leverage. Minnesota lawmakers are likely to join the fray.

Meanwhile, with House Republicans considering a new ban on earmarks, or special projects, Klobuchar and Smith may be the only Minnesota lawmakers who will be able to secure funding for local projects.

Klobuchar is expected to continue to chair the Senate Rules and Administration Committee and chair a Judiciary subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights. She is also expected to continue to serve on the Senate agriculture and commerce committees.

Smith, meanwhile, will likely remain on the Senate Health, Education and Labor Committee, and the Agriculture and Indian Affairs panels. She is also expected to continue to chair a subcommittees on the Senate Banking Committee that has authority over housing, transportation and community development.