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GOP Congress storms into Trump era

GOP Congress storms into Trump era
© Greg Nash

Congressional Republicans are returning to Washington on Tuesday with high hopes for a new era under President-elect Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE.

GOP lawmakers are eager to start work on an ambitious legislative agenda after gaining control of both Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade.

Though many congressional Republicans tepidly embraced Trump during the campaign, they’re increasingly optimistic that they’ll be able to work with him to pass big-ticket items like tax reform that have been non-starters during the Obama years.

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Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a member of House leadership, said his Republican colleagues were “almost giddy” about the new session that’s beginning. 

"[Trump’s] really reached out to Congress in the transition,” he said. “We've got so much more favorable relationship with the new administration. ... We know if we can get things to the president's desk that they'll be signed.” 

Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) echoed those remarks, telling a local radio station that Republican lawmakers are “beside ourselves” with excitement.

The era of good feeling is spilling over into the upper chamber, where GOP senators will be responsible for clearing Trump’s Cabinet nominees as well as approving his pick to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat.   

Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) called the first 100 days — long used as a yardstick for presidential achievement — “an enormous moment of opportunity.” 

“It’s time for bold changes that will get our economy growing again, and get Americans working again,” Perdue wrote in an op-ed outlining priorities for Congress and Trump.

Republican lawmakers have been preaching unity with Trump since a surprise election sweep handed them the White House and Congress. 

Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel Ryan signals support for sanctions if Saudis killed Khashoggi MORE (R-Wis.) — who never publicly campaigned with Trump — set the tone, declaring to reporters: "Welcome to the dawn of a new unified Republican government.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGOP leaders hesitant to challenge Trump on Saudi Arabia Overnight Health Care — Presented by Purdue Pharma — Trump officials ratchet up fight over drug pricing | McConnell says Republicans could try again on ObamaCare repeal | Dems go on offense against GOP lawsuit Republicans should prepare for Nancy Pelosi to wield the gavel MORE (R-Ky.) signaled the same message recently, saying he has a “terrific relationship” with the president-elect and predicting that 2017 will yield major legislative achievements.

Though Trump won’t be sworn in until Jan. 20, Republican leadership isn't waiting until the inauguration to get their agenda in motion

They’ll hit the ground running this week, laying the groundwork for a long-promised repeal of ObamaCare.  

Cole said the decision to make ObamaCare the first item on the new Congress’s agenda is important for the legislative process, but has a symbolic meaning as well. 

“The fight against ObamaCare probably built the modern Republican majority,” he said. “Frankly, we think it's in a death spiral.”  

The Senate is expected to move first on instructions that will allow for Congress to roll back the Affordable Care Act, with a House vote expected next week, according to the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We will move right after the first of the year on an ObamaCare replacement resolution and then we will work expeditiously to come up with a better proposal than current law, because current law is not sustainable,” McConnell told reporters, laying out the 2017 agenda. 

GOP lawmakers in both chambers also point to tax reform and regulatory reform as top priorities for 2017. The two areas, they argue, that would help bolster economic growth and would also allow Republicans to rack up legislative victories in the early part of Trump’s administration. 

“This is a really important two years,” Cole said. “You can't afford to fumble the ball in the first quarter.”  

Republicans could try to go it alone on tax reform, though they would have a narrow window to get the measure through the Senate. GOP lawmakers are signaling they will use reconciliation, a procedural shortcut allowing them to clear legislation with only 50 votes, to overhaul the tax code.  

House and Senate Republicans have also identified regulations Trump could roll back on day one without help from Congress, as well as rules from President Obama that they could reverse legislatively. 

“There are procedural means by which we can basically repeal those regulations, going back to last summer, using something called the Congressional Review Act, so you’ll see a lot of action there,” Sen. John CornynJohn CornynFive takeaways from Cruz, O'Rourke debate showdown Live coverage: Cruz faces O'Rourke in Texas debate showdown Trump, Feinstein feud intensifies over appeals court nominees MORE (R-Texas) said during a conference call with local reporters. 

The Senate is also expected to start confirmation hearings on Trump’s Cabinet nominees as soon as the week of Jan. 8, with Republicans hoping to be able to confirm some of his picks on the first day of the new administration. 

Democrats are pledging to use the media frenzy surrounding the confirmation hearings to try and buttonhole Trump’s picks and air lingering concerns about the president-elect. But they’ll face an uphill battle to stop any of the nominations, as they will need only a simple majority for Senate confirmation.

Trump’s Cabinet picks have mostly gone over well with congressional Republicans, fueling their optimism about the next four years. 

He’s named five sitting lawmakers to his administration, as well as Elaine Chao, a former Labor secretary under President George W. Bush and McConnell's wife, to be his Transportation secretary. 

Despite Republicans efforts to sync with the incoming administration, there’s likely to be intra-party tension in the months ahead.

In addition to a looming split over Russia, Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSaudi mystery drives wedge between Trump, GOP Noisy democracy, or rude people behaving like children? Lawmakers, Wall Street shrug off Trump's escalating Fed attacks MORE is threatening to vote against any budget that doesn’t balance, potentially throwing plans to repeal ObamaCare into limbo.  

The Kentucky Republican floated that heading into the new Congress he does “have a little bit of leverage here.” 

Senate GOP leadership can only afford to lose two Republican senators before they would either need to flip Democrats or have the vice president break a 50-50 tie.  

That means Congress’s work on repealing ObamaCare could be delayed until after the inauguration, when Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceHillicon Valley: Russia-linked hackers hit Eastern European companies | Twitter shares data on influence campaigns | Dems blast Trump over China interference claims | Saudi crisis tests Silicon Valley | Apple to let customers download their data Dems blast Trump for 'conflating' Chinese, Russian election interference claims A strong Kurdistan region is good for US in Iraq MORE would replace Vice President Biden and be able to break a Senate split.  

“We’ll see in the next couple of weeks are they willing to negotiate. Right now I think there’s at least two of us that are saying no,” Paul told FreedomWorks in a recent interview. “So they don’t have the power to do what they want without my vote.”