WASHINGTON, D.C. The Republican-led U.S. Congress convened its first session Tuesday, welcoming in new members and selecting leadership. With Trump set to be sworn in as president on Jan. 20, Republicans will control both the White House and Congress for the first time since 2007.The ceremonious day was planned as the beginning of work to enact Trump’s agenda of cutting taxes, repealing Obamacare and rolling back financial and environmental regulations, but a skirmish over efforts to defang an ethics watchdog committee drew fire from Trump and concerns from congressional leadership.The Office of Congressional Ethics was created in 2008 following several corruption scandals. Some lawmakers have charged in recent years that it has been too quick to investigate complaints from outside partisan groups.In an effort to have greater control of the committee, lawmakers inserted changes into a broader rules package, set to pass when the House convened on Tuesday. However, Republican leaders and Trump opposed the measure, worried about its timing and ramifications. Trump, who campaigned on a pledge to “drain the swamp” and bring ethics reform to Washington, took to Twitter to oppose the move.”With all that Congress has to work on, do they really have to make the weakening of the Independent Ethics Watchdog, as unfair as it may be, their number one act and priority,” he said on Twitter on Tuesday.”Focus on tax reform, healthcare and so many other things of far greater importance!”Trump’s tweet prompted an emergency meeting and a quick change of course. “It was taken out by unanimous consent … and the House Ethics Committee will now examine those issues,” said AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan.OBAMACARE IN SIGHTS As expected, Ryan was re-elected speaker on a vote of 239-189. He was first elected speaker in October 2015 after predecessor John Boehner retired. The speaker election was part of the ceremony involved in the first meeting of the 115th Congress, as the 435 members of the House of Representatives and a third of the 100-member Senate were sworn in. Ryan, who kept his distance from Trump during his campaign and vowed to work together after the Nov. 8 victory, said Republicans understood from the 2016 election that Americans were dissatisfied with Washington. “We hear you. We will do right by you and we will deliver,” Ryan said. Trump has made clear he wants to move swiftly to enact proposals he outlined during the campaign such as simplifying the tax code and slashing corporate tax rates. He also promised to make good on a Republican pledge to repeal and replace Democratic President Barack Obama’s 2010 signature Affordable Care Act – a law better known as Obamacare. “People must remember that Obamacare just doesn’t work, and it is not affordable,” Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday, adding: “It is lousy healthcare.” In the first step of a process that could take years, Republican Senator Mike Enzi introduced a resolution on Tuesday to provide for repeal of the law. House Republicans were set to clear the decks later for Obamacare repeal by tucking a measure to prevent Democrats from slowing or stopping repeal legislation into a vote on rules governing House procedures. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did not address Obamacare in remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday. He has said his top priorities for the new Congress were dealing with the “massive overregulation” he said had been a brake on the U.S. economy and making changes in the tax code to stop companies from moving jobs out of the country.OBAMACARE DEFENSE Leading Democrats warned of a fierce battle over Obamacare and said they planned to mobilize grassroots support for it. Obama is scheduled to meet on Wednesday with congressional Democrats to discuss strategies for fending off the Republican attacks on Obamacare. But Senator Charles Schumer, in his first floor speech as the top Democrat in the Senate, said he was ready to work on some issues with Trump. “If the president-elect proposes legislation that achieves that – on issues like infrastructure, trade, and closing the carried interest loophole, for instance – we will work in good faith to perfect and, potentially, enact it,” Schumer said. “When he doesn’t, we will resist.” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi told a packed House chamber that Democrats would work with Trump “wherever we can,” including reforming taxes and trade deals, but also said Democrats would fight Trump and Republicans if they attempt to weaken environmental regulations or civil rights protections.
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