NEW YORK -- For the first time in eight years, the Republican Party has assumed control of the US Congress, having taken the Senate from the Democrats in the midterm elections last year.
On Tuesday at noon, Vice President Joe Biden swore in senators new and old, while Mitch McConnell of Kentucky took his place as majority leader in the chamber.
In the House of Representatives, which has been controlled by Republicans since 2010, veterans and newcomers recited the pledge of allegiance. Yet despite the recent elections victories, the GOP remains a party mired in disunity.
As members of the House were filing in, behind the scenes Speaker John Boehner was the target of a Tea Party coup to unseat him in favour of a more conservative, less “establishment” leader. The coup, however, fell somewhat short and Boehner, alongside the even more “establishment” McConnell, will lead their party in Congress over the next session.
Despite the discord, Republicans looked to assert themselves straight away by moving to approve the stalled Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to the Gulf coast.
President Obama retains a veto on legislation sent from Congress, which the White House said on Tuesday he would use to block the pipeline - a project that Obama and many Democrats have decried as a retrograde step in combatting global warming.
The pipeline is the opening battle in what is likely to be a long and difficult war between Congress and the White House for the remainder of Obama's term.
And though Republicans and Democrats have talked compromise in the weeks leading up to the new session, Republicans’ desire to dismantle the past six years of Obama governance means a series of vetoes and ultimately a shutdown is the most likely outcome in the months ahead.
Here are the top items on the Republican agenda:
—Energy: The Senate's first bill would approve construction of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, designed to pump oil from Canada to the US Gulf Coast. Republicans and some Democrats call the project a job-creator, but Obama and other Democrats consider it a pathway to worsening global warming. The House seems likely to approve the measure quickly. The GOP also plans legislation expediting US natural gas exports.
—Health care: Republicans want to weaken Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Leading off in the House: Legislation making it easier for smaller businesses to avoid providing health coverage to their workers by hiring veterans who already have government coverage. Another bill would exempt companies from covering employees who work under 40 hours weekly — up from the current 30-hour cutoff. Votes on a full repeal of the law are likely, but a certain veto by Obama awaits if it reaches him.
—Immigration: A bill financing the Department of Homeland Security lapses in late February. Republicans would extend the agency's funding but want language blocking Obama's executive actions shielding from deportation as many as 4 million immigrants in the US illegally. Republicans also want to beef up enforcement of immigration laws while easing restrictions on incoming farm and highly skilled workers.
—Budget: House Republicans want to balance the budget in 10 years. Senate Republicans haven't embraced that timeline, but GOP leaders agree that federal spending must be curbed. Republicans will likely use must-pass spending bills to challenge Obama on anti-pollution and business regulations.
—Taxes: The GOP wants to lower income tax rates for corporations and other businesses, with lost revenue recovered by plugging unspecified loopholes. Democrats might go along if extra money is raised for building highways.
—Other votes: Speeding congressional approval of trade treaties; hindering Obama's outreach to Cuba and Iran; Obama's nominations of Loretta Lynch for attorney general and Ashton Carter for defense secretary; renewing expired terrorism risk insurance; preventing expiration of the highway construction trust fund, the Export-Import Bank and federal borrowing authority.