News & Insights

The Four Political Seasons of 2024: Congress’s Bumpy Year Ahead and How to Prepare

By Henry Connelly and Matt Williams

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This morning, the 118th Congress returns to Washington with a piled up to-do list and little time left before election season consumes what’s left of the legislative calendar.

It will be a daunting year for a fractious Congress torn between hopes of reaching bipartisan agreements on border security and government funding, and the intensifying political pressures of the GOP presidential primaries heading into an all-consuming general election campaign. But beneath the coverage of legislative dysfunction and presidential campaigns, there are still key windows of opportunity and vulnerability which cannot be ignored: congressional investigations launched, issues defined, positions hardened, bills readied for 2025 and still some bipartisan agreements passed into law.

Understanding the political and legislative rhythms of a presidential election year – and the unique dynamics at play with this Congress – is essential to protecting your priorities. In this volatile political environment, successful public affairs campaigns must be more precise, nimble, and strategic to connect with the audiences that matter most.

Here are the four seasons ahead for Congress this year, and what you need to do to not only survive, but thrive:



As 2024 starts, Congress will have little time left to solve the same problems it has been unable to fix in 2023: funding the government for the remainder of FY2024, reaching agreement on a border and national security supplemental, and finishing a handful of key reauthorization bills.  Deadlines are fast approaching and the House remains largely hamstrung by the same intense political cross-winds that felled Speaker McCarthy. 

Groundhog Day for government funding

Congress hits the first deadline to avoid a partial government shutdown on January 19 and the rest of the government must be funded by Groundhog Day, February 2. The bipartisan topline agreement announced by Speaker Johnson and Leader Schumer on Sunday is only a first step – there are many hurdles still to clear and very little time to get it done. 

First, Speaker Johnson l now has to weather a potential revolt from hardline members who wanted steep cuts in domestic spending. Speaker Johnson’s topline deal with Leader Schumer largely keeps to the deal cut by Speaker McCarthy in the debt ceiling talks – the same deal that unraveled his speakership. Thus far, Speaker Johnson has not faced open calls for his removal, but the honeymoon is over and his support among hardline members is evaporating quickly. 

Second, Speaker Johnson will have to rely on House Democratic votes to bring these bipartisan bills to the floor.  In addition to the absence of steep domestic spending cuts, Republicans will likely also have to yield on major partisan policy riders, such as defunding the Justice Department’s prosecutions of President Trump, reversing the Defense Department’s abortion access policies, or blocking President Biden from implementing aspects of his prior legislative accomplishments and regulatory agenda   

The House Republicans’ already razor-thin majority was brought almost to zero by recent resignations, Rep. George Santos’ expulsion and GOP Leader Steve Scalise’s absence until February for a stem-cell transplant. Speaker Johnson will be under immense conservative pressure to renege on his deal or draw a harder line in negotiations on the individual funding bills.

Third, with ten days until the January 19th deadline, Congress will likely need a short term continuing resolution (CR) to prevent a shutdown while the bills move through each chamber, even if the bipartisan framework holds together.  If House GOP opposition collapses the deal, it is likely that the House will try to jam the Senate with a partisan CR through the remainder of the fiscal year, likely exempting defense, veterans and border patrol agents from the automatic cuts. Speaker Johnson may also attach House Republicans’ signature anti-immigration and border security bill (H.R. 2) to this CR, a poison pill which would render the bill DOA among Democrats in the Senate and likely lead to a shutdown.

The Israel/Ukraine/Border package remains elusive 

While Senate dealmakers still hope to reach an agreement on the President’s supplemental request for additional funding for Israel, Ukraine and border security, House Republicans are digging in on their demands for including all of H.R. 2’s anti-immigration and border security provisions as the price for more Ukraine funding. 

The situation at the border and in major cities across the country has become a powerful political cudgel against Democrats. Speaker Johnson’s trip to the border with 60 House Republicans and movement to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas show that the GOP won’t let the border issue drop.  

At the same time, President Biden and Democratic leaders are stressing that Republicans are holding up $14 billion in supplemental funds to help deal with migration at the southern border.  With former President Trump set to win Iowa in less than a week, Republican leverage in the border security debate will only intensify.   

Time is quickly running out for reaching a bipartisan agreement. The government funding bills may provide the last viable vehicle for pushing a bipartisan border security agreement through the House.  If talks collapse, the Senate will likely send the House a clean Israel aid bill – but funding for Ukraine may be doomed.

More expirations loom 

If Congress wants to avoid a third FAA authorization extension, lawmakers will need to pass a long-term authorization bill before March 8th. Members of Congress have been committed to investing in aviation safety and airport improvements but won’t have much runway to strike an agreement. Pilot training and retirement issues have held up the bill thus far, but this weekend’s incident with the Boeing 737 MAX may push lawmakers into action, particularly to toughen safety provisions and reassess some expedited review processes won by Boeing in the House-passed bill. Lawmakers will also be forced to once again debate extending the nation’s warrantless surveillance powers before they expire in April.



With the passage of government funding behind them, at least temporarily, members of both parties will be drawn toward using their remaining months in session for partisan advantage.  We can expect articles of impeachment to come to the House floor, committees focusing on politically-driven oversight and both parties moving “message” bills that won’t become law now but set the table for 2025. By March 5 (Super Tuesday), absent an unprecedented upset President Trump will have clinched the GOP nomination, putting the former president squarely in the limelight as the singular leader of the GOP.   

While this makes high-profile bipartisan dealmaking significantly harder, bipartisan work will continue at the committee level especially on issues without a strong political valence. 

Trump reclaiming center stage could mean renewed headaches for Congress & corporations

Once he secures the nomination, Trump’s positions and public comments will begin to command levels of attention and relevance not seen since January of 2021. That means more headlines for Trump, more headwinds for bipartisan dealmakers in Congress, and potentially more headaches for corporations caught in the crosscurrents. How Trump’s preoccupation with his multiple criminal trials impacts the campaign is yet to be seen – it could distract him from campaign threats against congressional and corporate leaders, or it could mean he doubles down on them to distract the public away from the courtroom.

The Senate is comparatively more insulated from Trump than the House. Over the last three years, Senate Republican dealmakers have been willing to ignore Trump’s opposition to pass bipartisan bills from infrastructure to gun violence prevention and government funding. But defying Trump in the middle of the presidential campaign is another story, particularly if it jeopardizes their hopes to take the majority. Leader McConnell has also increasingly receded into the background, weakening a key counterbalance to Trump within the Congressional GOP.  

House Republicans have long been closer to Trump – and particularly more faithful to his calls to oppose bipartisan bills coming from the Senate. With a razor thin majority and a neophyte Speaker, House GOP leadership will likely face immense difficulty in bringing any bill to the floor opposed by Trump. 

Corporate leaders who have grown accustomed to largely ignoring Trump’s post-presidency comments mayface renewed pressures as the Republican nominee reclaims center stage. Corporations may be drawn into political debates under attacks from Trump and his emboldened supporters or counter pressure from employees and consumers on everything from cultural and equality issues to immigration and business practices.  

GOP committee investigations will ensnare the Administration & private institutions

There are three main investigations to watch: 

  • Republicans see increasing upside in confronting what they view as liberal-leaning institutions and corporations on DEI and ESG related issues. The explosive antisemitism hearing with university presidents wasn’t the first time private institutions were pulled into the crosshairs on culture war issues. 
  • Under Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer’s leadership, the GOP impeachment investigation of President Biden has yet to uncover a “smoking gun” and iImpeachment remains highly unpopular with swing voters. While the entire Republican House conference voted to authorize the inquiry, continued focus on impeachment will most certainly add to the vulnerability of Republicans running in “Biden” districts.  However, with Speaker McCarthy having officially announced an impeachment inquiry before losing his speakership last year,  Republicans may now feel that they risk appearing to exonerate President Biden if they do not successfully pass articles of impeachment. 
  • The effort to impeach DHS Secretary Mayorkas, on the other hand, has come roaring back, and vulnerable Democrats may see an opportunity to break with President Biden on the management of the border. A Senate impeachment trial of Secretary Mayorkas – requiring the in-person attendance of all Senators – will provide Republicans with a splashy opportunity to focus on the border despite lacking the two-thirds vote needed to convict.  

Key policy work continues in the background 

Even during the heat of a politically-charged campaign season, look for policymakers on both sides of the aisles to continue working on big issues with broad appeal.

  • Artificial Intelligence – There is no doubt 2024 will be a big year for AI, a technology that touches every issue and impacts every sector of our economy. 2023 ended with a flurry of activity: President Biden’s Executive Order, bipartisan Senate forums, the EU AI Act, and state legislation passing across the country. No one can deny the fact that AI is rapidly becoming a regular part of our everyday lives. 

Policymakers and regulators have been racing to catch up with this emerging technology.  Last year, the tech industry and lawmakers found consensus around the need for regulation that balances the benefits of AI and U.S. innovation with the genuine risks regarding safety, security, privacy, transparency, and discrimination. Look for the bipartisan leaders in the Senate to try to repeat the successful policy development process that led to the passage of the Chips and Science Act. That means a wide range of committees will produce individual pieces of legislation meant to address the full breadth of the issue – from national security to privacy to competition to commerce – with the expectation of bundling them all together for a single law that can be signed before the end of the year. 

  • Farm Bill – There has long been a bipartisan tradition of passing a new Farm Bill even during the most difficult political times. The backbone of federal policy for rural communities and small town America, Congress passed the last Farm Bill overwhelmingly during the heat of the 2018 midterm campaigns. 

But after Congress extended the 2018 Farm Bill through September 30, 2024, Senate and House Agriculture Committee Republicans may have less appetite for bipartisan deal making.  Negotiations around a new bill are ongoing, but Senate Republicans are already sending signals that they are better off waiting until after the November elections to write and pass a bill on their terms. Don’t count out the retiring Chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Debbie Stabenow, who said passing a new Farm Bill is her top priority in 2024.  



After Congress recesses in August, the House and Senate are slated to spend only 12 days and 15 days in Washington, respectively.   In those three weeks in September, Congress will once again fund the government past September 30 – and may seek to pass some final message bills on key campaign issues (likely immigration in the House and abortion rights in the Senate).

The top-of-ticket matchup between Biden and Trump will largely set the course of the national debate – but the disconnect between the lofty promises of presidential campaigns and the realities of congressional legislative work are acutely felt on the Hill.  With Congress out of session, committee and legislative staff quietly work on assembling the granular details of the bills that will define the first months of 2025. 

Low, if not zero odds of a September shutdown

Congressional leaders kick the can on hammering out a government funding agreement with a CR until the other side of Election Day. The CR often serves as the vehicle for additional priority authorizing extensions or supplemental funding such as disaster relief funds responding to hurricanes or wildfires over the preceding months. 

It is worth watching whether President Biden or former President Trump, as the Republican nominee, tries to influence the government funding debate, particularly over border security, abortion or other issues being debated on the trail.  President Trump’s insistence on border wall funding led to a 35-day partial shutdown in December of 2018. However, Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle have powerful incentives to avoid plunging the nation into a shutdown a month away from the election. 



The 2024 election is on track to be one of the closest in recent history, and it will likely  be days after the election before the outcome is clear. But the final election results touch off a “lame-duck” scramble to achieve two goals:  complete unfinished business and begin to define the winners’ mandate. 

Setting the agenda and drawing the legislative battlelines of 2025

The winners will quickly work to translate their campaign promises into a legislative agenda for 2025. As Mario Cuomo’s old maxim “You campaign in poetry; you govern in prose” warns, often a lot is added or lost in the translating as lawmakers and advocates weigh in.  

If Trump wins, expect a massive scramble among Democrats to mobilize new opposition to his legislative and executive agenda. If Biden wins, expect a heavier emphasis on identifying areas of potential bipartisanship (particularly if Republicans take the Senate) for action in his second term. The soul-searching that accompanies a loss can also open the door to radical shifts in a defeated party’s agenda – a rare moment to persuade your opponents to approach your issues in a new way.  

After months and millions of dollars spent on a few battleground states, a new legislative battleground will swiftly come into view: the moderate Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate who will be decisive in advancing or blocking the president’s agenda. Shoring up or persuading these Members is critical to the fate of any bill. 

Use the Lame Duck or wait for the 119th Congress?

After Election Day, the House and Senate are scheduled to spend a few weeks in session before the new Congress: the lame duck. 

Sometimes this is an extraordinarily productive legislative period. Without the election to worry about and with the deadline of the new Congress wiping the legislative slate clean, negotiators often are able to close the final distance in bipartisan committee talks or disagreements between competing House and Senate versions of legislation. In the past, this has included significant health care and tax provisions with significant policy and budgetary impacts. 

Often the strongest voices in favor of passing bills in the lame duck are retiring Senators, hoping to cement their legacy with a final bipartisan law. Several Committee Chairs have also announced their retirements, from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow to House Appropriation Chairwoman Kay Granger and Financial Services Chairman Patrick McHenry.

But if either chamber changes hands, the winning party may kick the can down the road if they believe they will be in a stronger position to negotiate in the new Congress. 

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The Bottomline: 

How to Build Effective Strategies for All Seasons 

In every season of this high-stakes election year, your public affairs campaign needs to be shrewder, swifter and better prepared to protect and advance your agenda.

Be Proactive 

A reactive-only approach makes it easy for your adversaries to define you and your issues on their terms. You need a robust, proactive public affairs strategy to ensure policymakers believe that your agenda is good politics – or not worth the blowback of attacking. 

Know Your Target Audience

Identify the key decision makers impacting your priorities and map out the groups that influence them – whether policy elites, party activists, or base voters. Greater precision about your audiences allows for greater specificity and creativity in how to reach them when the presidential campaign crowds out front pages and mass-media advertising inventory. 

Chart Your Path(s) to Victory

Understanding your priorities’ path through Congress – and how campaign season, retirements and election results can shake up the board at key moments – is the difference between smart investment and wasted effort. With robust scenario planning, you’ll be better equipped to move first and seize the initiative when opportunities open or new threats arise. 

Adapt to Emerging Policy Realities 

Assess how your issues interact with the currents in the partisan debate, and adapt your core narrative to ensure your frame and your facts align with the pressures on your targeted audiences. Define your core narrative to stay on message even as you adapt your talking points to each unique circumstance to stay current. Moving swiftly and strategically, you’ll help keep the narrative on your terms and keep key policymakers hearing your framing instead of the opposition.

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Henry Connelly spent over 12 years on Capitol Hill serving as a top aide to Democratic leadership including as former Speaker Pelosi’s Director of Communications and Director of Speechwriting while she led the House. 

Matt Williams recently joined Precision after almost two decades in the U.S. Senate where he was the Staff director for the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, implementing national messaging strategy with the White House and Congressional leadership. Previously he was communications director for U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow. 

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