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Sahil Kapur and Billy House: Writing is on the wall
September 13, 2018
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For President Donald Trump, the nightmare scenario if Democrats win control of the US House would be the death of his legislative agenda, aggressive investigations of his inner circle, and potential impeachment.

For Democratic leaders, the vision they’re presenting is far tamer: a limited three-prong agenda of health care legislation aimed at cutting costs and drug prices, an infrastructure spending initiative, and an overhaul of ethics laws aimed at stamping out corruption in Washington.

Which approach prevails if Democrats roll up big wins in November depends on the size of their majority, the leaders they pick, the outcome of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the mood of the party’s agitated base.

With more than 60 Republican-held House districts in play and with polls, fundraising and primary voter turnout pointing to the possibility of big gains for Democrats, both sides have begun gaming out how things would change when the new Congress is sworn in.

Any scenario for Democrats winning the House depends on a wave of voter enthusiasm that’s largely a backlash to the Trump presidency. Many of those voters and allied activist groups are already raising pressure on the party to pursue a more far-reaching agenda — such as Medicare-for-all legislation, liberalising immigration laws and tackling climate change — and to aggressively investigate the Trump administration.


“If Democrats take the House, they should combine offence (aggressive oversight, investigation, and accountability) with defence (blocking Trump’s horrible agenda, reasserting Congress’s role in foreign affairs, and containing his attacks on communities by, for example, passing a clean Dream Act) — plus blaze a visionary trail to a bold, inclusive, progressive populist moment to come (e.g. Medicare for All, climate action, criminal justice reform,” Ben Wikler, the Washington director of the progressive group MoveOn, said in a text message.

The Republican campaign counter-argument is a warning about gridlock and overreach.

“If the House flips to Democrats, Washington will become even more bitterly divided and more partisan,” said Brad Todd, a GOP strategist with clients who are running for both chambers of Congress. “The leadership and decision makers are going to be further to the left. The chances of them going too far are really high.”


Whether House Democrats move modestly or aggressively, any legislative initiatives would have to make it through the Senate, where Republicans have good odds of retaining their majority. Even if Democrats manage to win a narrow majority, the chamber’s rules would give Republicans plenty of opportunities to throw up roadblocks. Beyond that, there’s Trump’s veto power.

One of the biggest changes if the House flips is that Democrats would control the power of the purse, giving them first dibs at passing legislation to fund the government. With vastly divergent priorities between the two parties, it’s a formula for standoffs with the Senate and Trump — and potentially more confrontations that could end in government shutdowns.

There also would be a switch in committee power that has implications for more than just the Trump administration. Wall Street critic Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, would be in line to run the Financial Services Committee, and center-left Massachusetts Representative Richard Neal would be poised to take over the Ways and Means Committee, which oversees taxes and trade policy.


Democrats would have to contend with some broad differences among their members, which may lead to a challenge to the leadership of Nancy Pelosi of California, who’s been the top House Democrat for more than a decade.

There are certain to be new members from liberal districts like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts’s Ayanna Pressley, as well as more conservative or moderate lawmakers elected in Republican-leaning districts. Oregon’s Kurt Schrader estimated that as many as two-thirds of newly elected Democrats could join the Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats, who will want leaders to keep a check on the party’s left flank.

Republicans say they’re certain that a switch in either House or Senate majorities to Democrats would expose Trump, his administration, family members and business associates to an all-consuming fusillade of investigations.


“I don’t think they’re going to win,” said Representative Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican who has said he wants to be his party’s House leader next year. But if Democrats do take over the House, he said, “I think they are going to impeach the president, contrary to what they’re saying.”

“If we think there is gridlock now, just wait until Subpoena City,” said Doug Heye, a former spokesman for the House leadership and the Republican National Committee.

Pelosi and other top Democrats have tried to tamp down talk of impeachment — a topic surging among Democratic activists — even as Republicans regularly bring up the topic as a motivator for GOP voters to turn out in November.

But many Democrats are eager to scrutinise Trump.

Some — like New Jersey Representative Bill Pascrell — want to compel the release of Trump’s tax returns. Democrats may have the power to force the issue if they control the House. Pascrell and others have argued that a law invoked in the 1970s on Richard Nixon gives the tax-writing Ways and Means panel the power to review the president’s tax returns — and possibly make them public — if it serves a legitimate committee purpose.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer told reporters last week that it’s not a slam dunk that Trump’s tax returns could be released by Ways and Means if the committee gets them.

“But if it’s a vote — if we’re in charge and it’s a vote in the House I will tell you that my expectation would be that the House would vote to release to the public,” he said.

Democrats say they’ll pursue documents and information from the administration and elsewhere, but scoffed at GOP complaints of endless investigations. “This, from the people that brought us the Benghazi investigation,” Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia said, referring to a Republican-led inquiry into into the 2012 terrorist attack on an American diplomatic post in Libya that lasted more than two and a half years.

Connolly, a senior member of the House Oversight Committee, said, that for the first time, the Trump administration would be getting a close look from Congress. He said the panel’s Republicans have repeatedly has ignored subpoena and document requests from Democrats.

“Essentially, the Republicans under Trump have completely given up even the pretence of government oversight — including cabinet members’ greed and self aggrandisement, ethics issues and conflicts of interest,” he said.

“It’s going to look like a frenzy,” said Connolly, “but it will really be a restoration of regular order.”

Tribune News Service

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