Pelosi and House Democrats Come Out Swinging

On Thursday, Democrats will take back control of the House with Nancy Pelosi as the new Speaker. They plan to come out of the gate swinging, so it will be prudent to keep an eye on their first steps in the coming weeks. Here’s what they’ve teed up so far:

Remove Trump’s Leverage on Wall Funding

The first order of business is to deal with the government shutdown. Pelosi and Schumer announced their plan on Monday.

While President Trump drags the nation into Week Two of the Trump Shutdown and sits in the White House and tweets, without offering any plan that can pass both chambers of Congress, Democrats are taking action to lead our country out of this mess.  This legislation reopens government services, ensures workers get the paychecks they’ve earned and restores certainty to the lives of the American people.

The President is using the government shutdown to try to force an expensive and ineffective wall upon the American people, but Democrats have offered two bills which separate the arguments over the wall from the government shutdown.  The first bill would reopen all government agencies except for the Department of Homeland Security – not taking a position on the President’s wall.  It would simply continue the funding levels and language that both parties have already supported.  The second bill would extend the Department of Homeland Security’s funding through February 8th, which Republicans already supported in recent weeks.

If Leader McConnell and Senate Republicans refuse to support the first bill, then they are complicit with President Trump in continuing the Trump shutdown and in holding the health and safety of the American people and workers’ paychecks hostage over the wall.

It would be the height of irresponsibility and political cynicism for Senate Republicans to now reject the same legislation they have already supported.

So the House will first vote to fund all government agencies, except the Department of Homeland Security, through September at levels previously approved by Republicans. Secondly, they’ll vote to fund DHS through February 8th at current levels (i.e., no new money for a wall) and continue negotiations over immigration policy.

That puts the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to either pass bipartisan bills and send them to Trump, or do nothing and leave the whole mess on the president’s plate. Of course, at this point, he has chosen the latter.

Someone at the White House (probably not the president) is smart enough to recognize that this presents an untenable position for them, and so they’ve invited both Republican and Democratic congressional leaders to a “briefing” on boarder security Wednesday. Hopefully Trump will once again demand that news cameras capture the event if it turns into another fiasco for him.

Defend Obamacare

As you might recall, a federal judge in Texas issued a ridiculous ruling that declared the entire Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, but it remains in effect as the decision is appealed. Given that the Trump administration has joined Republican state attorneys general in this lawsuit against Obamacare, Democrats have included a provision in their opening day rules package authorizing the House counsel to argue on behalf of protecting the ACA.

That adds more weight to Pelosi’s decision to appoint Doug Letter to the position of General Counsel to the House of Representatives. Here is how Carrie Johnson, who covers the Justice Department for NPR, described Letter on Twitter:

Doug Letter spent 40 years at the Justice Dept before retiring earlier this year. For him, public service is a family matter and a calling. Doug shared this as his proudest moment at Justice – “The Obergefell case,” he said. “That’s the one where the Supreme Court decided that gay marriage was constitutionally protected.” Former Attorney General Eric Holder says Doug Letter “personifies what is best about the Justice Department.”…The news that Doug will serve as the top lawyer for the House of Representatives means that Nancy Pelosi & other Dems will have the benefit of sterling legal advice as they advance a legislative agenda, and as they seek to impose accountability on the Trump White House/agencies.

As the appeals process unfolds, we’ll see Trump and Republicans arguing to take health insurance away from millions of Americans and removing the protections Obamacare provides, while Doug Letter will be the point person for House Democrats, who will fight to maintain them.

Restoring Democracy

House Democrats have already announced that their first piece of legislation will be a bill to restore democratic norms.

House Democrats’ first order of business in the next Congress will be a wide-ranging reforms package aimed at increasing access to the ballot box, overhauling the country’s campaign finance rules, and codifying several ethics rules into law…

[B]y backing the bill, numbered HR-1, as their first official legislative proposal of the new Congress, House Democrats have laid out a blueprint for how they plan to govern as the majority and some of the ways they plan to take on the GOP-controlled Senate and President Donald Trump.

“We’ve actually got a plan to try to restore the democracy and give people their voice back,” Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., who is spearheading the effort, said in an interview. “That’s the kind of the foundational thing before you can go do anything else.”

I’m sure that a Democrat-controlled House will offer the country a lot more in the months to come. But right out of the gate they’ll provide a bipartisan proposal to re-open the government, defend Obamacare, and offer legislation to restore our democracy. Of course, Trump and Republicans aren’t likely to go along with any of that. But the party that knows how to govern is going to remind Americans what that looks like.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.