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What to Expect in the Next Congress

Angel Padilla - 11/13/2018

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The blue wave delivered control of the House of Representatives back to the Democrats for the first time in eight years. In some ways, that totally changes the game: Democrats now control the agenda in the House, which means they have an institutional check on Trump they didn’t have the last two years. But Republicans still control the Senate and the White House, which means our collective nightmare isn’t over yet.

You can read our strategic framework for this new Congress here. It answers questions like:

  • How can Democrats go on offense?

  • Why do we still have to play defense?

  • How should Democrats use their new oversight and investigatory powers?

Below, we explore what we expect to happen in the next Congress. Trump and the Republicans have undermined our democracy at every opportunity; they’ve rigged our economy and our health care system so that power is concentrated among the wealthy; they’ve shot fear into the hearts and souls of immigrants and refugees. We expect Democrats will use their control of the House to try to undo some of this horrible damage and present the American people with an alternative vision — but Republicans will use their control of the Senate to continue advancing the Trump agenda where they can. Here’s what you can expect in the 116th Congress.

Protecting Our Democracy

We expect the first major legislative effort in a Democratically-controlled House to be a democracy reform effort. This legislation is expected to strengthen everyone’s right to vote and to have their vote count, to stem the tide of big money in politics, and to root out corruption at all levels of government — including the White House. The election of Donald Trump (and the first two years of his administration) has brought into sharp focus the importance of preserving and protecting our democracy against blatant attempts to erode it. While Trump and his GOP enablers suppress the vote, profit off of corruption and attack essential democratic norms, Democrats now have an opportunity to change course.  They must prioritize undoing that damage, and creating institutions in which we are all represented, included, and protected.

Relief for DACA Recipients and TPS Holders

In September 2017, Donald Trump unilaterally ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, putting approximately 800,000 young Americans at risk of deportation. The administration has also terminated protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which is provided to immigrants who can’t return home because it is unsafe for them. Democratic leadership has signaled that they intend to pass some type of relief for DACA recipients, but not for TPS holders . There are a combined 3.2 million Dreamers and TPS holders whose lives have been unnecessarily placed in jeopardy. If there is any issue that represents what Trump stands for, it’s his anti-immigrant policies. Democrats can — and should — send a clear signal that they intend to stand with immigrants by passing a clean Dream Act bill that provides relief for all Dreamers and TPS holders.  

Ending Gun Violence

The Republican-controlled Congress sat idly by while communities across the country endured tragedy after tragedy due to gun violence. The new Democratic majority must reject the gun lobby’s stronghold and replace the usual “thoughts and prayers” with policy and change. We expect that they will prioritize mandating comprehensive background checks for the purchase of firearms early in the legislative session. This is a common-sense first step that Congress can take to save more lives and join the majority of Americans in saying #NeverAgain.

Lowering Prescription Drug Prices

When it comes to the cost of prescriptions, Republicans have used their control of Congress to defend and preserve the status quo: a power imbalance that gives the upper hand to pharmaceutical companies over patients. Americans want quality, affordable health care — and a big (if obvious) way to increase affordability is to lower costs. In fact, 92% of Americans favor allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Democrats are expected to vote on legislation that will, at least in part, reverse that power imbalance by giving Medicare the authority to negotiate prices with drug companies — and the authority to issue a competitive license to other manufacturers to produce the drug for Medicare with lower prices, if negotiations fail. This would protect patients from price gouging and would help ensure Americans are getting the best deal possible. This bill, if it passes the House, is unlikely to pass the Senate. But it provides a clear contrast for the American people and it forces Republicans to defend their prioritization of pharmaceutical companies over constituents.

Infrastructure

A key part of Democrats’ planned “For the People” agenda is infrastructure. Our nation’s bridges, roads, airports, water systems, mass transit, power grids, and school systems are all in need of repair. But the answer to this problem is NOT to toll and privatize our infrastructure assets, as Trump proposed doing earlier this year. And remember: our infrastructure problem is primarily an issue of funding — not “cutting red tape.” If Democrats put an infrastructure bill up for a vote, it should be one that is comprehensive (so that it’s not just roads, but a bill that covers all the other needs too), substantial (enough funding to meaningfully repair and rebuild our assets — paying for it by reversing some of the #GOPTaxScam is a good place to start), and equitable (so that it fulfills the badly unmet needs of communities of color, particularly water systems). It should also create good-paying jobs by meeting or exceeding existing labor requirements and advance our climate change objectives of investing in renewable energy. There is no reason to risk handing Trump a political win if these minimum  requirements aren’t met.

Investigations

With control of the House, Democrats now have an important new tool at their disposal: oversight and investigatory authority. Committees can conduct an investigation into any matter that falls within their jurisdiction, assuming they get the investigation authorized by a vote in the full House. There is even a specific panel, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (HOGR) whose entire job is to conduct oversight. Remember the investigation into the IRS’s allegedly aiming extra scrutiny at conservative tax-exempt organizations? That was HOGR. The original Benghazi investigation in the House? Started with HOGR. Democratic MoCs who sit on HOGR have an even more important role to play in oversight.

Republicans weaponized their investigatory authority to look into frivolous or exaggerated scandals for their own political objectives. In contrast, Democrats have a wealth of real scandals that need to be investigated — and they must use their investigatory authority in a responsible way to expose the worst of the Trump administration. Here are just a few examples of investigations that Democrats are expected to pursue using this authority (there are many):

  • The response to and aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

  • Personal conflicts of interest between Cabinet secretaries and the industries their departments allegedly oversee

  • Immigration agencies (like ICE and CBP) and how they handled their failed family separation policy

  • Deliberate sabotage of the Affordable Care Act

Additionally, Trump crossed a red line when he fired Jeff Sessions and handed control of the Mueller investigation to Matthew Whitaker (someone who openly revealed his desire to derail the investigation). House Democrats must prioritize investigating Trump’s obstruction of justice.

Cabinet resignations and Senate confirmation fights

An unprecedented number of cabinet secretaries are expected to be fired or resign of their own accord following the elections. Every one of these departures would trigger another confirmation fight in the Senate, which it appears Republicans now control by a 53-47 majority, unless Bill Nelson prevails in Florida’s recount. They include:

A new Attorney General to replace Jeff Sessions. Trump crossed a red line by firing Sessions and replacing him temporarily with Matthew Whitaker, an inexperienced political hack who has publicly discussed hindering the Mueller investigation. Whitaker is just the Acting Attorney General until a permanent replacement is confirmed. Jeff Sessions was more than willing to attack civil rights, threaten communities, and carry out Trump’s racist agenda. The only thing he wasn’t willing to do was interfere in the Mueller investigation. Trump could nominate someone to replace him who is willing to do all these things AND obstruct justice.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. Trump is thought to be unhappy with her handling of the southern border and suspicious of her because of her time spent in the George W. Bush administration. Confirmation of a successor would tee up a fight in the Senate over Trump’s border policies, including his relentless obsession with the wall, family separation, and his deployment of the military there.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. One of several cabinet officials that probably could have flown under the radar but instead got caught up in their own scandals, Zinke appears to have used his position to personally enrich himself. The matter was recently referred from the Interior Department’s Inspector General to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution. Confirmation of a successor would set up a fight in the Senate over use of federal lands and waters for oil drilling and other mineral extraction.

Judicial Nominations

Trump and his GOP enablers in the Senate are sure to continue ramming through extreme and unqualified judges. Trump is determined to pack the courts, and we expect the Senate to keep attempting to confirm Trump appointees en masse with little to no vetting and oversight. We are also preparing for the possibility of another Supreme Court vacancy fight, if Clarence Thomas decides to retire next term.

Government Funding Fight(s)

We’ll know more on what to expect out of the next government funding fight after December 7, 2018 — that’s the deadline for Congress to fund the government again either through a full-year funding bill or a “continuing resolution” that kicks the can down the road and funds the government at current levels. Legislation that funds the government is must-pass — meaning it gives Democrats leverage to advance their policy priorities. This is leverage they should use.  

Holding Saudi Arabia Accountable

Just a few weeks ago, U.S. resident, Washington Post contributor, and frequent Saudi critic Jamal Khashoggi walked into a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and never walked out. It is clear by now that the Saudi government ordered him murdered to suppress his dissent, and that the Trump administration is helping to cover for Saudi crimes (perhaps that’s because of the billions of dollars that the Saudis pour into his businesses). We expect a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives to take steps to force Trump’s hand and hold the Saudis accountable, such as withdrawing weapons and military support to the Saudis.

Raising the Debt Ceiling

The debt ceiling is a limit set by Congress on the amount of debt that the U.S. Treasury can issue in order to cover costs already racked up. Congress has to raise this in order to avoid defaulting on our obligations and throwing the global economy into chaos. The key thing to remember here: Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize new spending. The debt ceiling is a vestige of an otherwise abandoned budgetary process that Congress should eliminate — but until it does, legislation to raise the debt ceiling is must-pass. (The next raise is expected to be required in spring 2019.)

So Here’s What We Need You to Do Right Now to Get Ready for This Fight

  1. Find your group. No, really. The key to the Indivisible movement is building strong, local groups. And if you haven’t found yours yet, you need to right now.

  2. Read our new federal Guide: Indivisible on Offense. New power means we need a new gameplan to demand that our newly-elected members of Congress pass bold, progressive legislation to serve as a counter-argument to Trump’s xenophobic, backwards agenda and put this administration in check.

  3. Read our new state and local Guide: Empowering the States
    to Resist the Trump Agenda. Some of the most important work you can do to save our democracy is to take action in your state legislatures around the country. Period.

This is the road to stopping Trump in his tracks, locking in the gains we made, and advancing an alternative vision for the country rooted in democracy, inclusion, and respect.

This is the road to retaking the White House in two years. But none of this is automatic. We won last Tuesday. Now we have to make those wins mean something going forward.