As their celebration over seizing control of the House of Representatives winds down and the reality of organizing their power structure sets in, Democrats have some very serious and difficult decisions to make.
Foremost among them is whether to serve primarily as a functioning legislative body, or as vessels of revenge against President Trump.
Few on the left have been willing to even accept the legitimacy of Trump’s election. The likely Democratic chairs of the most powerful House committees are on record as promising a torrent of investigations into the President and his administration. Their Trump-hating base is demanding no less.
That’s where things get complicated.
While they can be certain of what their progressive base desires, Democrats also know that with power comes responsibility and that it’s far easier to be a powerless minority screaming dissent from the peanut gallery like children than to actually legislate like grownups in charge.
- They know they have yet to decide within their own caucus whether to present themselves as traditional liberals or hard-left progressives bent on resuming Barack Obama’s fundamental transformation of America.
- They know that the Senate, with a strengthened Republican majority, is likely to kill most every piece of legislation they pass in the House.
- They know that the many Democrats in the Senate angling for the 2020 presidential nomination will talk the progressive talk, which will pressure those in the House to walk the progressive walk.
- They know the American people are watching, anxious to discern whether the party so rudely dismissed in 2016 has changed its ways.
- They know that their performance in the House will ultimately affect their chances of taking back the White House – and Senate – in 2020.
- And they know that they must avoid a fatal trap: becoming the ideal foil for the famously combative Donald Trump.
Most presidents are more successful when they have something to run against than something to brag about. Conflict is more effective at riling up their base and getting voters to the polls. That’s why Trump and the GOP hammered the Democrats on immigration during the midterm campaign while dialing back their discussion of the roaring economy and near-full employment.
Given all these circumstances, what results can the Democrat House realistically produce, beyond a constant, orchestrated flow of bile about Trump?
Since the single substantive national issue discussed by Democrats during the midterm election campaign was healthcare – with vague promises of “fixing” the problem of spiraling health insurance costs in a system they broke during the Obama years – they will be expected to somehow navigate the issue and do more than simply blame Republicans. But they will likely try to go all in on the blame game, by passing healthcare reform bills that include both popular measures – think pre-existing conditions and kids allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until their mid-20s – and poison pills sure to be rejected by the Senate – think Medicare for all. They will then attempt to label the Senate and President as obstructionists out to deprive vulnerable Americans of the care they need.
That strategy might work if the GOP is not careful how they frame the issue, but consider another specific promise made by Democrats: To trash the tax reform bill, which they characterize as helping only “the one percent.” If they actually attempt to remove tax cuts, they will be harpooned by Republicans for raising taxes. That is hardly an image Democrats are anxious to foster.
Now that Trump has succeeded in turning immigration into a favorable issue for Republicans instead of Democrats, will the left’s long-promised “comprehensive immigration reform” (i.e., amnesty for illegals and other illegal-friendly changes in the law) be turned into legislation? That hardly promises to enhance their electability in the years ahead.
But the new House will be populated by more progressives and fewer moderates (if there are any actually left in their party). And they stand to be emboldened by the promises of their new leadership.
Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA), who stands to chair the House Intelligence Committee, has constantly criticized not only the President but the current Republican Chair, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA). He will be expected to piggyback on the Mueller investigation and call a string of Democrat-friendly witnesses to provide damning testimony against Trump. That won’t be hard to do in the Trump-averse swamp, but could well be seen as an overreach by voters who kicked the bums out and brought in a furniture-breaking outsider in 2016 because of the prevailing dysfunction of the political system.
… what results can the Democrat House realistically produce, beyond a constant, orchestrated flow of bile about Trump?
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the prospective chair of the House Judiciary Committee, is a long-serving leftist who will have jurisdiction over three hot-button issues: immigration, voting rights, and Justice Department oversight (and thus the Mueller investigation). He has already promised, at a minimum, to conduct hearings on separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, voter suppression and, of course, Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
While Schiff and Nadler have played their cards somewhat close to the vest, the woman who stands to chair the House Financial Services Committee most certainly has not. Maxine “Mad Max” Waters, no longer a joke now that she’ll have power over Wall Street and the banking industry, has famously called on her followers to harass Trump officials in public, revealed that she wakes up at night thinking only about how to “get” Trump and actually said she was “sent by God to stop Trump.” Enough said about her predilections.
So it’s now up to Democrats to decide if they are going to be a party defined by mature and responsible leadership, or by vitriol and victimhood. Their choices are many, but their path to redemption remains narrow.