Democrats’ policy agenda likely to include cooperation with Trump

Tom McCarthy
Nancy Pelosi: ‘I think impeachment, to use that word, is very divisive.’ Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Now that Democrats have won control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 2010, the question on some minds is: “When do the impeachment hearings start?”

But those minds either have not been listening to what the Democratic leaders have been saying, or they do not take the Democrats at their word.

When the new Congress convenes in January, the focus will not be on impeaching Donald Trump, but on a policy agenda that could even include cooperation with Trump, Democrats say.

Rapprochement, not impeachment, appears to be the plan.

“I think impeachment, to use that word, is very divisive,” California’s Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to slide back into her old role as history’s first female speaker of the House, said in a talk last month at Harvard.

That attitude could frustrate Democratic voters who are unable to conceive of a higher public good than Trump’s removal from office. But without control of the Senate, plus the cooperation of more than a dozen Senate Republicans, the Democrats would not be able to remove Trump from office anyway. (While the House can initiate impeachment proceedings, only a subsequent vote in the Senate can remove the president from office.)

One of the most significant implications for the Democratic takeover in the House, not reflected in any policy agenda, is that Trump may be constrained from attempting to pull the plug on the Robert Mueller investigation, as he might have done had voters signaled tacit approval by returning a Republican wave to Capitol Hill.

And the newly empowered Democrats are likely to confront Trump, his cabinet members, his business partners and his family members with a welter of new questions and invitations to testify.

But Pelosi and her anticipated leadership team are not telegraphing those kinds of punches. Instead, in her Harvard talk, Pelosi laid out six legislative priorities she said Democrats would purse. They are:

  • campaign finance reform

  • healthcare legislation focused on lowering pharmaceutical drug costs

  • green infrastructure-spending legislation focused on boosting wages

  • protecting Dreamers, undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US as children

  • “commonsense background checks to prevent gun violence”

  • the Equality Act, adding protections for women and LGBT people to the existing Civil Rights Act

Pelosi said she hoped to begin the term by procuring Trump’s cooperation on the second and third items on that list – bringing down drug costs and passing a big infrastructure package – two areas where Trump has signaled an interest in working with Democrats.

If Trump does not cooperate on either of those fronts, the Democrats might get more aggressive in their investigations of Trump administration corruption.

“It’s an interesting dynamic when you have the gavel,” Pelosi said. “It just makes all the difference in the world and the leverage you have in your conversation. I think that the fact that we had the majority would make a difference in whether we can depend on what [Trump] has to say.”

Aggressive

The Democrats expect to be active on other fronts that might be seen as more aggressive.

Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, who is in line to take over the rules committee, plans to impose new ethics rules, including banning House members from sitting on corporate boards, which under Republican rule has become a problem.

Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who is in line to chair the oversight and government reform committee, said Democrats had more than 50 subpoena requests, currently blocked by the Republican leadership, that they planned to follow up on. That could include investigations of everything from the Trump administration’s handling of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to the perceived failure of the administration to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

President Trump throws a roll of paper towels to residents while visiting areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in October 2017. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Representative Bill Pascrell Jr of New Jersey, who sits on the ways and means committee, which writes tax policy, has indicated an interest in procuring Trump’s tax returns.

Meanwhile, Representative Adam Schiff of California – who is in line to take over the intelligence committee – could reopen the committee’s investigation of alleged collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, or look into alleged Russian money laundering at various Trump properties.

Democrats have mentioned other priorities such as restoring key enforcement provisions to the Voting Rights Act that were vacated by the supreme court in 2013. The Democrats would also like to change campaign finance laws to reveal most donors to political non-profits known as 501(c)(4)s.

Handling the impeachment question, should it come up, would be Representative Jerry Nadler of New York, in line to take over the judiciary committee. But in the run-up to the midterms, Nadler and his party decided the topic was not a winner with voters.

“Right now, I don’t want to talk about it,” Nadler said in September. “We don’t want to talk about it.”