Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives must cause trouble for Donald Trump in 2019, writes Frans Verhagen, but not too much.
A lot of attention will be directed later this year to the question of which Democrats will announce their intention to run against President Donald Trump in 2020. At the moment, the Democrats have other things to worry about. As of Jan. 3, they hold a majority in the House of Representatives, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And it might sound strange, but what a Democratic candidate needs to do in 2020 is quite different from what Pelosi's troops need to do in 2019.
The task for the Democrats is complex. They have to make life difficult for Trump, without pursuing him so obsessively that he can use it against them. They have to fulfill their oversight duty and conduct a multitude of investigations into the misconduct and corruption in the executive office without appearing to be vindictive. They need to have the patience to let Special Counsel Robert Mueller do his job and allow the results to speak for themselves. And they need to compose a positive, inclusive, and creative legislative agenda that shows the alternative to Republicans constantly defeating measures, even though Democrats know that everything they will propose in the House will fail in the Republican Senate or come up against a presidential veto.
The first session of the newly formed House of Representatives on Jan. 3 starts with the election of Pelosi as speaker. Regardless of all the taunting aimed at this old dame, the Democrats should consider themselves lucky that Pelosi is guiding them through this minefield. A few weeks ago, there was a public confrontation in the Oval Office between Trump, Pelosi and Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer, and if that showed anything, it is that with all her 78 years, she is well matched with this president. The moody Trump, leaning forward in his man spread and patronizingly lecturing "Nancy," was outmaneuvered at his own favorite game of intimidation, live on television.
Pelosi will have to slow down the enthusiastic young dogs in her party. As yet, there are no impeachment proceedings that have been initiated against the president. For now, there has been a steady buildup of material that shows the man is unfit, lacks a moral compass and is corrupt in the traditional sense.
Legislatively, it will hardly make a difference for Trump that the Democrats are now in command of the House. He has already transferred his domestic agenda to the Republican leaders of the House and Senate and the wealthy interest groups that support them. Except for gifts to those interest groups and the stripping of government finances, little has been accomplished.
Thankless Legislative Work
The Democrats in the House await thankless work. They have to introduce studied proposals that are practical and can be executed, while knowing ahead of time that the Republican Senate will vote them down. Yet that is what they must do: demonstrate what is possible when one governs in earnest, when a government functions. Two subjects immediately stand out: President Barack Obama’s health care reform and infrastructure. Despite repeated attempts, Trump's Republicans have been unable to torpedo Obama’s health care law. They did, however, make the investment climate more difficult than it was before 2010. What has changed is the attitude of the average American. “Obamacare” is popular. Democrats can play around for a year with the possibility of health insurance for everyone, a favorite theme of the left, but it would be better, practically speaking, to amend Obama’s health care law.
That American infrastructure needs urgent upgrading is undisputed. Both Trump and Hillary Clinton promised action in 2016. The Republicans have gloriously missed this chance to accomplish something positive. The problem for the Democrats is that Trump's tax reductions have handicapped every form of government investment, and expenditures are difficult to finance. A mixture of public and private financing for roads and bridges is possible, but concern that private parties will abuse that is large and legitimate.
The lack of government income affects all relevant services from education to environmental management, and will only get worse if the economy slows down. Republicans have been responsible for huge budget deficits for decades and they will undoubtedly start talking again about lower expenditures. Maybe Democrats will simply dare call for what is needed: a solid tax increase for the wealthy.
Pay Attention to the Senate As Well
Not only can the House introduce legislation, but the Senate can also set the agenda. The Democrats should, therefore, be careful that the Republican Senate, led by the true evil genius in Washington, Republican leader Mitch McConnell, does not introduce legislation which the House must then reject. It is a game that both parties can play.
Considering Trump's erratic state of mind and need to score, one can expect more activity on the foreign affairs front. There, the Democrats can, at best, register their reservations, but the Senate has the most power here. On the other hand, it is in the Republicans' interest to distance themselves from the loose cannon in the White House during the next two years. The Democrats will be able to respond to that.
The Democrats must, therefore, mix both positive and negative politics. Should Trump lose even his die-hard following, then there will be the need to find an alternative that offers hope for good governance. Until it becomes clear who the Democratic presidential candidates will be next year – and it will be a knockout race that will largely get the attention of prominent slowpokes (see the elderly Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg stumble) – the Democrats have to live with the charge that they have too little to offer against the bulldozer Trump. That charge is both fair and unfair. In presidential politics, it is often difficult to see what the opposition is doing. This year is mainly about what is directly visible and what is leading Trump to the abyss so closely that he won’t need any push. He’ll walk into it himself.