Enter the Democrats
Democratic victories in congressional elections across the U.S. Tuesday have instantly created a new political dynamic in Washington. The country will surely be better off with at least one house of Congress finally willing to exercise oversight of the executive branch. To put their new majority to best use, Democrats will now need to set careful priorities.
Their new House caucus is not just larger, but also broader — more female, more diverse, and encompassing a political range from moderate to Democratic Socialist. Yet finding common ground needn’t be difficult. Donald Trump remains president. Blunting his assaults on democratic rule of law while resuscitating ethical behavior can easily be agreed a top priority.
Democrats should also work together to set a new tone in Congress, where polarization has grown into a national weakness. Some may be tempted to exact revenge for the Republican majority’s refusal to reach across the aisle. That would be a mistake. Restoring norms and nurturing comity will be difficult enough as long as Trump is in office. Democrats should build and strengthen ties to any Republicans willing to work with them in good faith.
In controlling the agenda, the new Democratic majority will be able to rebuild the House of Representatives’ capacity to govern. Already high on the Democratic legislative agenda is election reform. A House resolution sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes of Maryland, backed by party leaders and dozens of Democratic House members, calls for ending partisan redistricting, enacting national automatic voter registration, restoring the Voting Rights Act (which was hobbled by a 2013 Supreme Court ruling), safeguarding election systems, and expanding and strengthening ethics laws covering both Congress and the executive.
Likewise, if Democrats can strike reasonable compromises with Republicans on infrastructure investment and drug prices, they should pursue them. And while neither party appears to have an appetite to address the nation’s stark fiscal imbalance, moments of divided government are often the most viable time to do so.
New House investigations of the executive branch are inevitable; proper oversight requires them. During the first half of the Trump presidency, the House Intelligence Committee chose to cover up rather than investigate whether Trump or members of his administration are compromised by financial or other entanglements with foreign entities. As committee member Tom Rooney, a Florida Republican, acknowledged, the House investigation “lost all credibility.” The Intelligence Committee will be in less partisan hands now.
Various other inquiries are called for, as well — into the administration’s haphazard and counterproductive trade policies; its efforts to separate migrant children from their parents; its sabotage of the Affordable Care Act; and its failure to respond effectively to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
All the while, Democrats must do what they can to elevate decency and the national interest over the partisan scrum. If they can demonstrate their ability to wield power responsibly, they’ll make a convincing case that voters should give them more of it in 2020.