January 3, 2019 marked the dawn of a new day in the House of Representatives. It was the day Democrats officially took control of the 116th U.S. House of Representatives and broke the GOP’s absolute control of the government. One of the most diverse groups to ever serve the American people, the House Democrats will be led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, only the second person to return to the role after leaving it.
Even more significant, the Democratic win of the House guarantees a transformation from a Republican-controlled chamber with little direction to a body focused on passing legislation. Instead of going to unimaginable lengths to protect Trump, the House will actually provide congressional oversight through committees chaired by Democrats.
Once the "Trump Shutdown" ends, Democrats plan to focus on fundamental issues including jobs, infrastructure and lowering health care costs. One bill in particular to watch for is HR1 — a broad anti-corruption and pro-democracy reform bill. It centers on campaign finance reform, anti-lobbying rules and expand voting rights including automatic voter registration.
Although the bills put forth by the House may not make it through the Senate or be signed by the president, they make it clear that the Democratic party is serious about serving the needs of the American people and also getting money out of politics.
The House has 20 standing committees that consider bills and recommend measures for consideration by the House. However, these committees also have oversight responsibilities to monitor agencies, programs and activities within their jurisdictions. It is through this oversight that the House is expected to have the most impact. They may not have the power to push legislation through the Senate, but the Democrats do have the power to launch investigations, issue subpoenas and compel testimony.
House Committees to Watch
There are a few committees that are expected to play a key role in congressional oversight:
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is chaired by Adam Schiff (CA) who has been one of the President’s most aggressive opponents. Although previously a sitting member of the committee, Schiff is now in a position to lead the investigation into Russian interference in our 2016 election, including an examination of the President’s businesses and possible Russian financial leverage over him. Schiff is also expected to pursue information about whether Trump attempted to obstruct the FBI’s investigation by firing James Comey.
The House Financial Services Committee will be chaired by its first woman, the formidable Maxine Waters (CA). With the investigative power to scrutinize both the nation’s banks and Wall Street, Waters can slow Republican efforts to roll back regulations on financial institutions. In addition to bank executives being brought before the committee to explain their actions, Waters can also scrutinize the president’s relationships with financial institutions. She is expected to continue her demand for information about Trump’s private bank dealings, including answers from Deutsche Bank — Trump’s primary lender.
Jerrold Nadler (NY) will chair the House Judiciary Committee. It is the Judiciary Committee’s responsibility to decide whether there are grounds to impeach the president. Although careful when discussing the topic, Nadler has stated it would be an impeachable offense if Trump directed Cohen to pay hush money.
Expect Nadler to press the Department of Justice and the FBI to answers questions about the Robert Mueller investigation, pursue information on Russian interference in the 2016 election, investigate the forced resignation of Jeff Sessions and the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as his replacement. In addition, Nadler wants to look into Trump’s policy of family separation at the border, the Justice Department’s refusal to defend the Affordable Care Act and the allegations of sexual misconduct and perjury against Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Richard Neal (MA), will have the power to ask for the president’s tax returns. Neal has stated that he will begin by requesting that the president voluntarily release his tax returns. If necessary, Neal will file a legal request with the Treasury Department to release the returns to a select group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill. Ultimately, this fight will likely end up in federal court.
As an outspoken opponent of the president’s tax reform, Neal has promised hearings to allow debate on the 2017 tax law and propose fixes to what’s not working. Expect the committee to explore the possibility of introducing tax cuts for the middle class. Neal is also in a position to defend Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Elijah Cummings (MD) will chair the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Cummings is poised to become one of the Democrats’ chief investigators into the Trump administration. He plans to approach oversight along two lines. First, through his scrutiny of the executive branch — including whether Trump has profited from the presidency and his reported hush payments made to women with whom he allegedly had affairs. His second line of focus will be on reforms, such as lowering the price of prescription drugs and revamping the US Postal Service.
The House Appropriations Committee, headed by Nita Lowey (NY), will review the spending bill once it’s passed after the Trump shutdown ends. As an advocate for ‘Medicare-for-all,’ Lowery will strongly advocate for federal safety net programs. With her strong ties to party leaders, she is expected to bring a number of bills on these programs to the floor of the House for debate in the coming year.
Winning the House was monumental for the Democratic party. It broke the GOP’s monopoly on power. Not only does it provide an avenue to advance legislation, but also puts a stop to blanket approval of damaging bills put forth by the GOP. Once again, the House will take up the responsibility of true congressional oversight. It is a new day in Washington — a return to a system of checks and balances as our founding fathers set forth in the U.S. Constitution.