Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard that the Democrats will be taking control of the U.S. House of Representatives after gaining more than 30 seats in the 2018 midterm elections. Two years of unified government control under the Republicans will be coming to an end in January. Democrats finally have a seat at the proverbial table and will chair each of the committees present in the House. But what should Democrats do with this newfound power?
One significant development is that Democrats will now have control of the House Intelligence Committee, and with that control they will have the ability to investigate a number of things relating to President Trump. This could include everything from his tax returns to his campaign’s potential contact with Russia to violations of the emoluments clause. This is an important task, as Republicans have been obsessed with protecting Trump, not holding him accountable or seeking out the truth. At the same time, Democrats should not be too overzealous. While Republicans were never punished electorally over their desperate attempts to smear Clinton over Benghazi, Democrats will come across as being obsessed with Trump and not helping the American people if they choose to go down a similar path.
Democrats can’t get bogged down with investigations. They need to push a strong legislative agenda, no matter what the chances are of certain initiatives being voted down in the Senate or rejected by President Trump. For example, many Democrats have been campaigning on some of Obamacare’s core promises, such as protecting people with pre-existing conditions. They would do well to draft legislation reaffirming or even expanding protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Coming up with a detailed plan to expand Medicaid coverage would also be a strong move, given the program’s popularity. In fact, three Republican-leaning states approved Medicaid expansion ballot initiatives during midterms. There are a number of healthcare initiatives with widespread support, even if it is unlikely that Republicans in Congress, specifically the Senate, will sign on.
One politically viable strategy for Democrats is to introduce and pass popular legislation; not just healthcare-related bills but also things like common sense gun reform or a minimum wage increase. This will force Republicans in the House and in the Senate to take stances on these provisions. Then, come next election cycle, Republicans can’t turn around and say something like, “We’re all supporting covering people with pre-existing conditions,” without everyone being able to point to a clear vote one way or the other on the issue. They shouldn’t just push this for political gain though, these policies should be advocated for because they will improve people’s lives. Their chance of passing almost shouldn’t be part of the equation, although spending too much time on bills everyone knows are extremely unlikely to become laws will lead to accusations that the Democrats aren’t trying to really accomplish anything.
Democrats need to prove that they are capable of governing, even as a party in the minority. Republicans under Obama were hell-bent on obstructionism. They tanked legislation they would have been receptive to under a different president, often to the detriment of the American people. If Democrats act the same way then the voters who put them in the House will have every right to desire their replacement. They may have been swept into power on a wave, but their majority in the House will not be that large (only about 12-15 seats). If voters sour on them they could easily lose the House in 2020. Furthermore, the Senate will be an uphill battle even if the Democrats remain popular.
Obstructionism and gridlock will not get the party anywhere, and more importantly, they will do nothing for the country. Democrats should still fight against conservative policies that harm the working class, but shooting down laws for no good reason will do no one any good. Congressional Democrats finally have some political capital. It remains to be seen how wisely it will be spent.
Jacob Kowalski is opinion editor for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.