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By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
Note: The opinions and comments stated in the following article, and views expressed by any contributor to In Homeland Security, do not represent the views of American Military University, American Public University System, its management or employees.
With the Democrats having wrested control of the House of Representatives from the Republicans for the first since 2010, we now have a divided government again. How this change in leadership will affect the nation is anybody’s guess at the moment. Will we see compromise, gridlock or downright congressional warfare?
Even with a new Congress, Washington remains mired in two major problems. The first is the partial government shutdown over funding for President Trump’s border wall and the second is the Central American migrant border crisis.
Congress Needs to Quickly End the Government Shutdown
The first order of business as the Democrats take control of the House is to end the government shutdown. Unfortunately, Democrats refuse to allocate an additional $5 billion for the border wall and the president is not willing to accept anything less.
Trump and the Democrats have hardened their positions, with neither side willing to blink following the televised contentious White House meeting between Trump and House and Senate Democratic leaders. During that meeting, Trump said he would “be proud” to shut down the government if Congress continued to withhold full funding for the wall.
Trump Experiencing Issues with Cabinet Secretaries
Trump must also address other controversial issues resulting from the departure of two leading cabinet officials, the Secretary of Defense and the Attorney General. Both left the Trump administration under extraordinary circumstances.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis tendered his resignation last month; his final day in office was scheduled for the end of February. But when his letter of resignation was made public, his criticism of the president gave Trump cause to let him go on December 31. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, is now acting defense secretary.
The most controversial new appointment so far is that of William Barr as Trump’s new attorney general. Barr, who held the post under President George H. W. Bush, has made statements critical of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian meddling in the Trump presidential campaign in 2016. As a result, Barr can expect some tough questioning from the Democrats when he goes before the Senate for confirmation hearings.
An Uneasy Confirmation Process for Barr
The Republicans have retained control of the Senate, having added two new senators to their majority. Nevertheless, the confirmation process won’t be easy for Barr in this divided government.
Senate Democrats will certainly seize on an unusual memo Barr sent to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel. The memo described what Barr believed was a serious flaw in a federal provision on obstruction of justice as it relates to the Russia collusion probe.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee may try to portray Barr as a Trump lackey. They fear Barr will use the memo as evidence that as attorney general, he will summarily end the investigation into the Russian collusion.
Trump has faced investigations from all sides for the past two years. Republicans blocked Democrats’ efforts to investigate all of them because they lacked subpoena power. But now that the Democrats control the House and have subpoena power, the Trump administration will likely face further investigations.
In addition, the news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had two cancerous lesions removed from her lungs might give Trump the chance to select a third Supreme Court justice. It would be the first time a president has made that many appointments to the high court since President Reagan.
How Will House Democrats Use Their Subpoena Power in a Divided Government?
How will the ruling House Democrats use their new subpoena power in this divided government? They may investigate all aspects of the Trump administration and Trump himself – including his federal tax returns which he has refused to release so far. The Democrats could try to impeach Trump or they may actually legislate on behalf of the nation.
A number of Democrats are eager to pursue impeachment proceedings. But the more established members of the party want to quash such talk and focus on issues and legislation that could enhance their chances to win the 2020 presidential election.
Impeachment advocates, however, might want to reflect on 1998. House Republicans impeached President Clinton, but the Senate refused to convict him. The public punished the Republicans at the midterm elections that same year.
Progressive Policies and Their Impact on the 2020 Presidential Election
There are more than 30 Democrats currently seen as potential presidential nominees in 2020. They could select a well-known centrist candidate or coalesce around their energized, youthful progressive base with its liberal agenda. If they do, how will this affect the presidential race?
In any case, we will definitely see a continuation of the Republicans’ ideological stamp on the federal judiciary. Trump will continue to appoint conservative justices and the Republican-controlled Senate will fast-track them onto the federal courts.
Progressives Push for Expanding the Federal Government
Among the unanswered questions is how will the new Democratic majority govern with so many newcomers favoring progressive polices? They could try to push for:
- Medicare for everyone
- Free college tuition
- Elimination of all student loan debt
- Guaranteed federal jobs with benefits
- A “Green New Deal” that moves America away from dependence on fossil fuels
Two of the most contentious unresolved issues are how to reduce the national debt and how to reform the U.S. healthcare system. Both issues involve taxes, spending and a national healthcare system.
Democrats have campaigned on these issues, especially the progressive members of the House. They want to repeal the Trump tax cuts and raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for many of these federal programs. How incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi handles her energized progressive base will test her well-known political acumen.
The new Democratic majority in the House will have to either compromise with the President or come up with a plan of their own. But any such plan will fail in the Republican-controlled Senate and assuredly would be vetoed by Trump. Whatever the Democrats come up with, that will set the stage for the 2020 presidential campaign.