Although Democrats won’t take over the majority in the House of Representatives until January, they’re already spelling out an ambitious agenda. Democratic leaders and incoming representatives have been giving details about some of the issues they hope to tackle, such as a broad ethics reform package, which would include campaign finance reform, voting rights, and ethics and accountability.
Of course, Democrats will have oversight authority, which various committees will use to investigate the many misdeeds of the Trump administration. Already, incoming committee chairs are announcing their agendas.
- California’s Adam Schiff aims to support the Robert Mueller investigation and look into the Russian ties to Donald Trump’s campaign as chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
- California’s Maxine Waters is ready to take on the big banks and insurance companies as head of the House Financial Services Committee.
- Maryland’s Elijah Cummings is likely to head an ethics investigation as the new chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
- Impeachment, if it happens, would be under the auspices of New York’s Jerry Nadler as head of the House Judiciary Committee, although he says his first move will be to protect the Mueller investigation.
- As head of the House Ways and Means Committee, Massachusetts’s Richard Neal says he has every intention of going after Trump’s tax returns.
- Several new members, including New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, are backing a Green New Deal to combat climate change. There’s some pushback from veteran Democrats slated to head committees that normally focus on the environment, who worry that the ambitious plan might not be realistic, but a few other House Democrats are on board.
Another big initiative could be legislation on gun safety, which many newly elected Democratic members of Congress stressed in their campaigns. By all accounts, Democrats aim to start with common-sense gun laws backed by big majorities of Americans—support for universal background checks of all gun buyers is nearly universal itself. These bills could include background checks; a “red flag” law, in which police or family members could ask a court to take weapons away from someone deemed a danger; a repeal of the Dickey Amendment, a 1996 provision that restricts federal funding for research on gun violence; a ban on bump stocks; and more.
There were major congressional victories by advocates of gun reform over Republican opponents with high ratings from the National Rifle Association. Everytown for Gun Safety boasted an 83 percent win rate among its 66 endorsements in federal races. There were three times as many gun reform ads this election cycle as in 2016: 125,879 pro-gun control ads for House, Senate, and governor races. That was also true in campaign spending: Gun reform groups spent about $2.4 million more than gun rights groups on 2018 congressional races.
One such gun reform victor is Democrat Jason Crow, an Army veteran and gun owner who beat incumbent Mike Coffman in Colorado’s 6th District. Crow is aiming for a ban on assault weapons, limits on high-capacity magazines, and more background checks. Coffman received more campaign contributions from the NRA than any other GOP candidate in Colorado this year and often had been described as “bullet-proof.” Not this time: Crow beat the five-term incumbent by over 10 points.
In one of the more satisfying wins, Lucy McBath, a former spokeswoman for Mothers Demand Action for Gun Sense in America who lost her son to gun violence, will be the new congresswoman for Georgia’s 6th District. McBath beat GOP incumbent Karen Handel, who also had an NRA endorsement. McBath’s campaign website listed the following as her gun safety legislative priorities: implementing background checks for all firearm purchases; raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21; working to defeat concealed-carry reciprocity measures; and introducing legislation to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and other criminals.
Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch’s 22nd District includes Parkland, where 17 people died in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last Valentine’s Day. Deutch credits the #MarchForOurLives and the #NeverAgain movements started by the shooting’s survivors for many victories by advocates of gun reform. Establishing common-sense gun laws was seen as important issue for 72 percent of Democratic voters overall in 2018 and was a prime motivator in getting young people to register to vote and turn up at the polls.
Deutch has a list of his priorities on gun safety legislation. According to a CNN story:
Deutch said implementing universal background checks, a “gun violence restraining order,” which allows law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily take guns away from people who are deemed a threat, and banning so-called “bump stocks” are at the top of his list, along with other school safety and mental health initiatives.
Another new voice on gun safety in Congress will be Democrat Kim Schrier, a pediatrician who won a traditionally GOP seat in Washington State. Getting rid of the Dickey Amendment and advocating for federal funds to study gun violence is one of her top priorities. As she said in an NPR story:
“It’s different to come at this as a pediatrician and not a career politician,” said Schrier, who ran an ad during her campaign talking about the risks of having a gun in the house around depressed boys. “My goal here is to keep our children and our communities safe, and I don’t think there is anything radical about that.” …
Schrier says health care was undoubtedly the most consistent policy concern she heard from voters on the campaign trail this year, and that’s consistent with most polling. But she said she also heard a lot about gun safety, particularly from women and mothers.
“Women had a big say in the election, and I think the issue of gun safety resonates there,” said Schrier. “I know it does.”
“The gun movement took a bruising hit on Election Day,” wrote Francis Wilkinson in a Bloomberg opinion piece with the headline, “The NRA Doesn’t Seem So Invincible Anymore.”
More than two dozen House races around the country flipped from Republicans to pro-regulation Democrats. A Kentucky Democrat, John Yarmuth, was spotted in the Capitol wearing an “F” pin to advertise his NRA rating. “We unseated 15 A-rated NRA members with F-rated members,” he told a reporter. “So I’m going to have to get some more pins made.” …
Politically, the NRA now lives by the GOP, dies by the GOP. It has absolutely no protection in states with Democratic majorities or, starting in January, in the House, where Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi has already promised to introduce gun-regulation proposals. …
In exit polls, voters registered support for “stricter gun control measures” by 59 to 37. A CNN poll taken after the election found that registered voters preferred Democrats in Congress to Trump on gun policy by 54 to 37.
What will House Democrats do, since it’s likely that their bills will face opposition in the Senate, if they’re even brought up for a vote at all? Consider any piece of legislation on gun reform as a chance to put down their markers: This will remind voters what Democrats can do when they control both houses of Congress and the presidency.