En­ter the Democrats

The Progress-Index - - OPINION -

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 Rep. 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.

The na­tion also des­per­ately needs a res­o­lu­tion on im­mi­gra­tion re­form. That process should be­gin with hear­ings in the House, grounded in ex­per­tise and data. It should con­clude with a bill, prop­erly an­a­lyzed for cost and im­pact, that can be brought to the floor for a vote. Even if such leg­is­la­tion meets in­sur­mount­able ob­sta­cles in the Se­nate and White House, it can serve as a tem­plate for a na­tional de­bate in 2020, and for suc­cess­ful leg­is­la­tion in the fu­ture.

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.

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