WASHINGTON — A new era of divided government begins on Thursday as Democrats seize control of the US House, aiming to serve as a check on Donald Trump’s disruptive presidency, at least until the 2020 elections.
Battle-tested Nancy Pelosi would mostly be House Speaker, a dramatic return to national power for the California Democrat who made history a dozen years earlier as the first woman to lead the chamber.
Thursday brings an end to Trump’s one-party rule in Washington, a massive boost for Democrats who felt deflated after Trump’s 2016 victory.
Progressives will be eager to push back with greater effect against an administration they believe has overstepped its authority and abused power in the nearly two years since Trump’s inauguration.
They will have that opportunity as congressional panels will be led by chairpersons who have pledged to probe topics such as Trump’s income taxes, his firing of attorney general Jeff Sessions, and the President’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Tomorrow, we seize the majority. Then, we pass legislation to end reckless #TrumpShutdown,” said Democrat Hakeen Jeffries, a new member of the House leadership. “Next, we fight to lower health care costs and enact a progressive agenda.”
Despite the midterm polls sweeping dozens of House Republicans out of Congress in November, Trump’s party managed to modestly expand its majority in the Senate to 57-43, meaning the Washington gridlock is almost certain to deepen.
Among the first tasks of the 116th Congress will be ending a nearly two-week government shutdown that has left a quarter of federal agencies shuttered due to lapsed funding.
Trump has said he would not sign a spending bill that does not include the $ 5.6 billion needed for the construction of a wall on the US-Mexico border, but Democrats appear uninterested in appeasing him.
“This is national security we’re talking about,” Trump said. “It’s too important a subject to walk away from.
But Democrats say the border wall, one of Trump’s key campaign promises, is a distraction from more complicated immigration problems and a tool for Trump to whip up support among his conservative base.
The standoff resulted in hundreds of thousands of federal employees being furloughed over the Christmas and New Year holidays and for the foreseeable future until a deal is reached.
Pelosi has introduced new measures that would fund the agencies, but noted that they “contain no new wall funding.”
Most diverse Congress
Pelosi will preside over the most diverse Congress in history, with a hundred new House representatives, including trailblazers like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 29, the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
The first two Native American women and first two Muslim women were also elected.
Democrats will move early to protect coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, a popular feature of the Affordable Care Act that a judge in Texas recently struck down.
House Democrats are thumbing their nose at Trump by establishing a special committee on climate so the government can better respond to the urgency of global warming.
Hovering in the background in Washington will be the threat of impeachment, and it is almost certain that some Democrats will introduce proceedings to remove Trump from office, although Pelosi has downplayed that scenario.
“It would be very divisive,” she told Elle magazine. “It’s not something that I’m stirring the pot on.” —AFP
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