OMNIA Q&A: A Rock and a Hard Place

Marc Meredith, Associate Professor of Political Science, discusses the new Democrat House majority and the governmental shutdown.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Marc Meredith, Associate Professor of Political Science

In what ways does the new Democrat House majority fundamentally change the balance of power?

For a bill to become law it has to get majority support in both the House and the Senate. The presence of the filibuster in the Senate means that in most cases either party can prevent new legislation from passing as long as the party is unanimously against it. But there are cases when some major legislation, like the 2018 tax cuts, passed without almost any support from one party. This will not be able to happen now that the Democrats have a majority in the House and the Republicans have a majority in the Senate.

What types of investigative powers will the Democrats gain?

The party that controls a majority of the House also gets a majority of seats on the various House committees and is able to select who chairs these committees. Some of these committees have a lot of investigatory power, and, in particular, the power to investigate whether the bureaucracy is carrying out policy within the guidelines specified by Congressional legislation. I anticipate the current House will spend a lot more time investigating than the last House did. And I also anticipate that the committees with an ability to investigate Trump in some way will use this power whenever possible.

Do you think Democrats run a risk of backlash if they launch too many investigations?

I think that there is a risk that the media won't know which investigations to focus its attention on. It is probably more damaging if all voters are paying attention to the same scandal, rather than some voters paying attention to scandal A, while others pay attention to scandals B, C, etc.  

What do you believe the Democrats' top legislative priorities will be? How much can they really accomplish legislatively without a Senate majority?

Some of the Democrats' primary policy goals right now are to shore up the ACA, do more to protect voting rights at the national level, and to identify new sources of revenue to help close the current deficit. But while the House may pass a number of bills that deal with these issues, none of them will become law because they are not policy goals shared by the Republican Senate. There may be a few issues, like the opioid crisis, where there is some common ground between the two parties. But these issues are few and far between. Besides (hopefully) passing budgets, I wouldn't expect much meaningful legislation to emerge from this Congress.  

Given all the talk of possible impeachment, what would that process actually entail?

As impeachment only requires a majority vote in the House, the Democrats would be able to impeach Trump if they unanimously (or nearly unanimously) voted to do so. But convicting Trump following an impeachment vote requires the support of 67 senators. So in terms of being removed from office, Trump is arguably in a stronger position in the new Congress because the Republicans majority in the Senate increased. Consequentially, the Democrats likely will be cautious initiating an impeachment proceeding, given that it is ultimately unlikely to remove Trump from office.

Who stands to lose more if the shutdown continues?

Both parties at least are posturing that the other party is poised to lose more. But the truth is it’s probably in between. There are a lot of freshman House Democrats who are squeamish that they are beginning their careers in the House by engaging in this showdown. In the Senate, some Republican senators from blue and purple states who are up for reelection in 2020 are pretty worried about what the effects might be on their chances. But more than anything, it is America as a country that is losing from the current stalemate.

How do you believe the shutdown will likely end?

The clear compromise out there is that some additional money be awarded for border security that cannot be used in any way to build a wall. But that compromise has been available from the start, and there is no evidence we are moving towards it. I think one reason for the lack of compromise is that although the shutdown is burdensome on some people, like government employees, the overall effects are limited enough that many Americans are feeling few consequences. I think the shutdown will end quickly once more people are burdened; for example, if some of the current TSA issues become more problematic and airports stop functioning. Until this happens, I don't see a path for compromise.