The 2018 midterm elections were an interesting twist to the dynamic battlefield that is US Politics. While the Democrats took over the House of Representatives, the Republicans expanded their majority in the senate. On the one hand, the Democrats are preparing to take control of the House of Representatives in January, while on the other, a Donald Trump Government Shutdown over denied border wall funding has American politics in a tizzy. As January draws closer, here is a look at what the incoming Democratic house means for the battlefield – and, President Trump.
Ethics Reform: The Cornerstone of the Democratic Agenda
With the Democrats winning a majority in the House of Representatives, Trump finally has real Congressional opposition to temper what has largely been an uninformed and outrageous presidency. At the top of the Democratic legislative agenda is the Ethics Reform Package (ERP) – a part of the Democrat’s “for the people” campaign. In a statement released post the win, Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler said,
“American people want to see a government that is being held accountable to our laws, to our values, and to the interests of the American people.”
The Ethics Reform Package is, according to Democrats, a step in this direction. While the provisions of the legislation are yet to be finalised, it has been described as,
“[a] comprehensive package of campaign finance, voting rights, redistricting and ethics reforms”.
In a response to Trump’s way of Presidency, it is slated to contain a provision making it mandatory for the President to declare his tax returns.
The ERP aims to radically change campaign finance practices. This is in recognition of the changing realities of the system post the Citizens’ United verdict of the Supreme Court, at the beginning of the millennium. The provisions in this regard are slated to incorporate strict reporting procedures, and separation of govt. contracts from donations made to campaigns – pay for play. The most radical addition would create a new public financing system for the candidates – with a focus on small value donations. Every small value dollar donation would be matched with a high value donation paid out of public funds (the expected rate being touted as 6 to 1), if the candidate willingly subscribes to the small donor program. On Election Reform, the ERP could include measures such as increasing the accessibility to early voting, and making voter registration automatic after attaining the minimum age – unless the voters choose to opt out of it.
The ‘Declaration for American Democracy’, a group of 100 ground level action organisations have pledged to support the legislation. Ezra Levin, the co-executive director of Indivisible, a progressive movement that emerged in 2016 as response to Trump’s election said,
“The same people who spent 2017 organizing to defeat Trumpcare and spent 2018 organizing to build the blue wave will next turn their focus to organizing to pressure their own elected officials ― Republicans and Democrats alike ― to actually make democracy work.”
A second aspect of a Democratic House is that it hands over several key committees – and the accompanying subpoena powers – to Nancy Pelosi and her team. The party now has the authority to call for Trump’s tax returns and banking records from government departments. Nancy Pelosi, the frontrunner for House Speaker’s position, said that the Ways and Means Committee “will be taking their first steps” towards securing the documents. Control over the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence will allow them to pursue Trump’s ties to Russia – something the Republicans have shied away from doing. If reports are to be believed, the prospective Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, is already arranging for testimonies from Trump associates like Roger Stone, among others.
All of this will take place as Robert Muller’s probe comes to a close – with potentially dire consequences for the Trump Presidency. In the last few weeks, the biggest sentencing from the Mueller Investigation, that of Mr. Cohen, finally came through. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for his involvement in financial crimes, campaign finance violations and lying to the Congress. The sentencing becomes particularly important given that Mr. Cohen directly implicated President Trump in his guilty plea – saying that the President directed his every action. Now, while the prevailing opinion in the Justice Department – the one responsible for issuing indictments in courts – is that a sitting President enjoys immunity from prosecution(the US Constitution is silent on this), his fate after demitting office has already become uncertain. In addition, his children, particularly Donald Trump Jr., are in severe legal tangle. Ever since the President fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions in November, there are murmurs of sacking Mr. Muller as well. The shutdown, if it continues into January, would give the Democrats leverage to pass legislation to protect Mr. Muller’s probe. Pledging their support to the Mueller investigation Adam Schiff noted,
“Our first order of business is to make sure that Mueller has the benefit of the work that we’ve done, so that he can view that evidence in the context of what he knows, which is far more than we do. But also so that he can determine whether people committed perjury before our committee.”
Trump Impeachment on the Cards?
This brings us to what is arguably the biggest question related to the Democrats win- will the incoming Democratic House push for Trump’s impeachment? A poll conducted by Washington Post and ABC News said that 49% of all Americans surveyed want the Congress to begin impeachment proceedings against the President. A Suffolk University poll conducted in Ohio, a state which Trump carried in the 2016 elections, found four out of ten voters in the state supporting impeachment proceedings against Trump. The poll was conducted around the time of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, meaning that it factored in something the President considered an achievement for his base.
The question of impeachment is particularly crucial given that the House of Representatives is the only body that has the right to initiate impeachment proceedings in the US. While the polls may suggest that the American public and the Democratic party is in favour of impeaching Trump, Nancy Pelosi said that impeachment was “not a priority on the agenda going forward”. This makes sense given that despite impeachment, a Senate vote would be required to remove Mr. Trump from office – which is in Republican hands. It could also empower and further excite Mr. Trump’s base, which has a higher turnout in elections, compared to Democratic voters. However, the harder the Democrats push for investigations against Trump, the tougher it will become for them to ward off impeachment from the new wave of far left liberal Democrats joining their ranks. The Democratic party will have to grapple with the question of impeachment for the rest of his tenure – especially if Mr. Muller’s report is scathing. This is an issue that they will have to keep revisiting continuously for the next two years, and a tightrope that they’ll have to walk. Expectations are high, and the Dems have a lot to lose as well.
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About the Author
Poojil is pursuing Bachelors in English Literature from Miranda House, University of Delhi. Like most English students, Poojil has an affinity for reading. She is an avid debater, placing a lot of value in the ability to question and have constructive discussions. She is a trained Bharatanatyam dancer, and regard dancing to be her true passion. Poojil has a keen interest in Gender and Cultural Studies and has worked with organizations such as Delhi Commission for Women and Teach for India.