If tradition holds, the opening of Maryland’s legislative session on Wednesday will feature pledges of bipartisanship from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic legislative leaders, all of whom will pledge to work together to better serve the state.
But there was no such talk of collaboration on Tuesday, when Democratic state lawmakers and other party leaders gathered for their annual pre-session luncheon.
U.S. Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was the featured guest speaker. He and others imparted dire warnings about President Trump and the partial government shutdown he imposed in hopes of securing funding for a border wall, leaving hundreds of thousands of federal workers without pay in the Washington region and elsewhere.
Schiff, whose committee will examine Trump’s alleged involvement with Russia, among other things, said the current moment is a precarious one for American democracy, damaged not just by Russian interference but also by the president’s attacks on American institutions, press and values.
Around the world, Schiff told those assembled in Annapolis, the United States is more than a country. It’s an idea — one that he said has become unrecognizable under Trump.
“This is what’s at risk right now: the very idea of America,” Schiff said. “As long as that’s the case, it’s incumbent on all of us to be champions of that idea, to be champions of democracy.”
Maryland’s Democratic congressional leaders focused on the shutdown, which deeply impacts communities in the Washington suburbs of Maryland and Virginia.
‘This is disastrous,” said Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin. “There is no excuse for the government not being open.”
He and fellow Sen. Chris Van Hollen vowed to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) into allowing votes on House bills to restore furloughed workers to their posts and end the shutdown.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) reveled in Democratic gains during the November midterms and the historic diversity of the new congressional class — calling it a referendum on Trump.
The national election results mirrored what happened in Maryland, where the most diverse group of lawmakers in state history will be sworn in at the opening of the 90-day session.
“Let me suggest that these are the times that try men’s souls,” said Hoyer, quoting American Revolutionary figure Thomas Paine. “The values of America are at risk today. The constitutional government of America is at risk today.”
Maya Rockeymoore Cummings, who was elected chair of the state Democratic Party in December, organized the luncheon and said her husband, U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), suggested Schiff as a speaker.
“We are in it, but I think we don’t have the appropriate perspective on how fragile our democracy is,” Rockeymoore Cummings said. “Congressman Schiff brought that all home.”
State legislative leaders talked about what the General Assembly — both chambers of which are dominated by Democrats — has done and can do this year to blunt the impact of Trump-era Republican policies.
On the agenda for the coming session are bills to reduce prescription drug prices and stabilize the health-care industry to preserve some of the most popular provisions of the now-gutted Affordable Care Act.
Democratic lawmakers are also eager to protect a fragile Chesapeake Bay, raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour and deliver higher-quality public education while expanding prekindergarten across the state.
“If the Senate and House will work together, we will drive the policy for the next four years,” Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said.
Amid the pep talks and denunciations of the Republican occupant of the White House, there was barely a mention of the state’s own Republican chief executive. A moderate who has frequently criticized Trump, Hogan was easily elected to a second term in November and, according to a Gonzales poll released this week. has an approval rating in Maryland of 77 percent.
“Last fall, the voters were clear: Many of them like the governor,” said state Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s), who spoke on behalf of absent Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert). “But they love our progressive values. That’s our job this session.”
Rockeymoore Cummings said Democrats still had a message for Hogan, even if few brought him up.
“We need leadership from him,” she said in an interview. “He has not been vocal enough to stand up to the Trump White House to let us know he stands for the people of Maryland.”
In response, Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse ticked off the list of ways Hogan has opposed the Trump administration, including pulling National Guard troops from the southern border to protest the separation of migrant parents and children; opposing federal efforts to weaken water pollution regulations; and, most recently, joining with regional leaders in calling for an end to the government shutdown.
“This is the second statement the chairwoman has made in the past week that flies in the face of facts,” Chasse said, citing tweets by Rockeymoore Cummings demanding that Hogan do more to press for an end to the shutdown.