Take a quick survey of this week’s stories, and you would be forgiven for thinking House Democrats have one main mission: aggressively investigating President Trump. This week, top lawmakers held hearings with the acting attorney general, laid out a list of other targets, and were chastised by Trump for their probes in the State of the Union address and subsequent tweets.
But Democrats did not run in the midterm elections as an explicitly anti-Trump party. Hillary Clinton was accused of failing to articulate a vision for her presidency beyond not being Trump. Democrats in 2018 vowed not to make the same mistake and campaigned largely on issues that they thought resonated with voters.
And they promised to make those the foci of their work in Washington.
Their first month in the majority was overtaken by the all-encompassing government shutdown. But now, with that put aside for now, they are beginning their work on the policies they campaigned on: health care, the environment and guns.
This week, Democratic-led committees began holding hearings to vet these issues and develop policy prescriptions for them. They are not expecting to change laws while Republicans hold the White House and the Senate, but they are laying the groundwork to show what a Washington controlled by Democrats would do.
Democrats made health care the cornerstone of their midterm campaign messaging. To make good on that, House Democrats convened three hearings on the Affordable Care Act this week, including one on the effects of a Texas federal judge ruling the law unconstitutional last year. That decision is under appeal. Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), chair of the energy and commerce subcommittee on health, also announced a hearing next week to evaluate legislative proposals to reverse some White House policies that have weakened protections under the ACA.
At a separate hearing focused on the threat to workers if protections for people with preexisting conditions were to go away, Education and Labor Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) acknowledged that within the Democratic Party there are different approaches to how to provide affordable care, most commonly the various interpretations of the Medicare-for-all idea. But he said, “We must all commit — both with our words and our actions — to maintaining the lifesaving consumer protections enacted in the ACA and refusing to go backward.”
And the House Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Health and Human Services Department budget, held its first hearing examining the various ways the Trump administration has sought to enact policies that would effectively undermine the ACA.
Also this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) officially named members to a select committee on climate change that will investigate what policies can be enacted to reverse the effects of global warming. On that same day, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) revealed the details of a Green New Deal that aims to combat climate change and economic inequality. Their idea received endorsements from the 2020 presidential candidates in the Senate.
Additionally, there were multiple hearings on climate change this week. The House Natural Resources Committee and the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on environment and climate change each held hearings on the effects of climate change.
“To my friends across the aisle, I implore you, now is the time to join us. We want to work together, but inaction is no longer an option. We must act on climate,” said Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), chairman of the subcommittee on environment and climate change, in his opening remarks at the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Finally, the House Judiciary Committee held its first hearing on gun violence in eight years that included a discussion of pending legislation on expanding background checks on all firearm purchases. The hearing, held less than a week before the first anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., marked a departure from years past when even Democratic majorities in Congress largely ignored the third-rail issue.
“Despite the obvious need to address discourage of gun violence, Congress, for too long, has done virtually nothing,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “But, now, we begin a new chapter.”