Democrats’ time in power in Washington could be limited to the end of the year. Despite the left noticeably gaining momentum since Republicans have passed abortion bans across the nation, Democrats could still lose their narrow majority in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, or in both chambers in November’s midterm elections.
So Democrats are trying to get as much done as they can while they still have the levers of power.
Here’s what they’re aiming to do with the time they know they have left, roughly in order of their priorities.
Keep the government open — and placate Joe Manchin
If it’s the fall, Congress is trying to figure out how to keep the government open for another year. The deadline for funding the government for the next 12 months is always Oct. 1, which is when a new fiscal year begins, but Congress hasn’t met that deadline in years. Instead, they’ll probably pass a spending bill that keeps the government open through December, and then after the midterm elections, they’ll come back and fight over a longer-term budget.
Where there’s a budget deadline, there’s always a risk for a government shutdown. In the Senate, all it takes is one senator to stop the process. And Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) struck a deal with leaders to include legislation in the funding bill that will expedite a natural gas pipeline in his state. That could hold off some liberals from voting for it. Meanwhile, Republicans are upset that Manchin is also trying to loosen regulations to expedite clean-energy projects, reports The Post’s Maxine Joselow.
Democrats will do everything in their power to avoid that, since shutdowns are almost always politically damaging for the party in power.
Police funding (and their political messaging)
This week, House Democrats passed legislation to give local police departments millions of dollars. Democratic leaders are hoping this helps inoculate vulnerable House Democrats from attacks on the campaign trail that the party is somehow soft on crime. Even though abortion and the economy and, to some extent, democracy have dominated headlines, Republicans are spending a lot of money in local races attacking Democrats on Americans’ concern about crime, hoping it motivates their voters to come out and vote against Democrats.
Senate Democrats are also voting on a bill to require super PACS to disclose major donors. Campaign finance is an issue that increasingly motivates the left.
Appoint more federal judges
Of the two chambers in Congress, only the Senate can approve a president’s nominees to serve as federal judges. It’s an important but normally behind-the-scenes process that got a lot of attention in the Trump era, when President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans sprinted to put more than 200 conservative federal judges on the bench in courts across the nation.
(The fruits of that may have just born out for Trump when a judge he appointed in Florida defied conventional legal wisdom and temporarily halted the FBI’s investigation into secret government documents he took from the White House.)
Democrats under Biden are racing to shape the courts, too. Biden has appointed more judges than any other president in decades at this point in his tenure, a recent Pew Research Center analysis found. One of them now sits on the Supreme Court.
But if Senate Democrats lose control of the chamber next year, Biden can expect that rapid pace to come to a halt under Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) leadership. McConnell has been ruthless at stopping Democrats’ judicial nominees: He once held open a Supreme Court vacancy for nearly an entire year when Barack Obama was president.
Get money for booster shots, monkeypox vaccines, Kentucky flood victims and Ukraine
Biden wants Congress to approve tens of billions of dollars to help battle the ongoing crises his administration is trying to manage, from pandemics to a war overseas, to worsening natural disasters at home. He’d love for Congress to fold all this into the spending bill that must pass by October.
But Republicans in the Senate see much of this, especially the covid money, as needless spending. Especially since Biden recently declared “the pandemic is over.” Senate Republicans have been blocking additional covid-related funding for months: “At some point you’ve got to tell the alcoholic no,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) told Politico.
More than a year and a half after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, Congress has passed precisely zero legislation to prevent it from happening again. That could change soon.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has zeroed in on strengthening the rules for how Congress counts each states’ electoral votes and signs off on the winner of the presidential election. It’s the last step in the presidential certification process, and an obscure law governing it is one that Trump and his allies tried to exploit to stay in power.
Trump’s pressure on Vice President Mike Pence to reject official electors would have been illegal under the 140-year-old Electoral Count Act, which governs rules about what to do if there are legitimate disputes about which presidential candidate won in a state.
But lawmakers in both parties want to tighten this law so that it’s extra clear that a vice president has no role to unilaterally reject electors, and to raise the bar for how many lawmakers it takes to question results in the first place. (Right now it’s just two, one from each chamber.)
A version of a reformed Electoral Count Act passed the House, with little Republican support. A different version of the bill appears to have enough Republican support to overcome a filibuster.
Finish up their Jan. 6 investigation
If Republicans win back the House of Representatives, they are going to almost certainly sideline or disband the committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the likely next speaker of the House in such a scenario, has fervently defended Trump over the attack, and even threatened to investigate Democrats in return. In addition, the committee’s No. 2, Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), loses her job in January because she lost her primary this summer to a pro-Trump election denier.
The committee has already interviewed thousands of witnesses, reviewed tens of thousands of documents and held several public hearings this summer to share its findings so far. But committee members say they are still actively investigating the attack and who was behind it — and that they still have unanswered questions.
They’ll hold what they say should be their final hearing on Sept. 28.
Enshrine the right to same-sex marriage into federal law
After the fall of Roe v. Wade this summer, Democrats tried and failed to pass a law protecting abortion rights nationwide.
They also saw an opening to act on same-sex marriage. They thought they had enough Republican votes to pass a national law protecting it before the midterms, until several Senate Republicans expressed opposition. Now, the fate of this bill is in question, and the Senate probably won’t vote on this until after the election.
The impetus for this came when the Supreme Court ended protections for abortion rights, and Justice Clarence Thomas suggested that same-sex marriage could be next. The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that same-sex couples have the right to marry, but Congress never passed a law guaranteeing that. In fact, in the ’90s it passed a law that made it difficult for states to recognize same-sex marriage.
House Democrats quickly voted to codify same-sex marriage and interracial marriage, within weeks of Roe falling. They were probably expecting this to be a political vote that got no Republican support, but 47 House Republicans joined them, surprising congressional Democrats, reports The Post’s Marianna Sotomayor. The relatively bipartisan success in the House motivated a bipartisan group of senators to try cobbling together a narrow coalition.
This has been updated with the latest.