Democrats didn’t just puff their chests and bang gavels as they regained control of the House Thursday. They used their first official day on Capitol Hill to try to pass some bills the party has talked about for months: defending Obamacare and protecting the special counsel’s probe into Russia’s election interference.
They even tried to end the partial government shutdown, which has dragged on for two weeks.
But Democrats' efforts probably won’t go anywhere, because the Republican-controlled Senate in a freshly divided Congress would still have to approve. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already said he won’t take up any efforts that President Donald Trump won’t sign.
Facing new threats of impeachment and a slew of new progressive legislators, Trump assured his followers on Twitter Friday morning that “things will settle down.”
Here’s what Democrats tried to do on Day One, and how Republicans are already attempting to stop them:
End the shutdown
The newly Democrat-controlled House chamber voted Thursday to end the federal government’s partial shutdown, which has grinded some U.S. operations like the National Parks Service to a complete halt. In December, the Republican-controlled Congress failed to pass a spending bill that included the $5.7 billion Trump had demanded in funding for his infamous border wall.
These efforts probably won't move forward, though, because Senate Republicans have said they’ll side with Trump until they get their wall.
Regardless, House Democrats’ package of spending bills attempted to end the partial shutdown by restoring funding to some shuttered government agencies — without any new funding for a wall.
Trump promised to veto the measure.
"The Senate will not take up any proposal that does not have a real chance of passing this chamber and getting a presidential signature,” McConnell said Thursday, according to Politico. “So let's not waste the time. Let's not get off on the wrong foot.”
Protect the Russia investigation
It’s not surprising that Democrats are using their newfound power to put added pressure on Trump’s camp. On Thursday, House Democrats reintroduced the Special Counsel Independence and Integrity Act, which would safeguard the biggest threat against the administration: Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
The act was first introduced as a bipartisan measure by Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Thom Tillis last year but failed to make it to a Senate floor vote. The bill would make it far more difficult for Trump to direct acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to fire Mueller and would give Mueller the opportunity to appeal if he were removed.
“As the Special Counsel announced new indictments and guilty pleas from Trump’s closest allies and associates, it’s clear that the threat to the Mueller investigation will only grow stronger,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York and incoming House Judiciary Committee chairman, wrote in a statement with Democratic Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Steve Cohen of Tennessee. “Now is the time for Congress to finally act and pass this legislation to protect the integrity of the Special Counsel’s investigation and the rule of law.”
But this legislation might die in the Senate too. When blocking the bill previously, McConnell argued that the bill wasn’t necessary, since he doesn’t believe Trump would fire Mueller and risk the political backlash. McConnell also said he would “probably” continue to block any such efforts to protect Mueller. On the other hand, Republican senators have remained mostly mum on whether they’d be willing to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.
Defend the Affordable Care Act
Healthcare was one of the leading issues that carried Democrats to victory in the midterms. So naturally, House Democrats filed a motion Thursday in their rules package for the 116th Congress that would authorize their lawyers to defend the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have repeatedly tried to repeal, most recently through a lawsuit in Texas.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House will vote next week to formally offer up the chamber’s lawyers to defend the healthcare law, which will most likely appear before the Supreme Court.
“Republicans should end their assault on healthcare and join us to do the right thing for the American people,” Pelosi said in a news release announcing the House would move to defend the Affordable Care Act.
In December 2017, the Republican-controlled Congress effectively removed Obamacare’s “individual mandate” — or the tax against people who didn’t carry government-approved insurance plans. Afterward, Republican attorneys general stepped up to sue the federal government and argue that Obamacare couldn’t exist without that mandate. Just last month, a federal judge agreed with them and ruled the entire government healthcare program unconstitutional, although Obamacare is still in effect as the lawsuit weaves through the courts.
Cover image: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., talks with House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., left, on the opening day of the 116th Congress as the Democrats take the majority from the GOP, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)