Democrats have done it: After eight years in the minority, and after two years of looking on in frustration as President Donald Trump has tried to rip away health-care coverage, rip apart consumer and environmental safeguards, and rip down civil rights protections, Democrats will control the House starting in January.
Let’s start with where the new majority should not start: investigations, accusatory hearings or impeachment proceedings. However tempting it might be for freshly empowered congressional Columbos, not a single subpoena should fly in the first 100 days.
Not, of course, because there is a shortage of things to investigate — just the opposite. The Trump administration has been the most corrupt since Ulysses S. Grant was in the White House. The administration has flouted the constitutional limit on taking money from foreigners and flagrantly disregarded the rule of law. The transgressions merit serious inquiry and long overdue accountability. Voters chose a Democratic House, in part, to impose missing checks on Trump’s excesses and to get to the bottom of the many questions raised in the past two years.
Nonetheless, a Democratic majority charging out of the gate with investigative hearings would be making a mistake, for a number of reasons.
Good investigations take time to organize; quick, disorganized hearings would look political and would undermine the credibility of later, well-structured ones. High-profile hearings before the investigators are prepared would lead to repetitive hearings, which in turn would make the investigated seem persecuted. Democrats should burn the playbook that Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., used for his shambolic Benghazi investigation, not copy it.
The most important “investigative” thing that Democrats can do in the short run is to stay out of special counsel Robert Mueller III’s way as he finishes his careful review of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. For two years, Democrats have been rightly outraged that Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., and his cohorts have interfered with the Mueller probe by pretending to investigate administration wrongdoing; Democrats would make a mistake, albeit inadvertently, by launching a similar oversight effort.
Putting investigations front and center would also send a loud - and damaging - message to the millions of Americans who went to the polls to elect Democrats to deliver on kitchen-table issues: health care and jobs, incomes and opportunity, fair treatment for all. The Democrats’ closing argument in 2018 should be where they start in 2019.
Specifically, the new Democratic House majority should devote its first 100 days to passing five pieces of legislation, then dare the Senate and the Trump White House to follow suit or be called out for their refusal to act.
First, a bill to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 and restore Trump-repealed rules protecting overtime pay. Democrats should show their support for hard-working people who are doing everything right and still not earning enough to live on. During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to support a minimum-wage increase; on the eve of the 2018 election, his chief economic adviser proposed abolishing the law altogether. Democrats should find out where the president and the Trump-dominated Senate really stand.
Second, legislation to strengthen the Affordable Care Act, expand its coverage and patch up the gaps that the Trump administration has punched in it. Put aside the big debate over comprehensively changing the system for later; deliver on the core promise of most Democratic campaigns in 2018.
Third, a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act and reverse Republican voter-suppression efforts. The cause of democracy should not be carried by Democrats alone, but that is what it has come to. The greatest democracy in the world should not be the one where it is hardest to participate in the democratic process.
Fourth, a simple, non-porked-up infrastructure bill, with funding for bridges and roads, airports and mass transit, clean-energy projects and new schools. Avoid the complexity and exotica that - while good policy - ultimately made the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act bad politics. If it doesn’t employ workers in hard hats, it isn’t “infrastructure” for this purpose.
And finally, a clean bill, free of extraneous issues, that grants legal status to the immigrant children known as “dreamers.” Trump has promised to sign such a bill; it’s time to end the uncertainty of these young people, who have so much to contribute.
Yes, this leaves much still undone. Child care. Job training. College assistance. Criminal-justice reform. Campaign finance reform. And so much more. These are important, too. But Democrats need a focused agenda of quickly actionable items for the first 100 days. After that, they will have at least another 630 days in control of the House - and plenty of time for investigations.
Ronald Klain focuses on public policy, legal issues and political affairs.
© 2018 Washington Post