Five Things to Expect in the 116th Congress

Charles Cooper

Here are five key factors we can expect to happen with the new majority in the House

There are many unknowns about the direction of the 116th Congress with Democrats assuming control of the House of Representatives. Questions about policy priorities (and the order in which they are considered), committee leadership, and their impact on the 2020 election are increasingly the focus of Washington, DC.

However, there are five key factors we can expect to happen with the new majority in the House:

  1. A leadership “fight,” with amicable resolution: Campaigns have increasingly forced candidates to disavow existing leadership and commit to electing new leaders. While these decisions once were not a topic of campaigns, the “guilt by association” with leadership branded as out of touch has forced the race for key leadership positions to be shaped months in advance. This year is no different and while the race for Speaker has been a hot topic among Democrats during this election season, pushing the former Speaker aside after a large win is unlikely. We should all anticipate an interesting series of “family discussions” among Democrats in the days ahead, but there will be a resolution that likely welcomes Rep. Pelosi back to the Speakership and unites the party behind the rest of the leadership team as well. It wouldn’t be helpful to begin a new majority with massive divisions… that usually happens later.
  2. An aggressive Democratic policy agenda, but oversight and investigations will dominate the Democratic message: House Democrats last unveiled their agenda as the majority in the House in 2009 – a decade ago. Without question, they will reveal an aggressive agenda that advances some of their biggest and boldest policies (from healthcare to immigration). It will help unite their members and provide a strong messaging agenda for the next two years, but the Republican Senate and the President are unlikely to allow the biggest Democratic priorities from being signed into law, especially without significant revision. However, the attention of the Congress, the media, and the voters will quickly focus on the even more aggressive oversight and investigations agenda that Democrats will pursue over the next two years. Given some of their oversight priorities that will narrowly focus on Trump Administration policies and agency actions, it is likely that oversight will quickly become both more newsworthy and impactful than Democrats policy agenda.
  3. The White House will work with House Democrats and frustrate House Republicans: Similar to past presidents who are forced to work with a new majority in the House from the other side of the aisle, President Trump will find opportunities to work with Democrats on issues where their positions intersect, including infrastructure, middle-class tax cuts, FY 2020 spending, and drug prices. They will likely be successful in finding some bipartisan agreements on issues that are closer to the middle than either party’s main priorities. At the same time, House Republicans – having lost control of the agenda, congressional committees, and votes needed to pass legislation – will not play the vital role in negotiating with the White House that they once did. It will be frustrating, especially for Republican leadership, and will take some time for Republicans to adjust to their new role…not being the only House presence at the negotiating table. While Democrats will be empowered by the White House’s need for their votes, it may be awkward at times given the oversight agenda targeted at the White House and political leadership of federal agencies.
  4. The 2020 Presidential election will start… now: Just as everyone began to celebrate the end of campaign ads from the midterm elections, the 2020 presidential election is officially underway. The rollout of Democratic challengers over the coming months will take much of the attention away from policymaking (but may provide some additional opportunity to move legislation through the process). Democratic leaders in the House will quickly move to get their priorities passed — including healthcare, ethics reform, and infrastructure — before the House floor becomes the official venue to parrot the agendas and messaging of presidential candidates. For those hoping to influence the new Congress, they will need to do so quickly and find the issues that are more policy and less politics – many of which may be bipartisan and quietly worked on outside of the daily media focus.
  5. The President will continue to move policy without Congress: While there will be opportunities for Republicans and Democrats to come together to pass legislation, the President will use his own authorities to address some of his most pressing priorities (that are unable to find supporters among Democrats). It is likely that President Trump will continue to turn to executive orders and administrative policies to advance his priorities instead of relying on an unreliable Congress.