At rallies and in tweets, President Donald Trump rails against the “do nothing Democrats,” accusing his rivals of being so fixated on his impeachment they are ignoring the country’s problems they promised to fix.
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joined the chorus, declaring “the Democrats’ fixation with impeachment has pushed crucial governing priorities into the 11th hour.”
At times, Jeff Sessions proved a pleasant surprise as attorney general by resisting some of President Donald Trump's most outrageous demands. By contrast, his successor, William Barr, has been a distinct disappointment.
Though neither claim is accurate, House leaders recognize the need to counter them. It’s hardly coincidental that, in the very week the Democratic-controlled House is impeaching Trump, it plans to pass the president’s signature new North American trade treaty — on which the Republican Senate has delayed action until next year — and voted to fund the government.
The latter is always an end-of-session action, and the trade pact required substantial negotiation to ensure House Democratic backing. Still, the fact is that, since Democrats took control of the House last January, they have passed an array of major proposals. But McConnell has prevented them from getting Senate votes, in large part because they are opposed by Trump, setting records for legislative inaction.
This is not the way the system is supposed to work. Differences between the two houses are hardly unusual, especially with divided congressional control. But the regular process would be for each to pass its version of legislation, leaving it to Senate-House conference committees to resolve differences before sending measures to the president.
Though in single digits in most national polls and state surveys, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has surged close to the top in Iowa while Biden has dropped in some surveys from first to fourth.
That’s certainly how things worked a generation ago when I covered the two houses of Congress in the 1960s and 1970s, including many years in which the Democrats controlled Congress and the Republicans held the White House.
Starting last spring, House Democrats passed measures dealing with climate control, electoral reform, gun control and equal rights. Earlier this month, they added bills to lower prescription drug costs and restore a key section of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court threw out six years ago.
Last month, in a letter to her Democratic colleagues, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi listed eight major House-passed measures that are sitting on McConnell’s desk, noting how long each had been there.\ They’re all still there, including:
Ever since Ukraine gained independence during the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and its Western allies have seen it as a vital bulwark against renewed Russian expansion.
A wide-ranging political reform measure that would create a national voter registration program, limit partisan gerrymandering, strengthen federal ethics laws, require the president and vice president to release 10 years of tax returns, grant statehood to the District of Columbia and overturn the Citizens United decision that allows unlimited spending by corporations and labor unions. McConnell vehemently opposes it.
Mandate background checks on all gun sales, eliminating the so-called “gun shows” loophole. Though Trump occasionally expressed interested in backing such legislation, he buckled under pressure from the National Rifle Association.
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A bill to provide procedural protections to strengthen enforcement of existing legislation that requires women to be paid the same as men for equal work.
Curbing violence against women
Reauthorization of the Violence against Women Act, that included several new provisions, notably extending a prohibition against gun possession for perpetrators of domestic violence to include dating violence and stalking. The latter provision faces substantial Senate resistance.
A bill to bar use of federal funds to implement Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate control agreement and require the president to produce an annual plan for implementing the pact.
A bill to extend federal civil rights protections to victims of discrimination on grounds of “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy.”
History tells us there's a good chance next year's election will look a lot different from the way it does now.
A bill to extend protections for the so-called “Dreamers,” who were brought to the United States illegally as children, and to provide them with a path to citizenship. It also would prevent deportation of other groups facing Trump administration threats to end their temporary protections. Trump wants any such measures to be included in comprehensive immigration legislation.
A bill to gradually raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 and tie future minimum wage increases to changes in middle class pay.
These are not the only areas where McConnell — who has styled himself the “grim reaper” of liberal legislation — has deep-sixed significant House-passed legislation. Though the GOP leader dropped his resistance to $250 million in additional federal funds for federal election security, he is still blocking a measure to upgrade voting machines, require paper backup and deal with other problems that have emerged in recent years.
Early analyses indicate the GOP is likely to retain the Senate next year, regardless of the presidential outcome. That's a big reason for the recent pressure on prospective presidential also-rans from Colorado, Texas and Montana to challenge potentially vulnerable Republican senators instead.
The Senate also ignored a House-passed bill to reverse the administration’s actions to weaken the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health plans cover preexisting conditions.
Unfortunately for House Democrats, year-long investigations of Trump, including the Mueller report and more recently their own impeachment proceedings, have dominated news coverage of Congress. That’s made it easier for Trump and McConnell to tag House Democrats with a “do nothing” label.
As long as Trump remains president, very little of the House Democratic agenda is likely to become law. But that’s hardly the Democrats’ fault.
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Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.