Capital Region

Democrats will have power to investigate, embarrass Trump

House majority will still lack power to make laws
Antonio Delgado speaks to supporters Tuesday after defeating U.S. Rep. John Faso.
Antonio Delgado speaks to supporters Tuesday after defeating U.S. Rep. John Faso.

CAPITAL REGION — The new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will have plenty of power to embarrass President Donald J. Trump and his administration, but they won’t actually get much done without Republican cooperation.

While it’s more power than Democrats have had in years, Republican control of the Senate and Trump’s hard-right agenda make it unlikely any major changes proposed by the House will become law.

“The whole dynamic changes,” said Bradley Hays, a professor of political science at Union College in Schenectady. “You’re in a period of divided government. You will see fewer legislative accomplishments coming out.”

And while the House gained a Democratic majority, the strength of Republicans increased in the Senate, which should make it easier for Trump to get judicial appointees and other nominees approved, said Christopher Mann, a political science professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs.

The new House will have as many as 230 Democrats — it takes 218 votes to control the chamber — and perhaps a record number will be women. The previous record was 84 women, and with some races remaining too close to call, that record could be topped, according to some analysts.

“It is more racially and ethnically diverse,” Mann said. “There’s certainly a lot to recommend, from the point of view of having diverse points of view.”

Among those contributing to the diversity will be Antonio Delgado, the Democrat who defeated U.S. Rep. John Faso in the 19th Congressional District on Tuesday. Delgado, an attorney, grew up in Schenectady.

On Wednesday, former president Barack Obama, on Facebook, congratulated Democrats for “electing record numbers of women and young veterans of [wars in] Iraq and Afghanistan, a surge of minority candidates and a host of outstanding young leaders.”

“The more Americans who vote, the more our elected leaders look like America,” Obama wrote.

In an interview Thursday on WAMC in Albany, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he hopes the Democratic majority will be a check on Trump.

“Having a Democratic Congress, I think, will be a significant break and stop him or slow him and, hopefully, reverse him,” Cuomo said, according to a transcript provided by his office.

The incoming 116th Congress will be the first since 2015 in which the House and Senate have been controlled by different parties. In 2015, Democrats lost control of the Senate.

Mann said he doesn’t expect the split between the two chambers to lead to legislative gridlock, despite what many may believe.

“On the policy front, both sides will want to have something to take back to their voters and say they’re doing something,” Mann said. “You could see spending on roads and infrastructure, things that aren’t ideological, but so (representatives) can go home and say they’re bringing home the bacon.”

Trump, who has already tested the limits of what a president can do through executive orders, could push harder with a resistant House, Mann said — just as Obama did in his second term, after Republicans took control of Congress.

“The Democrat leadership seems to want to tamp down on talk of impeachment, but they are very openly talking about looking at [Trump’s] tax returns and other issues,” Mann said. “[The new majority] will have a great deal of power to open an investigation, to look at whatever they want to, to subpoena records.”

Such investigations might not lead anywhere, but they would nevertheless generate publicity — and they are the kind of investigations the Trump administration hasn’t seen before, since the Republican House majority has been compliant.

“Some of it will be grandstanding, trying to embarrass people, point-scoring …” Mann said. “I think we’re going to see a more confrontational politics. Politics seem confrontational now, but you ask, ‘Are they going to hold hearings that score political points that embarrass the president? You betcha.”

Hays, at Union College, said one of the few avenues for reaching agreements on issues like infrastructure funding will be annual negotiations on the federal budget, he said — but even then, reaching compromises between the parties may be difficult.

“This is a time of polarization, when a lot of sentiment is grounded in resistance,” Hays said. “There is not likely to be a lot of compromise.”

There will also be tensions between Trump and the new House majority, Hays said, noting a Trump statement on Twitter that if Democrats investigate his administration, he will pursue investigations of them.

“Trump said very clearly that if there are investigations, there is going to be a war posture,” he said. “Well, there are going to be investigations. That is part of Congress’ job. I think Trump is not going to respond well to these investigations, and you have the Mueller investigation, and at some point that will wrap up.”

While some Republicans, including North Country Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, have said they support the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Hays cautioned that the Democrats shouldn’t expect bipartisanship regarding the president.

“I do think the Republican party is the party of Trump, and I think that’s all the more so after this election,” he said.

Reach Daily Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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