House Democrats closed the first session of the 116th Congress with a celebratory press conference touting the party’s legislative achievements of the past year.
But it was mostly drowned out by the media coverage of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to withhold the two articles impeaching President Trump that her party passed with great urgency before leaving town.
The California Democrat tried to steer the coverage to Democratic legislative achievements.
“Last year during the election, we promised the American people for the people, we would lower the cost of healthcare by lowering the cost of prescription drugs, we would increase paychecks by building a green, resilient infrastructure for our country, and that we would clean up corruption in Washington,” Pelosi said a day after the House impeached the president.
“And for the first year, led by our freshman majority, we achieved extraordinary progress for the American people. We passed and sent over to the Senate over 400 bills, over 275 of them bipartisan,” Pelosi said.
Earlier in the day, Pelosi faced a barrage of questions from the media about her decision to withhold articles of impeachment the House passed a day earlier. The move has left in limbo not only the fate of President Trump but the House Democratic agenda in 2020.
House Democrats hoped to gavel in the second session on Jan. 7 with a fresh legislative agenda to sell to 2020 voters that will include a higher education reform measure, bills aimed at addressing climate change, and a rekindling of talks with the White House about an infrastructure bill.
But when Congress returns, the first order of business will be a return to impeaching Trump. House Democrats passed two articles, impeaching him for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress following months of investigations.
But Pelosi decided not to appoint Democrats to serve as impeachment managers and did not send the articles to the Senate, where lawmakers had anticipated holding a trial in January. Pelosi and Democrats hope to force Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, to agree to allow witnesses to testify in a Senate trial, who they believe would incriminate Trump.
The delay means that House Democrats, particularly swing-district freshmen in competitive reelection bids, can’t immediately move past impeachment in the New Year.
“I’m not sure there is any point to that,” Rep. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat, told the Washington Examiner when asked about the decision to delay sending the articles to the Senate. “The Senate is on the spot either way. I’d send the articles over to them.”
House Democratic leaders are trying to change the subject away from impeachment now that polls show voters want lawmakers to focus on legislation and not ejecting Trump from office.
Democratic leaders last week sent party lawmakers home to their districts with a message to deliver on their accomplishments.
“Our perspective is, Trump won the election in 2016, and two years later, you wanted a Democrat to represent you Congress,” a top Democratic aide told the Washington Examiner, describing the talking points for swing district lawmakers. “Our members can go home this week and take a victory lap and say, I delivered for you.”
Democrats are home this week promoting their last-minute passage of a major trade deal with Mexico and Canada, a bill to lower prescription drug costs, and their efforts to preserve Obamacare, which the Trump administration is challenging in court.
“Each of our members will be able to have that conversation,” the aide said.
Impeachment will be part of those talking points, too.
“Democrats can say, I’ve held the president accountable, which is what you also wanted me to do. I delivered both,” the aide said.
Republicans plan to attack Democrats for focusing on impeachment instead of the economy, border security, and other legislation voters rank high in importance.
McConnell has regularly blamed the Democrats’ “impeachment obsession” with delaying important legislation. He announced earlier this month that the Senate would not vote on the trade deal until lawmakers complete the trial weighing articles of impeachment.
Polling shows voters, particularly independents, do not approve of the way Congress handled the impeachment inquiry.
“Impeachment is still fresh in everyone’s mind,” a top GOP aide told the Washington Examiner. “And focusing solely on impeachment is not what people want. Polls show people want Congress to focus on lowering healthcare costs and securing the border. Democrats aren’t doing that, and that is definitely something our members are going to emphasize.”