Elections

If Democrats Win Big in November

Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer at a Capitol Hill news conference, March 2018. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)
Pelosi and Schumer could cripple Trump’s deregulatory agenda, stymie Supreme Court picks, and focus on impeachment.

‘I certainly hope the Democrats do not force Nancy P out. That would be very bad for the Republican Party — and please let Cryin’ Chuck stay!”

So tweeted a bullish President Trump last summer after Democrats lost a congressional special election in Georgia they had hoped to win. He got his wish: Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are still in charge of their party on Capitol Hill. Now these two political veterans are leading the drive for a Democratic takeover of Congress this fall.

What if they succeed? What if they manage to switch out the “Minority” in their titles to “Majority”? What can America expect?

In a word: obstructionism — on an unprecedented scale.

A few months ago, conservatives were calling Pelosi and Schumer “do-nothing Democrats” for refusing to sit down with the president to negotiate a budget to keep the government open. That was just a warm-up act for the obstructionism to come if they get control of one or both houses of Congress.

Here are five things we can expect if the Dems win big in the midterm elections.

1) We will get no new conservative or constitutionalist judges

Should a Supreme Court vacancy arise in the next two years, Democrats will make sure it has zero chance of being filled. They will see it as payback for the Senate Republican blockade of President Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy left by Justice Scalia’s death.

But they won’t stop there. Democrats will also refuse to confirm any lower-court nominees they don’t care for — and that will be most of them. The Trump administration, working closely with Senate Republicans, has been remaking the federal courts, shifting away from judicial activism and toward an emphasis on the rule of law. If Democrats succeed this November, that process will grind to a halt.

2) No substantive legislation will be approved. 

Despite being briefly courted by President Trump, Schumer and Pelosi have shown little interest in “doing deals” with him. If they get control of either House of Congress, they will probably put off major legislative priorities until 2021 — when they hope one of their own will occupy the White House. And if they make any exceptions to cutting deals with Trump, the bills they put on his desk will not be to the liking of conservatives.

3) House and Senate committees will be militantly focused on investigations and oversight. 

If Democrats get their hands on the gavels of congressional committees, they will spend little time on productive legislating — why give President Trump any bipartisan accomplishments? Instead, they will devote their power and resources to methodically investigating the president, his staff, and his agency appointees.

Entrenched bureaucrats (some of them Obama appointees who burrowed into career positions) will effectively be put in control. The president’s own appointees in each agency will be undermined from within.

This will result in near-paralysis for the administration. Rather than working on the president’s agenda, the already-thin political leadership in the federal agencies will find itself under siege from Capitol Hill. Agency leaders will be constantly on defense, parrying committee document requests, subpoenas, and congressionally instigated inspector-general investigations. Executive-branch efforts to advance a right-of-center agenda will feel like trying to organize a softball league at Verdun.

4) Executive-branch confirmations will slow to a trickle. 

Senate Democrats have already perfected the art of using every procedural trick in the book to slow the confirmation process and keep the federal government understaffed. If Democrats pick up a majority of Senate seats, expect them to double down on this strategy. If they allow an occasional nominee to get through, they will extract steep policy concessions and other tradeoffs in return.

The result? Entrenched bureaucrats (some of them Obama appointees who burrowed into career positions) will effectively be put in control. The president’s own appointees in each agency will be undermined from within as they try to implement his policies.

5) Democrats will use legislation to block Trump’s deregulatory agenda. 

One of President Trump’s signature accomplishments has been a robust program of deregulation aimed at promoting economic growth. Most of that has been implemented by executive action, but Democrats would have the power to stymie the president’s deregulatory agenda if they seized control of one or both Houses of Congress.

Their most effective weapon would be riders to appropriations bills that would deny the funding needed to carry out new Trump-era rules — rules that most Democrats in Congress don’t like. President Trump could certainly veto such bills. However, he would eventually be forced into a government-shutdown scenario. Trump may judge that worth the risk, but Democrats could keep his deregulatory priorities in limbo for the duration.

If Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer get a fresh taste of power after the midterms, they won’t be thinking about the dangers of overreaching. But those dangers are real. Donald Trump pulled off an astonishing victory in 2016 because voters were tired of business as usual in Washington and wanted real change. The Democrats will be bullied by their far-left base to shut down President Trump’s audacious agenda and even attempt to impeach him. If they do, not only could their midterm gains be short-lived, but they may even help boost the reelection of a president they loathe.

Steven Law is the president of the Senate Leadership Fund and American Crossroads and was deputy secretary of labor under President George W. Bush.

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