The New House

It was a blue wave. Democrats picked up 39 seats in the House and, if T.J. Cox’s lead continues to grow in California, it will be an even 40. Democrats won with grassroots organizing and they won with much needed outside money. (For instance, 21 of 24 won that were backed by Michael Bloomberg’s PAC.)

The larger picture of the new House is one of women and diversity. 38 new Democratic women will join the House, including 3 from Virginia. Now, in all, there will be 101 seats held by women in Congress–13 Republicans and 88 Democrats. There are 23 people of color in the freshman class and several will serve in mostly white districts. Among the new Democrats are the first two Native American representatives, the first Korean-American in 20 years and the first Palestinian-American elected.

The new Democratic House leans more progressive and will present a challenge to the Democratic House leadership. The caucus has already had a secret ballot vote and 32 members voted against Nancy Pelosi, but a good portion of those were moderates not progressives. Some have worried that the progressives would become a left-wing version of the Freedom Caucus, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. (Democrats are usually not as obsessed with ideological purity as Republicans.) And, lastly, many of these Democrats won in districts that Trump carried.

And what might the lame duck Congress accomplish? Two important bills might be passed.

The first is the Farm Bill. The Freedom Caucus inserted rather draconian work requirements for food stamps that the Senate did not approve. In the last couple of days those requirements have been stripped from the bill.

The second is a truly bipartisan criminal justice reform bill that could finally begin to curb the obscenely high incarceration rate of those convicted of minor drug crimes (which mostly involve minorities). Donald Trump has said he supports it. Yet, it’s passage is not a sure thing.

Louis Harpster