As lame duck Congress convenes
A lame duck session of Congress opens today with Democrats signaling that they wish to reach agreement with the Trump White House on a range of budget and policy issues in order to "clear the decks" before the new Democratic-controlled House of Representatives takes office in January.
The Senate and House must pass seven of 12 separate appropriations bills by December 8 to avoid a partial shutdown of the federal government, with the most contentious bill involving funding for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The House version of the bill, passed by the outgoing Republican majority, provided $5 billion for Trump's wall along the US-Mexico border. The Senate version provides only $1.6 billion and it is not specifically earmarked for a wall.
House-Senate talks on the DHS budget reportedly involve a deal to provide some initial funding for the wall in exchange for a limited restoration of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established by President Obama through an executive order and rescinded by Trump using the same method last year. DACA allows about 700,000 undocumented immigrants -- so-called "Dreamers" -- brought to the US as children to work and attend college without fear of deportation.
"On the general issue of border security, we've had great discussions in the appropriations process. They've been bipartisan," Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer told reporters. "And I would hope that the President wouldn't interfere and we could get something good done."
On the House side, Representative Nita Lowey of New York, who is expected to become chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee in January, urged a deal on the DHS budget that would include partial funding of the wall. "House Democrats support smart investments in border security," she said in a statement, "but we strongly oppose spending $5 billion on President Trump's proposed wall."
A spokesman for Lowey told the Wall Street Journal the Democrats would like to complete the negotiations on the wall for DACA deal this year, rather than carry it over into next year when they will control the House. "With the December 7 deadline looming, it's important for Congress to get its work done on time and prevent a prolonged government shutdown," the spokesman said.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to become Speaker in the new Congress, insisted throughout the fall campaign that Democratic candidates for the House should not "take the bait" of making public declarations of opposition to Trump's brutal persecution of immigrants, including the forced separation of parents and children, the deployment of thousands of heavily armed regular troops to the border, the fear-mongering about caravans of Central American immigrants traveling north through Mexico towards the US border, and the threat to revoke "birthright citizenship," guaranteed for the past 150 years under the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.
The statements by Schumer and Lowey demonstrate that the refusal to oppose Trump's anti-immigrant policies was not merely a campaign tactic -- as reactionary as that would be -- but reflected a broader willingness by the Democratic leadership to accommodate Trump's policies and share responsibility for them.
It is noteworthy that none of the Democratic congressional leaders and House members who took to the airwaves on the Sunday television network interview programs said a word about the defense of immigrants or condemned Trump for his vicious, race-baiting attacks on the Central American refugees and his claim that he has the power to gut an amendment to the US Constitution by executive order.
Those appearing on at least one program -- and some on several -- included Pelosi and Schumer; Jerrold Nadler, who will chair the House Judiciary Committee; Elijah Cummings, who will chair the House Government Oversight Committee; Adam Schiff, who will chair the House Intelligence Committee; and two newly elected representatives, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, a former CIA operative, and Lauren Underwood of Illinois, a former Obama administration official.
Nearly all these Democrats cited as their main concern, not the defense of helpless immigrants being brutalized by the Trump administration, but the defense of Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is heading the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.
Schiff, Nadler and Cummings all denounced the appointment of Justice Department chief of staff Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, following the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Whitaker is replacing deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein as the day-to-day supervisor of the Mueller investigation, which he had previously declared -- while a right-wing media commentator -- should be shut down.
Nadler said that the first action of the House Judiciary Committee under his leadership would be to take testimony from Whitaker, by issuing a subpoena if necessary, on how he would handle the Mueller investigation. Schiff said that Whitaker should recuse himself from an oversight role, as Sessions did because of his prominent role in the Trump 2016 campaign. He told ABC, "our top priority is to protect the Mueller investigation, to protect the integrity of that investigation from the White House attempt to stifle it and to interfere with it."
In statements immediately after it became clear the Democrats would recapture the House, Pelosi declared that she had every intention of working with Trump, telling reporters, "In terms of working with the president, I just would say that I worked very productively with President Bush when we had the majority and he had the presidency." She added that she would try to prevent "scattershot freelancing" by Democratic-controlled House committees seeking to investigate the Trump administration.