Congress returns to Washington Thursday with a new Democratic House majority gaining leverage over President Donald Trump — and the partial government shutdown first on the list of problems to solve.
Nancy Pelosi, set to be elected House speaker when lawmakers convene at noon Thursday, will guide the Democrats’ opposition to Trump, possibly leading to impeachment. Senate Republicans will have a wider margin of control in their chamber, meaning easier confirmation of Trump’s executive branch nominees and judicial picks, including any Supreme Court vacancy that may emerge.
“My prediction? More dysfunction than there should be, unfortunately,” said Representative Peter King, a New York Republican.
The first test of the new dynamic in Washington may come Wednesday when Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer have a 3 p.m. meeting with Trump and GOP congressional leaders at the White House for a briefing on border security. Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin will attend the meeting, as will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and incoming House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.
It will be the first meeting between Trump and congressional leaders since the shutdown began and is the first sign of a potential opening for negotiations.
Trump in a tweet on Tuesday suggested he was offering an olive branch to Pelosi.
“Border Security and the Wall “thing” and Shutdown is not where Nancy Pelosi wanted to start her tenure as Speaker! Let’s make a deal?,” the president said on Twitter.
Pelosi responded with her own tweet, saying Trump “has given Democrats a great opportunity to show how we will govern responsibly & quickly pass our plan to end the irresponsible #TrumpShutdown – just the first sign of things to come in our new Democratic Majority committed to working #ForThePeople.”
The meeting is scheduled as the shutdown’s effects are becoming increasingly visible to the public.
Smithsonian Institution museums and the National Zoo in Washington close Wednesday for lack of funds. The Federal Communications Commission will suspend most operations Thursday, no longer taking consumer complaints and halting review of proposed mergers. Nearly 14,000 workers at the Environmental Protection Agency were furloughed on Saturday, and federal workers will miss their Jan. 11 paycheck unless the government reopens.
Departments without funds include Justice, Homeland Security, Interior and Treasury, while independent agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission are also affected. About 400,000 federal employees are working without pay and 350,000 are furloughed.
The House Democrats plan to vote Thursday on legislation to reopen the government while punting the question of funding Trump’s wall into early February. The president is demanding $5 billion for his southern border wall, which Democrats call ineffective and wasteful.
Before the meeting invitation was extended, Trump appeared to be digging in. He said in a Fox News interview that he was “not giving up” in his standoff with Pelosi and Schumer over the border wall funding.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement Tuesday night called the Democratic funding plan “a non-starter.” Democrats also have shown no sign they are willing to back down in their opposition.
Both parties also will begin posturing for the 2020 elections, with the White House, Senate and House in play.
The 435-seat House will be controlled by at least 235 Democrats, including a number of progressive freshmen who may show little inclination to compromise. In the Senate, Republicans gained two seats to boost their majority to 53-47, and the only GOP senators who consistently took on the president, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, are retiring.
A top priority for House Democrats will be to pass legislation shoring up Obamacare, which expanded insurance coverage to millions of Americans, because of a Republican-led court challenge seeking to invalidate the law. A federal judge in Texas last month struck down Obamacare; Democratic-led states have vowed to appeal and the case is likely to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
There’s a clamor on the left to create “Medicare for All” in which all Americans would get their insurance from a government plan, setting up a fight both within the party and with Republicans.