Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment

Vulnerable Democrats tout legislative wins, not impeachment
© Greg Nash

Vulnerable freshman House Democrats bombarded with questions about whether they’ll vote to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report MORE have something else to talk about.

As they return to their districts this weekend, many will be focused on legislative wins they secured in sweeping bills the House passed to lower prescription drug costs and authorize national defense programs. 

Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D), a first year lawmaker from New York who is still weighing his decision on impeachment, won a key provision in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that requires the military to buy American-made stainless steel flatware — a boon for a manufacturer headquartered in his district that makes the utensils. 

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Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.), another freshman, can point to how Democrats’ signature prescription drug pricing bill includes his legislation that would increase income eligibility levels for Medicare recipients to qualify for savings programs. 

Rep. Haley StevensHaley Maria StevensThe Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington Democrat refuses to yield House floor, underscoring tensions on coronavirus vote Sanders looks to regain momentum in must-win Michigan MORE (D-Mich.), a third freshman undecided on impeachment, successfully included her legislation to boost manufacturing in the defense policy bill.

The wins for freshman Democrats came during a flurry of dealmaking at the end of the legislative year.

Along with the defense policy bill and prescription drug legislation, Congress agreed to 12 spending bills for the next year on Thursday and a new North American trade pact with Mexico and Canada earlier in the week. The spending legislation and trade deal, brokered by the White House and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Pelosi, Democrats using coronavirus to push for big tax cuts for blue state residents US watchdog vows 'aggressive' oversight after intel official fired MORE (D-Calif.), are expected to receive votes next week — as will two articles of impeachment against Trump.

Not all of these bills in the House will become law.

The Senate is expected to take up the bipartisan defense policy bill next week and send it to Trump, who has indicated he will sign it into law. But Senate Republicans currently have no intention of ever taking up House Democrats’ bill to reduce prescription drug costs, deriding it as a “socialist” proposal. 

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Either way, vulnerable House Democratic freshmen are seizing the opportunity to tout work on anything other than impeachment as they fight for reelection in 2020.

Peppered with a flurry of impeachment questions in the Capitol, Brindisi said he would take the weekend to contemplate his decision, then proceeded to rattle off what he saw as legislative victories secured for his constituents.   

“This has been a long week. We got the USMCA trade deal done, which is important for farmers in my district," he said of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. "We got a lot of wins for my district in the NDAA, passed the agricultural labor bill yesterday and today a big prescription drug bill, so there’s been a lot on the plate this week, and I’m going to take some time and deliberate and look at the [impeachment] articles and make a decision.” 

Pelosi, cognizant of the pressure her freshmen in battleground districts are facing on impeachment, has been ensuring that these members have had ample opportunities to show they are delivering for voters back home. These are the majority-makers, the Democrats who flipped GOP-held districts in 2018 and made it possible for Pelosi to reclaim the Speaker’s gavel.

The veteran California Democrat has not only been helping her members on the front lines successfully attach their amendments to major policy bills. Pelosi has been granting them time on the House floor and during press conferences to tout their legislative victories.  

After she said at a press event on Thursday the House freshmen had delivered on their promise of “bringing the priorities of their communities to the Congress,” she yielded the podium to Rep. Kim SchrierKimberly (Kim) Merle SchrierOvernight Health Care: House panel advances legislation on surprise medical bills | Planned Parenthood, ACLU sue over Trump abortion coverage rule | CDC identifies 13th US patient with coronavirus House panel advances bipartisan surprise billing legislation despite divisions Giffords gun reform group backs eight 'strong women' in House reelection bids MORE (D-Wash.), a physician and member of the newest congressional class.

Schrier said that in her district, “What I hear most often is not impeachment, it's not what's on the front page of The Washington Post, it's ‘What are you going to do about the cost of our prescription drugs?’ ”

“And this bill is an answer to my constituents,” Schrier said.

Pelosi has also had to thread the needle in satisfying members from both ends of the spectrum in her caucus.

Earlier this week, progressives argued that the prescription drug pricing bill didn’t go far enough and threatened to tank it altogether if leadership didn’t bow to their demands.

Pelosi ultimately reached a deal with progressives Tuesday to include provisions to increase the minimum number of drugs subject to negotiation under the bill from 35 to 50 and extend protections against drug price spikes to people on employer-sponsored health insurance plans.

But Democratic leaders made sure to cater to their centrist members when the legislation hit the House floor.

House Democratic leaders allotted floor time for several amendments offered by vulnerable Democrats, including Reps. Elaine LuriaElaine Goodman LuriaOvernight Defense: Pentagon curtails more exercises over coronavirus | House passes Iran war powers measure | Rocket attack hits Iraqi base with US troops 5 states to watch on Super Tuesday Establishment Democrats rallying behind Biden MORE (Va.), Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamHouse chairwoman diagnosed with 'presumed' coronavirus infection Capitol officials extend suspension of tourist access until May Second Capitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus MORE (S.C.), Cindy AxneCindy AxneDemocrats blast consumer bureau over student loan oversight agreement with DeVos On The Trail: Anxious, excited Iowa Democrats face decision day Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers prepare for final vote on impeachment; 2020 Democrats make final push before Iowa causes MORE (Iowa), Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerThe Hill's Campaign Report: Buttigieg, Sanders ahead in Iowa debacle Biden lines up high-profile surrogates to campaign in Iowa Biden announces statewide bus tour ahead of Iowa caucuses MORE (Iowa), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerInfrastructure bill gains new steam as coronavirus worsens Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill NJ lawmaker tests negative for COVID-19 MORE (N.J.) and Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.). All of their amendments were adopted shortly before passage of the bill later on Thursday.

Another vulnerable Democrat, Rep. Matt CartwrightMatthew (Matt) Alton CartwrightOvernight Energy: Coal industry seeks fee rollbacks amid coronavirus | Ex-lawyer for trophy hunting group joins Trump agency | EPA sued over reapproval of Roundup chemical Coal industry asks for financially beneficial rollbacks amid coronavirus House Democrats jam GOP with coronavirus bill MORE (Pa.), presided in the Speaker’s chair during the debate.   

Asked about his impeachment position, Gottheimer, the co-chairman of the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, said he wants to see the final version of the articles before he makes a decision. He then pivoted to talking about his successful amendment that he said would help ensure that medical innovation and investment continues.

The amendment would allow the Health and Human Services Department “to make recommendations on how we continue to invest in those drugs for Alzheimer’s, and rare diseases and rare cancers, that we don’t suddenly dry up R&D investment,” said Gottheimer, who noted that New Jersey is home to more than 300,000 biopharmaceutical jobs.

Stevens touted the inclusion of her manufacturing bill in a press release marking the passage of the defense policy bill and also highlighted the issue as reporters swarmed around her off the House floor this week asking about impeachment.

“This is the question of the day in the media,” Stevens said, referring to impeachment. “But the questions for the day for me back home are, how am I going to lower the cost of those prescription drugs? And how am I going to help our manufacturing economy?”