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 TrumpTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse Privacy, civil rights groups demand transparency from Amazon on election data breaches Facebook takes down Trump campaign ads tying refugees to coronavirus 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 StevensUS Chamber of Commerce set to endorse 23 House freshman Democrats Eric Esshaki wins Michigan GOP primary to challenge Haley Stevens The Hill's Campaign Report: Buzz builds around Warren for VP 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 PelosiTrump signs bill averting shutdown after brief funding lapse On The Money: 'One more serious try' on COVID relief yields progress but no deal | Trump tax bombshell shines light on IRS enforcement | Senate passes bill to avert shutdown hours before deadline 'One more serious try' on COVID-19 relief yields progress but no deal 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 SchrierPelosi: House will stay in session until agreement is reached on coronavirus relief Washington Rep. Kim Schrier wins primary US ill-prepared for coronavirus-fueled mental health crisis 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 LuriaKate Schroder in Ohio among Democratic challengers squelching GOP hopes for the House Congress must finish work on popular conservation bill before time runs out Virginians wait up to four hours to cast early voting ballots MORE (Va.), Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamKate Schroder in Ohio among Democratic challengers squelching GOP hopes for the House Warning signs flash for Lindsey Graham in South Carolina Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report MORE (S.C.), Cindy AxneCindy AxneCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Vulnerable Democrats tell Pelosi COVID-19 compromise 'essential' House passes bill to avert shutdown MORE (Iowa), Abby FinkenauerAbby Lea FinkenauerCentrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote Trump asked Chamber of Commerce to reconsider Democratic endorsements: report House Democrats' campaign arm reserves .6M in ads in competitive districts MORE (Iowa), Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerThe Hill's Morning Report - Fight night: Trump, Biden hurl insults in nasty debate COVID-19 talks hit crucial stretch Centrist Democrats got their COVID bill, now they want a vote 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 CartwrightRaces heat up for House leadership posts Trump Jr. seeks to elect 'new blood' to Republican Party Republicans face worsening outlook in battle for House 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?”