Targeted House Democrats push for policy wins amid impeachment uproar

Targeted House Democrats push for policy wins amid impeachment uproar
© Greg Nash

Moderate Democrats in the House are looking to score additional legislative wins they can tout back home ahead of November’s elections as Republicans vow to hammer vulnerable members on impeachment.

Almost all of the centrist Democrats who represent districts President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE won in 2016 voted in favor of the two articles of impeachment that passed along party lines last month. But recent polling has indicated impeachment could be a dicey topic in battleground districts, with targeted members looking to emphasize policy issues that resonate in their districts.

Rep. Josh GottheimerJoshua (Josh) GottheimerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi plans to send impeachment articles next week The lawmakers who bucked their parties on the war powers resolution House passes measure seeking to limit Trump on Iran MORE (D-N.J.), who represents a Trump district, said he’d like to see the House pass infrastructure legislation before the end of the year.

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“Something on the transportation-infrastructure front, and I think that’s an area where we’ll bring something to the floor. Of course, who knows what the magnitude will be, but I think that’s key,” Gottheimer told The Hill.

“We need to keep putting points on the board and showing that we can get things done. I think that’s why, obviously, the trade agreement was important; I think why [state and local tax deduction legislation] was so important, why our health care package was so important.”

During the first year of the 116th Congress, House Democrats passed a number of major bills that face an unlikely path in the Republican-controlled Senate but that could help moderate Democrats in the upcoming election, including  H.R. 3, legislation aimed at lowering prescription drug prices and a bill that would temporarily roll back the GOP tax law’s cap on the state and local tax deduction, which was modified by a Republican motion to recommit just ahead of its passage in December.

Several Democratic members have also praised the bipartisan passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade, which is expected to pass in the upper chamber following impeachment.

Senior Democrats said they see health care as a policy area they believe is likely to provide them with an edge in key districts as it did during the 2018 cycle. In a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to members of her caucus ahead of members returning from the holiday recess, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) called on her caucus to ramp up pressure on the Senate to take up its package of Democratic health care bills.

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A Democratic leadership aide told The Hill additional action on health care is expected this year, adding leadership believes voters are more focused on the issue than impeachment. And while outside Republican groups have already dumped millions into ad campaigns on impeachment against moderate Democrats in swing districts and the House GOP’s campaign arm is predicting impeachment will cost Democrats their House majority, Democrats said they feel voters will be more concerned with their work on kitchen-table issues when casting their ballots.

“The prescription drug issue is already on the front burner in districts, it polls No. 1 — impeachment is fourth or fifth on the rung,” the aide told The Hill. “I mean, people are not talking about that.”

But while Democrats plan on placing a strong emphasis on their policy and their push for additional action on key issues in the coming months, some said they feel it’s inevitable that impeachment is likely to distract some attention away from areas they would like to underscore ahead of November.

“You know, I think it’s all going to be overshadowed by the first couple of months. So, you know, whatever happens in the Senate, I think we need to keep showing that we can work on things beyond impeachment,” one member told The Hill, adding “the reality is all” that “we need to show that we can keep working, but it’s going to get written about.”

Democratic strategist Jon Reinish said impeachment does place members in “political uncharted territory,” but added both Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE (R-Ky.) likely can’t just focus on politics if they are going to “keep or grow their majorities.”

“That’s why you’re seeing, with one hand, you can do impeachment, but with the other hand, you have to do bipartisan deals, and you’re seeing that on criminal justice reform, you’re seeing that on moving toward maybe prescription drug prices,” he said.

Reinish said he believes while the national news may place a strong focus on covering impeachment, highlighting policy in local news will be key for moderates looking to get their message out.

“Unfortunately, a huge amount of the coverage that would have been in past eras — have been taken up by covering legislation in addition to politics, has been taken up by politics, right? But that’s why local media is so important, because if I’m any number of new freshman Democrats, I’m sitting down so regularly with my local papers, I am doing so many town halls,” he said.