The House Democratic leader asked her lawmakers Monday to search for “common ground” with Republicans over the next few weeks as they return to Capitol Hill for a lame-duck session of Congress, facing new political realities and a different set of urgent priorities.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, in line to become House speaker in the new Congress next year, signaled Democrats will pick their battles as they look to fulfill the campaign promises they made.
“In the next few weeks, we need to be unified, find common ground with Republicans in our legislative engagements, but stand our ground when we must,” she said.
There are plenty of tests already lined up.
When lawmakers fled town more than a month ago to hit the campaign trail, Jeff Sessions was still the attorney general, the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia was intact, and the U.S. was still working on a final trade deal with Mexico and Canada.
Now Mr. Sessions has been ousted, leaving Congress scurrying to try to find ways to protect the ongoing 2016 campaign Russia probe from being ended by his successor, acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.
The death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi has upended U.S.-Saudi relations. And President Trump will soon submit to Congress a new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.
And while Congress did already approve full-year money for the Pentagon and Education, Health, Veterans and Labor departments, it must finish bills to keep the State, Interior, Homeland Security, Justice and other departments operating beyond a December deadline.
Those big issues will have to wait, though.
On the agenda for the Senate this week is a bill dealing with Coast Guard policy.
House lawmakers have a long list of bills dealing with federal land and property, with the centerpiece legislation dubbed the “Manage our Wolves Act.”
The more pressing business will be the decisions about party leaders.
The House GOP holds its leadership elections Wednesday, while House Democrats’ leadership vote — which will now include picking the House speaker for the new Congress — will come the week after Thanksgiving.
Once in charge next year, Democrats are planning a slew of subpoenas to force the administration to come clean on questions that have gone unanswered over the last two years, ranging from immigration policy decisions to Mr. Trump’s finances.
Key Democrats have already sent document preservation letters to the White House, Justice Department, FBI, CIA and others demanding they keep anything related to Mr. Sessions’ ouster at the Justice Department.
For now, Democrats hope to work with Republicans to advance legislation to insulate the Russia investigation from Mr. Sessions’ successor, Mr Whitaker, who now is in line to oversee the investigation instead of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein,
Lawmakers from both parties have said they want to pass a bill during the lame-duck session that would prohibit firing of special counsel Robert Mueller without good cause.
“The world has changed from when Rosenstein was in charge of the investigation,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer told CNN over the weekend.
One option Democrats are eyeing would be to include protections for Mr. Mueller in the spending bill Congress must pass by December. But that bill is already expected to be the scene of a fight over Mr. Trump’s border wall plans.
The president has asked for $5 billion to be included for border infrastructure in fiscal year 2019, which began Oct. 1. That’s up from $1.6 billion in the last bill. Republicans are contemplating whether to draw a red line over the money.
“The president wants a wall, and many of us feel that he should he have the money he needs for border security and my expectation is that’s likely to be one of the first skirmishes that you will see in this divided government,” Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican, told the Fox Business Network.
The House GOP already has passed a homeland security spending bill with the $5 billion in it. Senators, meanwhile, have a bipartisan bill with just $1.6 billion.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week that Republicans were “certainly going to try to help the president achieve what he’d like to do with regard to the wall.”
Mrs. Pelosi, though, has signaled little appetite for cooperation on that score.
“There are many ways to protect the border before tens of billions of dollars building a wall,” she told CBS on Sunday.
Mrs. Pelosi will oversee a Democratic coalition next year that’s tilted even further to the left than it is now — and some of her most liberal members are eyeing what they’ll be able to do.
At a press conference Monday, leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said they want to see an infrastructure spending bill, changes to campaign laws, and a legalization of illegal immigrants.
The liberal leaders acknowledged that dream items such as single-payer government health care are not going to happen soon.
“We think there is real potential to move the legislation forward,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Washington Democrat and one of the caucus’s leaders. “Do I think it’s going to pass in this House and this Senate? No. But I certainly think we’re going to make tremendous movement forward on articulating the reasons why this is a smart, pragmatic policy.”