After 100 Days Controlling the House, Virginia Dems Tout Accomplishments, Intraparty Debate

Apr 25, 2019

This month Democrats reached their 100th day controlling the U. S. House of Representatives. But some fissures are starting to show in the party.

Some new lawmakers are starting to show some frustration with life in the nation’s capital.

Possibly the most notable accomplishment of the new Congress was ending the longest government shutdown in American history. But that was months ago and Congress hasn't sent the president many bills to sign since. 

While walking across the Capitol grounds, Central Virginia Democratic freshman Abigail Spanberger explained how that episode showed the best and the worst of divided government – specifically because House Democrats helped flip the government’s lights back on.  “That was a really hard way to start but moving from that it presented an opportunity for us to come together as a Congress,” Spanberger said.

Credit Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

But before Congress left Washington for a two week recess, House leaders had to pull their party's budget from the floor because progressives were demanding less money for the Pentagon and more money for domestic priorities, like education and health care. 

Spanberger says it's good that her party isn't monolithic. "The fact that we’re reaching a point where we’re not bringing forth a budget, it means that there’s a healthy debate within our caucus.”

Most Democrats from the Commonwealth tend to be more moderate than some of the louder voices in the party, including its top presidential candidates. But Spanberger says that doesn't mean there's animosity in their ranks.  “You’d think the Republicans might want to be pleased with the fact that some of us don’t want to blow up the budget," Spanberger noted, "so we’re having real hearty conversations about what is [sic] our budget priorities and where does that leave us.”

Instead GOP leaders are coaching their members to paint Democrats as a monolithic group of radical socialists, or so their talking points argue. Northern Virginia Freshman Democrat Jennifer Wexton laughs off such charges.  "It’s ridiculous and false, but there’s no shortage of ridiculous and false things coming from the Republican Party," Wexton said.  "We’re just going to make our case to the American people that we’re the ones working for them and trying to find solutions – not just slapping labels and throwing bombs.”

House Democrats have sent the Senate a slew of bills, including a background check bill that's the first gun-control measure that's passed in more than two decades. And they passed HR 1 – a sweeping proposal aimed at shining a light on "dark money" in politics along with additional reforms aimed at increasing transparency in elections. Those accomplishments have been drowned out by President Trump and the bully pulpit he controls from the Oval Office and on Twitter.

Wexton blames the media for not focusing on her party’s accomplishments. "We are doing what we came here to do and that’s not what the media wants to focus on.”

Even as House Democrats have passed an array of proposals, most aren't going to go anywhere in the GOP-controlled Senate, which third-term Northern Virginia Democrat Don Beyer says he’s fine with.  "Much of this Donald Trump would veto anyway, so we’re setting the stage for what the 2020 election will be about.”

Beyer said what’s clear is that House Democrats have succeeded in changing the conversation in Washington. “As with so many things, we’re painting a picture of what America could look like with a different president and a Senate and a House that work together.”

It's still unclear when or even if Democratic leaders will try to put their party's budget on the floor. That's just one challenge as the party figures out whether it charts a course to the left, to the middle or one that tacks back and forth. But there seems to be consensus that the party is fully preparing for the battle ahead in 2020.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.