Democrats win the House, and Jewish lawmakers step into key roles


WASHINGTON (JTA) — If you thought the first half of Donald Trump’s first term as president was volatile, think about the next two years: His hated opponents, the Democrats, are now weaponized.

Returned to the majority after eight years, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives will now wield the awesome power of subpoena. And some of the key party figures who will be able to force Trump administration officials to testify are Jewish.

Caucus elections will take place between now and the launch of the 116th Congress, but barring a surprise, these five Jewish Democrats are now set to chair key House committees, including three from New York — Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee; Eliot Engel, Foreign Affairs; and Nita Lowey, Appropriations. Also, Adam Schiff of California will helm the Intelligence Committee and John Yarmuth of Kentucky will lead the Budget Committee.

Those committee chairmanships and others will figure large in efforts by Democrats to stymie what they consider to be a catastrophic presidency.

Impeachment does not appear to be an option for now: Nancy Pelosi of California, likely to regain the Speaker’s gavel, has counted it out, and so has Nadler, whose committee would conduct any investigation into the president.

But there are other areas in which the Democratic majority in the House will reshape policy.


Just because impeachment is off the table does not mean investigations are out of bounds. Democrats are furious that the White House and Senate Republicans constricted the investigation into sexual assault charges against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was confirmed. Nadler said he may delve further into the Kavanaugh allegations.

Democrats, including Yarmuth, say they want a gander at Trump’s tax returns, which would reveal the extent to which his businesses are in debt, possibly to foreign interests. The Oversight Committee will want to explore ties between businesses owned by Trump and his family and interests that have business before the United States — queries that could unsettle Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Schiff, a persistent critic of Trump on the cable networks, has been bursting with frustration at what he says are the obstructions placed by the current GOP chairman, Devin Nunes of California, on the committee’s investigation of alleged collusion between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Domestic policy

Efforts to kill “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act that was President Barack Obama’s signature policy win, are dead. Key protections, including guaranteed coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, remain in place. Expect talk of reform to take a leftward direction, with key Democrats now endorsing contemplation of a single-payer, “Medicare for All” plan.

A Yarmuth-led Budget Committee also would seek to tamp down the deficit by restoring some of the tax cuts that have been Trump’s signature first-term accomplishment.

Trump’s immigration policies, including family separations and the planned deployment of troops to the U.S. border with Mexico, have mostly been by executive order, bypassing the legislative process. With Democrats controlling the House, however, they will be subject to oversight. Jewish groups that advocate for immigrants and refugees, like HIAS, will feel a sense of relief, albeit not complacency.

Foreign policy

Much virtual ink has been spilled analyzing what the effect on the Democratic Party will be of the election of a handful of Democrats who have sharply criticized Israel. They include Rashida Tlaib in Michigan’s District 13, the first Muslim woman elected to Congress; Omar Ilhan, the Somali-American winner in Minnesota’s District 5; Ayanna Pressley, who won her uncontested House race in Massachusetts’  District 7 on Tuesday; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose primary upset over a 10-term incumbent paved her way to victory in New York’s 14th.

In the long term, it is an interesting question, as more Democrats appear willing to question Israeli policies.

But over the next two years, their election is not truly significant. Staunchly pro-Israel lawmakers still call the shots. Engel is one of Israel’s most reliable supporters, of either party, in the House, and so is Lowey, who will be the most influential Democrat controlling government spending.

Israel and many of its backers in the Jewish community have been thrilled with Trump’s unilateral and often precedent-breaking moves on Israel, including his decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv; his tepid talk about a two-state solution; and especially his decision to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t been shy about how pleased he has been with the president and his party.

If there will be a change, it will be in restoring some of the funding to the Palestinians that Trump has slashed. But that’s not funding that Israel necessarily opposes. While relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are at a nadir, Israel’s security establishment still sees a viable P.A. as critical to keeping the West Bank quiescent.

It’s too late, if it ever was possible, for Democrats to affect the other area of Middle East policy where they have a substantial disagreement with Trump: Iran. Trump’s pullout from the 2015 nuclear deal is pretty much final, with many pre-deal sanctions reimposed on Iran this week.

More broadly, Democrats and some Republicans in Congress have been appalled by Trump’s nonchalance about rights abuses by U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. Expect more oversight related to how the United States is intervening on behalf of the oppressed abroad.

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