WASHINGTON – Now that the Democrats have taken over the House of Representatives, some Maryland legislators stand to hold significantly greater positions of power and influence in the 116th Congress that convenes in January.
Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, formally announced his candidacy Wednesday for House majority leader, a position he held eight years ago, the last time his party was in the majority.
“I’ve heard from many of you that you want experienced leaders who will fight against President (Donald) Trump’s worst policies, while being willing to work together where cooperation is possible on areas where we agree,” Hoyer wrote in a letter to fellow House Democrats.
“You want leaders who welcome new ideas and different ways of doing things, who will effectively advance our policy priorities, and who will convey an effective message to the American people,” he said. “That is why I’m running for majority leader in the 116th Congress, and I look forward to serving the caucus.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California, is likely to return to the House speakership, the same post she held from 2007 to 2011.
Not all Democrats have pledged their support for another Pelosi speakership, so if there is a fight it could open the door for Hoyer. His moderate leanings may be more suitable for today’s political climate than her more-left record, David Karol, a University of Maryland associate professor of government and politics, told Capital News Service.
As of the morning after the election, however, a possible challenger to Pelosi had not yet materialized.
With the House majority, Hoyer and his Democratic colleagues will now be in charge of all the House committees. This power probably will be used to “investigate the Trump administration in ways that the Republican majority never has,” Karol said.
As the chief strategist and major party spokesman, Hoyer has the responsibility with the speaker to set the agenda for the House. Holding executive branch accountable, something the GOP was reluctant to do, will be a key part of the agenda, predicted Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
“We will go from having no oversight hearings, no use of subpoenas against administration officials, no attempt to get the president’s tax returns, and no serious effort to protect the Mueller investigation to major oversight hearings and aggressive efforts to examine corruption,” Ornstein said.
Hoyer has been a strong advocate for transparency and ethics in the government. He partnered with Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, on legislation that is aimed at strengthening cybersecurity and improving government accountability.
“Our people believe their government is rigged against them. This belief undermines trust in government and impedes our ability to govern. It must be urgently addressed – not just with words – but with real action and bold reforms,” Hoyer insisted in a speech in September.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Baltimore, who’s been the ranking member on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform since 2010, is likely to chair that panel.
With the power to set the committee’s agenda and direct investigations, Cummings may become a thorn in Trump’s side after two years of butting heads with his GOP chairman, Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.
“Democrats on the House Oversight Committee have requested the majority approval of more than 60 subpoenas seeking information from the Trump administration,” Cummings wrote in an op-ed in October. “The Republican majority on our committee has failed to approve even one of our requests.”
After his re-election Tuesday, Cummings said the voters sent a message “to make sure our government works effectively and efficiently for the American people. And they voted to bring integrity back to government.”
“As part of that mandate,” he added, ”I plan to shine a light on waste, fraud, and abuse in the Trump administration. I want to probe senior administration officials across the government who have abused their positions of power and wasted taxpayer money, as well as President Trump’s decisions to act in his own financial self-interest rather than the best interests of the American people.”
With Cummings and the Democrats in control, many requests for documents and witnesses could pass through committee without any Republican support, setting the stage for potentially rancorous confrontations with the White House.
“He would undoubtedly become a major target of criticism by Trump and his allies in the media – a sign of his effectiveness,” Ornstein said of Cummings.
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Towson, also is a member of the oversight panel and is likely to play a larger role in committee investigations.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. If the Democrats move to impeach Trump – should Special Counsel Robert Mueller find impeachable offenses – the process would begin on Raskin’s panel.
Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Timonium, is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. Depending on how the committee shuffle in the majority plays out, he could be tapped for a subcommittee chairmanship.