Toxic impeachment fight leaves unfinished business for Congress in 2020

Congress faces a lengthy to-do list in the new year, as an already divided Washington heats up amid a potential Senate impeachment trial and the upcoming presidential primary races.

House Democrats went into the holiday break touting a long list of legislative achievements they passed in their first year as majority, while Republicans complained the toxic impeachment fight halted important legislation.

What's clear is that much work still remains. Once back in Washington, the top policy issue for Republicans is finalizing the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) in the Senate. After House Democrats spent months securing greater enforcement of labor standards in Mexico and earning the support of the influential AFL-CIO union federation, the new pact passed the House 385-41 in December — a day after Democrats impeached Trump.

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The first hearing in the Senate is expected on Jan. 7.

Republicans accused Speaker Nancy Pelosi of dragging her feet for a year on the NAFTA replacement.

“It should have been passed months ago and it’s had a toll on our economy,” said Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. “It sat on a shelf in the House because Pelosi was fixated with impeachment. So those jobs didn’t get created.”

President Trump initially announced the new trade deal with Mexico and Canada on Nov. 30, 2018, but it has yet to be ratified because of the prolonged negotiations with Congress that Pelosi defended as necessary to improve the pact.

Meanwhile, Democrats touted the more than 400 bills they passed despite impeachment and panned the Senate “graveyard” for failing to take up any of their priorities. In 2020, they want Senate action on their bills, including expanding gun background checks, adding LGBTQ protections, reforming the government, lowering health care costs and addressing the gender pay gap.

“This has been the most productive House of Representatives in my memory,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “Unfortunately, everything we pass sits on Mitch McConnell's desk and goes to the graveyard we call the Senate.”

In a letter to Democratic colleagues in December, Pelosi said, "When we return in the New Year, House Democrats will continue to accelerate a drumbeat to make our legislation 'too hot to handle' until Senator McConnell, the Grim Reaper, takes up our bills, which are alive and well with the American people." 

Several House Democrats interviewed by Fox News said in the new year they'd like a bipartisan spending bill with the White House to fix the country’s crumbling roads and bridges.

“I’m really hopeful next year we start out with a good infrastructure package," said Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J.

Rep. Max Rose, a freshman Democrat from the Staten Island, N.Y. district that Trump won, wants to overturn Trump’s controversial executive order banning travel from several countries, including several that are majority Muslim.

"The fact that we have not yet taken a vote to overturn the Muslim ban is a f--king disgrace,” Rose said. “To go home for the holidays without showing the American people that this wrong enough for us to vote to overturn it is disgraceful, and despicable and disgusting. We should take a vote on that.”

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After USMCA, House Republicans point to bipartisan health care legislation that passed unanimously out of the Energy and Commerce Committee to help lower prescription drug costs, but has yet to get a vote on the House floor.

Instead, the House successfully passed a different prescription drug bill – the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act – that the GOP panned as too partisan and having no chance of becoming law. Some lawmakers remain hopeful there's a chance for bipartisan drug reforms despite the bitter impeachment divide.

“I think the biggest issue – even bigger than USMCA – is prescription drug prices,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C.

Here’s a look at what did, and did not, get done in 2019.

What did the House do?

All told, the new Democratic-led House passed 434 bills and joint resolutions this year, but 349 of them, or 80 percent, saw no Senate action.

Despite impeachment, the amount of legislation the House passed its first year was high.

In the last 20 years, there’s only been two other times when the House topped 400 measures in its first year — in 2017, when the House GOP passed 461 bills and joint resolutions just after Republicans won a clean sweep of the White House, the Senate and the House; and in 2007 when Pelosi last held the gavel and passed 524 bills and joint resolutions in her first year, records show.

Some pieces of legislation the House passed include raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025, the Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act.

What did the Senate do?

The GOP-led Senate passed 131 Senate bills and joint resolutions this year and 95 of them, almost 73 percent, sit waiting in the House.

A huge accomplishment for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was his steady pace of judicial confirmations, billed as a “historic transformation of the courts.”

Just this year alone, the Senate confirmed 20 of Trump’s circuit court nominees and 80 of his district court nominees. Since Trump’s presidency, McConnell has ushered through 187 of his GOP-backed court nominees, including two Supreme Court justices.

What became law?

As of Dec. 24, 101 pieces of legislation have passed both chambers and have been signed into law by the president.

Among the marquee laws are the Sept. 11 Victims Compensation Fund to help first responders and other victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks, and the National Defense Authorization Act that gave federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave, boosted the pay for troops 3.1 percent and created Trump’s Space Force as a new branch of the military.

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Trump also signed into law the SECURE Act, which strengthens retirement savings, and legislation that raised the age to buy tobacco and e-cigarettes to 21.

The House and Senate passed spending bills to avoid another government shutdown. They also found common ground on legislation to crack down on annoying robocalls, which Trump is also expected to sign.