A Democrat majority Congress has started working. The first speech of Pelosi as House Speaker has set the tone of Congress’ future relations with the President. She said that legislative branch is co-equal to
presidency and judiciary, there is a new dawn of system of checks and balances, time to redeem progress of American dream, strengthen middle class and have an economy that works for ordinary people. If 116th Congress supports Pelosi then it would be interesting to see how a conservative, rightwing President is held accountable by a progressive, left leaning lower house. In all probability it is going to bring the best out of America’s democracy and also set the stage for winning the 2020 presidential election for both parties.
With a record number of women getting elected to Congress, there will be increase in legislation on issues related to women. The politics will be in getting them through Senate and approved by the President. This surge is due to the appalling disdain shown by the Republicans to the female victim of sexual assault during the nomination process of US Supreme Court judge. Trump put a conservative judge in the Supreme Court as part of his election promise but in the process lost Republican majority in the Congress. And going by the same logic if he succeeds in fencing the southern US border it could well be at the cost of losing the next presidential election and Republican stakes in both houses? Reportedly, 57 percent Americans oppose border fencing. On immigration, the American politics is getting further polarized as children die in border patrol custody, parents are separated from their children and refugees are being held indefinitely. Republicans are supporting Trump who justifies his policy by saying that doing what you have to do for the benefit and safety of the country. Pelosi called the wall “immoral” and McConnell, Senate majority leader, has stayed away from shutdown fight leaving Trump at his own for now.
There are a lot of areas where Democrats and Republicans can still work together. McCarthy, the House Republican leader extended his hand of friendship. Pelosi outlined ambitious agenda in her first speech including disparity in income, minimum wage, expanding middle class as backbone of American diversity, protecting Medicare, social security, and dealing with climate crisis. In terms of plight of low paid workers and increase in minimum wage, the rise of poverty in the US has attracted international attention. America has left the UN Human Rights Council. The government has refused to answer reports on poverty and privacy. There are 40 million people living below poverty in America. During Obama time UN teams visited America 16 times but Trump government has refused to entertain them while levels of inequality have aggravated (US halts cooperation with UN on potential human rights violations, 4 Jan 2019, the Guardian).
Any credible progress on Pelosi agenda in America will have a positive impact across the world. Workers had to work for Zero hours (working without wages) in the UK. The workers are protesting in Hungary against the labor laws and called them ‘Slave laws’. Under the law they will be working overtime but will not be paid for it. The workers in other parts of Europe including France (Yellow Vest), Belgium and Germany are already protesting against income inequality, tax breaks for rich and increasing taxes on the low paid workers. Pelosi called for tax reforms to help middle class. By recognizing climate as crisis in her speech, Pelosi took a positive step. Any commitment on part of America towards clean air, clean water, and adoption of green technology will help protect climate and support global commitment to preserve and improve climate for the world and our future generations. It will help end oil mafias, as Trump called them, and improve adoption of renewable energy to cut energy costs, end poverty and among other things as part of Sustainable Development Goals.
Furthermore, Pelosi also promised to follow the mandate of the people and pass laws to lower health care cost, cost of prescription drugs. She also promised that government will work for the people not special interests. She also asked for commonsense background checks to end gun violence and support victims of gun violence and talked about tax reforms to help middle class. On immigration, Pelosi showed positive support. She quoted Regan who said that if you close door to dreamers (American dream) our role in the world will be lost. The industrialization of Singapore was supported by foreign workers. Between 1970 and 2010, 34 per cent of workers in the country were immigrants. Reports in UK following Brexit standoff also show that immigrants played an important role in the country’s economic development. Finally, the agenda points mentioned by Democrat led Congress is a contrast to Trump’s incompetent politics from which even McConnell stayed away. He might get his way on wall in exchange for ending government shutdown but like the justice Kavanaugh case but it could be at huge electoral cost. So the next two years of American politics will be important as both parties appeal to their bases with right and left policies to win 2020 elections. Also, it will be a challenge for Pelosi to keep her promise that House will be truly people’s House and protect public’s interests with Republicans in Senate and Trump in the White House.
—The writer is senior political analyst based in Islamabad.