With the Democrats’ capture of a House majority in the November 6 midterm elections, Washington will look very different next year. Although the Democrats’ ability to implement their policy agenda will be limited by a Republican-controlled Senate and White House, the House Judiciary Committee and other investigative committees are expected to launch vigorous oversight and investigations into executive branch activities and even private industry as well.
Why do the Democrats need a majority to do it? First, only the majority party can schedule congressional hearings. Second, in the House only committee chairpersons have subpoena power, which comes in two flavors: demands for witnesses to testify and demands for documents.
With the power of the majority, Democrats are expected to focus on several issues including protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference with the 2016 election, alleged violations of government ethics by executive branch officials, and the president’s personal business dealings. Also expect the Democrats to focus on certain public policy issues such as health care.
Don’t expect the Trump administration to roll over and give House Democrats everything they want. Just because Congress asks for documents or witnesses doesn’t mean they will get them quickly, or even at all. Congressional requests and subpoenas often lead to public and private showdowns between Congress and the executive branch until both sides arrive at an agreement. Administrations often want to appear cooperative without getting hauled before Congress to answer questions publicly. Administrations are also loath to turn over documents that may reveal internal deliberations, especially if those documents reveal embarrassing facts—or worse.