WASHINGTON — A diverse House freshman class gathered Wednesday on the steps of the Capitol for a bipartisan assembly and photograph before the lawmakers splinter into their party corners for an expected collision next year with the Senate and administration.
“New energy,” said Rep.-elect Steven Horsford, D-Nev., describing the attitude of the incoming class. “A lot of excitement, a lot of hope for the future.”
Nevada will have two new House members, Horsford and Susie Lee, who were elected in hard-fought congressional races as part of a “blue wave” that saw Democrats pick up 33 seats and take control of the House of Representatives.
Several races that are still undecided could give Democrats an even larger House majority.
Republicans improved their majority in the Senate by at least two seats, with races still undecided in Florida and Mississippi.
President Donald Trump has nodded toward bipartisanship, but he warned Democrats on Wednesday that investigations into his administration would be deemed presidential harassment.
The 116th Congress will be sworn in Jan. 3, 2019, but on Wednesday the freshman House lawmakers were enjoying their victories and orientation on Capitol Hill.
For some, like Horsford, the experience is best summed up by Yogi Berra: “It’s like deja vu all over again.”
Horsford was elected to the Nevada 4th Congressional District seat he previously held from 2013-2015. He defeated another former congressman, Cresent Hardy, to regain the seat, which was vacated by Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., who did not seek re-election.
“I feel more grounded, more focused. I know what’s at stake,” Horsford said of his second election to the office.
35 women in freshman class
Lee, a Democrat, was elected to succeed Rep. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., who won the Senate seat currently held by Republican Dean Heller. Lee is one of at least 35 women in the freshman House class.
“It’s a big class,” she said, full of “great people.”
“It’s fun to be here,” she said.
Part of the “pink wave” of women who helped Democrats recapture the House, Lee was enjoying the spirited atmosphere at the Capitol ahead of the grueling legislative work to come.
“It’s very exciting,” Lee said, but “I’m trying to get an office up and running.”
She and Horsford said their priorities include prescription drug affordability and campaign finance reform.
Lee also wants Congress to tackle legislation that would tighten background checks on gun buyers, in light of the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017, and others in recent months.
With lists of legislative priorities in hand, the newly elected lawmakers will spend the next two weeks learning the ropes, meeting and selecting new leaders.
The House and Senate in the 116th Congress will be the most diverse in U.S. history, with more women, minorities, millennials and veterans than before.
Clash with GOP looming?
But the Democratic shift in the House might set up a clash with the Republican-held Senate, as well as with Trump.
Incoming Democratic chairmen of powerful committees have said they plan to provide congressional oversight of the Trump administration after two years of Republican rule.
Those committees will have subpoena power to look at the president’s tax returns, business and real estate dealings. Administration policies will also come under Democratic scrutiny in the House.
Trump blamed this week’s stock market downturn on the expected Democratic investigations into his administration. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned his Democratic colleagues in Congress against unwarranted harassment of the president.
But some Republicans have joined Democrats in urging legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions immediately after last week’s election and following months of criticism for failing to curtail the “witch hunt” conducted by Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Russians and Trump campaign.
While Trump and the White House brace for Mueller’s report and other House investigations, Democratic leaders are also cautious as they eye the 2020 elections.
Many freshman Democrats, who won seats in centrist or Republican-leaning districts, are lukewarm to an agenda that is heavy on investigations and does not deliver on campaign promises to improve health care, create jobs and boost wages.
“We have a lot of work to do to keep the current administration accountable,” Horsford said. “But we also need to focus on legislating and moving the country forward.”
Newcomer beats incumbent in N.J.
TRENTON, N.J. — Democrat Andy Kim, a political newcomer and former national security aide in the Obama administration, defeated Republican Rep. Tom MacArthur in a tight race in which the incumbent’s vote to roll back the Affordable Care Act was a hot issue.
Kim upset MacArthur in the hotly contested southern New Jersey district, widening the Democrats’ edge in the House.
He declared victory last week, but MacArthur did not concede as mail-in and provisional ballots continued to be counted. The Associated Press called the race Wednesday.
— The Associated Press