New Presidents are obsessed with “The First 100 Days,” a term originally coined during the Franklin Roosevelt administration to refer to the incredibly productive legislative start to Roosevelt’s presidency. Political observers have long acknowledged that the importance placed on this timeframe by presidents and pundits is rather out-sized – FDR was a unique case, taking office in the midst of the biggest economic catastrophe in the nation’s history and possessing staggering majorities in both houses of Congress.
Still, the idea of “The First 100 Days” has retained a certain symbolic importance in American politics, and not just for new Presidents. It serves as a convenient benchmark by which to measure the achievements of newly elected politicians at all levels of government.
The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives that swept into power in the 2018 midterms celebrated its 100th day in mid-April. It has undeniably been a productive few months in terms of legislation approved by the House. However, all of that legislation has proved dead on arrival in the GOP Senate.
Still, the legislation approved by House Democrats deserves notice for what it says about the priorities of the Democratic Party in 2019 and as a potential road map for a future Democratic presidential administration.
Legislation Passed by House Democrats
Since the new House was sworn in on January 3, Democrats have been busy. Much of this energy has been provided by freshmen Congressmen and Congresswomen who won election in the 2018 “Blue Wave.” Colorado Democrat Joe Neguse, whose safely Democratic district includes the liberal college towns of Boulder and Fort Collins, has paced his fellow freshmen by introducing a record 10 bills.
But the party’s legislative productivity has been a team effort. Since January 3, the Democratic House majority has passed several significant pieces of legislation:
- The party’s first priority was HR 1, or The For The People Act. The bill calls for a dramatic overhaul of the country’s election systems, with reforms such as automatic voter registration, the restoration of voting rights for convicted felons who complete their sentences, making election day a federal holiday and many more.
- Two bills expanding background checks for firearms purchases. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act and The Enhanced Background Checks Act require background checks for guns purchased at gun shows and over the Internet and extend the amount of time federal investigators have to complete background checks on gun purchasers.
- The Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to close the gender pay gap by amending The Fair Labor Standards Act to give women more legal remedies for pursuing actions related to gender-based pay disparities. The bill passed with unanimous Democratic support and just seven Republican voters.
- The Climate Action Now Act, which seeks to undermine the President’s attempts to abandon the Paris Climate Agreement and directs the President to submit to Congress a plan to meet the country’s commitment under the Climate Agreement.
In addition, the Democratic House majority has provided valuable oversight of the Trump Administration. While many progressive Democrats are frustrated with party leadership’s unwillingness to support impeachment proceedings, moments such as Michael Cohen and William Barr’s public testimony – both damaging to the Trump Administration – would not have occurred if Republicans had retained control of the House.
However, any story on the Democratic House majority’s early productivity must acknowledge that the legislation listed above has been dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled Senate. None of the ambitious legislation passed by House Democrats will become law before the 2020 election, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will not even allow most of it to receive a vote in his chamber.
It’s a sobering and humbling reminder of political reality as the more than 20 Democrats vying for the party’s presidential nomination scramble to offer the most ambitious set of policy ideas. If Democrats win the White House in 2020 but fail to re-capture the Senate, the party will spend the first two years of the new administration repeating the current House majority’s first 100 days – watching admirable legislation die in the Senate.
Democrats will need to net three Senate seats to win the upper chamber, provided they also win the presidency. It’s an uphill climb but not an impossible one – Democrats will be targeting Republican Senators in Colorado, Arizona, Maine, North Carolina and Iowa, among other states. However, Democrat Doug Jones, who represents ruby red Alabama, faces his own difficult re-election fight in 2020, adding another obstacle to the party’s quest for full control of the federal government.
But while the legislation passed by the Democratic House majority will not become law, it’s still worthy of note. Much of this legislation has passed with unanimous – or near-unanimous – support from the Democratic caucus, proving that the party’s fractious and ideologically diverse group of lawmakers can unite around legislative priorities.
This legislation will provide a ready-made agenda for the next Democratic President, especially if the party succeeds in winning control of the Senate. And it will provide a concrete set of ideas for the party’s candidates to campaign on across the country in 2020.