Now that (most) of the election dust has settled, members have met their new colleagues, chosen their party leadership, and everyone is in the process of preparing for next year. On January 3, the largest Freshman (new members) class since WWII will be sworn into office. About 75% of House Republicans have never been in the minority and, inversely, about 65% of House Democrats have never served in the majority.
Come January 3, the House of Representatives will be very hostile to conservative issues, especially the life issue. The last time Democrats controlled the House there were about 40 pro-life Democrats who consistently voted pro-life, now there are 2. During this last election cycle, Democrat party leaders told candidates they were not welcome in the party if they were pro-life, because, as Penny says, “abortion is their religion.”
However, there are ways that members of the minority party can have influence outside of voting “no.” A motion to recommit (MTR) with instructions returns a bill to committee and can amend, or possibly kill, legislation. The MTR is a power held exclusively by the minority and can make things uncomfortable for moderate majority members who may oppose the bill or parts of the bill based on their districts. At a bare minimum, a MTR takes up legislative time. Democrats have said they do not plan on holding votes before 1:00 p.m. or after 7:00 p.m. in order to accommodate members with families, so time allotted for votes will be precious.
Floor speeches are also great ways for the minority party to message for or against something. One-minute speeches might not seem like much, but they are televised by C-SPAN, which can have an audience of 1 million typically engaged, voting citizens at any given time. For those issues that have bipartisan support but not leadership support, a discharge petition can be used to force legislation out of committee and put it on the floor. While it requires the majority of the House (218 members) and is rarely successful, it can be used for political pressure. In 2015, a discharge petition caused a major headache for Speaker Boehner over an immigration issue. Minority members can pick apart the majority’s position in minority committee reports. These reports officially state a position counter to the majority and can be written by one or more minority members of the committee.
These are all ways to draw attention to the stark contrast of the positions on the opposite side of the aisle and can make things uncomfortable for the majority, who is usually fighting to keep their caucus together on controversial issues. But ultimately, a divided government forces us to find common ground and work together.
We do know that the Democrats are drooling over getting rid of pro-life protections, and, thankfully, the Senate will serve as a backstop to make sure we don’t lose gains on that front. While the President can veto bills with concerning language, and we are encouraging him to do so, a pro-life Senate is an added layer of security. With the net gain of 2 pro-life Senate seats, we finally have a pro-life majority in the Senate. Although Senators Collins (R-Maine) and Murkowski (R-Alaska) are Republicans, they are not pro-life and usually vote against pro-life measures. With next year’s Senate makeup, we can lose Sens. Collins and Murkowski on a life issue and still win. This will be crucial during the Appropriations (spending) process, where many of our pro-life gains have been accomplished.
While things in the next Congress will be different, there is always hope, and there is always progress to be made. Like Justice Kavanaugh said during his opening statement, “I live on the sunrise side of the mountain, not the sunset side of the mountain. I see the day that is coming, not the day that is gone. I am optimistic about the future of America …”