Sonoma County congressmen prepared for new oversight roles in House
The North Coast’s two members of Congress are set to take up new positions of leadership in the House of Representatives, promoting their Democratic Party’s pushback against the Trump administration on such matters as environmental protection, possible corruption in the executive branch and release of the president’s never-seen tax returns.
“There’s going to be a new sheriff in town,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who handily won his fourth term representing the left-leaning North Coast.
Come January, Huffman, a former environmental attorney, will be in the majority for his first time in Congress. As a new subcommittee chairman overseeing oceans and other natural resources, he will be on the frontlines of the Democrats’ attempt to shore up environmental safeguards targeted by the Trump administration.
Huffman and Rep. Mike Thompson, the North Coast’s senior congressman, said their party will embrace its critical role of oversight and investigation — aimed primarily at President Donald Trump and his administration.
“One could make a pretty good case that the swamp needs to be drained,” said Thompson of St. Helena. On Tuesday, he won his 11th House term — just his third under a Democratic majority.
Votes are still being counted, but as of Tuesday the New York Times said Democrats had picked up 27 seats, giving them four more than the 218-seat majority that bestows virtually ironclad control of the House.
“It’s a complete sea change for the Democrats,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
If the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Richard Neal of Massachusetts, makes good on his stated intention to seek Trump’s tax returns, McCuan said he expects defiance from the president that could trigger an impeachment process and still not gain the tax papers.
The Senate is unlikely to impeach the president, and if it did he could leave office and take his secrets with him, McCuan said.
Thompson, a Ways and Means member and 20-year House veteran, said even if Neal gets the Trump tax returns there is “no guarantee” they will be released to the public.
“I think it has a lot to do with what’s in there,” he said, adding that no Democratic House member should expect impeachment is a foregone conclusion.
“We’ve got a job to do and if our job leads to finding something that’s an impeachable offense, then it’s a different story,” Thompson said.
As an example of how high the political stakes were a day after the election, McCuan noted that Trump, in his combative news conference Wednesday, said a partial government shutdown in December was “possible” over his demand for funding to build a Mexican border wall.
The president veered from expressing “a more cooperative tone,” Huffman said, to “doubling down” on his confrontational style. Hours later, Trump announced on Twitter that he had replaced Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a controversial move that many political observers expected to come after the election.
“We still don’t know what a post-midterm President Trump looks like,” Huffman said earlier in the day.
Huffman, said Democrats will engage in a “robust debate” over what directions they will take in restoring Congress’ oversight role.