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House Democrats Gather For Annual Retreat Ahead Of 100-Day Mark For New Congress


House Democrats have left Washington for suburban Virginia, where they're holding their annual retreat right now. Their new majority in the House ended Republican control of Washington, and now they're about to mark 100 days in power.

Here to talk about what the Democrats have accomplished so far is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. She's at the retreat right now. Hey, Sue.


CHANG: So as we're nearing this 100-day mark, what would you say House Democrats have to show for themselves so far?

DAVIS: Well, I think the days of Rose Garden signing ceremonies are over for now in Washington.


DAVIS: If you're talking about legislation that has become law, the most significant achievement is probably the spending bill that ended the longest government shutdown in history.

CHANG: Yeah.

DAVIS: But that has also led to a fight over a national emergency declaration that has put Democrats on - well, on a long-term fight with the president. So I'm not sure anyone's really out there calling that a clear win for the new majority.

But with divided government, I think Democrats see a lot of their purpose is about creating a contrast with the president and with the Republican Party. And when - if you look at the legislation that they are - have already passed and are soon to pass, it does kind of tell you a story in that one of the throughlines in this agenda is the Democratic Party is really advocating for a much bigger role for the federal government in day-to-day life here. They've done things from past bills to make Election Day a federal holiday, to create automatic voter registration, to mandate federal mandates for equal pay for women. Legislation coming down the pike soon are bills for a federal minimum wage, to increase it to up to $15 an hour.

I also think if you look at the big-idea, philosophical debates the Democratic Party is having right now - Medicare for All, the Green New Deal - it's the kind of thing that reminds people that the Democratic Party is, you know - it's a party of bigger government. That's not a new idea, but in 2019, I think they're a lot less unapologetic about that fact.

CHANG: Yeah. But at the same time, this idea of bigger government, I mean, hasn't that opened Democrats up to more attacks from Republicans and from President Trump, that they're advancing, quote, unquote, "socialist policies?"

DAVIS: Yes, so you hear that line of attack over and over and over. That is a preview of every Republican attack ad you're probably going to hear in the 2020 battleground races for...

CHANG: Right.

DAVIS: ...The House. I did talk to Rhode Island Democratic Congressman David Cicilline. He's a member of leadership, and I asked him about the socialism attack line that Republicans are lodging about their agenda. And this is what he said.

DAVID CICILLINE: You know, they made those same arguments when Social Security and Medicare were created. It's socialism. You know, it's just an argument that's - they're pulling up from the past.

DAVIS: You know, Democrats just call this line of attack absurd. I talked to many of them today that say they just don't think they're going to be vulnerable to it. And they don't think it will work in 2020.

CHANG: I mean, there is such an ideological divide between Democrats and President Trump. And you mentioned, you know, there's a lot of bills they're introducing that aren't expected to go anywhere. Do you think they can find any common ground?

DAVIS: You know, there's low expectations. But that's always good to have low expectations when we're talking about Congress these days.

CHANG: (Laughter).

DAVIS: I talked to a lot of Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, today who - the two things that everyone's going to point to to say the potential for success in this Congress is legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs and potentially, again, an infrastructure bill - the long-promised infrastructure bill of the...

CHANG: Oh, yes.

DAVIS: ...Trump administration. You know, in theory Democrats and Republicans share the end goal here. But when you start to ask about how it would get done, you can see why you should be skeptical. When you ask Democrats about things like infrastructure, and you say, OK, well, how do you want to pay for it? They say, oh, well, we'll roll back the Trump tax cuts. And you have to ask yourself, is it realistic to think that President Trump is going to cut deals that involve rolling back his biggest domestic achievement? That's probably not realistic.

I also think you have to remember in the course of this Congress, one of the big stories is the dozens of investigations that are running into the president, his finances, his family, his administration. And the president - you know, even at the State of the Union he brought this up - he's kind of made it clear that he's not going to be willing to cut deals if he feels like Congress is attacking him or, as he said, if there's going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation.

CHANG: I mean, speaking of cutting deals, he will have to be cutting those deals with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. How would you describe their relationship right now?

DAVIS: You know, it's been confrontational from the start. I think that's going to set the expectation for the tone here. You know, Pelosi has told us, and she told us today, that she is talking on the phone with Donald Trump. They've been having conversations about the drug bills and infrastructure bills.


DAVIS: She says she's going to be optimistic. She has a record of cutting deals with Republican presidents.

CHANG: All right.

DAVIS: She did with George W. Bush. We'll see what happens.

CHANG: And we'll have to end it there. NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks, Sue.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.