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SoCal Democrats Are Licking Their Chops To Take Over The House. Here's What They're Planning

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, following a committee meeting at the U.S. Capitol Feb 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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When the Clerk of the House bangs the gavel and calls the new Congress to order in January, House Democrats will be strutting in with big plans.

As you've probably heard, the party won a majority of 435 House seats last week, meaning they're in the chamber's driver's seat, even with a number of races still to be called.

For many members, this is their first taste of true power: Democrats have been in the minority since the 2010 midterms, a wave election for Republicans fueled by Tea Party fervor.

So what does this mean for Southern California Democrats?

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) says despite significant challenges -- namely a Republican-controlled Senate with which they have found little common ground -- regaining power in the House is meaningful for the state.

"California priorities will be better represented in the budget process," Schiff said.

Pushing back on the Trump administration's immigration and environmental policies is just one area where they've gained standing, Schiff said.

"We can do more to prevent drilling offshore that the President wants to do, or the weakening or our air quality standards," he said.

Many SoCal Democrats also mentioned using their newfound influence to strengthen Affordable Care Act exchanges.

And every member KPCC/LAist talked to was looking forward to exercising majority powers to provide a "check" on the executive branch.

With the lame-duck Congress back in session Tuesday, we called some key California representatives back in Washington to talk about their goals when they take power in January.


Rep. Judy Chu speaking at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. (Paul Sancya/ AP)

Chu represents the 27th District, including parts of the San Gabriel Valley with cities like Alhambra, large swaths of the San Gabriel mountains, and parts of Glendora and Claremont. She sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, where tax laws are written.

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The congresswoman was quick to point out that having the majority gives Democrats a number of tools to rein in the Trump administration -- including the ability to hold hearings, call witnesses, and subpoena documents.

Chu said one of the first orders of business for her committee will be to subpoena President Trump's tax returns, calling it a matter of transparency.

"For so many Californians there is concern about this issue, because people want this president to be accountable," she said. "Especially because every President has released their tax returns since the last 40 years."

But Chu said there are other actions her committee will focus on that could be beneficial specifically for Southern Californians.

For example, she wants Ways and Means to provide oversight on the impact of the GOP's tax overhaul on American taxpayers. Chu says there needs to be a closer examination of how it's affecting Californians, especially the new cap on state and local tax deductions.

She also wants the IRS to look into special carveouts for corporations in the tax bill that weren't afforded to individuals.

"We need better oversight. There hasn't been much in the way of hearings," Chu said.


Rep. Adam Schiff arriving to a House Intelligence Committee earlier this year. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

For some Southern California representatives, the new partisan landscape will mean taking over the helm of powerful committees.

Schiff has risen to national prominence for his role in the Russia investigation. He's become known for fierce sparring with another Californian, Republican Devin Nunes of the Central Valley, over the handling of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence's investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign.

The chairman's gavel will likely be handed over to Schiff now, and he plans to continue the investigation Republicans voted to end earlier this year.

"We're going to have to look at the work that's been done, the work that the majority prevented or obstructed, and the unanswered questions that remain that could put the country in jeopardy," Schiff said. "Chief among them in my view is whether the Russians have any kind of leverage over the President of the United States."

Schiff reacted to Attorney General Jeff Sessions' resignation last week on Twitter.

Schiff said the committee's relationship with U.S. intelligence agencies needs rebuilding.

"It was badly damaged by the publication of the Nunes memorandum," he said. "The publication violated trust."


U.S. Rep. Ted Lieu photographed in Venice in March. (Chris Carlson/AP)

Another Southern California Democrat in a good position to conduct oversight on the President thanks to Tuesday's election results is Congressman Ted Lieu, who represents parts of West Los Angeles, along the coastline.

He serves on the Judiciary Committee, which has oversight powers related to the Justice Department, federal law enforcement, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office.

It's an even bigger deal following Sessions' forced exit last week. Lieu said acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker should recuse himself from the Russia investigation, as his former boss, Sessions, did.

If not? "Then Congress is going to start holding hearings once Democrats have control in January," Lieu said. "We can subpoena Mr. Whitaker, we can have him answer questions under oath in front of the American public."

Lieu also emphasized the House Democrats' power to play defense against the Trump administration's priorities.

"We can stand up to stupid stuff," Lieu said. "If the administration wants to cut the EPA by 30 percent, we can stop that. We can make sure the administration is following the rule of law. If there's corruption, we can expose it. And I think what people across America voted for was a check and balance. That's what you're going to see."

Following Tuesday's election, Lieu continued his habit of tweeting barbs at President Trump.


Rep. Maxine Waters asks a question during a hearing House Financial Services Committee this year. (Jacquelyn Martin/ AP)

One more Southern California Democrat pledging to investigate the President now that Democrats have the upper hand: Congresswoman Maxine Waters of Los Angeles, who is expected to become chairwoman of the Financial Services committee. Banking, housing, and insurance matters all fall under its purview.

Waters was recently the target of mail bombs along with a handful of other high-profile Democratic politicians. In a MSNBC interview before the midterm election, she did not mince words.

"The American people in the final analysis will understand how divisive this president is, how dangerous he is," Waters said. "I am accustomed to being threatened. And while I am not foolish...I'm not afraid, and I'm not intimidated."

She pledged to probe President Trump's financial dealings with Deutsche bank.

"None of the other banks will give him credit," Waters said. "Deutsche bank is on my radar screen. Because we have requested information from the Treasury about Deutsche bank and money laundering."

But "[Trump] is not the only thing that I'm concerned about in that committee," she said, adding other policy priorities include monitoring the behavior of big banks to prevent another financial meltdown, supporting affordable housing, and shoring up the Affordable Care Act.


Rep. Mark Takano speaks at the Congressional Forum on Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2015. (Kevin Wolf/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

Congressman Mark Takano of Riverside is another SoCal member possibly poised to assume a powerful committee leadership role. He's now the Vice Ranking Member on Veterans Affairs. He told KPCC/LAist he's in the process of calling colleagues and building support to take over the chairmanship in January. (The other top contender is also a Southern California lawmaker -- Rep. Julia Brownley of Ventura County.)

Veterans Affairs is traditionally less partisan than many House bodies, and there's hope that Republicans and Democrats can come together to pass legislation even with a divided Congress.

Takano said he's looking forward to tackling problems with staffing shortages at the VA, protecting student veterans from predatory for-profit colleges, and championing better services for women veterans who have sometimes been overlooked at that agency.

The VA is undergoing a major, pricey transition to electronic health records designed to also work with the Department of Defense's record keeping system, a process Takano pledged to closely monitor.

But Takano was also adamant about providing a check on President Trump and Republicans who are pushing for the expanded privatization of VA health services.

"That is simply something that's opposed by most veterans service organizations," Takano said. "I will stand in the breach to make sure that that doesn't happen, and that the House of Representatives thwarts any privatization scheme."

Former VA Secretary, David Shulkin, warned about privatization when he was pushed out of the department back in March.

Takano said he believes some private sector care options are appropriate for veterans, but the VA must continue to be the coordinator of that care to protect veterans from rising costs.


Rep. Kevin McCarthy represents most of Kern and Tulare counties, including Bakersfield. Not exactly Southern California, but his 23rd District does include a slice of Los Angeles County. McCarthy is House Majority Leader for another few weeks, but he's looking to move up the party's chain of command when Republicans vote on leadership positions Wednesday.

McCarthy is likely to become Minority Leader in charge of corralling the Republican caucus in Congress, though he is facing a challenge from Ohio's Jim Jordan, the co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus.

As Republicans navigate the lame-duck session, McCarthy said on Fox News on Sunday he's focused on building on his party's accomplishments like rebuilding the military, strengthening the VA, and halting the spread of the opioid crisis. He also wants to find a way to make more of the GOP tax overhaul permanent.

And he's already looking ahead to 2020.

"I believe we can win this majority back," McCarthy said. "I look at what the Democrats' agenda is. What is it? It's investigating the president, trying to impeach him, abolishing ICE. America is too great to be led by such a small vision."

At the same time, "we'll want to find common ground," McCarthy said, on issues like defense spending and trade.

He'll potentially oversee a depleted California delegation. Several districts in Southern California that were long considered Republican strongholds flipped in the midterms. One incumbent Republican who held on for re-election, Duncan Hunter of San Diego, is facing federal charges for fraud and conspiracy over the misuse of campaign funds. He's due back in court December 3.

Some SoCal Republicans sit on powerful committees, like Riverside's Ken Calvert, who's a member of Appropriations -- the purse strings of Congress, where decisions about funding get made.

Congressman Ed Royce in Orange County has been chairman of the Foreign Affairs committee since 2013, but he was termed out of that seat and chose to retire in January.

Also in Orange County, Mimi Walters has been seen as a rising star in the Republican Party. She holds a razor-thin lead in her 45th District race in Southern OC, though votes are still being counted.

Walters is reportedly exploring becoming the chair of the National Republican Campaign Committee (or NRCC), the main fundraising and campaigning arm of the party that works to get House Republicans elected. She's a deputy chair now, and if successful, would play a major nationwide role on the political stage for 2020.

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