As a non-US person, (German) radio told me the Democrats would now be able to force Trump to publish his tax return and prevent him from funding his wall.

That's probably a nice little "haha" for us non-involved outsiders, but as an analysis of what this political event actually means, it's kinda petty.

So my question is, based on previous presidents where the house was from the "other" party and expectations of what Trump's politics might change, what does this really mean?

Half hearted deals to keep things going? Both parties pushing political agenda forward trading one for another? Political stagnation? Nothing? A new president?

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    Reading suggestion : nytimes.com/2018/11/07/opinion/…
    – Evargalo
    Nov 7, 2018 at 14:24
  • Comments discussion about how Trump should treat Jeff Sessions deleted. Please note that comments should aim to improve the question, not to have political discussions. For more information about what comments should be used for, please read the help article about the commenting privilege.
    – Philipp
    Nov 9, 2018 at 11:31
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    I think this question is possibly a bit too broad. One might be able to specify some things that are of special interest like "Can Democrats now do X" (X= force Trump to do something, ...). Nov 9, 2018 at 16:42

3 Answers 3


The majority party in the House of Representatives gets to appoint the Chairman of every sub-committee in the House, there are many of these. These chairmen are all Republicans, but will soon all be Democrats, every one of them. The ruling party needs no excuse to replace them, and all chairmen are always appointed from the ruling party.

Each of these Chairmen has the authority to issue subpoenas (these are legal documents that can require the recipient to testify, to turn over records (like emails), and so on, refusing to do so is a crime that may result in being jailed for Contempt of Congress).

It is the job of both the House and Senate, independently if they like, to oversee government operations, conduct inquiries, get testimony under oath (lying under oath is perjury, a felony that can be punished by five years in prison).

YES, the House has the authority to demand from the IRS the Tax Returns of Donald Trump, pursuant to any number of investigations they might undertake to see if he is taking emoluments (payments from foreign countries) or profiting from his office or making decisions to benefit his own business, family, etc. The House does not need ANY excuse or evidence or permission to start such an investigation: They are in charge of oversight.

Further, the House chairmen are free to re-open any investigation their predecessors have put aside. So they can re-open investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, or 2018 election. During this investigation, the Democrats requested something like 64 subpoenas of records and testimony; the Republicans denied every single request. Well, every single one of those subpoenas will now be issued, the witnesses heard under oath before a Democratic Chair, and that includes Trump's children, friends, business records, business employees, tax returns, etc. Unlike the Republicans that excused blatant lying by some of these witnesses and allowed some (like Trump's son) to simply refuse to answer, a Democratic Chair can compel testimony under penalty of Contempt.

Further, for most of this testimony, it can be public if they wish, or be behind closed doors but all or some of the testimony revealed to the public. That is also within the purview of the Chair (with exceptions for some classified material).

Although the House cannot unilaterally pass any law (they can introduce one, but both the House and Senate must approve and the President must sign; or if he vetoes, be overruled by 2/3 of both).

But this power of investigation into corruption, self-dealing, foreign influence, and so on is actually a very big deal, and the results of the investigation can result in criminal charges. The House cannot be restrained or gagged by either the President or Senate, it is subordinate to neither one.

Finally, only the House, after investigation, can bring impeachment charges against the President (actually they can impeach any executive or judicial branch federal government employee; including judges and Supreme Court justices). These charges must then be heard by the Senate, which may vote to remove the offender from office. It is unlikely they will, especially with a Senate friendly to the President, but you never know what they might uncover that would change the minds of at least some Republican Senators. So yes, there is a remote chance that even a "New President" is the result.

P.S. Also, all spending bills raising revenue must originate in the House; including laws raising or lowering taxes (the Supreme Court has held). Neither the Senate or the President have the right to raise or lower taxes.

P.P.S: All laws must be passed by both the House and Senate, by a majority in each. Typically the President must also sign a new law, but if the President Vetoes, then a 2/3 majority of each Chamber (House and Senate) can override a Presidential Veto and pass the law anyway. So Democrats can now block any NEW law. This also means they can prevent the repeal of any law, since repeal is treated the same as new law. So they will likely not allow any changes to the social safety net; Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, Social Security, etc. There has been talk of re-allowing health insurance companies to refuse to sell insurance to or to charge more to people with pre-existing conditions (e.g. a person has asthma, so they can be denied insurance even against unrelated diseases like cancer or tuberculosis). The House won't allow any such repeal or new law to pass. Also, since the House can veto a budget or other allocation of funds to build the Wall against immigrants spanning the border with Mexico, they can ensure that doesn't happen.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Nov 11, 2018 at 17:57
  • Reading this answer with hindsight, it was a bit too optimistic. Nov 13, 2019 at 14:43
  • @TomášZato I fail to see why; do you doubt Trump will be impeached by the House? I don't. As far as I can tell, everything I said is true; and those defying the subpoenas are, in fact, committing a crime, including Trump. In the interest of expediency (moving forward with impeachment quickly) the Democrats are not taking it to court, but the crime is committed and they can (and should) deal with that later, have all those that refused fined, up to $100,000. Contempt of Congress is a crime and there is a statute of limitations, but they can delay their charges until post-election.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 13, 2019 at 15:50
  • Everything you wrote is true, it's just that when I was reading your answer the first time, I did actually expect people to follow the laws. And now I am not so sure they ever will, after a year. Nov 13, 2019 at 16:08
  • @TomášZato Agreed, that is a problem. Laws must be punitive and enforced to work, and in this case defiance has entered new territory, and will set precedents. The criminals are testing us. In the end if they are not punished for defiance, the law will be routinely disobeyed forever. On principles, the next administration should punish Trump's enablers to the fullest extent they can, to scare all future administrations into complying with the law. I would not regard that as vindictive, but prophylactic, lawbreakers must face consequences, or OUR consequences are lawlessness.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 13, 2019 at 16:23

Explicit consequences of the Democrats taking the House:

  • All new laws passed for the next 2 years will require the acquiescence of the Democratic Leadership of the House to get moved on, and at least some Democrats supporting them.
  • All House congressional committees will now have a majority of Democrats on them. Republicans will no longer be able to block investigations/oversight of the Trump administration, or its friends abroad.

Likely consequences:

  • The Senate and the House generally don't get along very well in the best of times, and this past Congress was unusually unproductive. Given that inclination, and adding split control and the current Republican climate of cooperating with Democrats being the electoral kiss of death, its hard to imagine that situation getting anything but worse. So you can expect to see almost no legislation (which has to go through both chambers) getting passed.
  • Legislative Drift. The President can veto any measure that The House approves, and the Democrats don't have the 2/3 supermajority required to override that (without Republican help). Conversely, Trump won't be able to get any legislation he wants through the House without Democratic help. That has all the makings of an impasse, which means nothing of any substance is likely to get done for the next 2 years without an Executive Order.
  • President Trump has been blaming the Democrats for the lack of legislative movement for the last 2 years. One would imagine he will keep right on doing that, but with that party actually controlling a legislative body, his argument will now look a lot more plausible.

Possible consequences:

  • The House of Representatives now has the ability to impeach the President. There are some very good political reasons to avoid doing that on a whim, but if their (no longer thwarted) investigations turn up clear evidence of illegalities or violations of the Constitution, this could well happen. Note that Impeachment doesn't remove a POTUS. The decision on that resides with the Senate. No POTUS in US history has ever been removed by the Senate, and I have trouble seeing a Republican Senate agreeing to do that to one of their own, no matter how egregious the case. So this would essentially just create a huge time-wasting political circus, to no real effect (prior to 2020).
  • Another Debt Crisis. The next time the US Debt hits the Congressionally-approved debt ceiling, it seems feasible that Trump will refuse to sign any legislation raising it without Democratic agreement to some poison-pill item he wants, but they are not politically capable of voting for. My guess would be border-wall funding. He fancies himself an expert negotiator, and a government shutdown and the associated circus that entails is the exact kind of situation he seems to thrive on. In theory, if neither side caves it is even possible the US Government could start defaulting on some of its securities (and if that happened, its financial ratings would certainly get dropped, and there could even be a flood of investors fleeing the US Bond market. I'm not even sure I could wrap my mind around the possible worldwide financial and political consequences of that).
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    Perfect answer to the question "what does this really mean".
    – AnoE
    Nov 8, 2018 at 16:29
  • For what it's worth, it's impossible for the US to default on its debt. Inflation and currency devaluation, sure, but not default.
    – bta
    Nov 8, 2018 at 18:49
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    @bta - That link is correct, but very misleading. Its not saying its "impossible". Its saying it can't be "forced" to default. The government would have to be so stupid as to make a conscious choice to not repay its debts. Refusing to raise the debt limit would in fact constitute the government being exactly that stupid. T-Bonds are paid back when they mature, and if the government runs out of cash due to the limit, it wouldn't have any to repay maturing securities. Its discussed in more detail here
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 8, 2018 at 19:18
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    @Amadeus - That was a nearly filibuster-proof Democratic-controlled senate, so its a slightly different scenario. When Johnson was impeached, they thought they had the votes in the Senate too, but some senators got cold feet. Of course there have really been so few impeachment scares in US history that any of them is going to break precedent in some way. That being said, I don't believe its ever been tried at a time the opposite party didn't have secure control of both houses of Congress, and there's quite likely a good reason for that.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 8, 2018 at 21:49
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    @T.E.D. Well that's true, it was a much less rigidly partisan time. In the current state, short of proof of serious felonies (e.g. intentional money-laundering, proof of direct collusion with foreigners, etc), I doubt many R's would vote for impeachment. But 22R are up for re-election in 2020, so you never know what their calculus is going to be if Trump looks like an actual criminal.
    – Amadeus
    Nov 8, 2018 at 22:31

This is an interesting and counter-intuitive state of affairs. What you are asking is at the core as to why the parliamentary system of government is long enduring and popular in the world. As kindly suggested in the comment, it is a presidential system as the executive branch is separate as is common in original parliamentary system. What I want to focus on is that it is a large body of different people, over 400 in the US. Each person has a different background, profession, upbringing and a short term in office in the HOR while being longer in the Senate. The only real change is that the leadership of the House of Reps. will be Nancy Pelosi. I specifically name her because the personality of the leader is important and would vary among any in her party. The end result is that it will be a contest between the President and the leaders of the House of Reps on setting the agenda and the annual budget priorities.

It is very easy to fall into the mental trap that "Now that the other party has control, things will change". However, what both parties have found out that it is difficult to synchronize 5 people let alone 230+ people to an agenda. Factions will form. All the emotions of human nature will come into play and things will slow down. Just imagine trying to get 4 people from work to go to lunch in the same place, there is just a large amount of issues

It is counter-intuitive because the first reaction to this is that there will be a difference to how business is conducted because there is another party. This is not actually true. The purpose of Congress is to legislate, control funding and guard its power in relation to the two other branches. There is always contention between the president and the leader of either house.

The second counter-intuition is that the slow down of legislation is bad since nothing gets done. This is missed because normally in other countries, the federal government is closer to the individual citizen. In the US, there is a tremendous layer of State, and local government which has its own parliament and constitution. In the state government is where things happen that have an immediate effect on the individual. It is valuable to me, my job, my family that Congress moves slowly and deliberately since they are so far removed from my way of life. And they have the power to affect such a large portion of the citizens. Slow is good.

Winning the majority in the house of representatives means that the party can elect a leader from their own party and organize committees in anyway they see fit. They may or may not include members from the other party. The role of the leader of the HOR is to arrange the political situation so that the agenda she sets will have the best chance of moving forward. She, however, will have to contend with factionalism in her own party who have agendas of their own. She will also have to deal with the sizable membership of the opposing party which has factions of its own. Finally, and most importantly, she has to run for her seat again in less than two year with the added pressure of making sure her party retains the majority. Will that mean fighting with the president, compromising, or somewhere in-between, the people will have to do this again in less than 2 years.

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    "parliamentary system of government": this term is typically used to refer to systems of government like the UK, where members of the government a drawn from the legislature. The US system was created as a reaction to this; it's typically referred to as a presidential system. Nov 7, 2018 at 15:02
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    It might be worth adding that one thing that could change is that the House has the power to subpoena documents and compel witnesses. A Democratic majority makes it more likely (though, as you suggest, not certain) that the House will exercise those powers. Nov 7, 2018 at 15:04
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    Agreed with @SteveMelnikoff - the US doesn't have a parliamentary system as the term is generally used. It has a presidential system. Nov 7, 2018 at 15:10
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    @FrankCedeno - while being co-equal branches mean they can each put checks on each other, it does not mean any one branch can just ignore the authority of the others. Nixon tried the whole "suck an egg" thing, and SCOTUS ruled he had to comply with Congressional subpoenas, at which time he did. If he had the power to just ignore the other branches, the SCOTUS ruling against him would not have altered that calculus in any way. Nov 7, 2018 at 16:01
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    I downvoted, sorry, but this answer really needs some proofreading. The first paragraph is almost unintelligible. Nov 8, 2018 at 0:52

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