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Following House Win, Democrats Vow To Clean Up Capitol Hill And Trump Administration


Cleaning up Washington was a campaign rallying cry for Democrats. They promised to go after corruption in the Trump administration, and they vow that their first piece of legislation will aim to strengthen integrity in government. NPR's Peter Overby reports.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: It's Congress' duty to keep watch on the executive branch. Here's House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi at a press conference this afternoon.


NANCY PELOSI: American people have put - want to put an end to unchecked GOP control of Washington, restoring again the checks and balances envisioned by our founders.

OVERBY: Checks and balances lead to oversight investigations. Republicans are working to discredit the probes before they start. On Fox News, Jason Chaffetz, former Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, was talking about the new Democratic House.


JASON CHAFFETZ: Are you kidding me? They're going to be an investigative machine. People like Adam Schiff are going to spend all day, every day trying to pepper the White House to get documents, information.

OVERBY: Schiff is ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave reporters a political analysis of Oversight.


MITCH MCCONNELL: The whole issue of presidential harassment is interesting. I remember when we tried it in the late '90s.

OVERBY: He was referring to the impeachment of President Clinton.


MCCONNELL: We impeached President Clinton. His numbers went up, and ours went down, and we underperformed in the next election.

OVERBY: At a White House press conference today, President Trump embraced that analysis. He was asked what he'd do if the White House was, quote, "hit by a blizzard of subpoenas."


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If that happens, then we're going to do the same thing, and government comes to a halt. And I would blame them.

OVERBY: Later on, he suggested having the Republican-controlled Senate investigate the investigators.


TRUMP: They can look at us, and then we can look at them. And it'll go back and forth, and it'll probably be very good for me politically. I could see it being extremely good politically 'cause I think I'm better at that game than they are, actually.

OVERBY: It's an idea that Pelosi scoffed at.


PELOSI: I don't think we'll have any scattershot freelancing in terms of this.

OVERBY: One possibility is a probe of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. But before the House Democrats investigate the administration, their first order of business in January will be a bill to fix some other problems. Leading the charge is Maryland Congressman John Sarbanes.

JOHN SARBANES: It's three very basic things that I think the public wants to see. Make it easy and not hard to vote in America. Serve with ethics and integrity. And don't get tangled up in the money.

OVERBY: By the money, he means political cash. This election, money came at campaigns from more places and in larger volumes than ever before. Super PACs and political nonprofits were prominent. But at the same time, small donors showered record sums on many of the Democratic candidates. The reform bill would promote more small-dollar giving. The other provisions of the bill would restore protections in the Voting Rights Act and close loopholes in ethics laws. Sarbanes said the midterms offer a launching pad for the bill.

SARBANES: What happened yesterday is the people gave our democracy its footing back. We found our footing. Now we've got to begin that march to the kind of democracy that people want to see.

OVERBY: He predicted the bill will pass the House quickly, but making it a law will require Senate action and a presidential signature. Those could be years away. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Peter Overby has covered Washington power, money, and influence since a foresighted NPR editor created the beat in 1994.