In just a single month this fall, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called for his panel to subpoena the Trump administration over seven different investigations, including immigration and Obamacare.
Come January, when Democrats assume control of the House, Mr. Cummings will be committee chairman and can fire off those subpoenas himself, without worrying about Republican opposition.
The change in control of the House is unlikely to break the legislative gridlock on Capitol Hill, but it will be felt deeply on investigations, where Mr. Cummings and his fellow Democratic chairmen will be able to pursue probes that the GOP had refused over the last two years.
“Americans are tired of watching a Republican Congress fail in its constitutional duty to hold the administration accountable for policies that rip children from the arms of their parents, that allow domestic abusers and white supremacists to get their hands on deadly firearms without a full background check, that allow voters to be intimidated and their voices suppressed, that enable pervasive corruption to influence decision making at the highest levels of government, and that undermine the rule of law and interfere with the independence of our justice system,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who is in line to become chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who could become the next speaker, said keeping watch on the president is a critical part of the founders’ view of Congress.
She said she hoped subpoenas wouldn’t be needed to force the administration to turn over documents in investigations, but left the compulsory route open.
“I don’t think we’ll have any scattershot freelancing in terms of this. We will have a responsibility to honor our oversight responsibilities, and that’s the path that we will go down,” she said.
But Mrs. Pelosi will be under pressure from left-wing activists to open probes on a number of matters — not least of them President Trump’s tax returns, which he has shielded from public view, breaking with decades of precedent.
Mr. Trump warned Democrats to tread carefully, saying they can either choose bipartisan cooperation on legislation or they can pursue investigations against him — but they can’t do both. He said he’ll be prepared to retaliate should they go the investigative route.
“If that happens, then we’re going to do the same thing, and government comes to a halt,” he said at a post-election press conference.
He did not elaborate on what those counter-probes might look like.
In addition to the president’s tax returns, Democrats have already telegraphed a number of areas of interest.
•Mr. Trump’s decision last month to order thousands of active-duty troops to the U.S.-Mexico border will be an early focus, with the mission remaining shrouded in confusion. Democrats who will chair committees sent an early warning last week with a letter to the Pentagon demanding answers on the current plans and the expected cost.
•Democrats suspect funny business behind the Trump administration’s move to cancel the relocation of the FBI’s headquarters from its current location on Pennsylvania Avenue in downtown Washington, D.C. Top Democrats said they believe Mr. Trump is trying to keep that prime Washington real estate occupied by the FBI to prevent anyone from developing the site into a business that could compete with the Trump International hotel, just down the block.
•Mr. Cummings is eyeing a subpoena to demand the Commerce secretary testify under oath about his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census. Democrats say they believe he lied about his reasoning in past testimony.
•Under Democrats, the House intelligence committee’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election could shift from probing the FBI’s decision-making to taking a closer look at what the Trump team was doing. The panel might revisit witnesses who either already appeared before the panel or refused to answer questions during their earlier appearances, including Trump advisers Roger Stone, Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Steve Bannon and Donald Trump Jr.
•Democrats have questioned nearly every move the administration has made on Obamacare — and they’re likely to probe all of them, from relaxing the mandate for full contraceptive coverage to granting states more leeway on Medicaid enrollment.