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These domestic priorities top the Democrats’ legislative agenda

Tuesday was the first time President Trump addressed a Democratically controlled House in his State of the Union address. Lisa Desjardins joins Judy Woodruff to offer a look at some of their top legislative priorities -- election and government reform, gun background checks, infrastructure, voting rights -- and why there may be hope for a border security deal to avert another government shutdown.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, last night was the first time the president addressed a Democratically controlled U.S. House of Representatives. The reality of this new era of divided government was visible in how Speaker Nancy Pelosi, along with a diverse group of freshman members, reacted.

    Diversity was also on display in the Democratic Party's official response. Stacey Abrams became the first African-American woman to deliver a formal response to the president.

    Our Lisa Desjardins has been looking at the Democratic agenda. And she's here now to talk about all that.

    So, broadly speaking, Lisa, you have been looking at what the Democrats want to focus on. Explain what that is.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, is kind of hitting the ground running on a few fronts. Let's look at their overall agenda, what House Democrats say they want to do.

    Number one, election and government reform, Judy, that's at the top of their list. They have a sweeping bill that they have recently introduced. Number two, we saw a hearing on this today, background checks on guns. That's the beginning of what they may do further on the idea of more gun control.

    Now, this is what they're doing now. But later we expect in maybe the coming months Democrats say they will also tackle infrastructure, health care. That includes drug prices, which Yamiche mentioned, of course, is where they have overlap with the president.

    One other item, climate change. They are in the middle of establishing a new climate change committee, but it doesn't have jurisdiction. This is a tricky area for Democrats, because some want to go farther than others in their caucus. It's not clear what kind of a bill, if any, they will actually vote on.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But a real contrast with what the House was doing under Republican control.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's drill down on the first of those.

    It's HR-1, the government reform bill. What's in it? What do the Democrats want to do?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    HR-1, the first bill, right.

    This is a sweeping bill. It includes many items. Let's start right away with they want to roll back Citizens United, make it tougher for these PACs and special interest groups to have so-called dark money in campaigns.

    Also, they would allow public financing of campaigns. It would actually help out small donations. If you got a small donation, the government would add six times that donation to your campaign.

    Next, automatic voter registration. This is part of a voting rights package in this bill. And, also, it would include new rules attempting to end gerrymandering, which, of course, goes back to the very beginning of our democracy.

    Now, this hearing today, there was a hearing, as you see, on this. And it was very heated, Judy. Democrats said voting rights are being suppressed, and this bill addresses that. Democrats pushed back and — I'm sorry — Republicans pushed back and said, this is a grab for power by Democrats.

    One other item that's in this bill that I think will be of interest, this bill would insist, would demand the president and vice president disclose their tax returns for the past 10 years.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    An issue — it's been an issue for President Trump.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, so assuming the Democrats can get all this done in the House — and they do have the majority — what about the Senate?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    This will be a quick answer.

    Almost all of these items have nearly no future in the Senate, with the possible exception of infrastructure and bills on drug prices. We will have to see what those bills contain, though. That's — the devil is in the details.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Lisa, as we mentioned in the news summary, the speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said today it looks like there may be some progress, lo and behold, the joint House-Senate conference committee looking at border security. What are you hearing?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    I was outside their meeting today. And this is actually a bipartisan story here. Those appropriators got in the room. They were talking to Border Patrol and Customs officials.

    And what's significant, Judy, is they went mile by mile and went through different types of fences and borders, where they might go. And the whole point of this, Democrats and Republicans told me, very significantly, is so they would operate on the same group of facts.

    What is it that Border Patrol says it needs and where? So they have come down to this idea of somewhere between zero and 300 miles of border barriers. Could be different types of barriers. And what we see now here is an actual substantive conversation happening behind closed doors.

    That's why there's hope for a deal. However, it is, again, the devil being in the details. I don't think we will see a deal this week by Friday, perhaps over the weekend or next week. We're going to watch carefully.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But by the deadline?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    There is hope. It's not clear. There could have to be another short-term funding bill, or we could risk another shutdown.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But they are making progress.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right now, they are.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And the president's talking about over 200 miles, but you're saying it's somewhere in that vicinity.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It's somewhere in that zero to 250, 270.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The devil is in the details, as always.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Lisa Desjardins, thank you.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    You're welcome.

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