The US government may still be partially shutdown, but the 116th Congress has duly convened and Democrats are wasting no time after reprising their control of the House of Representatives and its powerful committees.

In a new research brief published today by the United States Studies Centre, Visiting Fellow Bruce Wolpe charts the key committee leadership changes, the new challenges that committee oversight and investigations will present the Trump administration, and where Australia should be watching for impacts on US foreign policy and trade.

"There will be titanic battles, as evidenced by the fight over the wall and the government shutdown, but that is but a prelude to what is coming soon to a majority of congressional hearing rooms," Mr Wolpe said.

"The Trump cabinet and senior officials are about to experience something they avoided in their first two years: critical — and often extremely hostile — examination under oath about what they do, why they do it, and who told them to do it."

Bruce Wolpe served as a senior advisor to the Democratic Chairman (and later Ranking Member) of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Henry Waxman. He is also the co-author of The Committee: A Study of Policy, Power, Politics and Obama’s Historic Legislative Agenda on Capitol Hill (University of Michigan Press, 2018).

Key points

  • The border wall-shutdown chaos, married with Washington’s longstanding hyper-partisanship, does not bode well for the next two years in terms of a unified Congress.
  • The legislative and oversight agenda of committees will be designed to help shape the contours of the 2020 presidential campaign and show the American people what the country would look like under a Democratic president and Congress.
  • While Australia’s interests will be affected by the work of the all-powerful Ways and Means Committee as it examines Trump’s trade deals, it is the activity in the Foreign Affairs Committee that will be directly pertinent to the conduct of US foreign policy overall.

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