House Democrats flex new powers with hearings on guns, climate change

The morning after the State of the Union Address, instead of responding to the speech by President Donald Trump to a Joint Session of Congress, Democrats in the House launched an array of hearings on their own legislative agenda, pressing for action on gun violence, climate change, ethics reforms, health care, and the impact of the recent partial government shutdown.

"Today we turn the page from climate change denial to climate action," said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), as he kicked off the first hearings in eight years in the House on global warming issues.

"There is no 'planet B,'" said Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI), "we desperately need to work together to stop climate change."

The witnesses at one hearing included Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, who told lawmakers of the damage and heavy rains in the Tar Heel State from Hurricane Florence in 2018, which he said was intensified by climate change.

In another hearing room, a separate House panel was holding the first hearing in over eight years on gun violence, as lawmakers looked at a Democratic plan for universal background checks on all gun sales, public and private.

"We have all had enough," said Aalayah Eastwood, who survived a mass school shooting last year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, part of a group of witnesses asking for new gun actions by Congress, highlighted by expanded background checks.

"I believe the legislation will save at least one life," said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo. "Is a little inconvenience too much to save that life?"

Acevedo conceded that expanded background checks certainly won't end gun violence, but he argued to lawmakers that it was still the right move for Congress.

"Our communities can be safe from gun violence - and requiring background checks on every gun purchase is a simple, commonsense way to prevent dangerous people from getting their hands on deadly weapons," said Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA).

"For too long, Congress has offered thoughts and prayers," said Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC).

As Democrats advanced their plans, Republicans pushed back across the board.

"We're far too comfortable offering bills to constrain law-abiding citizens, without protecting them from people doing great harm," said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), who accused Democrats of trying to 'criminalize the Second Amendment' with the expanded background checks bill.

The hearing on background checks was punctuated a number of times by sharp partisan exchanges, as was a hearing on federal ethics reforms before the House Oversight Committee.

No matter what Democrats are able to pass in the House on a variety of issues - like guns, climate change, and more - those plans would be unlikely to get through the U.S. Senate.

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