by Will Holland '20
Democrats seized control of the House of Representatives on Tuesday night, garnering what is projected to be a near thirty seat majority in the 116th Congress. Meanwhile, Republicans added to their majority in the Senate, with the potential of a gain of one to three seats as of Saturday.
The different direction in both chambers appeared to reflect the growing polarization of the nation, with Democrats taking back the House due to suburban rejection of President Trump and the GOP adding to their Senate majority with help from gains in rural, overwhelmingly white states in North Dakota, Indiana, and Missouri. The result only accentuated the division first observed in the wake of the 2016 election, with college educated and women voters favoring the Democrats and less educated and male voters the Republicans.
President Trump sounded confident in his remarks on Wednesday morning, declaring that the election was “close to a complete victory” and promising to investigate Democrats if they attempted to use their power in the House to subpoena him for his tax returns. Despite his confrontational approach and rush to appear as the winner on Tuesday night, the President will face a new reality in January with regard to his legislative agenda.
Any new attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, cut corporate taxes, or roll back environmental regulations are sure to be dead on arrival in a Democratic House. Furthermore, the House Intelligence Committee under the chairmanship of Adam Schiff (D-CA) is set to be a thorn in the president’s side as it begins to investigate his ties to Russia and their past business dealings. Such requests have been non-existent under the Republican leadership of the Committee as Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) has seemed less than eager to probe the president’s alleged malfeasance.
Furthermore, the suburban shift to the Democrats is a warning to Republicans seeking to maintain their hold on the Senate and White House in 2020. That year, Republicans will be defending key Senate seats in Maine, North Carolina, and Colorado while the president tries to replicate his surprise electoral college victory in 2016. Across the nation, signals of an uphill climb were evident in states key to another Republican victory.
In Georgia, a state more Republican than North Carolina, Democrat Stacey Abrams came within just a few percentage points of winning the governorship and in Colorado, Democrat Jared Polis was elected governor with a win of more than eight percentage points. Both candidates’ performances were based on strong support in the suburbs. Democrats also won both the state and governor races in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, the three states pivotal in assuring President Trump’s ascension to the White House.
The political ramifications that will develop as a result of Tuesday night should not overshadow the historic nature of the election. Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Debra Haaland (D-NM) became the first Native American women elected to Congress while Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) will become the first muslim congresswomen come January. Jared Polis (D-CO) became the first openly gay governor in the country’s history and Kristi Noem (R-KS) will become the first female governor of Kansas. However, no statistic is more striking than the more than the number of female candidates that won election to Congress on Tuesday. For the first time in the nation’s history, more than 100 women will sit in Congress.
The political climate is unlikely to ease in the future. After the defeat of moderate members of the party, many Republicans remaining in the House of Representatives will be steadfastly loyal to the president. Likewise, some members of the Democratic caucus might call for impeachment. While the potential for a compromise over an infrastructure bill remains, its chances will most likely be determined by the relationship the president forges with the new Speaker.
For now, one party-rule is over. President Trump will have to cope with a Congress that does not adhere to his legislative demands and at times seeks to weaken his position as chief executive. How the president deals with the challenge remains anybody’s guess.