A Republican House that has supported and protected President Trump would be replaced by a chamber eager to thwart his agenda and investigate his administration at every turn if Democrats prevail in Tuesday’s midterm elections.
Democrats intend to make a package of anti-corruption measures aimed at strengthening ethics laws, protecting voter rights and cracking down on campaign finance abuses among their first pieces of legislation, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told The Washington Post in recent days.
Pelosi added they hope to follow with legislation aimed at lowering the cost of prescription drugs and rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure — both areas, infrastructure in particular, where they see the possibility of common ground with Trump.
“That is something he wants to do,” Pelosi said Tuesday evening in an interview on PBS NewsHour, referring to infrastructure. “It’s always been nonpartisan — always been nonpartisan. Hopefully we can work together to advance that agenda.”
The Democratic plans will come to fruition only if Democrats succeed in winning dozens of seats around the country now held by the GOP, many of them in suburban districts where polls suggest women voters in particular have soured on Trump. Early returns showed the party winning two GOP-held seats, as well as leading in other races they’d need to retake the majority.
But just before 9 p.m., polls remained open in some states and votes remained uncounted in many more, leaving control of the House very much in doubt.
In the two Democratic pick-ups, Democrat Jennifer Wexton beat incumbent Republican Barbara Comstock in northern Virginia, while in Florida, Democrat Donna Shalala beat Republican Maria Elvira Salazar in the seat being vacated by longtime Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Republicans saw good news in Kentucky, where incumbent GOP Rep. Andy Barr held off a strong challenge from Democrat Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot.
Heading into Election Day, even Republicans said their best-case scenario in Tuesday’s voting was a narrower House GOP majority than the 45-seat margin they now command. Republicans have already said that, if returned to power in the House, they would get to work on a new 10 percent tax cut for the middle class announced by Trump in the closing days of the campaign.
“We’ve known from the beginning that history was not on our side this election cycle. And the big money was not on our side,” House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said, predicting a five-seat GOP margin early Tuesday, citing a “motivated base” on the Democratic side that inundated Republican incumbents with small donations to their challengers.
Control of the Senate is also up for grabs Tuesday. If it remains in GOP hands and the House flips to Democrats, gridlock could become the order of the day. That could mean an impasse on issues including immigration, guns and health care — the topic that, more than any other, defined House races around the country this campaign season.
Whichever party ends up with the House majority, both the Democratic and Republican caucuses are facing potentially messy struggles to determine who leads them into Washington’s next chapter. And each party faces internal ideological differences that would complicate their ability to enact a unified agenda.
Pelosi would be the front-runner for speaker if Democrats retake the majority, but a number of Democratic candidates distanced themselves from her in the course of the campaign, throwing her ascent into question.
If Democrats fail to take control, there are certain to be widespread calls for change, and “House Democrats will have to evaluate whether it’s time to move in a different direction” with regard to leadership, said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.).
If Democrats retake the majority, it will be thanks to many moderate candidates who beat Republicans in districts that voted for Trump. But the party would welcome newcomers who ran on distinctly progressive agendas calling for Medicare-for-all or abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. That mix would be certain to create tensions over the party’s priorities, especially with a restive liberal base that has already begun calling for impeachment proceedings against Trump.
On the GOP side, with House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) retiring from Congress, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is his likeliest successor as the top Republican leader in the majority or minority. But he may not get there without a fight, since Scalise is also eyeing the job, and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a leader of the House Freedom Caucus, is the choice of some conservatives.
If Republicans hold the House but have a smaller margin, the Freedom Caucus — a bloc of conservative members that has proven difficult for successive leaders to control — could gain even more clout in a smaller Republican conference, pulling House Republicans to the right and making dealmaking with Democrats and with the Senate even tougher.
Tuesday’s voting capped intense House races around the country that saw many Republicans on defense over health care, as Democrats challenged GOP attempts to rip up the Affordable Care Act and its landmark protections for people with preexisting conditions. Republicans who rode their opposition to“Obamacare” to the House majority in 2010 were forced to backtrack in race after race, insisting that they actually did support preexisting condition protections.
Despite the strong economy and Republicans’ success in pushing a $1.5 trillion tax cut package into law, those achievements were not central to many GOP campaigns. Instead many Republicans went negative, following Trump’s lead in raising fears about illegal immigration and crime, while casting Democrats as overly liberal and linking them to Pelosi.
“They still have a big internal struggle within their ranks, win or lose,” Scalise said of Democrats. “There are a lot of Democrat members that don’t like Nancy Pelosi’s agenda. They’re just afraid to take it on. And I think they’re going to have to confront their internal struggles as soon as this election is over.”