Dems take House but it may not be a party for the next two years
The Blue Wave hit a Red Wall and though the splash soaked the barrier, it didn’t do the damage a tsunami would have brought.
While Democrats celebrated their new-found ability to thwart President Trump and the GOP-controlled Senate, a resistance that will have a decided Massachusetts blue tinge to it, they will have to step carefully to turn their power into more broad-based support without being labeled obstructionist.
The Bay State delegation is in line to wield some outsized power as 2020 looms large on the horizon. Sen. Elizabeth Warren set herself up as the chief tormenter to Trump and a potential opponent with her resounding victory over soon-to-be former state Rep. Geoff Diehl, the president’s most vocal supporter in the Bay State after Howie Carr.
Despite the hardcore Democratic leanings of the state, though, a look at the map showed Diehl, and by extension Trump, had some solid support along the South Shore to the Cape as well as down the center of the state, a microcosm of the country where the south and Midwest remained strong Trump supporters.
US Reps. Richard Neal and Jim McGovern are in line for some heady chairmanships. Neal is the likely head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee and he’s promised a review of the Republican tax cut with a focus on potentially lifting the $10,000 cap on state and local tax deductions. But unlike the GOP’s failed pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, Neal and other Democrats have stayed away from promising something they can’t deliver in a divided government.
McGovern is slated to take over the House Rules Committee, where his late mentor and boss, Joseph Moakley, made his bones. The committee is the place that decides what bills see the floor and which ones die a slow death, setting the agenda for Congress for the next two years.
US Rep. Katherine Clark is also gaining some power despite her relatively brief tenure of five years. Clark, who headed the congressional campaign committee that worked to flip the House could become the fifth highest-ranking member of the caucus if she is elected vice chair as she hopes.
Clark will also be a member of another growing caucus – women. Fueled in great part by the #MeToo movement and anger at Trump’s treatment of women, a record number of female candidates were elected to the House, including two freshman from Massachusetts, Ayanna Pressley and Lori Trahan.
The chamber will likely be led by a woman, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who would become the second woman ever to wield the gavel as speaker. Eight years ago, she was the first. But there is resistance to Pelosi regaining power and one of the leading critics is Rep. Seth Moulton, who has been vocal about what he says is a need to change the party’s leadership. Moulton, who many believe has far greater ambitions than a House seat, could have a place at the table if someone like Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio challenges and beats Pelosi for the speakership. But if Pelosi succeeds, as many believe, Moulton could be on the fringes for the next two years.
The change means some ambiguity for Trump. The bombastic president will now have a new foil to pin his losses on and arouse his base. For every failed populist proposal, he’ll be able to point the finger at Democrats with an accusatory, “See what I mean?” And for those Democratic representatives from districts that supported Trump in 2016, they could be forced to find common ground with the president and buck their leadership if they feel threatened in 2020. All they have to do is look at the Senate, where Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Joseph Donnelly of Indiana, and possibly Jon Tester of Montana will be saying goodbye.
But while Trump touts his “big victory” in the election, it could be a pyrrhic win if the House flexes its muscle to launch investigations into Russian collusion, conflicts of interest and violations of the Emoluments Clause, and demands Trump’s tax returns. And, oh yeah, what about impeachment?
The midterm election, which exceeded turnout from the 2014 election by more than 37 percent, had a number of tea leaves to read but trying to figure out what they mean for 2020 and beyond will take some serious study. Both Democrats and Republicans have something to crow about as well as some things to be concerned about.
While the Democrats needed 23 seats to flip control of the House, they are projected to take over 36 seats when all the votes are counted. But the celebration is muted by the loss of at least three – and as many as five – seats in the Senate. Earlier this year, the party had hopes of regaining control of the Senate but as Election Day moved closer, those dreams were washed away. But the result was more disappointing because of the losses. In a quirk of population distribution, Democrats outpolled Republicans by 12 points in the popular vote yet dropped five seats and turned just one and appear to have been unable to wrest control of the Arizona Senate seat being vacated by GOP Trump critic Jeff Flake.
Part of the Democratic takeover of the House was fueled by a court-ordered redistricting map in Pennsylvania, which had favored Republicans, but too much, in the opinion of the state’s Supreme Court. The redrawn districts enabled Democrats to take over three former Republican seats and look to the states where new blue governors could help them at least kill formerly favorable GOP gerrymandering.
Going into the election, Republicans held a 33-17 advantage in corner offices but voters flipped seven of those posts, making it a 26-24 margin favoring the GOP. Among those defeated were Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and, in a loud rebuke to Trump, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who led the president’s much-maligned commission looking for nonexistent voter fraud.
With the 2020 Census bearing down and the redistricting that will follow, Democrats will have a much louder voice in the cartology that had grown to favor red candidates. Even in those states with a split governance, Republicans will have to work around a Democratic gubernatorial veto to come up with a more even-handed map.
In a side note, the shifts in the House could also result in a change in the nation’s marijuana laws. Michigan voters approved legalizing recreational sale and use, though North Dakota voters said no. But Utah and Missouri joined 31 other states approving medical marijuana. The changes put further pressure on Congress to alter federal laws classifying marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. Added to that is the defeat of US Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, who as chair of the House Rules Committee had blocked amendments to change the cannabis laws. McGovern, Sessions’s potential successor, voted in favor of Massachusetts law legalizing adult use marijuana and has bristled at Republican House leaders’ efforts to block votes on reform.
Perhaps if the prohibition ends nationally, everyone can share a joint and chill out for the next few years. It’s going to be quite a ride.