Democrats retook the U.S. House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm elections while Republicans preserved control of the Senate, creating a divided Congress that will put up roadblocks to President Donald Trump’s legislative agenda in the coming two years.
The result, which was expected, also serves as at least a partial rebuke of Trump, who had held numerous rallies across the country in support of Republican candidates and repeatedly insisted the election was essentially a referendum on his presidency.
“Today is more about Democrats and Republicans, it’s about restoring constitutional checks and balances to the Trump administration,” said Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California in a victory speech at Democratic party headquarters in Washington.
With control of the House for the first time in eight years, Democrats can do more than just obstruct Trump’s legislative priorities. They will also be able to go on the attack, taking leadership of crucial House committees that have strong investigatory powers. Some Democrats have suggested they will demand to see the president’s tax returns and investigate his personal finances and business interests, as well as his 2016 presidential election campaign’s ties to Russia.
“It is a critical check on Trump,” says University of Virginia analyst Larry Sabato. “Big legislation with an ideological tint, left or right, won’t pass for the next two years. Democrats now have the power of subpoena so Trump and his administration can expect to be investigated rather than protected by the House.”
But by retaining control of the Senate, Republicans will preserve the ability to confirm Trump’s judicial and other nominees. The Republican-led Senate also could prevent Congress from removing Trump from office, if the Democratic-controlled House decides to move forward with impeachment proceedings, as some have hinted.
‘Blue wave’ in House
Though votes are still being counted, Democrats are projected to pick up over 30 seats in the House, a little more than the 23 votes they needed to claim the majority. That is consistent with many pre-election polls and analysis that predicted a “blue wave,” a major Democratic victory.
The Democratic victory drew in large part on a coalition of minority voters, young people and those in urban and suburban swing districts, many of whom were upset over Trump’s style of leadership and harsh language about immigrants and minorities.
“The demographic crisis has finally hit,” says Evan Siegfried, a Republican analyst. “And in a way that is brutal and is decimating the Republican Party.”
That trend was evident in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, where Jennifer Wexton, a lawyer and state senator, defeated the Republican incumbent, Representative Barbara Comstock.
In New Jersey, Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and political novice, defeated Republican Jay Webber, winning a seat that had been held by Republicans for over three decades.
Though polls had suggested healthcare and the economy were main issues for voters, Trump was never far from voters’ minds.
A CNN national exit poll suggested 55 percent of voters disapprove of Trump’s performance while 44 percent approve of it. Moreover, 56 percent of those surveyed believe the country is on the wrong track and only 41 percent said it was on the right track.
Republicans keep Senate
However, Republicans are expected to increase their 51 to 49 seat hold on the Senate by three seats.
The White House said early Wednesday that Trump called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “to congratulate him on the historic Senate gains.” Trump also spoke with outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is retiring in January, as well as Pelosi.
Democrats’ Senate chances were dealt a major blow in Indiana, where Republican businessman Mike Braun pulled off an upset win against incumbent Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly. In Tennessee, Democrat Phil Bredesen, the state’s ex-governor, lost to Republican Marsha Blackburn to fill the seat of retiring Sen. Bob Corker. Blackburn will become Tennessee’s first female senator. And in Missouri, two-term Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill was defeated by state Attorney General Josh Hawley.
In one of the closest watched races in the country, Democrat Beto O’Rourke, who just months ago was a relatively unknown congressman from El Paso, narrowly lost to Republican Senator Ted Cruz. Still, O’Rourke, an unabashed progressive lawmaker with a gift for fundraising, is widely considered to be a prominent Democratic presidential contender in 2020.
Women also played a major role in the election.
A record 237 women ran in House races and 23 in Senate races across the country, including 185 Democrats and 52 Republicans. Their wins are likely to boost the percentage of women in Congress beyond 20 percent for the first time. Many stepped up as candidates in the last two years, energized by reports of Trump’s behavior toward women, the rise of the #MeToo movement that has publicized the pervasiveness of sexual assault, and Republican policy platforms on issues including the right to abortion.
Christopher Borick, a political science professor and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, says the role women played in this election lived up to expectations.
“We’re seeing a vast increase in the percentage of women that will be within in the House of Representatives. I’ll give you an example in Pennsylvania, which is kind of the one of the most striking scenes. Before this election we had zero, not one member of an 18-seat congressional delegation that was a woman. Tonight, just in suburban Philadelphia, in the Lehigh Valley where I’m speaking from, four women won in a really tight area,” Borick said.
Winners included the first two Muslim women in Congress, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, and the first Native American woman, Sharice Davids from Kansas. First-time female congressional candidates also won in states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. The surge reflects the preferences of female voters, who have also been motivated by Trump’s reputation with women and by candidates who have increasingly spoken on their particular issues as parents and employees.
CNN’s exit poll showed 80 percent of voters said it was important for more women to be elected. (VOA)