Democrats reclaimed control of the House of Representatives Tuesday night after eight long years out of power, dealing a major setback to President Trump’s legislative agenda – but Republicans were able to expand their narrow Senate majority and, with it, preserve the ability to confirm crucial judicial nominees.
The split decision on Capitol Hill follows one of the most intense and chaotic midterm campaign seasons in recent memory, in which President Trump barnstormed the country for GOP candidates and powerful Democrats including predecessor Barack Obama did the same for the other side.
For his part, Trump was able to help prevent a total Democratic takeover in Congress, and he avoided a repeat of President Obama’s first midterm elections, when Democrats lost 6 seats in the Senate and 63 in the House.
Retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., said in a statement that “history had repeated itself” Tuesday night, noting that since 1862, the president’s party has lost an average of 32 House seats during the midterms. “I’m proud of the campaign that our members and candidates ran in a challenging political environment,” he said.
The president reacted positively but tersely to the results late Tuesday, writing on Twitter, “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” Hours later, he quoted author Ben Stein, who wrote that “there’s only been 5 times in the last 105 years that an incumbent President has won seats in the Senate in the off year election” and that Trump “has magic about him.”
Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 7, 2018
In a boost for Trump, the GOP’s continued hold on the Senate gives Republicans control over all critical federal judicial appointments, including nominations to the Supreme Court. Republicans flipped a number of marquee Senate seats on Tuesday, with wins by Josh Hawley over Sen. Claire McCaskill in Missouri, Rep. Kevin Cramer over Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, Republican Gov. Rick Scott over longtime Sen. Bill Nelson in Florida, and Mike Braun over Joe Donnelly in Indiana.
GOP Sen. Ted Cruz also held off an insurgent challenge from Beto O’Rourke in Texas by a slim margin. (Popular GOP Gov. Greg Abbott defeated Democrat Lupe Valdez by more than 14 points.)
“With gains in the Senate, Republicans defied history, an achievement reached only four times in history,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said, adding that the GOP had turned Democrats’ “tsumani into a ripple.”
But Democrats’ win in the House gives fresh hope to liberals who want to investigate and perhaps even impeach the president. The takeover in that chamber ensures a contentious next two years leading into the 2020 presidential elections.
Democrats will also be able to halt many items on Trump’s legislative wishlist, including funding for his proposed border wall and a new middle-class tax cut – or at least extract major concessions on issues like immigration reform before Trump gets his way.
Although the exact size of the parties’ respective majorities in the House and Senate is not clear, Democrats will soon have to decide whether to restore Nancy Pelosi to her old job as speaker of the House, which she held from 2007 to 2011.
“We will have a Congress that is open transparent and accountable to the American people,” Pelosi said Tuesday night. “We will work for the boldest common denominator.”
“Tomorrow will be a new day in America,” she added. “We have all had enough of division. The American people want peace. They want results.”
The midterms, Pelosi said, were primarily about “restoring the Constitution’s checks and balances to the Trump administration.”
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