9 Nov 2018
Democrats Retake House, Republicans Keep Senate in Mid-term Elections
The Democratic Party made considerable gains in the mid-term elections held on 6 November and will control the House of Representatives until at least 31 December 2020, as well as seven or more additional state governorships. However, the Republican Party was able to both defend and increase its majority in the Senate and retain a number of key House seats that the Democratic leadership had real hopes of capturing. Additionally, the Republicans retained the key governorships of Florida and Ohio and are also likely to prevail in Georgia.
While a few House and Senate races remain too close to call, as of late afternoon 8 November the Democrats had picked up 32 House seats for a 225-seat strong majority in that chamber with two races still undecided. Since only 218 seats are needed to hold the majority, the Democrats will control the agenda in the House for the next two years.
At the same time, Republicans took advantage of a favourable electoral map to pick up at least two seats in the Senate for a 51-seat majority and could conceivably add three more seats if they ultimately prevail in the closely contested races in Arizona and Florida as well as in a run-off election for the second Mississippi Senate seat. This would give the Republicans a significant 54-to-46 advantage for the next two years, albeit short of a 60-vote filibuster-proof majority. The two independent senators (Sen. Sanders of Vermont and Sen. King of Maine) were easily re-elected and are expected to continue to caucus with the Democrats. It is important to note, however, that every two years one-third of the Senate is up for re-election and in the current election cycle the Democrats were defending 25 seats while the Republicans were only defending nine.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California) is likely to be the next speaker of the House while Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Republican-Texas) is expected to be minority leader. Rep. Richard Neal (Democrat-Massachusetts), who is viewed as a moderate on trade, is projected to replace Rep. Kevin Brady (Republican-Texas) atop the influential Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over international trade issues in the House. Four Republican members of the Ways and Means Committee – Reps. Bishop (Michigan), Curbelo (Florida), Paulsen (Minnesota) and Roskam (Illinois) – lost their re-election bids. The loss of these four pro-trade Republicans from the committee, combined with the retirement, resignation and departure of others to seek higher office, resulted in a total loss of 12 Republicans from the committee. Additionally, because the Republicans no longer have the majority in the House the total number of seats reserved for them will be reduced (it is expected that only three to four new members will be appointed to this powerful committee). By comparison, the Ways and Means Democrats suffered only one retirement (Rep. Levin of Michigan) as well as the loss of Rep. Crowley of New York, who was defeated in a June primary. New York Democrat Eliot Engel is expected to head the House Foreign Affairs Committee while New Jersey Democrat Frank Pallone is expected to lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Fewer changes will take place on the Senate side given the continuing Republican control of that chamber. Retiring Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (Republican-Utah) is projected to be replaced by Sen. Chuck Grassley (Republican-Iowa), a former chairman of the committee. Sen. Ron Wyden (Democrat-Oregon), meanwhile, is expected to remain as ranking member. Retiring Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (Republican-Tennessee) is projected to be replaced by Sen. James Risch (Republican-Idaho), with Sen. Bob Menendez (New Jersey) expected to remain as ranking member on the Democratic side. Finally, Sen. Roger Wicker (Republican-Mississippi) is likely to assume the chairmanship of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee but things are unclear on the Democratic side because current ranking member Sen. Bill Nelson is trailing his Republican opponent in a very tight Florida Senate race.
The new Democratic majority in the House is expected to take advantage of its subpoena powers to probe into President Trump’s current and past dealings while concurrently seeking to derail the president’s key legislative priorities. In this regard, it remains to be seen if and when the recently-announced U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement moves forward under a Democratically-controlled House. A relatively short lame-duck legislative session will likely be held in November and early December, prior to the establishment of the new Congress. That session could potentially yield a 10 percent tax cut for middle class Americans as well as the approval of various appropriations bills, tax extenders legislation and various other measures.