Midterms are (Almost) Over - What Happens Now?

By Bill Phan

While there are still a handful of races up in the air in states like California and New York, it is now a reality that Democrats have taken back a majority in the US House of Representatives, while Republicans have gained at least one more seat, adding to a 52 seat majority in the US Senate.

What does this mean for politics? Well, Congress is probably going to be even more gridlocked. All pieces of legislature needs majorities from both the House and Senate to pass and become law, so this means, according to USA Today, that both parties must be willing to be bipartisan and accept a moderation of their approaches if they want to get infrastructure, trade, welfare and healthcare reform.

Will there be more drama?

Americans are in an era of more division than ever. Self-identified independents  are declining, giving way to more people identifying themselves with a party. This polarization is bound to make politicians even more bold, exactly the opposite of what they should logically do if they want progress. And if they’re more bold, they’ll be more dramatic.

But some politicians, especially newcomers to Congress, aren’t having it with incremental (gradual) change. Further left representative-elects  like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has expressed her frustration with politicians looking for an approach nearer to the center, viewing it as detrimental to her progressive goals.

This clash between centrist (some might say corporate) and progressive Democrats is most certainly bubbling up, echoing the rift between the Clinton and Sanders wing of the Democratic Party in 2016. A conflict inside the incoming majority for the House is centered around whether to hand Nancy Pelosi, the current Minority Leader, the Speaker’s gavel once more. Nine Democrats so far have pledged to not vote for Pelosi, citing a need for new, younger, and bolder leadership. At this point though, it seems likely that Pelosi will once again be sworn in as the next Speaker.

What will Democrats do?

According to NBC News, Democrats, with their regained control of the House, will be pursuing policy proposals. This will be a much more difficult process though because, “they won't have a Democratic Senate or president to help turn their legislative dreams into reality.”

Outside of policymaking, Democrats are more concretely expected to focus on investigating the executive branch, including the President, his cabinet, and his connection to Russian interference into the 2016 election. Subpoenas are on the table, according to Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the expected Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md), the expected Chairman of the Oversight committee also promises to look at Trump administration policies of family separation at the US-Mexico border.

The Ways and Means committee could also investigate Trump’s tax returns, something he has not disclosed, breaking a norm presidents for the past 40 years have followed, according to CNN.t

What will Republicans do?

With a Senate even more firmly in their control than before the midterms, Republicans still are able to do all that the Senate could, such as approving cabinet and judicial nominees (judges).

This power will most likely come in handy with the dismissal of Jeff Sessions from the top job at the Department of Justice, leaving the seat temporarily filled by Matthew Whittaker, Sessions’ chief of staff. It is practically certain that either Whittaker or another Republican will fill the seat permanently in the future, as appointments are approved by a Republican-controlled Judiciary committee.

This ability to determine the leadership of the Justice Department means that the Senate could appoint someone who will protect the president from the Mueller investigation, something Whittaker has expressed willingness to do. Upon his acceptance of the post, oversight of the investigation was also given, letting Whittaker possibly affect the it.

While the House holds the power to recommend impeachment articles, the Senate ultimately holds the final vote to indict and remove the official from office. This is probably Trump’s final safeguard against leaving the White House if Democrats choose to explore that option, something top Democrats say is not productive.

Republicans’ control of the Senate also means control of all Senate committees. This means that the passing of bills (something that requires a final Senate vote) is controlled wholly by these committees, which will determine if bills are reviewed or voted on at all.