House Democrats assess a transformed Washington after losing majority

House Democrats were knocked out of power at the polls this month, losing at least six seats to a Republican Party that will take control of the lower chamber next year with designs to neutralize President Biden through the second half of his first term.

CNN and NBC both projected that Republicans would take the House majority on Wednesday evening, with a handful of races still to be decided. Republicans could still win several more seats, but they are expected to have a very narrow majority.

The GOP takeover had been expected long before last week’s midterm elections, but it took eight days of counting close returns for Republicans to hit the magic number — 218 — that grants them control of the House in the next Congress.

The delay was an unwelcome development for GOP leaders, who charged into the elections with high expectations of sweeping vulnerable Democrats from battleground districts coast to coast. Their victory celebration was scheduled for election night, on Nov. 8. 

Instead, a vast majority of those Democratic “frontliners” held firm. And many of the races Republicans ultimately won were so close that verification took days. The surprising results mean that Republicans will take over the chamber next year with a much smaller majority than they had hoped — a dynamic that will likely create headaches for GOP leaders in managing a restive right flank.

Indeed, those internal struggles already surfaced this week surrounding Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) bid to win the Speakership next year. On Tuesday, McCarthy easily won the GOP nomination for that spot. But the three dozen Republican defectors were both a warning that he has work to do in order to secure the gavel when the full House votes on Jan. 3, and a preview of the internal battles to come, regardless of which Republican emerges as Speaker. 

Still, the midterm outcome lends enormous new powers to Republicans on Capitol Hill, transforming the workings of Washington after four years when Democrats ran the lower chamber. And the flip carries enormous implications for both parties heading into the final two years of Biden’s first term in the White House.

Most significantly, the president will no longer have his allies empowered to advance the administration’s legislative goals on the House floor, likely bringing Biden’s ambitious policy agenda to a screeching halt next year. 

Nor will Democrats be able to shield Biden on the committee level, where Republicans are already promising a long and growing list of politically fraught investigations into everything from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan to the overseas business dealings of the president’s eldest son Hunter Biden. 

Democrats are keenly aware of the potential political perils lurking behind such investigations. The House Republicans’ marathon Benghazi probe undermined Hillary Clinton’s prospects in the 2016 presidential race. And a steady focus on Biden controversies in the next Congress could do similar damage to the president and the Democrats heading into the 2024 cycle, when former President Trump could be on the ballot. 

And Republicans might not stop at mere investigations. 

Democrats, who had impeached Trump twice during his tenure, might find themselves on the other side of that issue under a GOP-controlled House, where conservatives are already making clear their intentions to impeach Biden, members of his Cabinet or both.

The midterm results also put a new spin on the old questions swirling around the future of the Democratic leaders in the lower chamber, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and her top two deputies — Reps. Steny Hoyer (Md.) and James Clyburn (S.C.) — have been in place for almost two decades. All three are in their 80s, and a younger group of ambitious lawmakers has been itching for years for the chance to climb into the leadership ranks. 

Four years ago, Pelosi had pledged to bow out of the top leadership spot at the end of this term — a promise Hoyer and Clyburn were not party to. But the Democrats’ overperformance on Election Day would have been impossible without Pelosi’s prodigious fundraising, and it’s sparked new chatter that the long-time Democratic leader could easily remain in power — if she chooses to do so.

The Speaker, true to style, has declined to announce her intentions. And the Democrats’ leadership elections are not scheduled until Nov. 30, lending her a window to weigh that decision. Still, the new midterm tally, sending Democrats into the minority next year, is expected to expedite her announcement. 

MeanwhilePelosi’s reticence has left other top leaders in a state of limbo, waiting for word of her plans so they can declare their own. 

Neither Hoyer nor Clyburn has ruled out another leadership bid. And a trio of younger Democratic leaders — Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), Katherine Clark (Mass.) and Pete Aguilar (Calif.) — are waiting to run for the top spots when the opportunity arrives. 

Jeffries, the current chair of the Democratic Caucus, is widely believed to be the favorite to replace Pelosi should she step down. But Hoyer has loyalists of his own. And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who built a national following as lead manager of Trump’s first impeachment, has raised enormous amounts of money this cycle and is said to be eyeing the spot. 

Other Democrats vying for leadership positions include Rep. Joe Neguse (Colo.), who’s seeking to replace Jeffries as Caucus chairman. And at least four lawmakers — Reps. Debbie Dingell (Mich.), Joyce Beatty (Ohio), Ted Lieu (Calif.) and Madeleine Dean (Pa.) — are competing to replace Aguilar as caucus vice chairman. 

Rounding out the list of top leaders, Rep. Tony Cárdenas (Calif.) has launched a run to lead the Democrats’ campaign arm in the next Congress, a spot soon to be vacated after Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney lost a tough reelection race in upstate New York. 

Rep. Ami Bera (Calif.), who was in charge of protecting vulnerable incumbents for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) this cycle, is expected to jump into the race against Cárdenas. 

There are other changes in store, as well. 

The Democrats’ 2023 roster was bound to look much different even long before the midterm results came in, due to a wave of retirements that featured some of the leading figures in the party. 

The list of outgoing lawmakers includes Reps. Pete DeFazio (Ore.), a 36-year veteran who heads the Transportation Committee; John Yarmuth (Ky.), chairman of the Budget Committee; Cheri Bustos (Ill.), who led the DCCC in the 2020 cycle; Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), a member of the Jan. 6 committee investigating last year’s attack on the Capitol and a co-chair of the centrist Blue Dogs; and Bobby Rush (Ill.), a 30-year veteran who remains the only politician ever to defeat Barack Obama in an election. 

The midterms also took a toll. And when they return next year, Democrats will be without several prominent lawmakers who lost reelection battles on Tuesday. That list includes Reps. Elaine Luria (Va.), another member of the Jan. 6 committee; Tom Malinowski (N.J.), a former human rights activist and diplomat under the Obama administration; and Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.), a Republican-turned-moderate Democrat who also co-chairs the Blue Dogs. 

Yet it was Maloney who was the biggest trophy for Republicans at the polls. The 10-year veteran proved highly successful in protecting vulnerable seats in a cycle when Democrats were expecting big losses, but he couldn’t protect his own. 

“It will take time to understand all of the races and their outcomes,” Maloney told reporters in Washington shortly after conceding to his Republican opponent. But even in defeat, he took a small victory lap. 

“If we fall a little short, we’re going to know that we gave it our all,” he said. “And we beat the spread.”


Source: Rocky Mountain News

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