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A midterms for the ages: What Congress’ new set-up means for the political environment

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Days after tens of millions of Americans went to the polls, Republicans are just one seat away from gaining control in the House of Representatives. 

The final outcome hangs on the results of tight races in states including California, with thousands of votes still yet to be counted. 

The anticipated narrow win would certainly fall far short of the “red wave” predicted in the 8 November vote.

In the lead-up to the election, Republicans were expecting an overwhelming victory in the House due to high inflation, poor economic health and general political dissatisfaction with the Biden administration.

However strong support for the Democrats, who have controlled the house since 2019, mean the margin is one of the lowest in history – recalling to memory the slim nine-seat majority won in 2001. 

The midterm victory for the Republicans in the House would usher in an era of divided government for the last two years of President Biden’s first term. 

Usually midterm elections cause problems for incumbent presidents and their agendas, as they battle a smaller majority in their third year before becoming a ‘lame duck’ during the election period. 

However, whilst the slow and steady march to GOP control in the House will seriously hinder the President’s legislative agenda, the Democrats have managed to cement their control of the Senate. 

In the best result for Senate midterm control by a president since George W. Bush’s first-term midterm election in 2002, they held off the red wave in Congress’ upper chamber. 

The Democrats now lead 50 to 49 in the Senate, meaning that even if Republicans win the remaining race, VP Kamala Harris will be able to cast a tie-breaking vote. 

The holding of the Senate grants Democrats the ability to confirm Biden’s judicial appointments, including a Supreme Court nomination if it arises. 

This will help avoid a situation like in 2016 when Obama’s attempted appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court was rejected by the Republican-controlled Senate, and allow Biden to create a Democratic legacy on the US judiciary. 

Democrats will also be able to block legislative proposals from the Senate-controlled House. 

For example they could block abortion right bans attempted by the House, creating a firewall against the nationwide abortion ban that Republicans have threatened since the overturning of Roe v Wade. 

As Biden’s party were vindicated for holding onto the chamber in an extremely unpromising political environment, it was an election that just wouldn’t end for the GOP. 

The results are disappointing not just for Republicans but also for ex-President Donald Trump, and any supporters who had tethered themselves to his post-election lies. 

Voters across the US rejected each 2020 election outcome denier, with not one winning a 2022 race to run future elections in a swing state.

Instead of succumbing to high inflation anxiety, voters defied tradition and rallied around the incumbent, punishing Republicans who had opposed abortion rights and echoed Trump’s lies about election fraud. 

Having just announced his run for office, the Senate loss in a midterm plagued by competitive races has raised questions about Trump’s chances at another presidency. 

Failing to deliver on the “red wave”, the defeat of his allies, and the slow erosion of his grassroots support puts pressure on Trump’s campaign bid. 

However the unpredictable move is ever-strategic from the former president, with the early announcement more likely to deter other candidates and potentially win him the Republican nomination. 

With the younger, fresher rightwing Ron DeSantis winning the Governorship in Florida, Republicans are predicting a divisive primary season of new blood versus the old guard. 

With Biden’s once faltering position bolstered by these promising midterms, the ever-changing odds for the 2024 election have once again been turned on their heads. 

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