As a Democrat, I felt that Tuesday’s midterms were a mixed bag. Democrats took control of the house, and Republicans kept control of the Senate, a result that was widely expected and a bit boring. Of course, a postmortem was and still is needed on the 2016 election. It was drama-rich and had a surprising result, so the election became ground zero for political pontification. Furthermore, Tuesday generally went how most political models and experts predicted, and it already looks like many are shifting their attention elsewhere, burying the lede, focusing instead on surprising and interesting individual races that could portend big things for the next presidential election. There are many individual races that I was happy with and others that I will spend time wishing had gone different ways. I was pretty disappointed that it looks like both Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum will lose their gubernatorial races. I was certainly happy that Angie Craig won her congressional race here in Minnesota’s second congressional district. And man, wouldn’t it have been cool if Beto O’Rourke had done the impossible in Texas. But at the end of the day, Democrats took control of the House, and that is what we should focus on.
To prove this point, I will spend this next paragraph highlighting some of the most common post-midterm musings that can cause people to ignore the impacts of a Democrat-controlled house. Experts will debate what Trump losing the House and keeping the Senate indicates about his popularity. Some will say the midterms are a win for the President; not since JFK has a sitting president’s party gained three Senate seats in a midterm. Some will say that Democrats gaining 34 House seats serves as a massive rebuke of the President and his policies. Pundits will, for the next two years, quibble about what the high voter turnout in these midterms suggests about who will sit behind the Resolute Desk on January 20, 2021. I am quite willing to be afflicted with a case of Beto 2020 fever and will continue to be alarmed by Trump’s seemingly supernatural ability to continue to turn out an extremely high number of base voters and what it says about his chances in 2020. However, the results of these midterms, independent of what they may or may not indicate about 2020, matter. They matter a lot, and that is something we can be sure of. Democrats won control of the House in what Obama called the most important election since his own in 2008. This legislative power shift will have resounding consequences far beyond Capitol Hill.
If we are intrigued by presidential politics because of the immense power a president has to shape the future of our country, legislatively and otherwise, then we should be equally intrigued by the Democrats’ newfound control of the House. The Democrats are in the driver’s seat in the House; let’s see what they can do!
In an election night speech, Nancy Pelosi, who most likely will reprise her role as Speaker of the House, articulated that Democrats will prioritize legislation that lowers the cost of prescription drugs and protect people with pre-existing medical conditions. Democrats will introduce stronger gun control legislation. And CNN Legal Analyst Elie Honig notes that “Democrats hold the all-important subpoena power in the house.” If the President, and whoever succeeds Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General, chooses to limit Mueller’s investigative powers, “House Democrats will have the ability to compel production of evidence and […] hold public hearings on any unresolved issue that might have fallen under Mueller’s purview.” Heck, now that Democrats have a majority in the House, they could even draw up articles of impeachment. An argument on the merits of what Democrats should do is one thing, but the majority that Democrats now have in the House should not be understated or ignored. Democrats have a new and powerful check against the President and have a real chance to move forward with their legislative agenda, and that makes me hopeful. While it is quite fun to cast broad platitudes on our country’s political future, let’s not ignore the here and now. I am not naive. Republicans still control the House and Trump is still the President, but Democrats have a golden opportunity, if not responsibility. I hope they don’t waste it.