The midterms have become the mother of all checks and balances. The default outcome is a shellacking for the White House even though its occupant isn’t on the ballot, and polls suggest today’s voting will be on trend. It’s likely to mean
- a Republican takeover of the lower House;
- gridlock in Congress;
- two lame duck years for Biden; and
- a more granular sense for Americans of how the end of Roe v Wade affects turnout on each side and whether Trump can win in 2024.
Biden’s term so far has been about plodding into headwinds. War, inflation and a continuing pandemic have narrowed his options. His Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is an historic piece of climate action but he couldn’t even call it that for fear of offending West Virginians. Insofar as these elections are a verdict on his performance it will be one of frustration.
The Senate is a toss-up, but the Republicans have an 83 per cent chance of flipping at least five seats to win control of the House, according to FiveThirtyEight. Other pollsters forecast a 15-seat gain for the GOP.
What would that mean?
Paralysis. Legislation has to pass in both chambers of Congress to become law. A Republican-controlled House would vote down most new laws proposed by Democrats. House Republicans can introduce new bills too, but Biden has a veto on new laws and efforts to repeal old ones.
Debt poker. Congress sets limits on what the government can borrow and the debt ceiling routinely has to be raised to fund administration plans. That doesn’t mean House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, in his new job as Speaker, wouldn’t use debt-ceiling negotiations to force funding cuts. He’s done it before, ten years ago, when Biden was vice president. This time Medicare (expanded by Obamacare) and clean energy (incentivised by the $369 billion IRA) are thought to be on his hit list.
Oversight. A Republican-led House could stymie implementation of the IRA by alleging wrongdoing, then using its control of the Oversight and Reform Committee to investigate it. Chairmanship of the committee is likely to pass to the Kentucky Republican James Comer, who claims the Democrats’ agenda has opened the door to “waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement”. Conspiracy theorists Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert both want spots on the Oversight Committee too. Expect partisan scrutiny of every federal department involved in enacting the IRA.
Other investigations will be launched…
- Hunter Biden. Republicans want formal scrutiny of Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in China and Ukraine.
- Immigration. Concern about migration across the southern border has been campaign catnip for Republicans, who plan to question Biden’s homeland security secretary so thoroughly he’ll need a “reserved parking spot” on Capitol Hill.
… and scrapped:
- January 6th. The committee running the investigation into the plot to overturn the 2020 election will be disbanded if Republicans take the House.
- Department of Justice. In the wake of the FBI’s raid on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, authorised by attorney general Merrick Garland, McCarthy told Garland to “preserve your documents and clear your calendar”.
There’s also a possibility of impeachment efforts. Despite a lack of evidence of wrongdoing, Republicans have already filed multiple articles of impeachment against leading Democrats, including:
- 9 against Biden;
- 4 against Garland; and
- 1 against Vice President Kamala Harris.
Staying up late?
House races to watch to gauge how it’s going for the Republicans include:
- Virginia – the 7th district was recently redrawn with a new map favouring the Democrats. If Republican candidate Yesli Vega wins against the Democrat incumbent it’ll be a strong sign for the GOP.
- Oregon – Mostly reliably blue, Oregon has a few key seats that could turn red. The 5th district is the most likely to flip: if Lori Chavez-DeRemer wins it’ll be the first time the seat has returned a Republican in 25 years.
Trump says he’ll make a “big” announcement next Tuesday.
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