Finally, after a week, we know the outcome of the 2022 midterm elections. The Democrats won, sort of. They unexpectedly retained control of the Senate but lost control of the House. Election denial and Donald Trump were the big losers. Joe Biden was the winner. Democracy and common sense prevailed.
So, everything is going to be better now, right? Yes, sort of. A repeat of January 6, 2021, and the return of Trump in 2024 is now less likely. Republicans will be less likely to block Biden judicial nominees. But there remains a lot to worry about. Despite the Democratic party win, the next two years will be troubled ones. While the Second Era of Trumpism was avoided, it is unclear what we will get instead. That is what divided government and political instability are all about.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was jubilant when it became clear he would keep his job. Democrats expected to lose. Unexpected wins are particularly exciting. But the party’s majority will be, at best, only one seat. That majority could be lost if a few Democrats switched parties (think Sinema of Arizona or Manchin of West Virginia). And that pair of “moderates” may redouble their efforts to block any new Biden spending legislation.
The Republican win of the House makes the precarious situation in the Senate worse. Even if the Republicans enjoy a House majority of only one or two seats, they will be able to block most legislation that they do not like. Bills that the party opposes will not even make it to the full House of Representatives for a vote if the party’s leadership can secure loyalty on the House Rules Committee.
Because of the power to block legislation inherent in Republican control of the House, the Senate will have to craft any legislation it hopes to pass to address Republican concerns. The passage of progressive legislation will be much more difficult than in the last Congress. And, if Republicans attempt to scale back things like aid to Ukraine, Biden’s foreign and military policy will be impacted.
In both Houses of Congress there will be defections on the Republican side on some legislation—members voting with the Democrats. Some House Republicans won in Democratic districts and are not likely to jeopardize their re-election prospects by blindly voting along party lines. Still President Biden will not be able to count on defections in many instances. Thus, we are likely to enter a period of legislative stalemate. That may be what the Republicans want, but it’s not good for America, especially if the country enters a recession or faces other challenges requiring quick, bold action.
Let’s also look at what the House majority will do. First, while the odds of impeaching Joe Biden (for what?) are decreased given the slim Republican majority, the opportunity to abuse the House’s investigative and oversight authorities is increased. Hearings into the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Nancy Pelosi’s response to the January 6 riot, Joe and Hunter Biden’s business dealings, the FBI seizure of documents at Mar-a-Lago and more are likely. It will be ugly. The goal will be to discredit Democrats so that the Republicans gain a political advantage in the 2024 elections.
Importantly, the House will also be subject to the instability inherent in a razor-thin majority. A few deaths or resignations could flip the House back to the Democrats. It is also conceivable that a Republican member or two could change parties, especially if the Republican party implodes along with Donald Trump’s dream of a return to the White House.
One final comment. What does the House majority mean to Andy “Handgun” Harris? Legislatively, not much. He has never been much interested in legislation, even where it will directly benefit the First District. Instead, Harris is likely to become part of the Freedom Caucus effort to replace presumed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) with someone more conservative. One article I read suggested that some members want to elect Donald Trump to the post, legally possible because the Speaker does not need to be a Member of the House.
Given Harris’ record, it is easy to imagine him voting for Trump one last time. That is sad.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.