Voters sent mixed messages Tuesday about Donald Trump’s chaotic and self-described “nationalist” presidency, handing Democrats control of the House while expanding Republicans’ Senate majority.
Democratic control of the House and Republican control of the Senate likely ends the latter’s push for additional tax cuts and opens a several months-long window for some kind of sweeping bipartisan deal on infrastructure or immigration somewhat possible.
The split-decision midterm elections could have been much worse for Trump and his party, who just a few months ago feared a “blue wave” — fueled by frustration among voters about Trump’s at-times confounding tactics — would spawn a large House Democratic majority as well as control of the Senate agenda.
On the one hand, Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the new Congress will be able to continue their methodical remake of the federal judiciary in a conservative mold. But on the other, Trump must now deal with a likely Speaker Nancy Pelosi — and a list of soon-to-be Democratic committee chairs eager to begin investigating many facets of Trump’s presidency.
How will the GOP president handle a Democratic-controlled House? “We’ll just have to work a little bit differently,” he told reporters Monday without describing any new tactics. By Wednesday morning, however, Trump showed he is mindful House Democrats likely will use their new powers to look into his presidency.
If House Democrats investigate him, the president tweeted Wednesday morning that he will press Senate Republicans to probe Democrats for alleged leaks of classified information "and much else." A climate of investigations could quickly poison any well of bipartisan legislative cooperation next year, analysts say.
The president spent the weeks and months before Election Day predicting Republicans would do better than the “blue wave” many political prognosticators had predicted. But he stopped talking about a “red wave” in late August. Still, with a Democratic House, investigations aplenty of his presidency are expected.
On the House side, expected Democratic chairs like Maryland’s Elijah Cummings of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and California’s Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee are gearing up to look into a slew of Trump matters.
Lisa Boothe, a senior fellow at the conservative Independent Women’s Voice expects Cummings’ panel will be the “most aggressive” in investigating Trump and Co. And expect a Chairman Schiff to “reignite” all things Russia as head of the Intelligence panel, according to Boothe.
“I don’t care,” Trump claimed Monday when asked about concerns House Democrats will seek his tax records, though he seemed more defensive two days later. “They can do whatever they want and I can do whatever I want.” He has resisted releasing his tax records, with White House aides contending he is still in the midst of what would be a lengthy IRS audit — although that does not prevent one from releasing tax returns.
But on his domestic agenda, Trump ran in 2016 as a business mogul whose career of striking real estate and other deals would allow him to move the country beyond the Obama era of Washington gridlock. But as chief executive, he has yet to sign a single major bipartisan bill other than one last month to combat the opioid crisis — and that one was mostly hashed out by lawmakers.
When Trump has gotten involved in cross-party efforts to craft and pass bills, they have quickly fallen apart. But now he has a chance to show his alleged deal-making bonafides.
So expect to hear a lot about Infrastructure Week or Weeks, as is more likely.
“There’s an infrastructure bill. This builder that became president would like to rebuild the infrastructure of America,” Vice President Mike Pence said the day before polls opened.
“We think there’s an opportunity to work in a bipartisan way in the Congress of the United States to advance that,” he added.
“It is important for us to keep in mind that there are so many things that pull us together,” Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., told CNN recently. “Whether us all being Americans or us all wanting better education for our kids or all wanting infrastructure improvements and crime reduction and things like that and just remembering that we can work together. There’s a path for doing it and there are so many goals that we share.”
A few weeks before Election Day, Pelosi cited infrastructure a policy area in which a House Democratic majority could potentially negotiate with Trump. But she was clear in her skepticism that a bill could actually make it to his desk.
“Does anybody feel confident about that? No,” she said when asked if she was confident that was an area Trump would work with them on. “I hope so.”
But beyond a likely try at a measure to address aging highways, bridges, airports, tunnels and seaports, just agreeing what major deals to pursue will prove challenging. That’s because the parties are drawn to the issues their bases feel most important — and those do not align.
“The Republican Party, under President Trump’s determined leadership, is focusing on immigration and the federal judiciary,” according to William Galston, a former Clinton White House aide.
“On the Democratic side, survey research has determined that health care, and in particular coverage for pre-existing conditions, is the top concern on the minds of many voters. They are also hitting women’s issues hard because survey research has determined that women are far more discontented than men with not only the policies of the Trump administration but also the personal conduct of the president.”
Meanwhile, Trump and Republicans candidates picked up late momentum with the confirmation fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and Trump’s insistence that Central American migrant caravans posed an existential threat to the United States.
The president jetted to battlegrounds like Florida (twice), Montana, Missouri (twice) and West Virginia as part of a six-day, eight-state, 11-rally full court press to drive up conservative turnout in competitive House districts and Senate races.
The president, like former President Ronald Reagan in 1986, was mostly focused on a handful of Senate fights as Republican leaders sought to not just maintain their majority but pick up a few seats.
He railed against Democrats as “crazy” and “loco,” and painted them as the party of high taxes, profits-killing regulations, Venezuela-like “socialism,” and crime-producing “open borders.”
And, to be sure, he used the presidential bully pulpit as a tool during the campaign’s final days, employing hawkish South Lawn mini-press conferences and Roosevelt Room remarks to warn the caravan he might send up to 15,000 U.S. military troops to the southern border and would order them – and law enforcement personnel – to consider any rocks thrown by the migrants “firearms.”
On Thursday night in Columbia, Missouri, Trump described the midterms as a “choice between jobs and mobs,” saying Democrats have gone “crazy.”
Ultimately, he got a split decision.