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Trump's path without one-party rule?

Trump's path without one-party rule?

November 9th, 2018 by Carl Leubsdorf in Opinion Columns

In the first two years of Donald Trump's presidency, Republicans were able to focus congressional action on their agenda—tax cuts, Obamacare reform, judicial confirmations—thanks to their control of the White House, the House and the Senate.

But their one-party rule ended abruptly Tuesday when an outpouring of suburban voters enabled Democrats to recapture the House. Though Republicans retain the presidency and even increased their majority in the Senate, the focus during Trump's second two years will shift to Democratic Party priorities—infrastructure rehabilitation, election reform and, above all, restoring congressional oversight of the many questionable actions by the president and his appointees.

In a sense, that will put a burden on Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate's majority leader. Little can get done legislatively unless the town's two top Republicans are willing to work with the new House Democratic majority, though the GOP's increased Senate majority will ensure Trump can win confirmation of most judicial and executive branch nominees.

Trump made a congratulatory phone call Tuesday night to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, after the former and perhaps future House speaker declared, "A Democratic Congress will work for solutions that bring us together, because we have all had enough of division."

And at an East Room news conference Wednesday at which he hailed GOP Senate successes, Trump said he sees "a very good chance" for bipartisan agreements with the new House Democratic majority on issues like health, drug prices and infrastructure.

Still, it seems doubtful partisan divisions of recent years will magically vanish when the 116th Congress convenes in January. Over the long term, these four other aspects of Tuesday's elections could have greater impact:

  • ┬áVoters across the industrial Midwest reversed their 2016 political course by electing or re-electing Democratic governors, re-electing Democratic senators and adding five Democratic House members in the three states that gave Trump his victory—Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That strengthens the party's position in states likely to be crucial again in 2020 and lays the basis for them to revamp the pro-Republican districting that similar GOP victories produced after 2010. But Democrats fell short of their pre-election hopes by failing to win governorships in Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Ohio.
  • ┬áSuburban voters, long a key voting bloc enabling national Republican victories, continued their swing away from a Trump-dominated GOP that emerged last year in Virginia and elsewhere by helping to elect many of the nearly three dozen new House Democrats. Besides disdain for Trump's hardline policies on issues like immigration, their votes reflected the fact he has not tried to broaden his political base of support. Failure to reverse that trend could be disastrous for him in 2020.
  • ┬áVoters in the potentially swing states of Florida and Georgia—as well as in Democratic Maryland and Republican Texas—rejected outspokenly liberal Democratic candidates who campaigned on the basis that the path to victory was a policy agenda aimed at increasing the turnout of younger and minority voters. Their failure should serve as a reminder to Democrats that the path to victory in 2020 is a more centrist course that appeals to independents as well as their party base.
  • Trump's unprecedented campaigning was crucial in enabling Republican challengers to oust at least four Democratic Senate incumbents in states he carried in 2016. But those successes only reinforced the narrowness of his base in an election in which Democrats nationally more than doubled their 3-point popular vote margin of 2016 in this year's 435 congressional contests.

In Washington, the first test of changed relations between Trump and Congress will come next week when lawmakers return to finish the current legislative session. Government funding expires Dec. 7, and partisan acrimony could shut down the government if the president persists in seeking full $25 billion funding for his anti-immigration wall.

Over the long term, outside events will test relations between Trump and the Democrats, primarily the onset of 2020 maneuvering and the likelihood Democrats will aggressively pursue the executive branch oversight that Republicans ignored, including seeking his long withheld income tax returns to probe potential conflicts of interests between his governmental actions and his financial investments.

But the single most dramatic—and most divisive—action Democratic leaders could undertake would be an investigation of whether Trump's efforts to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of his 2016 campaign merit impeachment proceedings.

But the expansion of the GOP's Senate majority makes it virtually impossible any House-passed impeachment resolution could gain the required two-thirds vote for conviction.

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