Key Takeaways From the Midterm Elections: Washington, D.C.

by Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP
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It will take weeks, if not months, to fully unpack the data and understand the results of the 2018 election. However, one point is certain – voters were engaged in this midterm election. The nationwide turnout approaching 50 percent was the highest for a midterm since 1966. Democrats picked up more U.S. House seats than they have in any midterm election since 1974, three months after Richard Nixon’s resignation, and a dozen races still remain uncalled by the Associated Press. It is projected that Democrats will have picked up at least 37 seats when all of the races are certified.

Despite the strong Democratic gains in the House, Republicans expanded their majority in the U.S. Senate by defeating incumbent Senators Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). The outcome in Florida remains in doubt with Governor Rick Scott (R) holding a lead over incumbent Senator Bill Nelson (D) that is within the margin for a mandatory hand recount. It may be weeks before we know the outcome of that race. Similarly, the race for the open seat in Arizona remains undecided with Democrat Kyrsten Sinema holding a narrow lead over Republican Martha McSally. However, the ultimate results of these races will not determine the majority as Republicans have locked up control of the Senate.

We will most likely not see a great burst of federal legislation over the next two years. The potential areas for bipartisan legislation are narrow with House and Senate leadership deeply divided on what the priorities should be in the next Congress. The House will certainly step up oversight of the administration while the Senate will focus on confirming Trump appointees to replace outgoing Cabinet officials and vacancies on the federal bench.

House of Representatives

With the results of several seats still undecided, Democrats hold a 225-198 advantage in the House.

One challenge that Democrats will face is that it has been a while since they were in charge of the House, as they last wielded the speaker’s gavel in 2009-2010. While the core leadership team of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) remain in place, there are a number of House members slated for leadership positions who were not in Congress when Democrats last controlled the House. Adding the new members elected this year makes it difficult to determine where the focus of the House might be.

Despite commentary to the contrary, the blue wave in the House was not a liberal wave. Liberal groups spent months hyping progressive candidates in tough races across the country, saying that their victories would prove Democrats can safely nominate an unapologetic liberal for president in 2020. But they lost almost across the board. Two groups from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party, Our Revolution and Justice Democrats, failed to flip a single House seat. In comparison, the moderate New Democrat Coalition won in 23 of the 29 races where it backed candidates.

House Leadership and Committee Chairs

While Pelosi will have to formally be reelected as speaker of the House, she has repeatedly expressed confidence that she will retake the gavel despite some dissatisfied members who want a new leader. There is a sizable group of incoming Democratic freshmen who expressed opposition to Pelosi on the campaign trail. Some of those members have said they will not vote for Pelosi under any circumstance, whether in an internal party vote this month or in the January floor vote to choose a speaker. Others have been more circumspect, calling for new leadership but stopping short of ruling out support for Pelosi. In the end, Pelosi will most likely prevail and return as speaker.

Pelosi said that if Democrats win control of the House in the midterm elections that she expects all of the ranking members on House committees will become chairs of those committees in the 116th Congress. That means that the following members are most likely to chair these important committees:

Agriculture: Collin Peterson (Minn.)
Budget: John Yarmuth (Ky.)
Energy and Commerce: Frank Pallone (N.J.)
Financial Services: Maxine Waters (Calif.)
Intelligence: Adam Schiff (Calif.)
Judiciary: Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.)
Oversight: Elijah Cummings (Md.)
Transportation and Infrastructure: Peter DeFazio (Ore.)

House Agenda

House Democrats are expected to reintroduce their Better Deal legislative plan that includes proposals to lower the cost of prescription drugs and to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, both of which have been policy goals touted by Trump. They will also likely introduce bills to enhance election security and reduce the role of money in politics, which Pelosi recently said would be their first piece of legislation.

While they will advance these proposals, there will be only so much they can accomplish with President Trump in the White House and a GOP-controlled Senate – an approach more likely to lend itself to symbolic votes than actual law.

In the run-up to the election, many Democrats avoided discussing the possibility of impeachment, which, if it were acted on in the House, would likely be politically dead on arrival in the Senate. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi publicly dismissed it as “not a priority” for her party.

Senate

Senate Leadership and Committee Chairs

In the Senate, there are three Republican members – Hatch (Utah), Flake (Ariz.), and Corker (Tenn.) – who are retiring at the end of this Congress. Hatch is currently the chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is next in line for that gavel, but he may opt to remain chair of the Judiciary Committee. If he does stay at Judiciary, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) is the next most senior Republican. Sen. Corker is the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) is the next most senior Republican on that committee.

Senate Agenda

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that infrastructure, health care, and judicial appointments would be on the agenda in 2019. Expect the Senate to address fixes to the 2010 Affordable Care Act and prescription drug prices. McConnell hinted at taking another run at a full repeal of the ACA but backed off of that after Democrats regained control of the House.

Changes to the Medicare health care and Social Security retirement programs are unlikely. McConnell has indicated that any new tax legislation would need bipartisan support.

Since Trump took office, the Senate has confirmed 84 federal judges, including 29 to the appeals courts and Trump’s two Supreme Court nominees. Both Trump and the Republican Senate intend to maintain this pace leading up to the 2020 election.

Georgia Delegation

There was no U.S. Senate election in Georgia. Senators Johnny Isakson (R) and David Perdue (R) continue in their seats and give Georgia Republicans a 2-0 advantage in the Senate.

Following the election, Georgia Republicans have a 9-5 advantage in the U.S. House delegation. However, incumbent Rob Woodall (R) holds less than a 1,000-vote lead over challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux (D) in the 7th District. The result here could change based on the final canvas and a potential recount.

Democrats flipped a Republican seat in the 6th District. This is the seat that had been the subject of a hard-fought special election in which Karen Handel (R) was elected to Congress. In the general election, challenger Lucy McBath (D) defeated Handel by 1 percent and will assume that seat in January.

Here are the results for all of the Georgia congressional contests:

District 1

District 2

District 3

District 4

District 5

District 6

District 7

District 8

District 9

District 10

District 11

District 12

District 13

District 14

North Carolina Delegation

There was no U.S. Senate election in North Carolina. Senators Richard Burr (R) and Thom Tillis (R) continue in their seats, giving North Carolina Republicans a 2-0 advantage in the Senate.

Despite Democrats flipping the U.S. House, they were not able to cut into the 10-3 Republican advantage in North Carolina’s congressional delegation. Democrats targeted three races in particular – the 2nd, 9th, and 13th districts. Of those three, only the 9th District contest between Mark Harris (R) and Dan McCready (D) proved to be truly competitive, with Harris winning by less than 2,000 votes. The result is in the margin for a runoff, but McCready decided not to pursue it and instead conceded the race to Harris.

Here are the results for all of the North Carolina congressional contests:

District 1

District 2

District 3

District 4

District 5

District 6

District 7

District 8

District 9

District 10

District 11

District 12

District 13

South Carolina Delegation

There was no U.S. Senate election in South Carolina. Senators Lindsey Graham (R) and Tim Scott (R) continue in their seats, giving South Carolina Republicans a 2-0 advantage in the Senate.

Presumptive House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn is no longer the sole Democrat in South Carolina’s congressional delegation. Democrat Joe Cunningham’s win in South Carolina’s 1st District is a blow to Republicans who thought they would hold on to the coastal seat even after South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford lost a GOP primary earlier this year.

Here are the results for all of the South Carolina congressional contests:

District 1

District 2

District 3

District 4

District 5

District 6

District 7

You can use the following links to find election takeaways at the state level for North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

[View source.]

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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