What is the difference between the House and the Senate? And what does it mean that Donald Trump has lost control of the former in the midterm elections?
Barack Obama called the midterm elections potentially “the most important election of our lifetimes”. In truth, that ship probably sailed back in 2016, with reality TV star Donald Trump’s shock appointment as the President of the United States. But it’s true that the shape and state of the current Presidency relies on the outcome of the US midterms – and, though he wouldn’t admit it, last night was rough for The Donald.
He lost control of the House of Representatives, with the Democrats taking a majority of seats – 219 to the Republicans’ 193 at the time of writing – for the first time in eight years. This means that he can be challenged like never before, as Democratic representatives now have the power to request access to Trump’s notoriously clandestine tax affairs. He’s now, theoretically, in a position to be impeached. But last night wasn’t all bad news for him.
Because Trump’s Republican Party retains control of the Senate. For bills to become law, they must first pass through both the House and the Senate. While the 435 members of the House represent people their local area, the Senate represents the interests of the State, so the President must now work with Democrats in order to pass bills. Here’s what last night meant for a world leader who’s revelled in divisive politics.
The biggest surprises
The Democrats won 23 more seats than they needed to win back control of the House. This is surprising because the American economy is currently strong, with unemployment at a rock-bottom 3.7 percent. So the midterm elections, more than ever, look like a referendum on the President; it seems that Trump’s bluster is beginning to wear thin (he’ll fight for re-election in 2020). Appearing to sense voters’ fatigue, he told one reporter last night: “I would like to have a much softer tone. I feel to a certain extent I have no choice, but maybe I do and maybe I could have been softer.” Yes: Trump kind-of apologised for something.
The low-key liberal fightback
More people of colour have been voted into the House time around, while 100 women make up the total of 435. Obviously that’s by far too low, but it is a record number, and a telling riposte to a President who’s displayed sexist behaviour (“When you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy”) and even openly mocked an alleged victim of sexual assault (Christine Ford) to the delight of his applauding fans.
In New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the first woman in her 20s to win a seat, while Iowas 29-year-old Abby Finkenauer was close behind. Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland become the first Native American women elected to Congress; Rashida Tlaib (Michigan) and lhan Omar (Minnesota) were the first Muslim women to do the same. All four are Democrats, indicating a groundswell of opposition to Trump’s rhetoric.
Bad news for Democrats, too
Andrew Gillum, predicted by many to become the first black senator of Florida, lost by just one percent to Trump Ron DeSantis, who was widely seen to have run a racially charged campaign. The Republicans’ success in the Senate is a clear endorsement of Trumpian politics, while his defeat in the House could even play to his advantage. Guardian commentator Jonathan Freedland theorised that “[Trump] can use the newly Democratic House as a punchbag and whipping boy. Come 2020, and what many predict will be a slowing economy, he will have an obvious target for blame.”
The future for Trump
A similar fate befell Obama, as he lost control of the House in his first term of Presidency. Like Bill Clinton before him, he overcame this setback for re-election. But Trump is, surely, a much more divisive leader, and his government’s bills proposed cuts to social programmes, repeals of Obamacare and a deeply unforgiving approach to immigration. His entire Presidential persona rests on these hardline stances, so there are serious implications Democrats’ new ability challenge him – and that’s before we address the various accusations the Trump government faces.
There’s the alleged misuse of taxpayers’ money, the allegations he paid off women with whom he had affairs prior to becoming President and the allegation that Trump obstructed justice regarding Russia’s involvement in the result of the 2016 US election. All of this may now be investigated.
What it all means
These midterm elections saw a higher turnout than usual – an estimated 114 million votes were cast for the House this year, compared to 83 million in 2014 – reflecting the level of engagement, positive and negative, that Donald Trump has elicited from voters since 2016. As he said recently: “You know the midterm elections used to be like boring, didn’t they? Now it’s like the hottest thing”. Trump lost some of the power he’s enjoyed in the past two years, and this setback may even soften his rhetoric, as he has implied. Stranger things have happened – after all, they did back in 2016.