Democrats retake control of House


Democrats on Tuesday night captured control of the House of Representatives, placing a significant check on President Trump’s next two years in office.

Several networks made the call after the Democrats had flipped 17 seats in races across the country. Democrats were leading in a number of other races and seemed positioned to gain more than 30 seats, and possible more than 40 with polls just closing at 11 p.m. in California.

Republicans, in the final stretch, had argued the merits of the humming economy but were unable to beat back historical trends or overcome the dismal approval rating of their standard-bearer in the White House, who had campaigned ceaselessly in recent days — rousing supporters and critics alike.

Democrats performed particularly well in the suburbs of Eastern states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, where vulnerable GOP incumbents struggled to insulate themselves from the midterm backlash against the party of the mercurial president.

The Democrats’ victory transforms the levers of influence in what had been a GOP-controlled Washington, splitting power between the two congressional chambers and guaranteeing that next year will be largely dominated by House investigations into the scandal-plagued Trump administration.

It also sets the stage for what promises to be an animated fight over who will lead the Democrats next year. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has been at the helm since 2003, and hopes to keep that spot in the next Congress. But a growing number of Democrats are clamoring for new faces at the top, and it remains unclear whether Pelosi will have the support to take the Speaker’s gavel in the face of those divisions.

Across the aisle, Republicans will have their own problems to confront. In addition to regrouping from a midterm drubbing, they’ll have to choose a fresh leadership team to contend with the newly empowered Democrats.

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is retiring, leaving a void at the very top. To fill it, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is expected to square off with former Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) for the minority leader slot in internal elections next week. And a number of ambitious rank-and-file Republicans are eyeing a chance to fill the leadership undercard, setting the stage for a potentially chaotic week ahead in the GOP conference.

Meantime, Democrats are celebrating the opportunity to wield powerful committee gavels — many with the authority to issue subpoenas and compel testimony — as they prepare to launch promised investigations into potential administrative malfeasance on issues as varied as executive travel, corporate conflicts of interest and family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border.

A key component of the Democrats’ spare campaign message this year was a promise to conduct the oversight of the executive branch they contend Republicans have neglected since Trump took office. And the energized voters who just delivered Democrats the majority will expect them to follow through.

They appear poised to do just that.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who’s slated to become chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has vowed to refocus the panel’s efforts on Trump’s financial ties with Russia.

Liberal Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), poised to become chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, is sure to cause headaches for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who’s under investigation by the Justice Department for past business deals.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.), senior Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee, wants to delve into election security and the financial logic of the president’s promised border wall.

And the next chairmen of the Judiciary and Oversight committees, Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), are expected to reissue dozens of subpoenas to Trump officials that previously have been ignored. Cummings has said there are so many different areas of the Trump administration he wants to investigate, he doesn’t know where he’ll start.

Quite aside from oversight, Democrats have an extensive list of legislative priorities they want to tackle — issues they’ve been unable to move for eight years under the GOP majority. Near the top of that list are bread-and-butter proposals to cut costs under ObamaCare; lower prescription drug prices; and target tens of billions of dollars toward infrastructure projects, new and old.

Many of those proposals will be dead-on-arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate. But Trump ran his campaign promising to cut drug costs and boost infrastructure projects — two places Democrats see room for early cooperation with the president.

Democrats are also vowing to confront more contentious issues head on, including proposals to protect the “Dreamers,” toughen gun laws and strengthen voting protections.

As a first act of business next year, however, House Democrats are promising to revamp how the institution itself operates, promoting Day-One proposals to limit the influence of money in politics and adopt stricter ethics rules for members of Congress.

“People want to know from the very beginning that you’re going to operate honestly for them,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the minority whip who’s seeking to become majority leader, said recently.

First, though, Democrats have to decide who will lead them into the crucial 2020 presidential election.

Pelosi made history in 2007, when she became the nation’s first female Speaker, but was ousted just four years later in a tea party wave and is eager to be the woman at the table once more — especially with Trump at the other end.

Pelosi maintains widespread support within the liberal-leaning caucus, but the clamor for generation change is real and growing, and her future may hinge on the sentiments of incoming freshman, many of whom have distanced themselves from the liberal Democratic leader on the campaign trail.

Hoyer and Rep. James Clyburn (S.C.), the assistant leader, also want to retain their relative rankings next year. But their fates may hinge on Pelosi’s, and there’s no absence of young-and-restless Democrats eager to begin filling the void at the top — whenever it arrives.

The Democrats’ leadership elections are scheduled for Nov. 28.

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