Tuesday’s record-turnout midterm elections brought divided government back to Washington – a condition that Americans prefer more often than not, and one that, while unwieldy, offers the checks and balances that the Constitution enshrines. This week’s balloting also reinforced polarised America, solidifying the political fault lines of 2016:
Generally, states that Trump handily carried two years ago are sending Republicans to the Senate, while women in suburbs that went for Hillary Clinton have handed the House to Democrats.
“The polarisation, the trench warfare of American politics looks to be intensified, not reduced, after Tuesday,” says Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va.
This doesn’t close the door on bipartisanship. Indeed, divided government has a way of opening that door a bit wider simply because the two parties have to work together if they want to get anything done. Since the election, all three key players – President Trump, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell – have mentioned the ‘B’ word, bipartisanship.
“We will strive for bipartisanship,” Representative Pelosi told reporters on Wednesday.
“We believe we have a responsibility to seek common ground where we can. Where we cannot, we will stand our ground.”
Potential exists for deals on issues such as infrastructure and reducing the cost of health care. The question is, will these leaders go there? Will their bases allow them to?
The new ingredient in the Washington equation is a Democratic House, likely led by Pelosi, who is running for speaker. If her colleagues back her – and many ran their campaigns on the promise not to – it would be the second time she wields the gavel, making her the most powerful woman in Washington.
Much has been made of a looming Democratic schism – the divide between the Bernie Sanders progressive wing and the Hillary Clinton establishment wing – and the problems that this could cause for the party. There was the primary victory of Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York, who is now headed to the House, and the avowed opposition to Pelosi as speaker from candidates trying to wrest control from Republicans in swing districts.
But observers both inside and outside the party say the divide is not nearly as severe as that which plagued Republicans when the tea party rode in on a wave in 2010.
Democrats point to the constitutional role of Congress as a check and balance on the presidency. But Democrats need to be careful not to “overplay” their hand, particularly with impeachment.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders are resisting impeachment. But will Pelosi and her peers be able to resist the enormous pressure that will come from their base? As she has said, much will depend on the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller.
That investigation saw the ground shift from underneath it when Trump on Wednesday forced out Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appointing his chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as acting attorney general – and as Mueller’s new boss.
Congressional Democrats were alarmed by the move. Pelosi warned in a tweet that “It is impossible to read Attorney General Sessions’ firing as anything other than another blatant attempt by @realDonaldTrump to undermine & end Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation.” In a tumultuous news conference with the media on Wednesday, Trump also warned that there are “a lot of great things” that he could do with Democrats, but not if they crank up the investigation machine.
With divided government, said Senator McConnell on Wednesday, “the message is: ‘figure out what you can do together, and do it.'” He pointed specifically to health care as something that still needed to be fixed.
That said, he emphasised that his top priority would continue to be filling the judiciary with judges like those that Trump has nominated. That’s the way Farnsworth sees it.
“Divided government isn’t going to do all that much with respect to policy. The main thing that Democrats can do, and they can do it without Republican votes, is investigate.”
And get ready for 2020. Which both sides are already doing.
This article provided by NewsEdge.