From the House to the Senate: What’s at stake in the 2022 midterms?

Republicans are likely to retake the House and possibly gain a slim majority in the Senate. What will that mean?

Oliver O'Connell,Mary Clare Jalonick
Thursday 27 October 2022 13:33 BST
What are the US midterm elections and when are they due?

With the midterm elections looming and polls tightening across the country, Democrats, who have held both chambers of Congress and the presidency for the last two years, may not have such consolidated power for much longer.

Republicans look favoured to win the House of Representatives on 8 November, bolstered by frustration over the economy and advantages in the redistricting process that takes place every 10 years. For their part, Democrats are working to hold their ground, campaigning on maintaining access to abortion and underscoring their legislative achievements in the first half of Joe Biden’s presidency.

The outlook is murkier in the Senate, where Republicans are also bidding to take back control from the currently equally split chamber. Several races in key battleground states are tight, leading Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to say the chances of his party winning a majority are just 50-50.

Here’s a look at what may happen if Republicans win a majority in either chamber following the midterms:

What if the House flips to the GOP?

Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have held the majority since 201 when they won control in then-President Donald Trump’s first midterm election. Republicans could take back the House if they net just five seats in dozens of competitive districts, and they are trying to win dozens.

History also gives Republicans reason for optimism. In the modern era, the party that’s held the White House has lost congressional seats in virtually every first-term president’s midterm election.

If Republicans win the House on 8 November, the GOP caucus will elect a new speaker and take power on 3 January 2023. They will run every committee and decide what bills come to the House floor.

What would a Republican House look like?

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy has already unveiled his “Commitment to America,” a broad outline of economic, border security, and other policies that the GOP would propose in the early days of the next Congress.

A return to Republican power in the House would be a victory for Donald Trump, who has fought Democrat-led efforts to hold him accountable for the 6 January 2021, Capitol riot insurrection. The vast majority of Republicans who are expected to return to Washington next year, along with most of those hoping to win a first term, are loyal to the former president and have followed his example in their policies and positions.

Among those allies are far-right members like Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who was stripped of her committee assignments by Democrats because of her extreme rhetoric but would be part of a broad governing majority under a GOP House. Ms Greene stood behind Mr McCarthy as he introduced the “Commitment to America” in Pennsylvania last month.

What would a GOP House mean for Biden?

Democratic priorities like codifying access to abortion, addressing climate change, and stricter gun control would immediately be sidelined. And most, if not all, of President Joe Biden’s agenda, would be effectively dead for the final two years of his term.

Still, nothing becomes law without Mr Biden’s signature. Bills to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling, and deal with military issues are necessary for the government to function. Those bills are likely to become flashpoints in negotiations between the GOP, Democrats, and the White House.

Mr Biden, who served in the Senate for decades, has often touted his bipartisan credentials and said he wants to work with Republicans. But there would be little appetite for that in a GOP Congress that has made opposition to Biden its top priority.

What about the Senate?

While the Senate could tilt either way after the midterm elections, the majority party is still likely to have the slimmest of margins. That means Mr Biden will be able to find a bit more common ground there, no matter who is in charge. Many of Mr Biden’s legislative achievements in office have been the byproduct of bipartisan negotiations in the Senate.

These have usually been the results of Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tie-breaking vote as president of the Senate.

Still, a Republican-led Senate could pass bills sent over by a GOP House, putting political pressure on Mr Biden. And the GOP would regain control of committees and, with it, the power to conduct investigations and oversight of the administration.

A Republican Senate could also make life difficult for Mr Biden by blocking or delaying passage of the president’s judicial and executive branch nominees. There would be no chance of a Biden-picked Supreme Court justice.

What if the Democrats win in either chamber?

If Democrats were to hold the Senate and Republicans win the House, the two chambers would be unlikely to find much common ground. But Republicans could try to win over Democratic Senate moderates on some legislation.

If Democrats were able to keep the House and the Senate, they would likely restart negotiations on some of Mr Biden’s agenda items that were never passed, including his new package of social and economic programs that stalled amid internal Democratic disagreements.

Where are the most competitive seats?

The majority of House districts aren’t competitive, thanks to a redistricting process that allows state legislatures to draw their own congressional lines if they decide to. Many legislatures draw lines to give advantages to one party or the other.

Still, dozens of seats are in play, including many of those held by Democrats who won in suburban districts in 2018 as a reaction to two years of the Trump presidency and giving the party the majority in the lower chamber of Congress.

Economic woes resulting from the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic have become the primary concerns for many voters. This is especially true in districts such as these, and Democrats appear to be struggling to get a message of economic competence across in the face of huge inflation, but despite the rapid recovery in the job market.

With reporting from the Associated Press

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