A first significant step to reining in Trump
In arguably the most critical midterm congressional elections in our history, the Democrats acquired a down payment on their challenge to halt President Donald Trump’s reign of public division, anger and hate. It fell short of the “blue wave” vote they sought to undo him, but it was a definite beginning.
In practical political terms, the Democrats’ pickup of multiple House seats, giving them a majority with at least 222 seats out of 435 (at this writing, several races have not been called). This will enable them to take over key House committees running investigations into Trump’s alleged role in the Russian conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections and other possible illegalities.
During the first half of Trump’s first term, the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by openly partisan Rep. Devin Nunes of California, made a circus of its inquiry and then prematurely folded its hearings without calling many witnesses who might have shed damaging light on the president.
In Democratic hands in the new Congress in January, the committee will be able to reopen the hearings and finish the job, which the Senate Intel Committee has continued under honorably bipartisan leadership through the first Trump years.
That same new House Democratic majority can also be expected to press cases of alleged Trump family violations of the emoluments clauses on foreign or domestic payments in Articles I and II of the Constitution.
More generally, the new House Democratic majority doubtless will keep Trump’s administration occupied coping with other types of political pushback, as the president strives to keep hold of his vigorous base support until the 2020 election.
At the same time, Trump diligent campaigning that focused on retaining Republican control of the Senate was able to enlarge his majority slightly there. That chamber will remain his firewall against any possible impeachment process Democrats in the House might begin.
On Wednesday, in an unprecedented 90-minute East Room press conference, Trump insisted the midterm results overall were a resounding triumph for him, while saying little of his loss of the House majority. Instead, he cited GOP gubernatorial successes in Florida, Georgia, Ohio and other states where he appeared at rallies and for which he took credit.
Unlike his predecessor Barack Obama, who lost a House majority in his first midterm elections and called it “a shellacking,” Trump preferred to accentuate the positive. He described the night’s voting as evidence of his personal appeal, even chiding losing Republican candidates who didn’t “embrace” him for their poor judgment.
In a bizarre fashion, he argued that the House defeats would give him the opportunity to cooperate with one of his favorite targets, likely incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, predicting they would work closely together on such tasks as infrastructure rebuilding. He called the prospect “a beautiful bipartisan-type situation” that played to his “deal-making strength,” adding “we are all better off the way it has turned out.”
But Trump warned the Democrats against using their new subpoena power to engage in the Mueller investigation, saying in a veiled threat: “They can play that game. But we can play it can it better, because we have a thing called United States Senate” — presuming that the Republican majority will have his back.
On balance, Tuesday’s results in the congressional and gubernatorial races were a mixed bag for both parties. The Democrats generally breathed a sigh of relief over the House results that fell short of their aspirations. Trump characteristically claimed an outcome “very close to complete victory,” attributing it as usual to himself.
As for demands — or just hopeful suggestions — that he lower the tone of his rhetoric that fueled one of the most bitter and nastiest national campaigns in our history, Trump signaled he would continue his standard approach of attack and counter-attack that comes naturally to him, and that he apparently believes can still work for hm.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at email@example.com.
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