Electoral Tea Leaves

Election Day usually is a day of decision in politics. But Americans woke up on Nov. 9 to learn that control of the Senate and House of Representatives was not yet determined. Senate control, in fact, may go undecided until Dec. 6, when a runoff between Republican Herschel Walker and Democrat Raphael Warnock takes place. We asked Richard Fox, professor of political science and international relations in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts, to speculate about scenarios and consequences of the impact of the 2022 midterm elections. Fox teaches courses on the U.S. Congress, elections, and media and politics. He was interviewed by email by Editor Joseph Wakelee-Lynch.

If the Republicans win both the Senate and the House, should we anticipate that no new legislation will pass the Congress and be signed into law by the President? Or will there be a few areas of potential cooperation?

According to the day-after-the-election prognosticators, the most likely outcome is a Senate still narrowly controlled by the Democrats and a House narrowly controlled by the Republicans. This will likely not be official until the end of the week or even into next week. If this is the case, we would expect President Joe Biden to be able to get very little in the way of major legislative initiatives over the next two years. If the Democrats keep the Senate, they will continue to be able to get judges confirmed, but little else the Democratic base would want. The new Republican majority in the House will want to make its mark, so it might stand up to Biden on Ukraine, raising the debt ceiling and defunding the IRS. They will also likely pass some messaging bills for their base, such as a 15-week abortion ban, a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, additional funding for border security, for example. These, however, won’t go anywhere in a Senate controlled by the Democrats.

If the Democrats keep the Senate and lose the House, will the public still expect them to get things done legislatively? Or is the electorate now so polarized that few voters make decisions on results and, instead, vote by party affiliation?

I don’t think there will be much in the way of voter expectations for getting things done. Both parties will turn their attention to inflation and the economy, though what can be done about this legislatively is complicated. The race for the White House in 2024 will immediately come into focus in the new year, and the parties will begin to position themselves. This always gums up the legislative process, too, as no party wants to agree to a deal or pass anything that might assist their opponents. The Republicans will not want to help Biden in any way that might strengthen his candidacy in 2024.

If the Republicans control the House and prioritize investigations of the administration, will the Senate Republicans act as a brake, fearing that House will go too far and harm Republican chances in 2024?

Get ready to learn a lot more about Hunter Biden. Get ready to see Anthony Fauci subpoenaed for hearings on the origin and management of COVID. Attorney General Merrick Garland will appear before several House committees answering allegations about bias in the Department of Justice. There will be some investigations, and prior to the election, I would have said a possible impeachment inquiry against Biden would be possible. But the Republicans significantly underperformed in the House elections, so we will see if rushing to impeach President Biden is really viewed as a good strategy anymore. Regardless, it will be difficult to contain some of the more radical Republicans, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. She will become much more visible with her party in the majority, and she has promised to pressure the expected new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy to go after the administration.

Which of the scenarios of control of the House and the Senate would please Joe Manchin the most during the next two years?

Ahh, Joe Manchin, the most powerful Senator in D.C. Everything depends on whether Manchin wants to run for re-election in 2024. If he doesn’t, then he will be fine with whatever outcome. However, if he wants to remain a player in D.C. politics, he is probably hoping the Democrats get that 51st seat in the Senate, so that would give him the ability to vote against his party occasionally over the next two years to better position himself for re-election. If the Republicans had had the big day many expected, and took over the Senate, it would have made sense for him to switch parties. Joe Manchin is tough to predict, though, and I will be watching his statements closely over the next week. Almost nothing would surprise me.

Former President Donald Trump enjoys more loyalty from House leaders than Senate leaders. So, would he benefit from strengthened House leaders on one hand and GOP Senators who continue to have no control of the Senate?

The status of Donald Trump as the leader of the Republican Party is the big question coming out of this election. The Republican- and Trump-supported candidates did not do as well as expected, so will the party finally begin to move away from him? Will Gov. Ron DeSantis who cruised to a re-election victory in Florida be the new heir apparent to the party? The pundits have so many times written off Trump’s influence, and we have to be cautious. But it really does seem that he is weakened. If the Republicans don’t win the Senate, there is a pretty good argument to be made that far-right Trump-backed candidates cost them the election. In a normal political world, this would have consequences. I definitely think the party leaders’ relationship with Trump will be seriously frayed by the outcome of these elections.