Below is an analysis of the 2018 midterm elections from Mike Rose, NACAC’s director of government relations.
US House of Representatives
Democrats managed to win enough seats to take control of the chamber next year. To be in the majority, a party must control 218 seats. When the 116th Congress convenes in January, Democrats will control at least 225 seats, while Republicans will control 197 (the exact ratio has not been determined because approximately 20 seats are too close to call*).
It is expected that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be elected speaker of the house, the most powerful position in the chamber and third in line for the presidency. Although there are some Democrats calling for new leadership, it would be surprising if she wasn’t elected speaker. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) will likely be house majority leader, the second most powerful position in the chamber.
On the Republican side, things are less clear. The current speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), is retiring and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), currently the house majority leader and second in command, has expressed interest in leading the caucus. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) announced that he would challenge for the position and others may be thinking about throwing their hats in the ring. All this will be determined on Nov. 15 and Nov. 29, when Republicans and Democrats, respectively, hold their leadership votes.
Due to the Democratic takeover of the House, the chairmanships of the various committees will change. Of interest to NACAC, Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) will take over the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) will take over the House Committee on Appropriations, and Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) will take over the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
The Republicans increased their control over the Senate by winning at least two seats (three are still undecided*). Unlike the House, the Senate leadership, committee chairs, and ranking members will basically remain as is. The one exception is the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, whose chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), has the option to lead one of several committees but has yet to announce his choice.
The Political Landscape
A few thoughts why Republicans did well:
- The map was always a challenge for Democrats, especially in the Senate.
- President Donald Trump has a strong relationship with his base and I don’t think it was a coincidence that Trump raised certain issues on the campaign trail that are “red meat” for them. For example, he frequently mentioned “illegal” immigration, the caravan of families walking through Mexico to the US/Mexico border, and suggested an end to birthright citizenship. He also mentioned tax cuts.
- A controversial proposal to redefine what transgender means may also have motivated his base.
- The fight over Trump’s Supreme Court nominee may also contributed to Republican success.
A few thoughts about why Democrats did well:
- Women and college-educated whites have moved strongly toward the Democratic Party.
- Voter turnout hit record numbers, with more than 100 million votes cast for the first time in any midterm election in US history. Younger and minority voters appeared unusually energized and seemed to support Democratic candidates.
- Campaign rhetoric focused on health care, a hot ticket issue for many voters. A lot of people are concerned about losing the health care they receive through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which Republicans have sought to repeal.
Impact on NACAC’s Legislative Priorities
With Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Republicans controlling the Senate, it will be very difficult to get anything done. The parties are too far apart to agree on many issues and there is little interest in giving one party a legislative “victory.” It is also unclear how the various programs NACAC supports will fare under a divided Congress. Many of them did fairly well when Republicans controlled the nation’s purse strings, but things may be different now.
Sadly, I don’t anticipate a resolution for DACA students coming out of the White House or legislatively (despite Democrats’ best efforts, see below). So, unfortunately, these students’ futures remain uncertain. I do think that we are going to see an emboldened President Trump, even though his party lost the House.
House Democrats have slowly been sharing what their priorities are for the 116th Congress, some of which are more likely than others to be successful. Among them, updating and strengthening campaign laws, including restoring key enforcement provisions to the Voting Rights Act; strengthening the nation’s infrastructure; gun safety legislation; a potential DACA fix; and passing the Equality Act, which would amend civil rights laws to include legal protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Of course, all of these would have to pass the Senate and either avoid or overcome a presidential veto.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has also begun outlining his priorities. Among them are passage of the Rebuild America's Schools Act, H.R. 2475, which would provide grants and tax credits to improve school buildings in high-poverty areas; reauthorization of the Higher Education Act; a review of the administration’s handling of the for-profit college industry; and a review of the rules the Department of Education is expected to issue on how schools should handle sexual harassment and assault allegations under Title IX. Chairman Scott will also likely want to review the recommendations of the Federal Commission on School Safety after it issues its report.
This is an ambitious agenda and does not even consider what other committees want to do or what our country might unexpectedly face in 2019. So, do not be surprised if some of this falls by the wayside. NACAC’s government relations team will keep you posted on developments and, of course, do not hesitate to contact us with any questions.
*As of Nov. 8, 2019
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