US midterm elections will force compromise between House and Senate

Thursday, November 08, 2018

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With the highest voter turnout — 47 per cent or 113 million votes — since 1970, the United States midterm elections on Tuesday lived up to expectations for the usual defeat of the party of the sitting president in the House of Representatives, promising to make life harder for Mr Donald Trump.

But it may be the collective wisdom of the American electorate that the Republican party retained — and even strengthened — its hold on the Senate. That is likely to force the two parties to find common ground, if anything tangible is to be achieved by the Congress.

The blue wave that Democrats were hoping for in a sweep of both chambers did not materialise and key candidates over whom there was much excitement, such as Mr Andrew Gillum in Florida, Ms Stacey Abrams in Georgia, and Mr Beto O'Rourke in Texas, lost close races.

Mr Trump described the Senate victory as a big night for Republicans, but he was clearly being optimistic. Control of the House means that his legislative agenda is now, at best, uncertain and largely depends on the appetite of the Democrats for compromise.

The Democrats, having seen the shortcomings of the Barack Obama presidency, which was blocked every which way by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate in 2010 and 2014, should have learnt the lesson that no good comes of opposing for opposition sake.

One of the big questions is whether the House might seek to impeach President Trump, particularly over the firing of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Mr James Comey. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is likely to become speaker of the House, despite noises to the contrary, has indicated that impeachment is not on the immediate agenda.

This issue could become a flashpoint as efforts are made to coalesce around a presidential election agenda between the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic party.

Notably, the elections have carved out an interesting Congress, with over 100 women being voted in — the highest number ever. Among them are two first-time Muslim women and two first-time Native-American women. With that the composition of the House reflects, more than ever, the wonderful diversity of the American people.

Countries which struggle to get young people to the polls might learn something from the US elections. The majority of the 16 per cent of first-time voters comprised young people who likely responded to the plethora of voter turnout projects.

Analyses of the election results will continue for some time, but Tuesday night's polls suggest that the 2020 presidential elections will be as competitive as ever. There is no indication as of now that Mr Trump is under threat of losing the White House in two years' time.

The Republicans have time to learn the lessons from the House defeat and to correct their strategies in order have a big chance of retaining the presidency, as Mr Obama did in 2012 after his big midterm losses in 2010.

At the same time, the Democrats have much on which to build, given its winning coalition increasingly being powered by the women and minority segments of the populace.

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