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What to Expect if Democrats Flip the House


© Pete Marovich for The New York Times It isn’t guaranteed that Nancy Pelosi, the current Democratic leader, would be elected speaker even if her party won control of the House.

By CARL HULSE, The New York Times

The president and his policies face deep resistance from much of the public. The minority party in the House urges voters to throw out the majority party aligned with the president to impose a check on an unrestrained and overly partisan administration. The president’s party would like to fight back but is hobbled by its leader’s low approval ratings.

That was 1994, when the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans played off Bill Clinton and Democratic entrenchment to flip control of the House for the first time in 40 years. That was also 2006, when Democrats rode a wave of opposition to George W. Bush and Republican malfeasance back to power on Capitol Hill. And it was also 2010 when Tea Party-backed Republicans bludgeoned Democrats with the Obama administration’s new health care law to recapture the House and get on the path to Senate control. It might also be 2018 as Democrats seek to capitalize on a backlash against President Trump to overthrow majority Republicans in the House and, though far less likely, the Senate.

Despite differences in the details, the political environment and government alignment that have proved conducive to past changes in congressional control are mirrored in the current year.

If there is another shift in power, there will be a lot of talk by everyone about doing things differently. But take a lesson from 1994, 2006 and 2010 and be wary of the hype.

The victors will promise a return to ‘regular order’

In all three of the previous House power shifts, the incoming majority has promised to restore the House to its institutional glory by allowing more free-flowing debate, empowering rank-and-file members to offer amendments on the floor and treating members of the new minority more fairly.

After his spectacular victory in 1994, Mr. Gingrich said he wanted to go back to a time when “you could really craft legislation, a very much more collegial House than the one that has gradually become more bitter and more partisan.” In 2006, Democrats under their new speaker, Nancy Pelosi, embraced the same concept, as did Speaker John A. Boehner in 2010.

It never lasts. The minority quickly takes the opportunity to frustrate the majority with amendments and other tactics, time constraints emerge and the window shuts on the more open process. This year could be different. A bipartisan group of several dozen House members is pushing for rules changes that they say will be tied to their vote for speaker in an effort to lock in a return to regular order and prevent the usual backsliding.

It will be time to extend the olive branch

After vicious campaigns, both victor and vanquished seek to lower the temperature. Leaders of the incoming majority, not wanting to seem vindictive, offer a hand to the president, saying they intend to cooperate with the administration where they can find common cause. “We want to work with the president of the United States,” Mr. Gingrich said in one of his first network interviews, referring to the man Republicans would later impeach.

In 2006, Ms. Pelosi, soon to be the first female speaker, said she looked forward to “working in a confidence-building way with the president.”

“We’ve made history. Now we have to make progress,” she said before Democrats went on to clash repeatedly with the president over the war in Iraq and other policies.

If Democrats take the House, count on them to voice a willingness to try to find common ground with Mr. Trump, especially on infrastructure and prescription drug prices. But their real focus will be on investigations and oversight.

Winners do what they promised to do — at least some of it

New majorities typically come in armed with a list of priorities to accomplish quickly to show they can deliver. In 1994, the Republicans had their Contract With America, a manifesto that was actually on the best-seller list for weeks. The new majority had a mixed record in carrying out the contract in 1995 — failing to impose term limits was a significant shortcoming — but the leadership got House votes on much of it.

It inspired a similar effort in 2007 by Democrats, who, in an accelerated fashion, had a “100-hour plan” that included elements such as new rules to curb lobbying influence and increasing the minimum wage. Some House-passed proposals died in the Senate but others, including the minimum-wage increase, did become law. Republicans in 2010 ran on overturning the new health care law, but it has yet to be repealed.

This year, Democrats have kept expectations low with a “For the People” agenda that is focused on reducing health care costs, increasing pay and eliminating corruption but that lacks legislative specifics. Should they take control of the House, Democrats will definitely try to put some quick points on the board and also immediately turn their new investigatory power on the Trump administration by scheduling committee hearings to do so.

Electing the speaker is always clear-cut, until it isn’t

One thing is very different this year from majority party shuffles of the past — the identity of the next House speaker is uncertain. It is not guaranteed that Ms. Pelosi, the current party leader, would be elected even if Democrats won. Dozens of Democratic candidates have said they would not support her, and it would be pretty risky for those newly elected lawmakers to break that pledge on one of their very first votes in the House.

In 1994, it was crystal clear that Mr. Gingrich, as the architect of the Republican revolution, would be speaker after delivering his party to the promised land. Ms. Pelosi, the mastermind and chief fund-raiser behind the 2006 triumph, was her party’s unanimous choice for speaker, and John A. Boehner had the solid backing of Republicans in 2011.

Republicans have turmoil of their own. Speaker Paul D. Ryan is retiring and Republicans, including the current No. 2, Kevin McCarthy of California, and the archconservative Jim Jordan of Ohio, are jockeying for the top job. If either Republicans or Democrats win the House by a very narrow majority, it could make it hard for anyone to secure the 218 votes necessary to be speaker. It is unusual for the top post to be so up in the air.

One thing is certain, though. Whoever becomes speaker will vow to be speaker for the whole House, not just the top representative of his or her party. History shows they always do.


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Politics - U.S. Daily News: What to Expect if Democrats Flip the House
What to Expect if Democrats Flip the House
Politics - U.S. Daily News
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