How will Trump act with­out one-party rule?

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - OPINION -

In the first two years of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency, Repub­li­cans were able to fo­cus con­gres­sional ac­tion on their agenda — tax cuts, Oba­macare re­form, ju­di­cial con­fir­ma­tions — thanks to their con­trol of the White House, the House and the Se­nate.

But their one-party rule ended abruptly Tuesday when an out­pour­ing of sub­ur­ban vot­ers en­abled Democrats to re­cap­ture the House. Though Repub­li­cans re­tain the pres­i­dency and even in­creased their ma­jor­ity in the Se­nate, the fo­cus dur­ing Trump’s sec­ond two years will shift to Demo­cratic Party pri­or­i­ties — in­fra­struc­ture re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, elec­tion re­form and, above all, restor­ing con­gres­sional over­sight of the many ques­tion­able ac­tions by the pres­i­dent and his ap­pointees.

In a sense, that will put a bur­den on Trump and Sen. Mitch McCon­nell, the Se­nate’s ma­jor­ity leader. Lit­tle can get done leg­isla­tively un­less the town’s two top Repub­li­cans are will­ing to work with the new House Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity, though the GOP’s in­creased Se­nate ma­jor­ity will en­sure Trump can win con­fir­ma­tion of most ju­di­cial and ex­ec­u­tive branch nom­i­nees.

Trump made a con­grat­u­la­tory phone call Tuesday night to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Demo­cratic leader, af­ter the for­mer and per­haps fu­ture House speaker de­clared, “A Demo­cratic Congress will work for so­lu­tions that bring us to­gether, be­cause we have all had enough of divi­sion.”

And at an East Room news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day at which he hailed GOP Se­nate suc­cesses, Trump said he sees “a very good chance” for bi­par­ti­san agree­ments with the new House Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity on is­sues like health, drug prices and in­fra­struc­ture.

Still, it seems doubt­ful par­ti­san di­vi­sions of re­cent years will mag­i­cally van­ish when the 116th Congress con­venes in Jan­uary. Over the long term, th­ese four other as­pects of Tuesday’s elec­tions could have greater im­pact:

⏩ Vot­ers across the in­dus­trial Mid­west re­versed their 2016 po­lit­i­cal course by elect­ing or re-elect­ing Demo­cratic gov­er­nors, re-elect­ing Demo­cratic sen­a­tors and adding five Demo­cratic House mem­bers in the three states that gave Trump his vic­tory — Michi­gan, Penn­syl­va­nia and Wis­con­sin. That strength­ens the party’s po­si­tion in states likely to be cru­cial again in 2020 and lays the ba­sis for them to revamp the pro-Repub­li­can dis­trict­ing that sim­i­lar GOP vic­to­ries pro­duced af­ter 2010. But Democrats fell short of their pre-elec­tion hopes by fail­ing to win gov­er­nor­ships in Florida, Ge­or­gia, Iowa and Ohio.

⏩ Sub­ur­ban vot­ers, long a key vot­ing bloc en­abling na­tional Repub­li­can vic­to­ries, con­tin­ued their swing away from a Trump-dom­i­nated GOP that emerged last year in Vir­ginia and else­where by help­ing to elect many of the nearly three dozen new House Democrats. Be­sides dis­dain for Trump’s hardline poli­cies on is­sues like im­mi­gra­tion, their votes re­flected the fact he has not tried to broaden his po­lit­i­cal base of sup­port. Fail­ure to re­verse that trend could be dis­as­trous for him in 2020.

⏩ Vot­ers in the po­ten­tially swing states of Florida and Ge­or­gia — as well as in Demo­cratic Mary­land and Repub­li­can Texas — re­jected out­spo­kenly lib­eral Demo­cratic can­di­dates who cam­paigned on the ba­sis that the path to vic­tory was a pol­icy agenda aimed at in­creas­ing the turnout of younger and mi­nor­ity vot­ers. Their fail­ure should serve as a re­minder to Democrats that the path to vic­tory in 2020 is a more cen­trist course that ap­peals to in­de­pen­dents as well as their party base.

⏩ Trump’s un­prece­dented cam­paign­ing was cru­cial in en­abling Repub­li­can chal­lengers to oust at least four Demo­cratic Se­nate in­cum­bents in states he car­ried in 2016. But those suc­cesses only re­in­forced the nar­row­ness of his base in an elec­tion in which Democrats na­tion­ally more than dou­bled their 3-point pop­u­lar vote mar­gin of 2016 in this year’s 435 con­gres­sional con­tests.

In Washington, the first test of changed re­la­tions be­tween Trump and Congress will come next week when law­mak­ers re­turn to fin­ish the cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Govern­ment fund­ing ex­pires Dec. 7, and par­ti­san ac­ri­mony could shut down the govern­ment if the pres­i­dent per­sists in seek­ing full $25 bil­lion fund­ing for his anti-im­mi­gra­tion wall.

Over the long term, out­side events will test re­la­tions be­tween Trump and the Democrats, pri­mar­ily the on­set of 2020 ma­neu­ver­ing and the like­li­hood Democrats will ag­gres­sively pur­sue the ex­ec­u­tive branch over­sight that Repub­li­cans ig­nored, in­clud­ing seek­ing his long with­held in­come tax re­turns to probe po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­ests be­tween his gov­ern­men­tal ac­tions and his fi­nan­cial in­vest­ments.

But the sin­gle most dra­matic — and most di­vi­sive — ac­tion Demo­cratic lead­ers could un­der­take would be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of whether Trump’s ef­forts to un­der­mine Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of his 2016 cam­paign merit im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

Exit polls showed that about 40 per cent of Tuesday’s vot­ers fa­vor im­peach­ing Trump, in­clud­ing 77 per­cent of self-iden­ti­fied Democrats. But Pelosi down­played the prospect in an in­ter­view Tuesday with Judy Woodruff for the PBS News Hour, declar­ing “that’s not what our cau­cus is about.” She said any ac­tion “would have to be bi­par­ti­san, and the ev­i­dence would have to be con­clu­sive.”

Pres­sures to act will in­crease if Mueller con­cludes Trump ob­structed jus­tice and col­luded with the Rus­sians to win in 2016. But the ex­pan­sion of the GOP’s Se­nate ma­jor­ity makes it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble any House-passed im­peach­ment res­o­lu­tion could gain the re­quired two-thirds vote for con­vic­tion. Carl P. Leubsdorf is the for­mer Washington bureau chief of the Dal­las Morn­ing News. Email:

Ed­uardo Munoz Al­varez / Getty Images

A protest in New York af­ter Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fired At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions.


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