When I finally made myself post about the upcoming midterm elections in the US, I knew I’d have to do a wrap-up post, so here goes…
The election outcomes were more positive than I had feared but not as good as I had wished. Some of the ultra-MAGA candidates lost and accepted defeat but a few that lost are refusing to concede. Some who won their races are trying to leverage their position to move legislatures to the extreme right. This is particularly worrisome in the House of Representatives, where some individual Congress members are threatening to withhold their votes to make Republican Kevin McCarthy speaker of the House unless he agrees to undertake certain investigations that come out of right-wing conspiracy theories.
Technically, the election season is not quite over yet. While the Democrats picked up a Senate seat which gives them the majority of 50-49, the race in Georgia is going to be decided in a run-off in a few days. If current Senator Raphael Warnock is re-elected, the Democrats will hold a clear majority of 51-49, which will also give them a majority of committee seats and make confirming President Biden’s nominees quicker and easier in the new session. Theoretically, this would also help make legislation easier to pass but it’s unlikely that the Republican House will pass many bills that the Senate cares to take up. Given that the Republicans don’t really have a platform, it seems they are more inclined to undertake endless investigations than to actually try to make laws and pass budgets.
The impending change in the balance of power in the Congress has led to a push to enact as much legislation as possible before the end of the year. One thing that should happen is raising the debt ceiling; in my ideal world, it would be abolished but I doubt that is in the cards. There needs to be a budget resolution passed. I’d love action on voting rights, codifying reproductive health access, gun safety, care for children and the vulnerable, and anti-poverty programs like permanent expansion of the child tax credit. One major piece of legislation that has passed is marriage equality, which was in place in only some states before the 2015 Obergefell decision from the Supreme Court made it legal nationally. Given the current Court’s eagerness to overturn precedent, an explicit law from Congress will be helpful in ensuring the continuing right to marriage the partner of one’s choice.
I believe that the Republicans were only able to regain the House majority because of the Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act, along with their allowing redistricting maps that were found to be unconstitutional by state courts to stand for this election in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Ohio. There was also extensive gerrymandering in Florida and Texas that favored Republicans.
Contrast this with my home state New York. In an attempt to make redistricting fairer, map making was taken out of the state legislature and assigned to a bipartisan commission with an equal number of Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, the commission could not agree on a new map and sent two versions to the legislature, which drew its own map and adopted it. The Republicans sued, a court threw out that map, and a new one was drawn by an academic. This delayed our primaries and caused major changes in which some incumbents ran against each other in primaries and others had districts that had a majority of voters that were new to them.
It also led to some representatives shopping for a new district that would elect them, even though they don’t live there. Take my current representative Republican Claudia Tenney as an example. She lives in the present 22nd district, which nonsensically lumps part of the Southern Tier where I live with the Utica area where she lives. When it looked like one of the commission or legislative maps was going to be adopted, she had filed to run in the Southern Tier district to my west which was an open seat because the Republican incumbent had resigned. When the court map was adopted, she changed to run in the new 24th district which had been most of the district of the retiring Republican John Katko. I don’t know whether or not she plans to move. I now live in the 19th district and our incoming (Republican) representative, Marc Molinaro, also lives outside our district. I haven’t heard anything from him that he plans to move here, either.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints from national pundits that the Democrats lost the House majority because “the New York legislature is bad at gerrymandering” but they are off the mark. The fact is that the prior maps were drawn when the Republicans had the majority in the State Senate while the Democrats controlled the Assembly. The maps made the House districts upstate, which tends to have more Republicans, lower in population than the downstate districts, which tend to be more heavily Democratic. All the versions of the new maps made the population distribution for each district more even, which is good. Unfortunately, the court’s map that went into effect didn’t give much weight to the prior lines, so lots of voters and candidates were thrown into new districts at a very late date.
For me, that meant going from a central NY district that didn’t really make a lot of sense into a district that stretches from here, through the Catskills and Hudson Valley over to the Connecticut border. It would make much more sense for Binghamton to be included in a Southern Tier district. The Southern Tier is our economic development zone and our regional identity. If we needed to be connected to another region to make the population required, it would make the most sense to include some of the Finger Lakes region. We have much less in common with the Catskills/Hudson Valley.
There are big changes in Democratic Party leadership in the House. The most noted is that Nancy Pelosi, who has been either Speaker or party leader for twenty years is stepping down from leadership. This didn’t surprise me as she had promised to step down from leadership to make room for the next generation. Additionally, she is in her eighties and is recovering from the trauma of the politically motivated attack on her husband and their home before the last election.
Nancy Pelosi has been the most effective House speaker in my lifetime, shepherding through major legislation, such as the Affordable Care Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, with very small Democratic majorities and next to no help from Republicans. She is very astute in figuring out what is possible and bringing along the members to pass it. While she grew up around politics, I think a lot of her success comes from her personal values, shaped by Catholic social justice doctrine and the Constitutional call to “promote the general welfare,” and with her experience raising five children.
Unfortunately, she has been attacked by Republicans in personal and vile terms, which has led to political violence. Besides the recent attack at her home, there are several chilling videos of January sixth insurrectionists threatening her life. That she continues to serve her district and the country is a testament to her strength and convictions as a person and a public servant. I’m grateful that she is remaining in Congress as a mentor in the coming terms, as well as, of course, a powerful voice on policy questions.
When Pelosi stepped down from leadership, her fellow octogenarians Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn also took themselves out of the running for the next two highest-ranking leadership posts. The new top leadership team is Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as Minority Leader, Rep. Katherine Clark as Democratic whip, and Rep. Pete Aguilar as Democratic Caucus chair. They are all in their forties or fifties. Jeffries is the first Black to become leader of a major US political party. Clark is only the second woman, after Pelosi, to be in a top leadership post in Congress. Aguilar is the highest-ranking Latino in Congress.
What is happening with the Republicans is still unclear. While Kevin McCarthy was elected Republican leader, it remains to be seen if he has enough votes to be elected Speaker. It’s also unclear if he or anyone can hold the party together with a slim majority as Speaker Pelosi has been able to do with the Democrats. My fear is that the House Republicans will refuse to craft bipartisan legislation with the Democrats but not be able to hold their own party together to pass bills either. We could wind up with gridlock that leaves even vital legislation in limbo. We’ve seen this before under some past Republican Speakers.
I have a feeling that I will spend the next term writing to Rep. Molinaro, who claims to be a proponent of bipartisanship, asking him to stand up for reasonable legislation that passes the Senate to make it to the House floor for a vote, where it can pass with Democratic and a minority of Republican votes.
Will that happen? I don’t know, but I’ll try to at least start out with that hope.