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A GOP-controlled House would upend the President’s agenda for health care, abortion rights and more, shifting the focus to areas like Ukraine and climate policy where he has more freedom to act alone


Joe Biden has defied expectations of an unambitious presidency.

Domestically, he’s pushed through major legislative packages on building infrastructure and tackling the pandemic. Internationally, he’s led a coalition of democratic countries helping Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion. On climate change, he’s passed a sweeping law promoting green energy.

When he moved into the Oval Office last year, Mr. Biden had a portrait of Franklin Delano Roosevelt hung on the wall across from his desk, signalling his aspirations for a significant expansion of the social safety net and a fight against fascism. But those dreams may soon founder.

If the polls are correct, Republicans look poised to win control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday’s midterm elections and may also take the Senate, making hay from perceptions of a faltering economy, persistently high crime and rising undocumented immigration.

A bolstered opposition would almost certainly block the rest of the President’s social policy agenda, including strengthening healthcare coverage, instituting paid parental leave and codifying abortion rights. They would gain powerful leverage over the federal budget.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about abortion access at an Oct. 18 rally in Washington.Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

If that does come to pass, in his term’s second half Mr. Biden will likely have to rely more heavily on executive orders and turn to areas – whether foreign affairs or environmental regulations – where he can act independently of Congress.

But even with those, Republicans have made rumblings in recent weeks about throwing up roadblocks, including by throttling back military aid to Ukraine.

What’s more, many of the party’s candidates continue to falsely claim Donald Trump won the 2020 election, setting the stage for a rancorous and conspiracy-tinged Congress that threatens to hijack any attempt at crafting serious policy.

The 46th President of the United States may need all of the political acumen accumulated over a half-century in government to keep his head above water and his legacy from drowning.

“This is a genuine inflection point in American history,” Mr. Biden said at a campaign event in Florida this week. “How we decide the next four years is going to determine what this country looks like 40 years from now.”

Biden's popularity has slumped in the past year as inflation and gas prices rise.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

The numbers certainly don’t look good for the President. His approval rating, which began its drop more than a year ago, currently sits at 42 per cent, according to a Monmouth University poll. In the last 25 midterm elections, the incumbent president’s party lost congressional seats in all but three.

It hasn’t helped that the country has for months been dealing with runaway inflation, which the Biden administration initially insisted wasn’t a serious problem.

Last year’s disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan marred Mr. Biden’s self-image as a competent operator. And he also couldn’t get some of his most significant policies past Congress, where conservative Democrats torpedoed free community college tuition, child tax credits and voting rights protections.

It is unclear, meanwhile, whether the Supreme Court overturning 50 years of abortion protections will be enough to motivate Democrats to go to the polls in higher numbers than a typical low-turnout midterm.

“Biden is not popular, and neither is the Supreme Court, but that’s usually taken a back seat to concerns about the economy,” said J. Miles Coleman of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, which maintains a blog that sets odds for election races. It currently predicts a slender Republican majority in the House and rates the Senate a toss-up.

Mr. Coleman compared the current situation to the 1946 “beefsteak election,” when midterm voters gave Republicans a congressional majority to punish Democratic president Harry Truman for a spike in the price of meat. “Here we are, decades later, talking about the price of groceries. What’s really changed?”

Biden works the crowd at a Nov. 3 rally in Albuquerque. New Mexico is a traditionally blue state whose Democratic governor is in a close re-election battle with a Trump-endorsed Republican.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

Still, those who have worked with Mr. Biden say he has an uncanny knack for cutting legislative deals and may still find laws he can get Congress to agree to, even with a Republican majority.

Victoria Nourse, a Georgetown University law professor who was on Mr. Biden’s staff during both his time as a senator and vice-president, said some otherwise recalcitrant Republicans will be willing to co-operate with him if there are obvious benefits for their constituents, such as new jobs or building projects.

In this way, Mr. Biden may be able to get legislators to back some of his priorities, such as constructing better infrastructure for electric vehicles. Ms. Nourse pointed to this past summer’s CHIPS Act, bipartisan legislation that aims to improve domestic capacity to make semiconductors and move supply chains out of China, as an example of this dynamic at play.

“Biden should never be underestimated on his ability to legislate. He has legislated six to eight important things that nobody thought he could,” she said. “When states and districts want things, their representatives respond. They’ll do things to get re-elected even if they’re saying something completely different in the press. Biden understands that incentive.”

Another move for Mr. Biden, if he loses Congress, would be to focus on things he can do by fiat.

Through executive orders, he can unilaterally put in place measures that address the climate crisis, such as tightening emissions standards for buildings and cars, or curbing development of new fossil-fuel infrastructure. He can use federal funding through the Justice Department to move forward police or criminal justice reform. And he also has some power to go further on gun control. Foreign policy, meanwhile, is mostly within the president’s remit.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the U.S. Congress this past March.J. Scott Applewhite/The Associated Press

His most visible foreign policy, however – supporting Ukraine – has relied heavily on channeling military aid to Kyiv, some US$17.5-billion since the start of his presidency, which he must have Congress on board to continue. There are indications this rare point of bipartisan consensus to fight back against international authoritarianism may be at risk.

Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House leader who would likely become the next Speaker if his party wins a majority, mused last month that the U.S. would no longer “write a blank cheque to Ukraine.” Some of the party’s most prominent candidates have made similar comments: Ohio Senate hopeful J.D. Vance said earlier this year, “I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine.”

Alexander Downes, an international relations professor at George Washington University, said he expects Mr. Biden will still be able to find enough Republicans supportive of Ukraine to keep the aid flowing even if Mr. McCarthy tries to cut it off. “I don’t see a major threat to continued military and economic aid to Ukraine,” he wrote in an email.

Prof. Downes pointed to several other foreign policy areas where Mr. Biden could make progress regardless of what happens to the makeup of Congress: negotiating a revised deal with Iran to stop that country’s efforts to build nuclear weapons, setting more ambitious objectives in cutting carbon emissions, increasing military deployments in Europe and South Korea to send signals to dictators, and containing the rising power of China.

Biden signs the Inflation Reduction Act into law this past August.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Geoffrey Henderson, a climate policy expert at Duke University, said it also augurs well for Mr. Biden that the Inflation Reduction Act, his main piece of environmental legislation, actually commands the support of a majority of Republican voters. This gives the party less incentive to attack these types of climate measures, particularly given that they include building green technology manufacturing plants in Republican districts.

“It’s really unlikely the Republicans would want to target this in the way they targeted the Affordable Care Act when there are more salient issues on which Republican voters would be less divided,” Mr. Henderson said.

Republicans holding the purse strings could, however, force tortured, marathon negotiations over budgeting and raising the U.S. debt ceiling, offering Mr. McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, the party’s Senate leader, numerous opportunities to extract concessions from the White House or push for cuts to social programs favoured by the Democrats.

Mr. Biden has been to this place before. During the Obama administration, he served as a key White House negotiator with a frequently obstinate Congress. His work helped get budgets passed and avoid government shutdowns.

“He’s not someone who thinks in zero-sum terms. He’s someone who thinks about how to get people to a win-win situation. That is true in international situations, and across party lines,” said Mara Rudman, a former national security official in both the Clinton and Obama White Houses. “He’s very good at reading people and reading situations and knowing where he wants to get to.”

One former congressional and White House aide who worked directly with Mr. Biden on legislation said his style involves getting people on opposing sides into the room together and hearing everyone out until possible trade-offs and compromises become clear.

By contrast, the ex-aide recalled, Mr. Obama’s top advisors privately admitted during his second term that they weren’t even trying to move legislation forward because they had no credibility with Congress.

The Globe is keeping this source confidential so they can speak about closed-door discussions.

Biden with son Hunter and grandson Beau.Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press

Beyond blocking Mr. Biden’s mandate, the Republicans are also angling to make his life difficult by launching investigations into the business dealings of his son, Hunter, and various White House policies.

Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic political consultant, said this strategy could cut both ways. The preoccupation with litigating various grievances would make it harder for Mr. Biden to push anything through a Republican-controlled House but it could also backfire if the Republicans end up without tangible achievements to run on in 2024.

“House Republicans want to impeach somebody – they don’t even know who that would be yet – and they want to investigate Hunter Biden, the Afghanistan withdrawal, social media companies, ‘woke’ corporations,” said Mr. Mollineau, partner at Rokk Solutions, which has advised a pro-Biden campaign group. “There’s going to be a lot of noise and it makes me wonder when they’re going to have time to do any legislating.”

The election could also see a wave of election deniers sweep into Congress. Mr. Vance is only one of hundreds of candidates across the U.S. who subscribe to Mr. Trump’s lie that the last election was rigged. Similar candidates are running for governor and other positions in important swing states, raising the prospect they will try to overturn the 2024 election if results show a Republican losing again.

Other star contenders, including Republican Senate nominee Herschel Walker in Georgia, are advocating for a nationwide ban on abortion, setting the stage for culture war showdowns in Congress.

Mr. Biden spent most of his political career, including the 2020 election, selling himself as a middle-of-the-road compromiser. But after taking office last year, he made clear that he aspired to a transformational presidency. Now, he may be in for a two-year struggle over the most basic tenets of American democracy ahead of the 2024 election.

At a speech in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station this week, a stone’s throw away from the U.S. Capitol, the President warned that electing “extreme MAGA Republicans” could move the country towards authoritarianism by encouraging politicians to ignore the results of any election they lose.

“Make no mistake, democracy is on the ballot for all of us,” he said. “This is a choice we can make. Disunion and chaos are not inevitable. There’s been anger before in America. There’s been division before in America. But we’ve never given up on the American experiment, and we can’t do that now.”


Paths to power in Congress, explained

Republicans are favoured to take over the House of Representatives

in the U.S. midterm elections, which would allow them to block

President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES RACE RATINGS

Democrats

Republicans

Solid: 162

Solid: 188

Likely/

Lean: 31

Likely/

Lean: 23

Toss-up:

21

Toss-up:

10

Majority: 218

Total seats: 435

DEMOCRAT-HELD DISTRICTS TO WATCH

Alaska at-large district

Kansas 3rd district

Ohio 9th district

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Lean Dem.

Mary Peltola faces two

Republicans, Sarah

Palin and Nick Begich,

in Alaska’s “ranked

choice” voting system

Sharice Davids in tight

race with Republican

Amanda Adkins after

redrawing of district

boundaries

Republican nominee

J.R. Majewski taking

on longest-serving

Congresswoman

Marcy Kaptur

Arizona 2nd district

Maine 2nd district

Oregon 5th district

Forecast:

Lean Rep.

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Tom O’Halleran seeks

re-election in more

competitive district

against Republican

opponent Eli Crane

Republican Bruce

Poliquin vying to retake

his old seat against

Democratic incumbent

Jared Golden

Republican Lori

Chavez-DeRemer

in tight contest with

Democrat Jamie

McLeod-Skinner

Florida 13th district

Michigan 7th district

Virginia 2nd district

Forecast:

Likely Rep.

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Anna Paulina Luna

favoured over Democrat

Eric Lynn in battle for

open seat

Michigan state senator

Tom Barrett aiming

to unseat Democrat

Elissa Slotkin

Elaine Luria faces

tough re-election battle

against Republican

Jen Kiggans

Forecasts as of Oct. 14

graphic news, Sources: Cook Political Report; Reuters; The Hill

Republicans are favoured to take over the House of Representatives

in the U.S. midterm elections, which would allow them to block

President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES RACE RATINGS

Democrats

Republicans

Solid: 162

Solid: 188

Likely/

Lean: 31

Likely/

Lean: 23

Toss-up:

21

Toss-up:

10

Majority: 218

Total seats: 435

DEMOCRAT-HELD DISTRICTS TO WATCH

Alaska at-large district

Kansas 3rd district

Ohio 9th district

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Lean Dem.

Mary Peltola faces two

Republicans, Sarah

Palin and Nick Begich,

in Alaska’s “ranked

choice” voting system

Sharice Davids in tight

race with Republican

Amanda Adkins after

redrawing of district

boundaries

Republican nominee

J.R. Majewski taking

on longest-serving

Congresswoman

Marcy Kaptur

Arizona 2nd district

Maine 2nd district

Oregon 5th district

Forecast:

Lean Rep.

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Tom O’Halleran seeks

re-election in more

competitive district

against Republican

opponent Eli Crane

Republican Bruce

Poliquin vying to retake

his old seat against

Democratic incumbent

Jared Golden

Republican Lori

Chavez-DeRemer

in tight contest with

Democrat Jamie

McLeod-Skinner

Florida 13th district

Michigan 7th district

Virginia 2nd district

Forecast:

Likely Rep.

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Anna Paulina Luna

favoured over Democrat

Eric Lynn in battle for

open seat

Michigan state senator

Tom Barrett aiming

to unseat Democrat

Elissa Slotkin

Elaine Luria faces

tough re-election battle

against Republican

Jen Kiggans

Forecasts as of Oct. 14

graphic news, Sources: Cook Political Report; Reuters; The Hill

Republicans are favoured to take over the House of Representatives

in the U.S. midterm elections, which would allow them to block

President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES RACE RATINGS

Democrats

Republicans

Solid: 162

Solid: 188

Likely/

Lean: 31

Likely/

Lean: 23

Toss-up:

21

Toss-up:

10

Majority: 218

Total seats: 435

DEMOCRAT-HELD DISTRICTS TO WATCH

Alaska at-large district

Kansas 3rd district

Ohio 9th district

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Lean Dem.

Mary Peltola faces two

Republicans, Sarah

Palin and Nick Begich,

in Alaska’s “ranked

choice” voting system

Sharice Davids in tight

race with Republican

Amanda Adkins after

redrawing of district

boundaries

Republican nominee

J.R. Majewski taking

on longest-serving

Congresswoman

Marcy Kaptur

Arizona 2nd district

Maine 2nd district

Oregon 5th district

Forecast:

Lean Rep.

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Tom O’Halleran seeks

re-election in more

competitive district

against Republican

opponent Eli Crane

Republican Bruce

Poliquin vying to retake

his old seat against

Democratic incumbent

Jared Golden

Republican Lori

Chavez-DeRemer

in tight contest with

Democrat Jamie

McLeod-Skinner

Florida 13th district

Michigan 7th district

Virginia 2nd district

Forecast:

Likely Rep.

Forecast:

Toss-up

Forecast:

Toss-up

Anna Paulina Luna

favoured over Democrat

Eric Lynn in battle for

open seat

Michigan state senator

Tom Barrett aiming

to unseat Democrat

Elissa Slotkin

Elaine Luria faces

tough re-election battle

against Republican

Jen Kiggans

Forecasts as of Oct. 14

graphic news, Sources: Cook Political Report; Reuters; The Hill

Republicans need to pick up only one seat to win control of the

Senate in the U.S. midterm elections, which would allow them to

block much of President Joe Biden’s agenda

Democrats

Republicans

2022 SENATE RACE RATINGS

Safe

Likely

Leaning

Toss-up

Leaning

Likely

Safe

VT

Wash.

N.D.

NH

Ore.

N.Y.

Wis.

CT

S.D.

Ida.

Penn.

Iowa

Ohio

MD

Ind.

Nev.

Ill.

Utah

Colo.

Mo.

Kan.

KY

Calif.

N.C.

Okla.*

S.C.

Ark.

Ariz.

35 Total

seats up for

re-election –

14 Democrat,

21 Republican

Ga.

Ala.

La.

Fla.

Alaska

Hawaii

GEORGIA: Incumbent

Raphael Warnock in

possible tight race with

former NFL star turned

Republican candidate,

Herschel Walker

NEVADA: First Latina in

U.S. Senate, Catherine

Cortez Masto, trailing

GOP nominee and

former state attorney

general Adam Laxalt

ARIZONA: Democratic

Senator Mark Kelly

leading Republican

challenger Blake

Masters by average

of four points

OHIO: Democrat

Tim Ryan maintaining

close race against

J.D. Vance for open

seat held by retiring

Republican

PENNSYLVANIA: State

lieutenant governor

John Fetterman polling

ahead of Republican

Mehmet Oz in contest

for open seat

WISCONSIN: State

lieutenant governor

Mandela Barnes

looking to unseat

Republican incumbent

Ron Johnson

*Two seats

Data as of Oct 11, 2022

graphic news, Sources: RealClearPolitics; Reuters

Republicans need to pick up only one seat to win control of the

Senate in the U.S. midterm elections, which would allow them to

block much of President Joe Biden’s agenda

Democrats

Republicans

2022 SENATE RACE RATINGS

Safe

Likely

Leaning

Toss-up

Leaning

Likely

Safe

VT

Wash.

N.D.

NH

Ore.

N.Y.

Wis.

CT

S.D.

Ida.

Penn.

Iowa

Ohio

MD

Ind.

Nev.

Ill.

Utah

Colo.

Mo.

Kan.

KY

Calif.

N.C.

Okla.*

S.C.

Ark.

Ariz.

35 Total

seats up for

re-election –

14 Democrat,

21 Republican

Ga.

Ala.

La.

Fla.

Alaska

Hawaii

GEORGIA: Incumbent

Raphael Warnock in

possible tight race with

former NFL star turned

Republican candidate,

Herschel Walker

NEVADA: First Latina in

U.S. Senate, Catherine

Cortez Masto, trailing

GOP nominee and

former state attorney

general Adam Laxalt

ARIZONA: Democratic

Senator Mark Kelly

leading Republican

challenger Blake

Masters by average

of four points

OHIO: Democrat

Tim Ryan maintaining

close race against

J.D. Vance for open

seat held by retiring

Republican

PENNSYLVANIA: State

lieutenant governor

John Fetterman polling

ahead of Republican

Mehmet Oz in contest

for open seat

WISCONSIN: State

lieutenant governor

Mandela Barnes

looking to unseat

Republican incumbent

Ron Johnson

*Two seats

Data as of Oct 11, 2022

graphic news, Sources: RealClearPolitics; Reuters

Republicans need to pick up only one seat to win control of the

Senate in the U.S. midterm elections, which would allow them to

block much of President Joe Biden’s agenda

Democrats

Republicans

2022 SENATE RACE RATINGS

Safe

Likely

Leaning

Toss-up

Leaning

Likely

Safe

VT

Wash.

N.D.

NH

Ore.

N.Y.

Wis.

CT

S.D.

Ida.

Penn.

Iowa

Ohio

MD

Ind.

Nev.

Ill.

Utah

Colo.

Mo.

Kan.

KY

Calif.

N.C.

Okla.*

S.C.

Ark.

Ariz.

35 Total

seats up for

re-election –

14 Democrat,

21 Republican

Ga.

Ala.

La.

Fla.

Alaska

Hawaii

GEORGIA: Incumbent

Raphael Warnock in

possible tight race with

former NFL star turned

Republican candidate,

Herschel Walker

NEVADA: First Latina in

U.S. Senate, Catherine

Cortez Masto, trailing

GOP nominee and

former state attorney

general Adam Laxalt

ARIZONA: Democratic

Senator Mark Kelly

leading Republican

challenger Blake

Masters by average

of four points

OHIO: Democrat

Tim Ryan maintaining

close race against

J.D. Vance for open

seat held by retiring

Republican

PENNSYLVANIA: State

lieutenant governor

John Fetterman polling

ahead of Republican

Mehmet Oz in contest

for open seat

WISCONSIN: State

lieutenant governor

Mandela Barnes

looking to unseat

Republican incumbent

Ron Johnson

*Two seats

Data as of Oct 11, 2022

graphic news, Sources: RealClearPolitics; Reuters

U.S. politics: More from The Globe and Mail

Illustration by Sébastien Thibault

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