Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives after midterm congressional elections Tuesday, placing a significant check on Donald Trump’s power and delivering a rebuke to the President’s nationalist agenda.
The Republicans, however, retained control of the Senate, picking up red-state seats in Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, and beating back a surprisingly strong Democratic challenge in Texas. The party was also narrowly ahead in the count in Florida, one of the country’s most crucial swing-states.
The Democrats held the 218 House seats they needed for control by early Wednesday, with more than a dozen further races still to be decided. The President’s Republicans lost House seats in at least 14 states – including Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Texas – with the Democrats making their most significant inroads in suburban seats packed with moderate voters.
Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, told a victory rally that the results promised a “new day for America” and would restore the Constitutions checks and balances to the Trump administration.
“A Democratic Congress will work for solutions that bring us together because we have all had enough of division,” she said.
Mr. Trump, however, showed no contrition over his party’s defeats, instead pronouncing the election a “tremendous success” and “Big Victory” on Twitter. And he launched a pre-emptive attack on the opposition.
“If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else, at the Senate level. Two can play that game!” he tweeted.
A Democratic majority in the House will put the party in charge of legislative committees that are likely to launch or ramp up investigations into the President, including his business ties and murky personal finances.
Democratic control also allows the party to block key GOP initiatives such as attempts to build a wall on the Mexican border, repeal Obamacare and pass the proposed USMCA trade deal concluded with Canada last month.
The new Congress will also have to deal with special counsel Robert Mueller’s coming report into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion involving Mr. Trump’s circle. The bar for removing Mr. Trump from office is high – a majority vote in the House and a two-thirds majority in the Senate – but even initiating impeachment proceedings could tie up Washington for the remainder of the President’s term.
Midterm elections are often viewed as a referendum on the party that holds the presidency, with the opposition party typically making significant gains. But the Democrats appear headed for a smaller gain than in previous midterms that have flipped control of the House. In 2010, for instance, the Republicans took 63 seats when Barack Obama was president.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, speaking to FOX News on Tuesday night, said the President is willing to work across the aisle to get things done. She said Democrats should not spend their time investigating Mr. Trump.
“They should focus on what the people have put them there to do. There are a lot of things that the President would like to work with them on and hopefully they will come to the table and be willing to do that.”
In Texas, Republican Ted Cruz narrowly won reelection in one of the country's most watched Senate races against Democrat Beto O'Rourke. Democrats picked up two House seats in Texas, but the state remained solidly in Republican hands.
"All the money in the world wasn't a match for the good people of Texas," Mr. Cruz told his supporters in Houston.
“I am as inspired, I am as hopeful as I have ever been in my entire life,” Mr. O’Rourke told a large crowd that gathered in El Paso. "Tonight’s loss does nothing to diminish the way I feel about Texas and this country.”
Republican incumbents appeared headed for victory in four of seven House seats that Democrats had hoped to flip in Southern California – districts that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrats picked up at least one seat. Candidates were locked in dead heats in two other races, including Republican Dana Rohrabacher, a Trump loyalist with close ties to Russia.
Former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom will be California's next governor, replacing retiring Jerry Brown. The election of Mr. Newsom, most recently lieutenant governor, signals a leftward shift for the country's largest state, which has already positioned itself as the heart of the movement to resist the Trump White House.
The fact that the Republicans were able to limit their losses could embolden Mr. Trump, who has tried to remake the party in his own image and prove that his brand of nativist politics is a viable long-term path for the GOP. But the defeats the party suffered in suburban districts send a warning signal to the GOP that it is ceding the political centre.
In advance of the vote, Mr. Trump doubled down on his nationalist agenda, stoking fears over immigration in a bid to rev up his base. The President repeatedly railed against a caravan of Central American migrants working its way through Mexico and mused about ending birthright citizenship.
“They want America to be a giant sanctuary city for drug dealers, predators and bloodthirsty MS-13 killers,” Mr. Trump said of the Democrats during a Monday rally.
One campaign ad the weekend before the vote implied that the caravan was full of people who wanted to murder police officers. CNN deemed the ad so racist it refused to air it; Fox News, NBC and Facebook ran versions of the ad Sunday before dropping it amid a popular outcry.
But Mr. Trump’s rhetoric is working to motivate his core supporters.
“There are loopholes in our immigration system that are just ridiculous. They come across the border, at great risk, with their kids because they know when they get here they're going to get their bus tickets, their free health care, it just goes on and on and on,” said Rennette Crone, a Republican volunteer in Newport Beach, Calif., where veteran Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher is facing strong competition from Democrat Harley Rouda.
The Democrats, for their part, focused much of their campaign on health care. They pledged to protect Obamacare – which extended health insurance to 20 million people – from GOP efforts to roll it back.
The Democrats also counted on Mr. Trump’s chaotic presidency to drive moderate voters to their camp while motivating core supporters to build a stronger opposition.
Eric Heffinger, a 31-year-old Ohio high-school teacher, said Mr. Trump’s election – and his concern over the message it sent to his students – was a jolt that encouraged him to get involved volunteering for Democratic candidates and to launch his own successful bid for a city-council seat in Medina.
“My students’ reaction to him, it gets tense. Students start repeating the lines they hear on TV,” he said.
Even Mr. Trump expressed some rare contrition the day before the vote – tacitly acknowledging that some of his supporters were tiring of his bombastic style.
“I would say tone, I would like to have a much softer tone. I feel to a certain extent I have no choice but maybe I do and maybe I could have been softer from that standpoint,” he said in an interview with the Sinclair broadcasting network.
Despite the Democrats’ victories, the party’s ideological direction remains an open question.
The party found success in West Virginia on the back of one of its most conservative incumbents, Joe Manchin. But it also elected self-proclaimed socialists, most prominently youthful New Yorker Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, who want the party to unabashedly embrace universal health care and other expansions of the social safety net.
The Democrats also saw some of their most high-profile candidates go down to defeat. Andrew Gillum, the Tallahassee mayor who set his sights on Florida’s governorship with a left-of-centre platform, was narrowly edged by Trump-loving congressman Ron DeSantis. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams came up short in her bid to become the first black woman elected governor of a U.S. state.
Accusations of voter suppression became a major campaign issue in Georgia. Civil-rights groups launched successful court challenges against rules that would have prevented 53,000 people from voting.
On voting day, some polling places reported hours-long lineups amid technical glitches with voting machines. At one location in Georgia, poll staff did not have power cables for the machines, which died when their batteries ran out. At another in Michigan, the machines weren’t even delivered to the poll in time for voting.
With reports from Tamsin McMahon and Ian Bailey