House Democrats ascendant, set to check Trump's power
Democrats on Tuesday captured the House of Representatives and are set to exert a major institutional check on President Donald Trump, while breaking the Republican monopoly on power and ushering in a younger, more female and more racially diverse political generation.
But the GOP solidified their Senate majority after an acerbic midterm election that enshrined America's deep divides and shaped a highly contentious battleground for the stirring 2020 presidential race.
The opposite trends in the House and the Senate underscored a political and cultural gulf among diverse and affluent liberals living in big cities and their suburbs and the mostly, white, working class and rural conservative bloc of voters for whom Trump remains an iconic figure.
In his first reaction to a mixed night, Trump chose to celebrate Republican successes even though the loss of the House meant his record of busting political convention could not defy the traditional first-term midterm curse faced by many of his predecessors.
"Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!" he tweeted.
But the new Democratic House will pose a perilous problem for the President, who must now brace for the novel experience of oversight from Capitol Hill with Democratic committee chairs promising constraints on his power that the GOP never attempted.
Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker who is in position to lead again, pledged that the new majority would work to rein in the White House as well as to improve health care, lower the cost of drugs and protect millions of Americans with pre-existing conditions.
"Today is more than about Democrats and Republicans. It is about restoring the Constitution's checks and balances to the Trump administration," Pelosi said.
Democrats could win more than 30 seats in the House, above the net gain of 23 seats that they needed to take control for the first time in eight years. But they lost significant ground in the Senate, losing incumbents in Missouri and Indiana and North Dakota, where Trump is still wildly popular. With several races too close to call, the GOP advantage was expected to grow.
And liberal hearts were broken in several closely fought marquee races, including Andrew Gillum's failure to become Florida's first African-American governor and rising star Beto O'Rourke's failed bid to unseat Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. O'Rourke's narrow defeat, however, proved his ability to compete even in conservative territory and he will get buzz as a potential 2020 presidential candidate.
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Two years after the trauma of Trump's shock defeat of Hillary Clinton, Democrats could dare to dream again.
They won the House, which will change hands for the third time in 12 volatile years, by performing strongly in suburban areas where Trump's flaming rhetoric is toxic. They also attracted a higher proportion of younger voters than at the last midterm elections four years ago and will change the face of Washington.
"We have the beginning of a new Democratic Party, younger, browner, cooler, more women, more veterans, can win in Michigan, can win in Pennsylvania, can win in Ohio," said Van Jones, a CNN political commentator.
"It may not be a blue wave, it's a rainbow wave," he said.
One potential pitfall for Democrats will be to hold Trump to account without being seen as overreaching. After all, some presidents, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, had tough midterm elections but leveraged attacks by Capitol Hill foes to help them win re-election. Trump, who loves nothing more than to identify new enemies, will be a formidable opponent.
Within minutes of their victory being confirmed, other Democrats were already threatening to go after Trump and to probe his business interests, including his tax returns.
Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who is slated to steer the House Judiciary Committee, warned that the election was about accountability for Trump.
"He's going to learn that he's not above the law," Nadler told CNN.
My view: The Democrats should pick a woman candidate to run against Trump in 2020, but not Elizabeth Warren, if they want to win the White House.