Washington Snapshot

Washington Snapshot: 2018 Midterm Elections Edition

Thursday, November 8, 2018 - 12:30 pm

In This Week's Edition of Snapshot…

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Now that the 2018 midterm elections are over, it is time to delve into what happened and to begin exploring what the legislative agenda for the 116th Congress will look like. With a Democratic majority in the House and an increased Republican majority in the Senate, will a divided Congress be able to agree on legislative priorities to advance? With a limited time left as the majority party in both Houses of Congress, will Republicans try to push “tax cuts 2.0” in the lame-duck session? Join Carroll Doherty, the director of political research at the Pew Research Center, and Council’s government relations team as we explore some of the 2018 midterm elections trends and dissect what the makeup of the new Congress means for the philanthropic sector’s public policy strategy moving forward. 

News IconKey Takeaways from the 2018 Midterms

2018 House Election Results
2018 Senate Election Results
2018 Governor Election Results

 Democrats Take the House, Republicans Make Gains in the Senate

The midterm elections on Tuesday resulted in a mixed-bag for both parties. While Democrats were able to take control of the House for the first time since 2010, Republicans retained their Senate majority and will likely extend it, with three races yet to be decided (Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi). Democrats were also able to pick up several governorships; however, two of the higher-profile races—Ohio and Florida—were retained by Republicans.

According to the New York Times, “Democrats harnessed voter fury toward President Trump to win control of the House and capture pivotal governorships Tuesday night as liberals and moderates banded together to deliver a forceful rebuke of Mr. Trump, even as Republicans held on to their Senate majority by claiming a handful of conservative-leaning seats. The two parties each had some big successes in the states. Republican governors were elected in Ohio and Florida, two important battlegrounds in Mr. Trump’s 2020 campaign calculations. Democrats beat Gov. Scott Walker, the Wisconsin Republican and a top target, and captured the governor’s office in Michigan—two states that Mr. Trump carried in 2016 and where the left was looking to rebound. Propelled by an unusually high turnout that illustrated the intensity of the backlash against Mr. Trump, Democrats claimed at least 26 House seats on the strength of their support in suburban and metropolitan districts that were once bulwarks of Republican power but where voters have recoiled from the president’s demagoguery on race.” There are still 11 House seats that have yet to be called.

The 116th Congress will bring a new dynamic to Washington. President Donald Trump will be faced with the first “check” on his presidency with the Democratic majority in the House. The expectation is that there will be vigorous oversight conducted on the Executive Branch, with Democrats aggressively using their subpoena power to launch multiple investigations. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will likely have an easier time confirming President Trump’s nominations to federal court once all of the races are decided.

Additionally, in the House, there will be some drama around who will lead both parties. For Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has the inside track on becoming speaker again. However, she may face a challenge from a caucus that has recently been calling for a change in leadership, and her path to winning a House Floor vote for the position is complicated by several representatives-elect who have vowed not to support her bid for speaker. On the Republican side, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) has already announced his intention to challenge Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) for their caucus’ top spot (Speaker Paul Ryan [R-WI] did not run for reelection); others challengers could emerge in the coming days.

Tax-Writing Committees Will Look Different in 116th Congress

With all the changes in the House and Senate, the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees will look very different in the next Congress.

With Democrats winning the majority in the House, the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee will flip from Kevin Brady (R-TX) to Richard Neal (D-MA). Democrats will also gain additional seats on the committee—so in addition to the two Democratic seats that will need to be filled as a result of the departures of Reps. Joe Crowley (D-NY) and Sandy Levin (D-MI), there will be a handful new Democratic seats on the Committee to be filled as well. Of the 24 Republicans currently on Ways and Means, nine of them will not be returning in the next Congress. This includes Reps. Pete Roskam (R-IL), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Mike Bishop (R-MI), and Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), who all lost their reelection bids on Tuesday, combined with the known departures of Jim Renacci (R-OH), Diane Black (R-TN), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), and Sam Johnson (R-TX).

Republicans held on to, and will almost certainly grow, their majority in the Senate. But change is still coming to the Senate Finance Committee. Senators Dean Heller (R-NV), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and—unless the results of a recount reverse the outcome—Bill Nelson (D-FL) lost their elections on Tuesday. Additionally, Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is set to retire at the end of this Congress, leaving Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) as the next Republican in line to take over the chairmanship, if he chooses to give up his gavel as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

2018 Midterms Bring A Lot of Firsts

The 2018 midterm elections yielded a diverse group of first-time candidates elected to serve in public office. Women, Native Americans, Muslims, and LGBTQ candidates are among the groups who broke barriers.

The number of women who won seats in Congress this election increased by 20 percent, with the growth largely on the House side. In January, the House will see the first two Muslim women sworn into Congress—Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). Additionally, the new Congress will include the first two Native American women to serve—Sharice Davids (D-KS) and Deb Haaland (D-NM).

Another landmark for women in the House is that Iowa elected its first female representatives—Abby Finkenauer (R-IA) and Cindy Axne (D-IA). Massachusetts and Connecticut elected their first African American women to serve in the House—Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Jahana Hayes (D-CT). Veronica Escobar (D-TX) and Sylvia Garcia (D-TX) are the first Latina women from Texas elected to serve in the House. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who turned 29 this year, became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

In the Senate, Tennessee elected its first female senator. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) defeated former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen to replace Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is retiring.

There were also significant achievements in the gubernatorial races. Maine and South Dakota elected their first female governors, Janet Mills (currently the Democratic state attorney general of Maine) and Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD), respectively. In Colorado, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) became the country’s first openly gay man elected governor.

More Election News

For a deeper dive into election coverage:

Democrats Gain in Governors' Races, But Miss Chance at History

Down to the Wire: 23 House Races, 3 Senate Races Yet to be Called

Republicans Retain Control of Senate with Candidates Who Embraced Trump

Voters Approve Major Changes to Redistricting and Other Voting Laws

7 Takeaways from a Wild Midterm Election

GOP Tax Law Authors Take a Beating

Executive & Regulatory News IconExecutive & Regulatory News

Attorney General Sessions Resigns

Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned his position at President Trump’s request. According to the Hill, “The decision punctuates months of criticism by President Trump of his top law enforcement officer over his recusal from the ongoing Russia investigation. And it confirms widespread speculation that Trump would move to fire Sessions sometime after the midterms. Sessions agreed to resign at Trump’s request, according to a copy of his resignation letter obtained by The Hill.”

The article goes on to say, “The move is likely to be viewed by some critics as an effort by Trump to impede the Mueller investigation, which is currently being overseen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.” When President Trump nominates a replacement, he or she will need to be confirmed by the Senate. However, in the interim, Mr. Sessions’ chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, has been named acting Attorney General of the United States.

State Policy IconHappening in the States

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2018 Ballot Measures Wrap-Up

In addition to deciding who will hold thousands of federal, state, and local offices over the next couple of years, voters across the country on Election Day weighed in on more than 150 ballot measures on a wide range topics such as taxes, healthcare coverage, and affordable housing. The results, like the decisions on public offices, were mixed and contradictory.

On taxes, voters in Colorado rejected ballot provisions that would have permitted increases to income tax and sales and use tax rates. As a result of the votes Tuesday, Arizona may not expand its existing sales tax laws to apply to services. Missouri is the only other state that prohibits sales taxes on services. Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring a supermajority of the Legislature to approve any new tax or tax increase. An Oregon measure to expand that state’s existing supermajority requirement, however, failed to pass. North Carolina voters agreed to amend the state constitution to lower the income tax rate cap from 10 percent to seven percent, a decision that caused many charitable nonprofits to express concern that the amendment could impose restricted government funding for grants and contracts.

Voters in three (Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah) out of four states with ballot measures on the question voted to expand Medicaid, something that their governors or legislatures had refused to do. The Utah Legislature previously had passed a bill including mandatory volunteerism and sent the request to the federal government, but the ballot measure approved by voters did not include the provision that restricts eligibility. The Utah Medicaid expansion plan is being funded by a .15 percent sales tax hike.

Several statewide and local ballot measures looked to ease affordable housing pressures through additional funding, relaxed restrictions, expanded tenant protections, or support for public-private partnerships. Oregon voters approved a measure amending the state constitution to allow cities and counties to borrow money for affordable housing projects. In Georgia, a ballot measure passed that expands the property tax exemption for nonprofit homes for persons with mental disabilities. California voters rejected a property tax break that would have allowed homeowners older than 55 or with disabilities to keep their tax rate when moving to a different home. California voters also decisively defeated a high-profile affordable housing measure that would have expanded rent control in the state. That measure reportedly would have cost the state $1 billion per year. Voters did, however, approved bond financing for housing. Also, according to Stateline, voters in eight states weighed state or local housing measures that would clear the way for the construction of affordable housing or expand protections for renters. 

The foregoing provisions, and numerous others decided on Tuesday, will impact legislative agendas in 2019 as policymakers adjust spending priorities, adopt conforming legislation, and consider other policy reforms that expand, or even curtail, the will of the voters.

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