IR INSIDER

Powered by IR Society at NYU

IR Insider is a production of NYU's International Relations Society. Our goal is to explain and discuss issues in IR in an engaging and thought-provoking fashion. We are written by students, for students, about issues students care about. 

2018 Midterms at a Glance

Every two years, Nov. 6 marks as a critical day in the United States, allowing citizens to vote on their local and state representatives, as well as other important ballot initiatives. This year’s midterms are no different from the others, with high stakes for both the Democratic and Republican parties. With President Donald Trump elected into office two years ago, this midterm serves as an indicator of whether or not the balance of power has shifted from the GOP to the Democrats. Below are three takeaways from this year’s midterms:

1. Democrats take over the House

Heading into Tuesday, the Democrats needed to net gain 24 seats in order to win control in the House. The Democrats ended the night with a total of 222 seats, with several races that are too close to call. After gaining 27 seats, the Democrats have guaranteed a two seat majority.

Political insiders were expecting a “blue wave” coming to the House, as Democrats saw unprecedented fundraising numbers. At a breakfast hosted by Bloomberg, Congressman Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) commented, “it shows you where there’s a lot of energy and momentum.” Across the country, over 30 Democrats raised over $2 million dollars, with 8 others gaining over $3 million.

After polls closed and upon notification of the party’s victory, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) commented, “Today is more about Democrats and Republicans.” She also added, “It's about stopping the GOP and Mitch McConnell's assault on Medicare, Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act and the health care of 130 million Americans living with pre-existing medical conditions." The minority leader has been the subject of criticism amongst GOP House candidates and even members within the Party. Pelosi won overwhelmingly in her own re-election bid against Lisa Remmer, gaining 85.5% of the vote with nearly all precincts in.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gives a press briefing. Credit:  Sky News

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi gives a press briefing. Credit: Sky News

With the win, the Democrats now have the power to impeach President Trump. However, Pelosi is looking to steer away from that narrative. In her press conference, she noted that while the party has the “constitutional responsibility to have oversight,” and to challenge the president on his personal history, she maintained that the Democrats were “looking to unify the country.”

2. GOP retains the Senate

Republicans avoided a double loss in Congress, as the party rallied to maintain control of the Senate. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Joe Donnelly (D-IN), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-MN), all Democratic incumbents from red-states were among the Senators who lost their seats to GOP challengers.

Democratic hopefuls in Texas, a solid red state, were looking to see if Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) could pull an upset against sitting senator, Ted Cruz (R-TX). Despite enthusiasm amongst Democratic corners, polls leading up to Tuesday had shown O’Rourke losing momentum against Cruz. The incumbent senator ultimately fended off his challenger by 2.5 percentage points.

The race in Florida is also in dead heat, with the state’s current governor, Rick Scott (R-FL) facing against sitting senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). With 100% of the votes reported, Scott is leading Nelson by 0.2% points. The battle for the seat is headed towards a recount, as the campaign is challenging the state’s election signature match law. Marc Elias, Nelson’s campaign attorney said, “We believe that at the end of the process Sen. Nelson is going to be declared the winner and is going to return to the United States Senate.”

Scott’s campaign has largely been skeptical of the recount. In a press release, a spokesperson said, “With today's filing, their desperation has driven them to ask the federal courts to allow voter fraud.” The race in Arizona also remains undecided.

While Democrats celebrated their victory in the House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) remained optimistic. Speaking to reporters Wednesday morning, he said, “This is indeed a good morning for Senate Republicans.” McConnell also insisted on rallying his Republican colleagues towards working with President Trump on the issues of immigration and border security.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell optimistic moving forward. Credit: Eric Tucker/ AP

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell optimistic moving forward. Credit: Eric Tucker/AP

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages that come with the Republicans’ victory is their ability to confirm federal court judges. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich wrote in an op-ed last week, "If the Democrats had acquired a majority in the Senate, they could have blocked every person President Trump nominated for federal judgeships.” Since only a simple majority is required to confirm judicial nominees, McConnell and the GOP will certainly seek to push judicial confirmations through in district courts around the country.

3. Mixed Results on Ballot Initiatives

Advocates for medical marijuana use claimed victories, as Utah, Michigan, and Missouri all voted to relax marijuana laws. The media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry association, Morgan Fox, said, “Two thirds of the country wants marijuana to be legal, and politicians are ignoring that at their peril.” North Dakota voted against legalizing recreational marijuana.

Medical marijuana laws loosened at the polls. Credit:  Bigstock

Medical marijuana laws loosened at the polls. Credit: Bigstock

Florida voters on Tuesday also voted on Amendment 4, an initiative aimed to restore voting rights for felons. The ballot passed, with 65% voting in favor. According to the Sentencing Project’s 2016 report, it is estimated that roughly over one million additional residents will benefit from the passage of Amendment 4.

Healthcare continued to be central concern amongst voters. With Congressional Republicans unable to fulfill their promise of replacing Obamacare, efforts at the state level were made to change the healthcare landscape. In states where healthcare was noted as a primary reason for heading towards the polls, voters in Utah, Idaho, and Nebraska all voted to expand Medicaid.

The midterms also saw a shakeup at the executive level. Late Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned as the head of the Justice Department. Sessions had been sparing with the President since taking office, mostly from his recusal from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential elections.

Filling in for Sessions will be Matthew Whitaker, who was Sessions’ former chief of staff. Immediately following the announcement, Whitaker received criticisms from Democrats who found his comments on the special counsel’s investigation problematic. Whitaker had previously said that Mueller’s appointment was “ridiculous and a little fishy.”

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Credit: Charlie Neibergall/ AP

Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP

President Donald Trump also gave a press conference following the results of the election. Trump took a shot at GOP hopefuls who ultimately lost their election bid, commenting, “they did very poorly. I’m not sure if I should be happy or sad but I feel just fine about it.” Despite the Democratic takeover in the House, he congratulated Republicans for their victory in the Senate, he concluded, “last night the Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority. It was very close to a complete victory."

To the president’s credit, it is unusual for GOP not to lose any seats in the Senate. Republicans were able to pick up flip Democratic seats in red-states like Missouri and Indiana that Trump had overwhelming won in the 2016 election. Despite losing the House, President Trump’s party largely evaded a significant loss to the Democrats by retaining the majority in the Senate for at least another two years.