Will Republicans win a majority in one or both houses of the US Congress? Or will the Democrats, led by Joe Biden, create a sensation? If not, the president will have to prepare for a particularly difficult second half of his term.
And according to polls, the following could be just the case: Republicans win a majority in the House, while Democrats defend their majority in the Senate. That could be good news for Joe Biden, because the president’s party typically loses seats in both houses in the midterm elections. Biden is still uncomfortable.
Republicans are threatening various investigations against Democrats or even impeachment proceedings against members of Biden’s cabinet. Lawyer Gregory Magarian of Washington University in St. Louis says many in the party want to “revenge” the actions against former Republican President Donald Trump: There have been impeachment proceedings against him, and a commission of inquiry investigating his role in the attack to the US Capitol. The goal of some Republicans now is to make life difficult for Biden and his government in return.
Above all, with this outcome, the president will no longer be able to get any major legislative projects through Congress — “because Republicans don’t give him any success and don’t want him to improve his balance sheet,” says Johannes Thiem. American expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. This could also have consequences beyond the United States, because Republicans could stop or slow down aid to Ukraine, which must be approved by Congress. House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who aspires to be House Speaker, has threatened to do so, arguing that in the midst of a recession the United States cannot issue a “blank check” to Ukraine. However, experts suspect McCarthy is trying to increase the pressure.
The other theoretical alternative, that the Democrats could maintain their majority in the House of Representatives and the Republicans could have a majority in the Senate, is considered highly unlikely.
Majority of Republicans in both houses
If Republicans win a majority in both houses, it will be bitter for Biden. “Then he has three problems,” Thiem says. “He can no longer pass any laws, he has to deal with investigations and he can no longer get nominations to the Senate.” The appointment of the judges is particularly important: “Both parties have made it a priority, because that’s where the battles over the country’s political future are fought,” Thiem says.
If the Democrats also lose their slim majority in the Senate, many things will stop. Thiem explains: “This means at first a siege and an inability to reform,” but asserts, “Biden then remains an executive governor: by decree, order, and regulation by subordinate powers. There is still much that can be done.” However, Biden had already used many of these powers early in his presidency. So the question arises whether he can start bigger projects in this way.
In this scenario, Republicans could launch investigations against Democrats in both houses of Congress as well as launch legislative initiatives at will, such as a national law restricting abortion. A lot of that will go away because the president can veto it and the Republicans won’t be able to see a two-thirds majority to override the veto. It will still be difficult for Biden. “The second half of his presidency will be purely defensive,” Magarian says. “He was sitting at his desk dealing with political threats.” It’s questionable whether Biden would stand a good chance of a second term in that position – and as the most important president of all time.
Democrats have a majority in both houses
Biden’s Democrats currently have slim majorities in both houses of Congress, and slim majorities in the Senate. They occupy 48 of the 100 seats there, and two of them almost always vote. They only get a majority through a vote of US Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also the Speaker of the Senate and can vote in a deadlock. If it stays that way, it will be a real sensation for Biden – given the typical losses for a president in the “midterm”.
This means that Biden can continue as before. However, the past two years have shown that this is not always easy. “Even with a simple majority, Biden cannot rule,” Thiem says. Two of his party mates in particular have made life difficult for Biden in the Senate: Joe Manchin and Kirsten Senema have blocked several of his projects — including a massive climate and social investment program that Biden had targeted as a legacy of his presidency. In the end he was only able to break through parts of it.
If the Democrats can expand their majority in the Senate, which polls don’t seem, new opportunities will open up for them. “If the Democrats win a seat, they won’t have to worry so much about Manchin,” Magarian says. “If the Democrats get two seats, they won’t have much to worry about Mansion or Cinema.” He could still move forward with previously blocked projects and possibly repeal the old Senate blockage rule in order to bring initiatives to a vote that Republicans fiercely object to. In a word, for Biden, it means one thing, as Magarian says: “Hallelujah.”
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