Why the coming midterms are so important

Why the coming midterms are so important
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If there is anything that our current political era should teach us, it is this: Elections have consequences; elections matter.

With the Democrats having a significant lead over Republicans in this year’s generic ballot polls, and with the president’s party typically losing congressional seats in midterm elections, many observers are now discussing the likelihood of a change in party control of the House of Representatives, and perhaps the Senate. Currently, the focus has been on horse race concerns rather than on what the implications might be if Congress does change hands. But it is time for people to contemplate the likely consequences of those elections if, indeed, Democrats regain control of Congress. We believe that this year’s elections are among the most important ones in many years.

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First, if Democrats win the House, Washington will face the prospect of a flurry of investigations into the Trump administration. Regardless of whatever findings the Mueller probe might produce, a Democratic House might well return to the topic of Russia and possible collusion or obstruction. Additional inquiries could examine the work of controversial Trump appointees to cabinet or agency positions — for example, environmental policy decisions made by Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: OPEC strikes deal to boost crude production | Pruitt sent one work email outside EPA in first 10 months | Perry, oil execs head to gas conference Overnight Energy: Senate panel sets Pruitt hearing | Colorado joins California with tougher emissions rules | Court sides with Trump on coal leasing program Interior 'disappointed' by billboards protesting uranium drilling in Grand Canyon MORE or contracts let by the Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVosElizabeth (Betsy) Dee DeVosEducation Department closes 1,200 Obama-era civil rights probes The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by PhRMA — Trump caves under immense pressure — what now? Education Department ordered to stop collecting debts from defrauded Corinthian College students MORE.

 

So, look for continuing inquiries into possible corruption or economic conflicts of interest involving the president and other administration officials. Potential governmental scandals of one sort or another, along with associated accusations and denials, may well become everyday news. Increasing polarization and unprecedented tensions between legislators and the president can only further inflame such proceedings. This continuation of what political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg once called “politics by other means” could significantly curtail the president’s agenda, as well as taint the Republican Party’s brand leading into the 2020 elections to some extent even if investigations revealed no misdeeds.

Moreover, party turnover in the House makes impeachment proceedings possible, if not probable. The history of impeachment shows that it is more likely under conditions of divided government. So, if the Democrats control both houses of Congress in 2019, it is entirely possible that the House would endorse articles of impeachment. The only question would be whether a vote of the Senate might convict President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP lawmakers preparing to vote on bill allowing migrant children to be detained longer than 20 days: report Wasserman Schultz: Infants separated from their parents are in Florida immigrant shelters Ex-White House ethics chief: Sarah Sanders tweet violates ethics laws MORE of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It seems that a conviction would be even more likely if congressional Republicans began to sense that the removal of Trump would help them achieve their policy goals while avoiding further electoral losses in 2020. And don’t underestimate how personal attacks by President Trump on members of Congress might come back to bite him in such proceedings.

In many ways, President Trump’s most influential achievements have been his many nominations of judges to the federal courts. Several of them have been controversial, with a few rated as unqualified by the American Bar Association, but all have been explicitly and significantly conservative. These nominees will put a stamp on judicial decisions for a generation. Democratic control of the Senate would dramatically limit the president’s prospects for filling future court appointments, including possible vacancies on the Supreme Court. A similar fate would befall Trump’s nominations for Cabinet secretaries and the heads of various federal agencies.

On a purely legislative level, a turnover in one or both houses of Congress certainly would make it hard for Republicans to pass any legislation that the Democrats did not support. There would be little likelihood, then, of policy reforms pursued by the president and congressional leaders regarding Social Security, Medicare, or other entitlements that have been the bedrock of domestic policy for many decades. To make it through Congress, any legislation would have to be more moderate in nature, constructed with Democratic input; otherwise, little or no legislation would be passed at all. Gridlock would prevail once again.

In other words, this could be the most consequential midterm election in many years. Indeed, as we started this piece: Elections have consequences; elections matter.

Neil Wollman is a Senior Fellow at Bentley University and has done research and commentary on political issues for many years. Leonard Williams is professor of political science and dean of the College of Education and Social Sciences at Manchester University in Indiana. He researches political theory and American politics, and is the author of “American Liberalism and Ideological Change.”