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From change to 'change course': It's GOP's turn at helm of the House

From change to 'change course': It's GOP's turn at helm of the House



A resurgent Republican Party captured control of the House on Tuesday as voters swept aside dozens of Democrats to shift the balance of power dramatically in Washington.



The election will likely elevate 10-term Rep. John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE (R-Ohio) to Speaker and brings a sobering end to the brief but historic tenure of Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who in 2007, became the first woman to wield the Speaker’s gavel.



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As Democratic incumbents began falling shortly after the polls closed in the East, the party’s national chairman, former Virginia Gov. Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Rick Scott tests positive for coronavirus Grassley tests positive for coronavirus MORE, acknowledged that House was lost before 10 p.m. By midnight, the GOP had gained more than the 39 seats they needed to win a majority, and more than 20 additional seats appeared within their grasp.


Old bulls, no votes on healthcare, pledges not to vote for Pelosi for speaker -- those promises by incumbents didn’t matter in several races as one by one Democrats across the nation fell.


Republicans immediately declared the results a rejection of President Obama’s agenda and two years of one-party Democratic rule in Washington.

Addressing supporters on Capitol Hill, BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerPrinciples to unify America Feehery: A possible House Speaker conundrum for Democrats Obama on bipartisanship: 'There is a way to reach out and not be a sap' MORE claimed a mandate to rein in federal spending and reduce the size and influence of government.



“Across the country right now we’re witnessing a repudiation of Washington, a repudiation of big government, and a repudiation of politicians who refuse to listen to the American people,” Boehner said Tuesday night.



He pledged that a GOP House that would respect the will of voters – something Republicans have argued Obama did not do in pursuing an ambitious domestic agenda.



“The people’s priorities will be our priorities, and the people’s agenda will be our agenda,” Boehner said.

He said the American people “sent an unmistakable message” to the president. “And that message is change course,” Boehner said to loud cheers. “We hope President Obama will now respect the will of the people, change course, and to commit to making changes that they are demanding. And to the extent that he’s willing to do that, we’re ready to work with him.”



The White House made no public statement Tuesday night, and Obama planned a 1 p.m. news conference Wednesday to respond to the election results.

The president called Boehner at midnight, according to a Boehner aide.

The aide characterized the conversation as "brief but pleasant."

"Leader Boehner said he's always been straightforward and honest with the president in the past, and said that's the way he'll continue to be with the president in the future. They discussed working together to focus on the top priorities of the American people, which Boehner has identified as creating jobs and cutting spending," the aide said in a statement.

Obama also spoke to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellHarris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year Feinstein departure from top post sets stage for Judiciary fight MORE (R-Ky.), Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).



Democratic leaders were well aware of the likelihood of losing the House, but they maintained an optimistic front to the end. The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), was predicting his party would retain the House as late as 9 p.m. Told by a reporter that NBC had already called the House for the GOP, Van Hollen shot back: “I think that’s a mistake. Way too early.”



But House Democrats kept falling like dominoes, making control of the lower chamber a foregone conclusion. The party lost at least three seats in Virginia, four in New York, four in Florida and five in Ohio. Old Democratic bulls Reps. John Spratt (S.C.), Ike Skelton (Mo.), Earl Pomeroy (N.D.), and Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) were ousted in a GOP wave that stretched from coast to coast.

Democrats who voted no on healthcare -- like Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.), Lincoln Davis (Tenn.), Chet Edwards (Texas), Glenn Nye (Va.) and Rick Boucher (Va.) – all lost.


Even Democrats who pledged not to support Pelosi for speaker – such as Rep. Bobby Bright (Ala.), who joked Pelosi might “get sick and die,” and Gene Taylor (Miss.), who said he voted for Republican John McCainJohn Sidney McCainJuan Williams: Obama's dire warnings about right-wing media Democrats' squabbling vindicates Biden non-campaign McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE for president – were defeated.

The 2010 campaign was fought against the backdrop of nearly double-digit unemployment and widespread economic anxiety, and Democrats elected in 2008 struggled to persuade the public that the party’s expansive legislative program was bringing the country out of a deep recession.



For Republicans, the House victory marked a stunning turnaround from 2006 and 2008, when the party lost control of Congress and the White House in successive elections. The party won big on its decision in early 2009 to oppose Obama’s ambitious agenda, and its leaders argued consistently that the new president and his allies in Congress had misread their mandate from the voters two years ago.

The GOP successfully soured the public on the Democratic stimulus and healthcare laws, criticizing the measures for expanding the federal government without jumpstarting the economy.



Handcuffed by a slow economic recovery, Democrats were unable to capitalize on a litany of legislative achievements, from the sweeping healthcare law to reforms of the credit card, student loan and financial services industries.

The campaign evoked memories of 1994, the last time a young Democratic president – Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonObama: 'Hopeless' to try to sell as many books as Michelle Dow breaks 30,000 for first time as Biden transition ramps up Trump's remaking of the judicial system MORE – faced steep losses at the polls after trying to advance an ambitious domestic agenda in a struggling economy. Democrats this year long resisted comparisons to that earlier election, saying that unlike 1994, their most vulnerable candidates prepared months in advance by raising money and defining their GOP opponents.

Yet despite the Democrats’ firewall, the GOP in recent weeks was able to expand the playing field to as many as 100 seats, threatening entrenched Democratic stalwarts like Reps. Barney Frank (Mass.), Jim Oberstar (Minn.), and Raul Grijalva (Ariz.)

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And the GOP finally succeeded in a strategy that failed twice before, in 2006 and 2008: campaigning against Pelosi and tying Democratic incumbents to the unpopular San Francisco liberals. Endangered conservative Democrats distanced themselves from Pelosi in the final weeks, to the point where several lawmakers said they would not support for another term as Speaker if they won re-election.



Pelosi maintained a steely public image throughout, vowing not to yield “a single grain of sand” and saying she did not mind members of her own party deserting her. “I just want them to win,” she said at one point in October.

But, after the results were in and it was obvious she had lost her gavel, she said in a statement: “The outcome of the election does not diminish the work we have done for the American people. We must all strive to find common ground to support the middle class, create jobs, reduce the deficit and move our nation forward.”

The Speaker gave no indication of whether she intended to stay as Democratic leader in the minority, but there was widespread speculation that she would step aside in favor of her top lieutenant, Hoyer.



For Boehner, the chance at the Speaker’s gavel culminates a remarkable career comeback for a man once ousted from the House GOP leadership. An architect of the “Contract for America” that helped Republicans claim power in 1994, Boehner has pledged to run a more open House by delegating more bill-writing responsibility to committees, allowing 72 hours for lawmakers and the public to reads bills before they are voted on and allowing more floor amendments from the minority party.



On Tuesday night, Boehner wept as he recalled his rise from a blue-collar upbringing in Ohio, where he mopped floors to help his family before setting out to, as he put it, “chase the American dream.”

-- Molly K. Hooper, Sam Youngman, and Emily Goodin contributed to this story.