Democrats are in control of one house of Congress. They need to use it to their advantage.
Historical trends, an unpopular president, and resurgent Democrat support were able to achieve their primary political goal last night. As of this writing, Democrats are poised to win 222 seats and take back the House of Representatives. They were unable to take back the Senate, mainly due to the terrible Senate map this year. President Trump has already taken credit for allowing the Senate to remain in Republican hands, tweeting last night, “Tremendous success tonight. Thank you to all!” He has yet to take any blame for the Republican House loss.
This victory is, in many ways, the culmination of the first two years of resistance against the Trump administration. Democrats were able to reverse decades of low-voter turnout numbers and general apathy among their supporters during midterm elections. They overcame gerrymandered districts, targeted voter ID laws, and meddling Republican governors and secretaries of state. Even with these factors against them, Democrats were able to exceed expectations. They won governor’s races in Michigan and even Kansas, along with ousting long-term Republican congressmen such as Pete Sessions and Leonard Lance.
It is true that Trump will remain president and still be in control of the Senate and, thus, the courts. But the potentials for Democrats with control of the House seem endless. They can finally provide a consistent check on the Donald Trump presidency. Democrats can use their subpoena power to investigate Trump’s tax returns, his businesses, and his connections with Russia. They will be able to provide a steady stream of negative stories about the administration to the rest of the country for the next two years. Democrats may also be able to discuss and pass laws that articulate their vision for the country, a vision that will become critical for the next presidential election. Jordan Weissmann notes how 2020 contender Kamala Harris’s signature economic plan, a take on the earned income tax credit, has a number of flaws that make it impractical. House Democrats could use committee time to introduce, refine, and message on Harris’s and other economic plans. By passing an infrastructure plan and an improvement on the Affordable Care Act, when Trump has ignored both in recent months, Democrats will be able to establish a contrast with the president that will serve their 2020 candidate well.
But most importantly, Democrats need to use their power strategically. Donald Trump has proven adept at changing narratives and dominating media coverage with his outrageous statements and policy proposals. But with a house of Congress, Democrats will have a means through which they can command committee meetings and subsequently drive news coverage. With that coverage, they can create a strong counternarrative to the Trump administration that weakens his position while bolstering those of his opponents. What they should not do is spend their time chasing gimmicks, stunts, and red herrings that do nothing to galvanize the American people or advance Democratic policies. Ben Mathis-Lilley sums up this problem best in his latest Slate cover story:
“in 2018, being more direct, more aggressive, and more not-world-historically-lame… could help the party rally supporters, establish a rapport with new voters, frame news coverage in advantageous ways, and, like, actually win elections for once.”
The prognostications for 2020 and the future of the Trump administration have already begun. But this much is clear: the administration will no longer have united government. It will not be able to pass its policy proposals, and it will be unable to stave off congressional oversight forever. While winning both the House and the Senate was certainly desirable for Democrats, winning just one house of Congress, and ending Trump’s stranglehold on the American political system, is enough for now.