Republicans shocked Democrats by keeping control of the Senate, setting the stage for President-elect Donald Trump to enact a broad conservative agenda and ensure a Republican Supreme Court for a generation. That’s provided he can work with a GOP establishment he spent most of the campaign attacking.
Election night amounted to an almost complete disaster for Senate Democrats in a year when the map greatly favored them — 10 of 11 battlegrounds were on Republican turf — and only weeks ago they were hoping that an anti-Trump wave would carry them to the majority.
Republicans clinched at least 51 Senate seats, with races in New Hampshire and Louisiana still to be decided. They also kept control of the House.
One-party rule creates the potential to reshape the Supreme Court and use Senate procedures to muscle through changes in tax policy and Obamacare.
First, Trump and his fellow Republicans would have to find a way to work together.
‘Drain the Swamp’
Trump repeatedly promised to “drain the swamp” of the Washington establishment and has called House Speaker Paul Ryan “a weak and ineffective leader.” Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell almost always avoided speaking Trump’s name in public, and while they nominally supported him, they never campaigned alongside him.
Republicans who will control the Senate are sharply divided over matters that include immigration, trade and climate change.
Indeed, some Republicans weren’t even willing to vote for Trump, and few have embraced some of his signature proposals, such as building a wall on the border with Mexico and enacting 35 percent tariffs on Mexican imports from U.S. companies. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said on Twitter that he voted for an independent candidate for president. Republicans Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska also spoke out strongly against Trump.
“We now have a country to run,” Graham said in a statement posted on Twitter. “President-elect Trump and the new Congress will face many challenges. We have wars to win, threats to be dealt with and a stagnant economy which must be revived. To the extent that I can help President-elect Trump, I will do so.”
Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, in a statement Wednesday called on all sides to “look to one another with compassion and understanding, to view each other as neighbors rather than adversaries.” He added, “It will be difficult, but it is achievable.”
The party also faces significant challenges in the Senate because it still lacks the 60 votes needed to force through most legislation over Democratic objections. Republicans could change the rules to keep Democrats from blocking Trump’s Supreme Court nominees, including one to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
One big winner on the night was McConnell, whose gamble to block Merrick Garland’s nomination to the high court paid off. The Trump win put an end to Democrats’ dreams of a liberal court; progressive interest groups were relishing the prospect that the court would have a majority of Democratic appointees for the first time since 1969.
The three oldest Supreme Court justices all support Roe v. Wade, the landmark abortion rights ruling that Trump has predicted would be overturned by his court picks.
On the House side, Republicans easily cleared the 218 seats needed to control the chamber, losing only a handful of races.
Ryan will likely win credit from many Republicans for helping them to run campaigns that kept some strategic distance from Trump, even as many probably benefited from Trump-fueled turnout. Even so, Ryan — the party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee who became speaker a year ago after conservatives pushed Speaker John Boehner out of office — could still see his own leadership under question for his less-than-full-throated support of Trump.
The speaker did energetically campaign and raise money for his House colleagues, even as some Republicans publicly complained of the potential harm they saw for GOP candidates from Ryan’s tepid backing of the presidential nominee. In the final days of the campaign, he started backing Trump more explicitly.
But it’s unclear how well Trump and Ryan will get along, or whether they can agree on an agenda, given their high-profile splits on immigration and trade.
Possibility of reconciliation
Even though Senate Republicans will have a slim governing margin next year, their control of the chamber and the House could let them make big changes to the tax code and health care policy. That’s because of a powerful procedure called budget reconciliation that can allow the Senate to pass bills containing revenue- or entitlement-related changes with just 51 votes.
Republicans used the method to pass President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, and it helped Senate Democrats push through the Affordable Care Act in 2010. Trump and virtually all Republicans in Congress agree that they want to repeal Obamacare as soon as possible.