As a result of the Nov. 6 elections, the Republican Party was able to tighten control of the Senate, and the Democratic Party was able to flip the House of Representatives — meaning they were able to turn it from a Republican Party majority to a Democratic Party majority. “I think it is an interesting point that the Republican Party gained more power in the Senate and the Democratic Party gained more power in the House, and so I think that that could give each side greater confidence that they are representing America,” said Assistant Professor of Political Science Sara Angevine.
“[There are] two main reasons that people really put a lot of emphasis on this idea of flipping the House,” said Professor of Political Science Deborah Norden. “[The House of Representatives] can block laws, as laws can’t be passed without both houses, which means [the House and Senate will be] forced to come to some kind of accommodation. And, [control of the House] does allow for some sort of check with respect to presidential power.” A bill must pass through the House of Representatives before being passed on to the Senate, then to a committee made up of members from both the House and the Senate, and then, finally, to the President. The President can attempt to circumvent the process of passing a bill through the House and Senate by signing an executive order into effect, but an executive order can be overridden by a law passed by Congress.
The House also has the ability to launch investigations. “There is a lot of debate about whether Democrats would even want to pursue impeachment,” said Professor Norden, “but they have the power to launch that investigation.” According to an analysis done by the Washington Post, only 21 percent of the Democrats elected to the House this year have said they want to immediately pursue impeachment, and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi has claimed that she wants to wait until Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election reaches a conclusion to pursue impeachment. Presidents Bill Clinton and Andrew Jackson have been the only U.S. Presidents to be impeached by the House of Representatives, though Jackson was acquitted and Clinton was never removed from the Presidency. Whittier College alumnus Richard Nixon left the office before he could be properly investigated for impeachment.
Professor Norden is uncertain if the Democratic Party will pursue impeachment. “[The Democratic Party is] likely to carry out some investigation. They may or may not want to take that as far as an impeachment. That is sort of something that is to be seen.”
Professor Angevine believes that, now that the Democrats are in control of the House, they may try and ask for President Trump’s tax returns, which the Republicans chose not to ask for when they had majority control of the House. CNN’s Chris Cillizza agrees, writing in an editorial, “What seems certain now: House Democrats will make a move to see Trump’s taxes. Trump, who, I believe, thinks the release of the returns could do him real political harm, will fight like hell to keep them from doing so.” Professor Angevine also believes that the Democratic-majority House will heavily discuss healthcare and immigration reform, though if the House will actually be able to pass any policies on these polarizing issues remains to be seen.
“I think there is also this thing in the American electorate where we like balance,” said Professor Angevine. “We like checks and balances in our branches [ … ] we like democracy to be deliberative, which means there has to be friction.” Professor Norden thinks that having a split between the party in control of the House and the Party in control of the Senate may led to a strong system of checks and balances. “[This would] make it a slower democracy, but a slower democracy is a more secure democracy,” she said. Professor Norden also said that when there is gridlock, the U.S. stock market tends to do better, as a gridlocked government is far more predictable than one controlled by a single party. Betting on the stock market is, therefore, less of a gamble.
“I think the election was interesting,” said Professor Norden. She pointed out that voters in some areas elected the Republican Senators endorsed by President Trump, suggesting that he still has, in some places, a devoted following. “We also saw, in various places, the impact of gerrymandering,” said Professor Norden. “[There were a] number of seats that were just pre-determined, and that is increasingly showing up as an issue as we question how democratic our democracy is.”
Professor Angevine is cautiously optimistic about the future of the American government. “Some would say we are getting just more and more divided,” said Angevine. “You could also argue, we are just getting different members. And that does not necessarily mean that we’re [going to] see obstructionism.”