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US voters hand Democrats a check on Trump’s agenda

Bolstered ranks in the House countered by GOP control of Senate.

Saturday 10 November, 2018
The Capitol in Washington DC, pictured the morning after the day of the US midterms.
The Capitol in Washington DC, pictured the morning after the day of the US midterms. Foto:AP/ J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

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In the United States, Democrats took back the House of Representatives with a surge of fresh new candidates and an outpouring of voter enthusiasm on Tuesday, breaking the GOP’s monopoly on power in Washington and setting the stage for a multitude of investigations of US President Donald Trump that could engulf his administration over the next two years.

Ending eight years of Republican control that began with the Tea Party revolt of 2010, Democrats picked off more than two dozen GOP-held districts in suburbs across the nation on the way to securing the 218 seats needed for a majority.

Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is seeking to reclaim the gavel as House speaker, called it a “new day in America.”

She saluted “those dynamic, diverse and incredible candidates who have taken back the House for the American people.”

GRIDLOCK OR DEAL-MAKING?

With the Republicans keeping control of the Senate, the outcome in the House could mean gridlock for Trump’s agenda on Capitol Hill — or, conversely, it could open a new era of dealmaking.

As the majority party, the Democrats will chair important committees and will have expansive powers to investigate the president, his business dealings and the inner workings of his administration, including whether anyone from the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election. They will have authority to request Trump’s tax returns and subpoena power to obtain documents, emails and testimony.

However, any attempt to impeach Trump is likely to run headlong into resistance in the GOPcontrolled Senate.

The campaign unfolded against a backdrop of ugly rhetoric and angry debates on immigration, health care and the role of Congress in overseeing the president.

In locking down a majority, Democratic candidates flipped seats in several suburban districts outside Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Chicago, Denver and Dallas that were considered prime targets for turnover because they were won by Hillary Clinton in 2016. The Democrats made only slight inroads in Trump country, where they tried to win back white working-class voters.

Midterm elections are typically difficult for the party in power, but the GOP’s hold on power was further weakened by an unusually large number of retirements as well as infighting between conservatives and centrists over their allegiance to Trump.

The Democrats, in turn, benefitted from extraordinary voter enthusiasm, robust fundraising and unusually fresh candidates. More women than ever were running, along with veterans and minorities, many of them motivated by revulsion over Trump.

As returns came in, voters were on track to send at least 99 women to the House, shattering the record of 84 now. Perhaps the biggest new political star among them is New York’s 29-yearold Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a liberal firebrand from the Bronx.

Healthcare and immigration were high on voters’ minds as they cast ballots, according to a survey of the electorate by The Associated Press. AP VoteCast also showed a majority of voters considered Trump a factor in their votes.

POLITICAL PIONEERS: VOTERS IN THE UNITED STATES ELECT TRAILBLAZING CANDIDATES

What is already the most diverse US Congress ever will become even more so after this week’s midterm elections, which broke barriers of race and gender.

For the first time, a pair of NativeAmerican congresswomen are headed to the House of Representatives, in addition to two Muslim congresswoman. Massachusetts and Connecticut will also send black women to Congress as firsts for their states, while Arizona and Tennessee are getting their first female senators.

The high-profile midterm cycle that produced a record number of women contenders and candidates of colour means a number of winners will take office as trailblazers. The inclusive midterm victories bode well for future election cycles, says Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, a national organisation focused on galvanizing black women voters and electing black women as candidates.

“This is going to be a long process to get us to a point of proportionate representation, but tonight is a giant step forward for what leadership can and will eventually look like in this country,” Peeler-Allen said. She added that even women of colour who were unsuccessful will inspire a new crop of candidates, similar to the white women encouraged to run after Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential election loss.

Some of Tuesday’s black female pioneers, like Illinois nurse and Democrat Lauren Underwood and Connecticut teacher and Democrat Jahana Hayes, were first-time candidates. Others, like Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, were political veterans. Most were considered longshots.

Several will represent districts that are majority white and that have been historically conservative, their victories a rejection of conventional wisdom on electability and the effects of gerrymandering that have historically assigned elected officials of colour to represent minority communities.

Also in the House, Democrats Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan will be the first Muslim women to serve in Congress.

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