Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday sounded some of the most doubtful notes of [Donald] Trump’s presidency that Republicans will keep the upper chamber of Congress, telling reporters, “I hope when the smoke clears, we’ll still have a majority.”
His comments came as Republican strategists and officials fretted over a fresh round of private polling on the Senate races, while public polls registered further erosion in Americans’ approval of Trump. “Shipwreck” was how one leading strategist described the situation, adding an expletive to underscore the severity of the party’s problems.
McConnell could well be seeking to lower expectations and/or to light a fire under donors and incumbent senators, but if so, it’s because he sees ominous signs. The dreadful numbers over on the House side should make matters worse for Republicans as they make hard decisions about where to spend their money.
The House situation is so dire that the question now seems to be whether Democrats gain 25 to 30 seats or gain another tranche of seats to send their totals much higher. A new Morning Consult-Politico poll reports that Democrats have a 10-point lead — 45 percent to 35 percent — in generic congressional polling. A Quinnipiac poll, meanwhile, finds:
American voters back Democratic candidates over Republicans 52 – 38 percent in races for the U.S. House of Representatives nationwide. … Independent voters back Democrats over Republicans 50 – 35 percent, the independent Quinnipiac University National Poll finds.
Democrats lead by a narrow 48 – 42 percent among men and by a wide 55 – 35 percent among women. White voters are divided as 48 percent go Republican and 45 percent go Democratic. Democrats lead 84 – 7 percent among black voters and 64 – 22 percent among Hispanic voters. … Congress should be more of a check on President Donald Trump, voters say 58 – 27 percent. Republicans say 62 – 11 percent that Congress is doing enough to check the president, the only listed group to feel that way.
Even if Democrats win the House and eke out a narrow majority in the Senate, Republicans in the Senate will still have enough votes to filibuster items (other than matters that can be tied to a budget reconciliation bill), and the president will still retain the veto. But if the losses are substantial enough, you might find Republicans suddenly willing to break ranks and the president more willing to make deals with Democratic leaders.
Democrats would be wise to focus on these issues, which they have identified in the campaign and for which they can claim a “mandate,” as well as efforts to repair the damage that Trump and the GOP have done to our democracy:
1. Pass protections for the special counsel to complete his work. If Demo have the votes in the Senate, make clear they will not confirm a replacement for Attorney General Jeff Sessions (i.e. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein would remain as acting attorney general).
2. Move forward on a broad-based anti-corruption package, including items in Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposals that have bipartisan support. (“Presidents should not be able to own companies on the side. And we shouldn’t have to beg candidates to let the American people to see their financial interests. That should be the law — not just for presidential candidates, but for every candidate for every federal office,” she said in a speech last month rolling out her initiative. “While we’re at it, enough of the spectacle of [Department of Health and Human Services] secretaries and herds of congressmen caught up in insider-trading schemes. It’s time to ban elected officials and senior agency officials from owning or trading any company stocks while in office. They can put their savings in conflict-free investments like mutual funds, or they can pick a different line of work.”) Require the president to release 10 years of tax returns (if Trump vetoes it, make Republicans take a hard vote either to insulate a corrupt president or enable him.) Vote to disallow any foreign emoluments.
3. Set up a select committee or outside commission (akin to the 9/11 Commission), which should have been created more than a year ago, to make recommendations regarding election security and foreign interference in our elections.
4. Pass legislation, as Congress did with respect to the Internal Revenue Service after Watergate, tightly regulating contacts between the White House and the Justice Department with regard to ongoing investigations and enforcement matters.
5. Revive the bipartisan bills to stabilize health-care exchanges. Move forward on existing legislation to enable states to import drugs, following “model legislation developed by the National Academy for State Health Policy that uses a framework put in place by the 2003 federal law that created the Medicare Part D program.” (Under that law, HHS “can approve drug importation plans if it is convinced the plans will save money and will not create any public health concerns. Once passed, these laws task state health departments with overseeing the development of these programs. After the health department settles on the specifics, state officials must negotiate implementation with HHS.”)
6. Pass an infrastructure bill. Finally.
7. Pass legislation to legalize the “dreamers.”
Even if Democrats capture a narrow majority in the Senate (as well as a solid House majority), Republicans will beat back many of these initiatives. That should suit Democrats’ purposes, however. All of the items above would have overwhelming bipartisan support. Making clear that Republicans are the ones fighting to thwart anti-corruption legislation and health-care fixes should set the table for 2020. But Democrats still have the midterms ahead, and measuring the drapes in the Senate and House majority leaders’ offices prematurely would not be wise. First and foremost, they must win in the most convincing fashion possible to put the Trump era behind us.