For two years, Senate Democrats from red states lived in fear for their political lives. Vote against repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and you’ll lose your seat! Vote against Neil Gorsuch or Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, and you’ll lose your seat! Vote for gun bills or against tax cuts, and you’ll lose your seat! (Logically, this argument should have stop working once they voted the “wrong” way once or twice.) Well, some red-state Democrats certainly did lose.
But now the map turns. Senate Republicans from blue and purple states are up for reelection in 2020. Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine will face voters. So will Thom Tillis from North Carolina, where a Democratic governor will have a more Democratic state legislature. (“Democrats needed to flip four seats in the state House and six in the state Senate to break the Republican supermajority, which allows to the GOP to override vetoes issued by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Democrats broke through by flipping seats around Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro. Wake County Republicans Nelson Dollar, Chris Malone, John Adcock and Tamara Barringer all lost.”)
Moreover, the few Republican House survivors in competitive seats in California, Pennsylvania, Florida and elsewhere will need to make the case to their constituents once more that they are not like those “other” Republicans.
All of that means that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), most likely the next speaker of the House, should be able to force a series of votes in the House that put vulnerable Republicans in both the House and Senate in a bind.
Vote to shore up Obamacare? Well, even red-state voters like that now so, sure, pass something in the House and make Gardner, Tillis and others squirm. Pelosi also vows to pass “bipartisan, commonsense solutions to prevent gun violence.” It’s not clear what that might entail, but Gardner, Collins, Tillis and the few surviving suburban House Republicans (especially those in Florida) are going to have a hard time explaining why they didn’t vote for popular measures such as universal background checks.
In the same vein, Pelosi has a chance to put on the floor a compromise bill on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) that outgoing Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) would not — for fear that it would pass! Send that over to the Senate and see whether vulnerable Republican senators as well as colleagues from border states and/or from states with a sizable Hispanic population (e.g. John Cornyn of Texas, Jon Kyl of Arizona, Marco Rubio of Florida) have the nerve to vote against popular measures.
An infrastructure bill that House Republicans never managed to pass might come up again — with President Trump cheerleading for a bill he has wanted to pass since he took office. The very same Republicans who ran up the debt will scream about the expense — but might not have the nerve to vote against it when Gardner, Collins, Tillis and others start sweating.
If Pelosi and Democrats are very clever, they will even pass a tax bill that reallocates tax breaks from the super-rich or corporations to the middle class and that gives blue states back their uncapped state and local tax (SALT) deductions.
In some cases, Pelosi might be able to push legislation through that delights Democrats; in other cases, she will be helping sow dissension between Trump and Republican lawmakers — and between Republicans and their constituents. Having the House majority, you see, not only means that your party has control of the committees and subpoena power; it also means one controls the agenda. With Republicans in political retreat and crosswise with voters on key policy issues, that’s a really big deal for Pelosi and her members.