Trump v Democrat-run House could be mother of all tussles
The FT's Washington writers analyse the US midterm results, examining how the US president will act with a divided government and the post-election challenge for the Democrats
Produced by Ben Marino. Filmed and edited by Donell Newkirk. Additional footage courtesy for Reuters, Getty, and Bloomberg.
Divided government when Trump is president is going to be a completely different kettle of fish. I think if you think the last two years have been interesting - that first half of Trump's term - then you ain't seen nothing yet. This is going to be the mother of all tussles between the White House and the Democratic House.
It's really interesting that the first thing he did after the defeat in the House was hold the longest press conference he has ever held - just under an hour and a half, in which he repeated what he'd said on Twitter, which was, if you investigate me - "you" meaning the Democrats in the House - then I will investigate you from the Senate - from the Republican-controlled Senate.
So it's kind of a B-movie threat there, that, OK, I can do to you what you can do to me. I think it's kind of a hollow, B-movie threat though, because it's just not the case that there's nearly as many rich investigative potentials from the Senate as there are investigating Trump from the House. It's going to be a golden age of subpoenas, investigations, televised hearings. And that's not going to put Trump in a good mood.
The House itself is not the most significant player in foreign policy. Easily, the White House and Trump have the most influence over foreign policy. Then you have the Senate. So the House is in a bit of a funny position, because they're going to find it quite hard to push legislative initiatives on their own or even in concert with the Senate.
But what they do have is the right to subpoena senior administration officials, to claim a lot more oversight, to demand explanations. And already we've got a flavour that they are going to ask the Trump administration:
What exactly is going on with North Korea? Why can't we see all the information? What is your relationship with Vladimir Putin? Can we know a little bit more about so-called election interference on the part of the Russians? Maybe they're not satisfied with what the Republicans have done so far.
Although there are tensions over how much the House is going to exact from the Trump administration, there's also a sense that people want to keep things rolling. And even with really quite divergent views, many of these committee chairmen have worked with each other in the past - have a history of compromise.
So, one doesn't expect to see too much change in the direction of foreign policy. But certainly in terms of the rhetoric, in terms of supporting alliances, bolstering Nato - all of these elements that people have been so frustrated by when it comes to Trump's own policies - we're likely to see a much greater push to support some of these initiatives.
So 2018 was called the "Year of the Woman." And I think it lived up to that name on Tuesday night here. You had a record number of women being elected to Congress. So there now will be more than 100 women in the US House of Representatives next year, compared to just 84, currently.
So that's a huge milestone. I mean, it's still, obviously, a fraction of the overall House. But people are seeing this as a big achievement. And in the end, we saw a lot of firsts. We saw the first two native American women be elected to Congress. We saw the first two Muslim women be elected to Congress.
And obviously, there were some losses across the board. Stacey Abrams, who would be the first African-American woman to be the governor of Georgia, is locked in a recount in her state. But I think overall, you saw really impressive numbers for women.
And arguably, the women candidates were the candidates who helped bring the Democrats over the finish line in the House. And so I think they're hugely responsible for the Democrats taking back the House.
Democrats are in an ambiguous situation, because they have made inroads, but not as deep as they would have expected earlier this year or this time last year when Donald Trump's approval rating was at a particular low. They also have this pretty epic dilemma now of which way they go when it comes to handing out the presidential election nomination for 2020.
The progressives, the left of the party, have felt pretty confident in recent months that they represent the future of the party. But they suffered a bit of a setback on Tuesday, simply because some of their favoured candidates - in Florida, Andrew Gillum, and Stacey Abrams in Georgia - both fell short. Beto O'Rourke in Texas did much better, but, again, did not win.
And as a result, the progressive end of the party has fewer successes, fewer potential future stars to point to than they thought they might do a while ago. And the mainstream or the centre or the Clintonian bit of the party - however you want to term it - I think might feel a little bit emboldened because of those results, and therefore will be able to stage a serious fight for the Democratic ticket in 2020.