Democrats celebrate retaining control of Senate as Republicans take stock

House control still undecided as Republicans lead and attention pivots to Florida, where Trump is expected to announce 2024 run

As the balance of power in the US House of Representatives remained unresolved on Sunday, Democrats are celebrating the projection that they won control of the Senate, marking a significant victory for Joe Biden as Republicans backed by his presidential predecessor Donald Trump underperformed in key battleground states.

While senior Democrats remained guarded on Sunday about the chances of keeping control of both chambers of Congress, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, hailed the party’s performance in the midterms following months of projections indicating heavy losses.

“Who would have thought two months ago that this red wave would turn into a little tiny trickle, if that at all,” Pelosi told CNN.

She added: “We’re still alive [for control of the House] but again the races are close. We don’t pray for victory … but you pray that God’s will will be done.”

As of Sunday morning Republicans remained seven seats shy of the 218 needed to win control of the House, with Democrats requiring 14, an indication that a majority on either side will be slim. As internal discussions between House Republicans intensify over potential leadership roles, with the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, facing opposition from the far-right Freedom Caucus, Pelosi remained circumspect about her own future, saying she would not make any announcements on her plans until after the House’s control is decided.

“My decision will then be rooted in what the wishes of my family [are], and the wishes of my caucus,” Pelosi said, with reference to her husband Paul Pelosi’s ongoing recovery following an allegedly politically motivated violent burglary and attack at their family home in San Francisco last month. She added: “There are all kinds of ways to exert influence. The speaker has awesome power, but I will always have influence.”

The Democrats were projected to maintain their control of the Senate on Saturday evening when a tight race in Nevada was called for the incumbent Catherine Cortez Mastro who defeated Adam Laxalt, a Trump-backed, former state attorney general.

The result marks a substantial victory for the Biden administration’s agenda over the next two years, not only with regards to potential legislative negotiation but other powers which include appointments to the federal judiciary.

Speaking to reporters in Cambodia during the Asean summit, Biden congratulated the Democratic Senate leader, Chuck Schumer, but appeared to acknowledge how a Republican-controlled House might affect his agenda.

“We feel good about where we are,” Biden said. “And I know I’m a cockeyed optimist – I understand that – from the beginning, but I’m not surprised by the turnout.”

Biden added that the party’s focus would move to the Senate runoff in Georgia next month, where incumbent Raphael Warnock will face Trump-endorsed Herschel Walker after neither candidate received over 50% of the vote. A victory for the Democrats in Georgia would hand them an outright majority of 51, without needing Biden’s vice-president, Kamala Harris, to break Senate ties in their favor.

As fallout from the midterm elections continues, attention is likely to pivot to Florida next week, where Trump is expected to announce a 2024 run for the presidency at his private members’ club in Palm Beach.

Although polling still indicates Trump is the preferred candidate among the Republican base, his support has shown signs of fracture after many of his endorsed candidates performed poorly last week. One poll released on Saturday showed Trump’s support declining by six points to 50%, while the far-right governor Ron DeSantis, who cruised to re-election in Florida last week, saw support increase.

On Sunday, Maryland’s outgoing Republican governor – Larry Hogan, a longtime Trump critic – urged the party to move away from the former president’s influence.

“You know, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result,” Hogan told CNN. “And Donald Trump kept saying: ‘We’re going to be winning so much, we’ll get tired of winning.’ I’m tired of losing. That’s all he’s done.”

Nonetheless, Hogan – who himself is believed to be considering a run in 2024 – acknowledged that ousting Trump from the potential presidential nomination would be an uphill battle.

“He’s still the 800lb gorilla,” Hogan said. “It’s still a battle and it’s going to continue for the next few years. We’re still two years out from the next election, and … the dust is still settling from this one. I think it would be a mistake, as I mentioned Trump’s cost us the last three elections and I don’t want to see it happen a fourth time.”

The midterms also proved to be an electoral rebuke to unfounded accusations of electoral fraud in the 2020 election, a baseless claim Trump has continued to press since losing the White House to Biden.

Many Trump-endorsed candidates in major races, including the governor’s election in Pennsylvania and the Senate race in Arizona, had denied the 2020 election results. In both of these contests, as well as several other high-profile races, the Trump-backed candidate lost to Democrats by significant margins.

Although the gubernatorial election in Arizona, which pits the high-profile election denier Kari Lake against Democrat Katie Hobbs, remained too close to call on Sunday, a number of Democratic gubernatorial victors argued their wins marked a rejection of election conspiracy theories and rightwing extremism.

Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who won in a landslide against a Trump-endorsed election denier, said on Sunday that she believed her victory marked a rejection of political violence in the state.

“Good people need to call this out and say we will not tolerate this in this country,” Whitmer, who was targeted by a failed kidnapping plot in 2020, told CNN. “And perhaps part of that message was sent this election.”


Oliver Laughland

The GuardianTramp

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