Democrats prepare for a chaotic Congress where Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell clash and fail to rein in the Trump wing of the GOP
Democrats expect chaos next Congress as they face losing control of the House and possibly the Senate.
They say far-right House members will be running the show as Kevin McCarthy struggles to control them.
The prospect concerns them, but they say it will also help them defeat Republicans in 2024.
Democrats are gearing up for Republican-led chaos next Congress, with a likely House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, who can't control his fringiest far-right ranks and whose leadership style is at odds with his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell.
"If you're Mitch McConnell, why are you talking to Kevin McCarthy? Why aren't you talking to Marjorie Taylor Greene?" asked Josh Schwerin, a former spokesperson for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Hillary Clinton.
Republicans are likely to win control of the House after Tuesday's midterm elections and the Senate is still in play for both parties. Senate control could be determined by a run-off election between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker.
In interviews before the elections, Democrats were concerned about the next two years — but they also said it presents a 2024 opportunity, in which Democrats can make a clear case against Republican overreach.
If Republicans control the House and McCarthy is elected speaker, the GOP agenda and messaging next year won't be up to McCarthy, the current minority leader, said Schwerin, a founder of Saratoga Strategies. It will be dictated by the "loudest, craziest voices on the right," he said, like Greene of Georgia.
This far-right group will care about investigations, getting on Fox News, and "getting Donald Trump to say nice things about them" – not passing the type of legislation that can move in the dealmaking Senate, he said.
"Kevin McCarthy is going to be speaker in name only, if he's speaker," said Schwerin.
In the House, "the caucus that he is likely going to have is ridiculous," said Rodell Mollineau, co-founder of Rokk Solutions and a former communications director for the late Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. "At some point in time, is he going to be able to be the adult in the room, or are they going to somehow overreach?"
A spokesperson for McCarthy did not respond to a request for comment. Robert Costa, of CBS News, tweeted that several GOP sources were telling CBS after midnight they were "increasingly worried" that Greene and her allies "would have much more sway in a tight GOP House."
—Robert Costa (@costareports) November 9, 2022
'Let's have that fight'
Democrats are counting on House Republicans to give them all the political ammunition they need over the next two years to defeat them in 2024.
Schwerin suggested that if Republicans move to repeal popular provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, such as a cap on insulin payments or tax rebates for home energy improvements, such measures wouldn't go anywhere in the Senate because they wouldn't have the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. "So while we're implementing these good things, Republicans are trying to take them away from you — which is a messaging opportunity," Schwerin said.
It's also not a bad thing if Biden has to flex his veto power, Mollineau said. That will allow him to show a "clear delineation" between the parties on the economy. "Let's have that fight," he said.
Between McCarthy and McConnell, Democrats view McConnell as the leader with more control over his caucus and they foresee future splits on legislation and priorities.
"If somehow the Republicans take the Senate and also take the House, I'm still not sure that McConnell and McCarthy are on the same page," Mollineau said.
The two GOP leaders already clashed on a bipartisan infrastructure package this Congress, which passed with McConnell supporting the major priority for the Biden administration and McCarthy whipping against it.
McCarthy last month expressed skepticism to Punchbowl News about sending more aid to support the war effort in Ukraine, arguing "It's not a free blank check." Greene recently touted that message at a rally, saying, "Under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine." But McConnell told the Biden administration that it needs to do more to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression.
—Max Boot 🇺🇦🇺🇸 (@MaxBoot) November 3, 2022
McCarthy says he wants to use the debt limit as leverage to force spending cuts. McConnell has previously worked with Democrats on the debt ceiling and Trump recently said McConnell should be "impeached" — senators can't be impeached — if he does so again. Raising the debt limit doesn't authorize new spending, but allows Congress to pay the bills that it owes.
"You risk economic disaster, and they don't care," Schwerin said. "That has always ended poorly for Republicans, politically."
'They're gonna impeach somebody'
McCarthy in September unveiled his "Commitment to America Platform" after a year in the making. But more than any legislative agenda, Democrats are expecting Republican-led committees to focus on oversight and investigations, including a probe of Biden's son Hunter's business dealings, that could deny Biden momentum heading into 2024.
"They're gonna impeach somebody," Mollineau said. "I don't know who the Hell they're gonna impeach, but they're gonna impeach somebody."
If McConnell becomes the majority leader, it will be such a narrow majority that the Senate still won't be able to pass much legislation and very little of it from the House will advance, said Jim Moran, a former Democratic House member from Virginia. That means Biden has already had his "last hurrah" in terms of legislative accomplishments. Democrats, as a result, will have to start looking at their bench for presidential candidates, he said.
"I just don't see how Joe is going to have much to show for the next two years," he said.
History wasn't on Democrats' side for midterm elections. Two years after they are first elected, presidents typically see their party lose seats in Congress.
Former President Barack Obama called it a "shellacking" when Democrats lost 63 House seats and 6 Senate seats in 2010. In 2018, Trump lost 40 Republican seats in the House and two in the Senate.
Adding to that historical tendency are concerns about the economy, including high inflation and gas prices, and issues caused by redistricting, Mollineau said. It doesn't help that Democrats' significant legislative achievements were stuffed into large packages that are confusing to voters and some things will take time to implement.
"Us keeping the House was always going to be a huge uphill battle," Mollineau said. "It has to do with the national mood."
But Democratic losses, as of Wednesday morning, were shaping up to be less than expected and talk of a so-called "red wave" seemingly overblown.
Unlike 2010, Schwerin noted that Democrats scored popular legislative victories on gun safety, prescription drug prices and climate change, and manufacturing that were not the basis of most election attacks. By comparison, Obamacare was a key driver of attacks in the 2010 elections.
Moran, speaking before the elections, said there was only one "silver lining" to the expected Democratic losses. When the pendulum swings in the direction of extreme Republicans, there will be a counter reaction, giving Democrats a chance in 2024 they wouldn't have otherwise, he said.
"With the Republicans in charge, the Democrats are not going to get blamed for a dysfunctional Congress that is not willing or able to focus on the real issues that the American people are going to be facing over the next two years," he said.
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