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Democrats take control of House; GOP pads Senate majority

Updated November 7, 2018 - 1:05 am

Democrats seized control of the House on Tuesday, while Republicans increased their majority in the Senate, in a midterm election that fell short of a massive “blue wave” but served as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s policies and his first years in office.

The size of the victory in the House was still to be determined, as many races were still too close to call, but network projections that Democrats would win more than 218 seats and control of the lower legislative chamber marked a return to a balance of power in Washington.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats would pursue a bipartisan agenda to achieve results for the American people.

“We have all had enough of division,” Pelosi said.

Results showed Republicans picking up three Senate seats, defeating Sens. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota and Claire McCaskill in Missouri. Races in Florida, Montana and Arizona remained close.

“Tremendous success tonight,” Trump said on social media. “Thank you to all!”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “to congratulate him on the historic Senate gains. He also spoke with Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.”

Democrats won two open House seats in Nevada, and Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., was defeated by Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, survived a scare in the most expensive race, defeating Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke in a contest that cost more than $100 million.

O’Rourke’s strong performance in Dallas is credited with helping Democrat Colin Allred defeat Republican Rep. Pete Sessions, an 11-term congressman and a former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Referendum on Trump

The midterm election was a referendum on Trump and two years of policies that prompted a backlash from Democrats, who cited health care as the No. 1 issue.

Early enthusiasm among Democrats was tempered, though, by the Senate confirmation process for Justice Brett Kavanaugh and last-minute warnings by Trump of an “invasion” by Central American migrants heading to the southern U.S. border.

Trump campaigned for scores of Republicans at 30 rallies in the past two months, including swings through Nevada and into Senate battleground states where Republicans aggressively fought to knock off vulnerable Democrats.

Trump watched election night returns from the White House residence with friends and family.

Historically, the party that controls the White House loses legislative seats in the midterm elections — particularly when the president’s approval rating is below 50 percent. Recent national polls showed Trump’s approval rating hovering between 40 and 42 percent.

Trump’s presidency also prompted an historic number of women to seek office. There were 23 women candidates for Senate on the ballot and 235 women seeking House seats.

In one of the first casualties for House Republicans, Democrat Jennifer Wexton defeated Republican incumbent Rep. Barbara Comstock in a Virginia district in the Washington suburbs. Comstock was dubbed “Barbara Trumpstock” by Democrats in attack ads.

And Republican Rep. Bob Mike Coffman lost his suburban Denver seat to Democratic challenger Jason Crow.

Openly LGBTQ candidate Sharice Davids defeated Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., a four-term House member.

Two Muslim-American women, both Democrats, were elected to House seats in Michigan and Minnesota.

Increased scrutiny

The Democratic takeover of the House will mean aggressive oversight into the Trump administration that largely went unchecked by the GOP-controlled chambers the first two years of his presidency.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., could hold a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee chairmanship. She and other Democrats on the full committee have vowed an investigation into Trump’s role in the reversal of a proposed FBI move of its headquarters in Washington near the Trump International Hotel.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will face heightened scrutiny from the House Natural Resources Committee under the chairmanship of Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., an outspoken critic of the Trump administration’s policies.

In addition, Democrats will seize power to further investigate the president’s ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible impeachment proceedings.

Republican control of the Senate, and an expanded majority, would serve as a firewall for the president on impeachment and allow Trump and McConnell to continue to reshape the federal judiciary with conservative appointments.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Trump appeared to abandon efforts to stanch GOP losses in the House and worked instead to build a Republican firewall in the Senate, warning voters in red states that Democrats wouldallow U.S. borders to be breached by immigrants.

He ordered active-duty military to the border in the weeks before the election and announced he would end constitutionally protected birthright citizenship with an executive order.

Political strategists from both parties described Trump’s immigration blitz as an effort to stoke base Republican voters to preserve the Senate majority at the cost of losing the House.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-6370. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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