Trump avoids rout in referendum, deadlock looms in split Congress

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West side view of the United States Capitol building.

By Arul Louis

New York– Political deadlock and a series of hobbling investigations loomed over the US with the Republican Party losing control of the House of Representatives even as President Donald Trump avoided a rout in the midterm elections billed as a referendum by retaining control of the Senate.

“In a certain way, I am on the ballot,” Trump declared ahead of Tuesday’s elections taking up the challenge of a referendum the Democrats had thrown at his polarising leadership.

A big Blue Wavea of Democratic support that could totally destabilise Trump did not quite materialise as he appeared to have held onto his base, even though his suburban support bled.

But the split control of the Congress will put a brake on Trump’s conservative agenda and increase pressure on him and those close to him through a newly empowered Democratic Party’s promised wave of investigations starting with the revival of the Congressional probe into the alleged Russian manipulation of the 2016 presidential election.

Facing the challenge, Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning “Two can play the game” and threatened counter investigations of Democrats.

This was probably the most hotly fought midterm in modern history framed by burning hot rhetoric, a campaign spending of $5.2 billion – the highest in midterms – and one of the biggest voter turnouts.

While the nation-wide results were incomplete on Wednesday morning, the Democrats had sealed their control of the House – the lower chamber of the Congress – winning 219 seats of the 535 – and projected to gain at least 29 seats — while Republicans retained the Senate with at least 51 seats of the 100 with a gain of at least two.

The scale of the losses of House seats by the Republicans this time were nowhere near the 63 seats lost by the Democrats in former President Barack Obama’s first midterm in 2010.

Legislators in the House of Representatives have only a two-year term which sets up a midterm challenge for the presidents who have a four-year term. (Senators have a six-year term.)

Trump went into the midterms with a strong economy – a 3.7 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in about 50 years, and a booming stock market – and foreign policy gains in forcing new trade deals with Canada and Mexico and a nuclear retreat by North Korea.

That muted some of the opposition to him and the Democratic Party’s ambivalence towards illegal immigration as a caravan of several thousands of Central Americans marching under the flags Guatemala and Honduras marched towards the US roused Trump’s base.

But his personal style of bombast and intimidation and deeply divisive rhetoric turned off many voters and brought on a big, angry turnout of voters in support of the Democratic Party.

The division was amplified by the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, who faced decades-old allegations of sexual misconduct as a teenager and a student. It became the rallying cry for women and liberals who saw it as further endorsement of misogyny and sexual misconduct that Trump had been accused of and as endangering legal abortion and other women’s rights.

“When Democrats win, and we will win tonight, we will have a Congress that is open, transparent and accountable to the American people,” Nancy Pelosi, who is expected to the reclaim the speakership, said on Tuesday night.

While she had earlier ruled out impeaching Trump as many in her party want to, her declaration about transparency and accountability were a warning about the expected investigations.

Trump countered with a challenge of his own in a tweet on Wednesday morning, “If the Democrats think they are going to waste Taxpayer Money investigating us at the House level, then we will likewise be forced to consider investigating them for all of the leaks of Classified Information, and much else.”

Any changes to immigration law, matters relating to minorities and gays, and the budget and economic reforms requiring Congressional approval would be at stake.

But Trump’s solid control of the Senate would give him free rein in appointing federal judges all the way to the Supreme Court as well as officials requiring Senate approval.

In some key races the Republicans leads over their Democratic Party rivals had been whittled down.

Among them were Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Georgia governor candidate Brian Kemp who had barely a 2 percent lead over Stacy Abrams, an African American woman. (IANS)

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