It’s been three months since Democrats took control of the House. What that’s meant for legislative priorities in Congress and the balance of power in Washington.
Republicans defied the odds and polls last night and swept the elections. There will now be one party rule in Washington, with the GOP maintaining control of the Senate and the House and Donald Trump occupying the White House. Many political leaders had expected republican losses in the House and Senate, but in a stunning reversal, Republican incumbents were helped by Donald Trump’s strength in key states, like Ohio, Missouri and Pennsylvania. Yet deep divisions within the GOP remain over trade and immigration. Diane and a panel of guests discuss what the balance of power in Congress could for Trump’s agenda and Washington gridlock.
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
- Nathan Gonzales Editor and publisher, The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report; elections editor, Roll Call
- Siobhan Hughes Congressional reporter, Wall Street Journal
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Republicans maintained majorities in both the House and Senate last night. Election results are still being finalized in a few states, but the GOP has secured at least 51 seats in the Senate and 236 seats in the House. Here with me to talk about the results of congressional elections, Nathan Gonzales with the Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report, Siobhan Hughes with The Wall Street Journal and joining us from an NPR studio in New York City, Norman Ornstein of The American Enterprise Institute.
MS. DIANE REHMI know you'll want to chime in. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Thank you all for being with us after such a late night.
MR. NATHAN GONZALESNo problem. Thank you for having me.
MS. SIOBHAN HUGHESVery happy to be here.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINI'm running in empty in so many ways, Diane, but I wouldn't be any other place.
REHMI'm glad to have you all. Siobhan, what a night. A long night for everybody. The Republicans maintain control in both the Senate and the House, but there are a couple of races still out there too close to call.
HUGHESThat’s right. Mostly in California, is what we're looking at. The big one there is Darrell Issa, the Republican congressman. Democrats had really hoped to take him out. This is somebody who lead the investigation into the Benghazi attacks. This would really be a trophy for them. Right now, we just don't know which way that's going to go. Also...
REHMHow close is it?
HUGHESIt was very close when Nate and I last checked, very close. He was really fighting for his survival. And you know, one of the interesting things there is that is a place with a very, very high Hispanic population and so the thinking was Democrats would, and Hispanics in particular, would help pull their candidate over the edge. It got to the point where Mr. Issa was concerned enough that he began to embrace President Barack Obama at the end, even though he is one of the staunchest Trump supporters on Capitol Hill.
GONZALESAnd just -- it's 51/49 according to the Associated Press right now.
GONZALESWith Darrell Issa being ahead.
REHMBeing ahead. All right. How many votes did you say?
GONZALESYou mean, the difference?
REHMPercentage. No, percentage counted.
GONZALESOh, it has 100 percent of precincts reporting, but that doesn't mean that all of the votes are counted.
REHMHave been counted.
GONZALESI mean, in California, it can usually take a couple of days for all the votes to be counted.
REHMOkay. Norm, how in the world were the polls so wrong?
ORNSTEINIt's bizarre in a lot of ways, Diane. You know, we know that there are challenges in the polling world more broadly. We get response rates of 9 percent or less. There are so many polls now that we used to have 20 or 25 years ago, people would say, I don't believe these polls. I've never been called by anybody. Now, you can't find a person who isn't called once a week by some polling operation. Many of them don't use cell phones. And we could go on with all of those problems, but the fact is, whether these were the most high quality surveys that you could imagine, deeply in depth, done by live people, in some cases done with Spanish-speaking interviewers using the cell phones and all of that, everybody was wrong.
ORNSTEINAnd it seems very clear that there were two things that were missed. One, clearly there were a lot of people who didn't tell the truth to the pollsters. There is a kind of Bradley effect that happened when Tom Bradley, a popular mayor of Los Angeles ran for governor and all the polls had him winning and he lost and he was an African American and people were embarrassed to say they would vote against him. In this case, there clearly is some group of people who said to pollsters they weren't going to vote for Trump who did.
ORNSTEINThe second is there was an enormous surge in turnout from a lot of different kinds of people. I think mostly white working class voters in the ex-urbs and in rural areas that wasn't anticipated. And I should note that, you know, Hillary Clinton had the most sophisticated voter identification and Get Out The Vote operation we have ever seen. Trump had none of that. And it shows that deeper motivation trumps sophisticated Get Out The Vote operations.
REHMSo to speak. Nathan.
GONZALESJust one thing on polling. And as I was talking to House Republicans in the last couple of months, House Republicans -- I want to make a distinction there because I'm not vouching for all polling. But the House Republican polling was actually pretty good to the point where, as we talked daily with them, they were almost -- they were nervous. They were saying, you know, I don't know why these numbers look so good. I don't know why we're still hanging in there in some of these districts, like Iowa's first district or other districts. They were having a tough time understanding why they were looking so good.
GONZALESBut they trusted in what they had and it turns out that they ended up being pretty correct, again, in the House. The presidential is another story, though.
REHMBut, you know, despite what everybody acknowledged was this disaffection with incumbents and the power structure. How many incumbents actually won?
HUGHESThe majority of incumbents actually won. And, you know, one thing I was noticing is that some of the incumbents who won on the Republican side were people who ran against Donald Trump. They actively campaigned against Donald Trump, said I won't vote for him. Guys like Will Hurt in Texas. He shares a border with Mexico. He won. What does that tell you?
REHMWhat does that tell us?
GONZALESWell, I think the district is more conservative -- I think, you know, there was a focus on the border, a focus on the Hispanic population, but it was also a conservative leaning district. And I think you bring up a good point that the dissonance between the top of the ticket, the upheaval in the presidential race with almost a status quo election in Congress. We're looking at a plus one or plus two seat gain in the Senate for Democrats. Right now, we're at a plus six Democrat gain for Democrats in the House.
GONZALESAnd to me, that shows it's more of an anti-Democratic wave, big D, rather than an anti-establishment wave. It wasn't throw the bums out because a lot of the Muslim congressional members won.
REHMThey didn't. Yeah. Norm, is that how you see it?
ORNSTEINVery much so. And you know, you could even look at a case like Roy Blunt who, if you wanted a poster child for a figure of the establishment, been in politics and in the House and Senate for his adult life and in Missouri before that. Children as lobbyists, all of those things. Running against a 35-year-old Afghanistan veteran and he won. Now, he didn’t win by a huge margin, but that'll tell you something as well. And if you look at the 2010 elections, the 2012 elections, the 2014 elections, we had, other than the presidential contest, pretty good elections for Republicans.
ORNSTEINThose midterms were stunning and the idea that they could come back after that huge win in 2014 and gain two governorships, gain state legislative chambers, including in Kentucky where they hadn't held for -- since, I think, the 1930s, and do this well comparatively in the House and Senate really suggest that the Democratic party itself has a bigger problem here and 2018 is not going to be a savior for them, given the numbers that they have up in the Senate and given the fact that Republicans have fortified so many of these House seats.
GONZALESYeah, I mean, Norm brings up -- 2018 is going to be fascinating for a number of different reasons, but one...
REHMDear god, we're already talking about 2018.
GONZALESBut this matters in terms of legislatively what happens because let's look -- the Senate map, 25 of the states are currently held by Democrats. They're going to be defending 25. Only eight are going to be defended by Republicans. And of those 25 Democrats, there are, I would say, 11 or 12 vulnerable Democrats, some of them in conservative or competitive states like a Joe Manchin in West Virginia, which there was some buzz last night about whether he would or would not switch parties. Heidi Heitkamp in North Dakota, John Tester in Montana, Joe Donnelly in Indiana, they're going to be caught in a hard spot with do they answer to the voters who just voted for Donald Trump in their state or is there going to be a check and balance argument that they're going to try to thread that needle.
REHMBut doesn't all that depend on how successful Donald Trump is in even that first 100 days coming through with the kinds of promises he made on the campaign trail?
GONZALESOh, it's a huge question mark. What does Donald Trump put forward? We heard a little bit about infrastructure last night, but I mean, sure, this is -- the ball is in Donald Trump's court and he's going to have to decide what he's going to push.
REHMHow successful might Donald Trump be, Norm, not just in putting forward these ideas, but getting them approved or carrying them out?
ORNSTEINYou know, it's going to be fascinating to watch. In one area, I think if he pushes it hard, we might see, early on, a chance for broad bipartisan support and it could make an enormous difference out there in the country. And that's the infrastructure package that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton emphasized. Trump's twice as large as Clinton's. Finding a way to finance it, may be a challenge.
REHMAnd that's it, yeah.
ORNSTEINBut Democrats and Republicans will join together to support something like that. But more broadly, presidents tend to push the things that they campaigned on. And they want to fulfill their promises so look at what's at the top of Donald Trump's list. Build the wall, deport large numbers of people, blow up the Environmental Protection Agency and repeal every executive order of the president, climate change -- kill the Paris Accords and blow up the healthcare system. And those things are going to be more difficult even with a Republican Congress.
REHMNorman Ornstein, resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. Short break. Your calls, your comments when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about congressional races, both in the Senate and the House, where Republicans now have control. With the White House and Donald Trump as president-elect, one would assume, Norm, that the president-elect would be able to get a great deal done and get it done, as you suggest, pushing it quickly. But what about things like the Supreme Court? Not one of the conservative scholars that people have talked about for the court seems to be on Donald Trump's list. What happens there?
ORNSTEINIt turns out that Mitch McConnell's unconventional and unprecedented gambit of filibustering President Obama's nominee for the better part of a year has worked for him, and I have little doubt now that McConnell will meet with Trump, they'll try to agree on a nominee, and it'll be one of the first orders of business in January, and I have little doubt that the Democrats will filibuster it, and I have little doubt that after a brief period of time, the Republicans will change the rules in the Senate and eliminate the filibuster for a Supreme Court nominee, and we will probably see at least one or two more during the course of his term.
ORNSTEINNow that's going to create some obvious additional harsh feelings inside the Senate, but there's probably nothing more significant in the victory of Donald Trump and a Republican Senate than the Supreme Court because we're talking about people who are likely to be there for 30 years or more. So he could reshape the court with the possibility of another two or three seats held by Democratic president's appointees opening up. You could have a seven-two Supreme Court by the time Donald Trump is done, and that would be there for a very long time.
REHMBut I would assume, Nathan, they're going to -- there's going to be a fair amount of gridlock on a lot of issues, not to the point of filibuster, perhaps, but nevertheless differences within the Republican Party itself.
GONZALESAbsolutely. Just because there's a Republican in the White House and a Republican-controlled Congress does not mean there is agreement. If you had five Republicans sitting in this room, you'd probably have five different priorities, issue priorities. The Republicans have been in a civil war for years. They can't agree on how to proceed, and I think that's going to -- that's going to continue.
GONZALESAnd what's remarkable is Donald Trump's lack of connection to Capitol Hill. He has so few surrogates on the Hill, so few relationships, I think it's really going to -- there's going to be an increased -- some proportional -- it's going to have to be Vice President Mike Pence who's going to have to step in.
GONZALESLook at some of his friends and say hey, let's get this -- let's get this going.
REHMAnd what about the speakership of Paul Ryan, Siobhan?
HUGHESThis is really going to be complicated. John Boehner's problem was that Republicans within his conference did not like him and essentially pushed him out. Paul Ryan at some level has an even bigger challenge because Donald Trump has said to Paul Ryan I'm sure we're going to get along great, but if not, I will make you pay.
HUGHESAnd then last month when Paul Ryan told his conference he would neither campaign with nor defend Mr. Trump, Donald Trump went ballistic, called Paul Ryan a weak leader, and it remains to be seen whether or not Donald Trump is someone who is willing to mend fences. But what we know about him, typically, his personality, is that he tends to seek retribution.
HUGHESAnd so if he is unhappy with Paul Ryan, that only adds to his problems.
REHMNorm, what about Paul Ryan? Does he retain his speakership or not?
ORNSTEINHe has a much better chance now because of the solid results that the Republicans had in the House. If they had lost 10 or 15 seats, there would have been two problems. One, it would have happened on his watch. Two, the people who were the most vulnerable were leadership loyalists. And so he now has a better position.
ORNSTEINThe key question here, and there are actually two key questions. The first is I assume he is going to meet with Donald Trump in the next day or so, and it's a question of whether Donald Trump basically cuts a deal with him, I will endorse you for speaker, but you're going to have to put a few things on the agenda for me, and whether Ryan agrees to that.
ORNSTEINAnd the second is whether there's still a level of anger out there among the Trump supporters and the Freedom Caucus about Ryan that could lead them to vote against him, at least on the first ballot. And we don't know. What we do know is that they have a large enough majority now that some of the things that Trump wants, which will mesh with some of the things that the Republicans in the House want, they may be able to get done without relying on Democrats.
ORNSTEINBut we're also going to find a real tug-of-war if Ryan does retain his position as speaker. His assumption all along in supporting Trump, not as avidly as a lot of people wanted, was Trump is policy-free. He doesn't care about most of this stuff. We'll run the policy shop from the Hill. And I don't think that's how Donald Trump operates.
REHMWhat do you think, Nathan?
GONZALESWell Speaker Ryan is actually having a press briefing right now, as we speak, and he's being very -- he's saying that Trump has a mandate. He's being very, I'll say, conciliatory in I think crediting Donald Trump for the gains that Republicans made -- or the performance the Republicans had last night. So I think he is -- he's offering an olive branch to Donald Trump.
REHMOn the road.
GONZALESAnd just -- and last night I checked in with some Freedom Caucus members. I don't know that there is a -- that Paul Ryan, you know, is immediately going to be on his way out. I think they want to try to everyone come together, have the party come together to move forward. But then when you start to say, okay, what does that actually mean, that’s when the tensions will come up again.
REHMI've got a caller here, who has a very specific question, so I'm going to open the phones to Shelby in St. Louis, Missouri. You're on the air.
SHELBYHi, thank you, I'm a longtime listener, and I can't believe I'm actually on the air. I'm 26, I live in St. Louis, and I'm gay, and me and my fiancé woke up this morning, and we're really scared. We don't know, should we go get a license today. We -- we're just very scared of what the future is going to be for the LGBT community, and yeah, thank you.
REHMVery interesting question, Norm. Could Trump appoint people to the Supreme Court who might actually overturn the gay marriage approval?
ORNSTEINOf course he could, and, you know, it's partly a question -- that'll take some time, but it's very, very likely. If you look at the list of people that Trump put out as his potential Supreme Court nominees, and it was a list put together by somebody else, it's mostly fairly obscure judges and others, but we're talking about a group of people who are of the Scalia-Alito mold.
ORNSTEINAnd on voting rights, on campaign finance, on same-sex relationships...
ORNSTEINAnd a host of other issues and abortion, we're likely to see sometime in the next few years, if we get more changes, at least, with Anthony Kennedy there abortion might not be in the same position, but once you get to a six-three court, for example, Roe v. Wade overturned, we're certainly going to see Planned Parenthood defunded in this next Congress, and same-sex marriage now, you know, a lot of the electorate, including a lot of those who voted for Donald Trump, weren't voting for that.
ORNSTEINAnd just as a lot of people who voted for him will be shocked if their health insurance is taken away. So we may see a backlash here, and it may be a backlash in some of the Republican districts, but the court is a different matter, and the only thing that will hold that back for a while is that many of the appeals courts are still going to stay with a different kind of majority for at least some time to come.
GONZALESOne thing that was striking about Donald Trump on LGBT rights and same-sex marriage is that Donald Trump had no interest in talking about that issue. I mean, he was different than I think a majority of his party in -- that was not a focus of his campaign. Now Norm's right that the type of justices, because he agrees with their philosophy that may be a consequence of that, but I don't think that that is going to be the focus of Donald Trump's, you know, initial days in office.
REHMAll right, and Siobhan, let's look at some of the key Senate races. Incumbent Senator Patrick Toomey won the Pennsylvania Senate race.
HUGHESThat was really the big surprise of the night because people had thought that if any Republican would go down, it would be Pat Toomey. Pat Toomey had been polling well ahead of Donald Trump in Pennsylvania. Everyone thought that Hillary Clinton would win Pennsylvania by a landslide. And instead that didn't happen. Donald Trump won Pennsylvania, probably helped Pat Toomey along with him.
HUGHESPat Toomey was so terrified of Donald Trump that he did not tell people whether he voted for Donald Trump until just before the polls closed, when he announced yes, I did support Trump.
REHMHe did, and he did say that. What about North Carolina, Nathan?
GONZALESYou know, North Carolina, Senator -- Republican Senator Richard Burr dove Republican strategists crazy because he started his campaign late, he was -- he held his strategy, he held his cards close to the vest, and Republicans were looking around, saying this is -- look at the volatility in this election. You have to be out -- someone like a Rob Portman of Ohio, who started his campaign in 2015, or Pat Toomey, who started his campaign early.
ORNSTEINRichard Burr was the opposite, and Republicans were nervous until the last week or so, when it looked like he was going to be able to -- when he was in position to win. But it turns out that the way these elections have fallen that no matter, if you're a Republican, kind of what strategy you had or whether you were close to or away from Donald Trump, you won. I mean, Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, we're still waiting, she might fall just short.
REHMYeah, that's what I was going to ask.
GONZALESBut that's -- the strategies, all the hand-wringing over the strategies didn't seem to matter.
REHMSo nothing new yet on Kelly Ayotte?
GONZALESIt looks like it's going to be close. The latest news that I heard this morning is that it could be less than 1,000 votes, and, I mean, she's trailing, she's trailing.
REHMWhat do you need to contest? What is the vote margin that allows you to contest?
GONZALESIt's state by state, the rules, and I don't know what it is in New Hampshire.
REHMAll right, and let's...
ORNSTEINI'm pretty sure it's a half a percent.
REHMHalf a percent. And Norm, talk about Marco Rubio.
ORNSTEINSo a very interesting case in so many ways. Marco Rubio of course said he was retiring from the Senate when he announced his presidential bid and along the way said famously I've said this 10,000 times, I'm leaving the Senate, I'm retiring from politics. And apparently on the 10,001st, he changed his mind. He of course had famously come up with the notion of Donald Trump's small hands and then called him a con artist, and Trump responded by talking about Little Marco.
ORNSTEINHe suffered a blow during the course of the campaign when the word came out that Donald Trump had surreptitiously tried to break the law in the embargo with Cuba to do business with Castro, and none of it matter in the end. He won, and it wasn't particularly close. Now one reason is his opponent, Patrick Murphy, had a lot of baggage of his own, and we know that we had polls showing at relatively close within the final weeks, but the Democratic Party pulled its money out, and maybe what they saw was closer to the reality that we got.
REHMAll right, and in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Union Leader is reporting Governor Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire has declared victory in a race with Senator Kelly Ayotte. That seems to be what you're seeing, as well?
ORNSTEINYeah, I mean, that would be -- so that would be a plus two for Democrats, which is, you know, stunning, and it's I guess a bit of cold water or a bit of bad news for Republicans otherwise on a good night that Kelly Ayotte, who is viewed as a rising star within the party, you know, now has a hiccup on that record.
REHMAll right, and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." What about Tammy Duckworth, Siobhan?
HUGHESShe was viewed as the person who was always going to be most likely to win. Of all of the Democrats, that was the one candidate everybody bet on, and sure enough, that happened. She's somebody who's very close to Dick Durbin, and so I imagine her fitting in quite well with her new caucus.
REHMAll right, we have several callers. Let's go to Marguerite in St. Augustine, Florida. You're on the air.
MARGUERITEHello, thank you, and thank you for your very intelligent show.
MARGUERITEI'm just concerned, I came from the generation that worked for civil rights from the '60s on. And of course there were people before me that even had to fight for these rights. And what concerns me the most is the balance of power in the White House. I'm very sad that Hillary didn't win because she represented, not because she was a woman, but she represented what I wanted America to look like. I wanted it to be fair to all people. I wanted people to come here and not feel that they are threatened. And it just really worries me that we have a majority Republican Senate and majority Republicans in the House because if those social programs are cut because they just don't want to do them anymore, there will be people that will fall through the cracks.
MARGUERITEAnd I've worked with minority students all my life, and I know how fragile they are.
REHMAll right, Norm.
ORNSTEINSo one, we have a deep division in the country that the election obviously showed, and it's a division that cuts across so many lines. It cuts across racial and ethnic lines. It's an urban-rural divide. And that's not going away. I want to come back to -- you know, we talked just a minute ago about Tammy Duckworth, though. I mean, a part of what the caller was hoping for, as so many others were, that we would join the 20th century and have a woman as the leader in the country.
ORNSTEINWe've had women leaders across the globe, Canada, Britain, Germany, India, Bangladesh, and we didn't. If you look at these election results, we've got some superstar women coming into the Democratic Party, Kamala Harris from California, Tammy Duckworth is now going to get an extraordinary amount of attention, Maggie Hassan if she does win. We've got others who are in the Senate, like Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar and Tammy Baldwin.
ORNSTEINBut I think we have to say that the likelihood of a party choosing a woman as its nominee is now going to be pushed back a significant period of time, and it's -- so it's a larger blow not just getting a woman as president now, but it's going to increase that gap a little bit further down the road, and it leaves the Democrats with a real leadership deficit if you're looking ahead. We talked about 2018. They're going to be talking also about 2020.
REHMNorman Ornstein, resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute. He's also co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism." Short break here. When we come back, more of your calls and your email. I look forward to speaking with you.
REHMWelcome back. Guests here in the studio, Nathan Gonzales of The Rothenberg -- Gonzales Political Report, and Siobhan Hughes, she's congressional reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Joining us from NPR in New York City, Norman Ornstein of The American Enterprise Institute. Let's take a call from Paige in Arlington, Va. You're on the air.
PAIGEHi. Yes, so two things. I am a teacher. And so today's been a really weird day for me and my students, trying to work through both elections, House and presidential. And then as a mother, my husband and children are Muslim. They were all born in the U.S. In fact, we live just over the river. And there are so many of them -- my husband and his family and even my mother-in-law texted me, which is rare. They're scared. And is there anything that Congress can do to help them, to tell them that it's gonna be okay?
ORNSTEINWell, depending on where they live, there were a number of medical marijuana initiatives that passed the last time. You may want to go there. But, you know, it's possible at least that in some of the things that Trump wants to do, there'll be a little bit of a check and balance in the Congress. But I can't give them a lot of relief I'm afraid. We're likely to get a lot of policies passed through Congress that are gonna be disruptive.
ORNSTEINNow, I think it's an enormous challenge. You know, Republicans have been in the minority when it comes to the presidency for eight years now. And they've had the luxury of being able to vote, you know, 60 times to repeal Obamacare in the seven years that it's been in effect. They haven't introduced a single bill to replace it. They haven't had to.
ORNSTEINIf you look at the budgets that Paul Ryan's put together, they're incredibly harsh, in terms of slashing government programs, but they were never gonna become law. Now, it's like the dog that chased the bus and caught it. And what are you gonna do? And we don't know what they're gonna do, except that we might well see a repeal of the health care thing. We are gonna see likely a very massive tax cut. We're probably gonna see a whole series of programs eviscerated.
ORNSTEINAnd the only check on the system now -- and this might give a little bit of comfort -- is that there will be 48, potentially -- because we have a Louisiana race -- not likely -- 49 Democratic senators who will filibuster a lot of those things and maybe keep them from happening. But this is the first time in a long time that you've had a very conservative majority in both houses who have a president who, if he doesn't share all of their policy objectives, is gonna be in sync with them on a lot.
REHMAll right. To Tracy in Martinsburg, W. Va. You're on the air.
TRACYYes. I have a question about Medicaid. I'm very concerned because I have a disabling condition and can't work. Three years ago I got Medicaid in West Virginia through the ACA. Now, I'm deeply concerned about my coverage and the coverage of millions of other Americans like myself being suddenly discontinued.
REHMWhat do you say, Nathan?
GONZALESYeah, well, I think -- and Norm brought up a good point about the check and balance. Even though it's a Republican Congress and a Republican president, you have a -- two chambers of Republicans who have an interest in getting reelected. I don't know that Donald Trump, I mean, he hasn't even been sworn in yet. I don't know that he cares about winning reelection. But the Republicans in Congress do. And so they are going to have that in their mind and when it comes to threatening, you know, vital aspects of people's lives, I think they're gonna tread carefully because they'd like to stick around in Washington longer than what Trump is.
HUGHESI've interviewed a lot of Trump voters around the country. And one thing they are very certain of is that Donald Trump is going to protect things like their Medicare. This is one area in which Trump is not a conventional Republican. There's a bit of a clash between him and the more hardline conservatives who want to cut spending. And I think the way that unfolds is going to be very interesting. Also, as you say, politicians have their finger in the air. They watch which way the wind blows.
HUGHESI would see a huge backlash if that happened.
REHMSiobhan, tell me about Nevada and Harry Reid.
HUGHESHarry Reid has a political machine. And this was one of the few bright spots for Democrats last night. That machine went into action. He was able to retain his Senate seat. Also, kind of crushing Mitch McConnell who had wanted to take that away from Harry Reid. Also, Democrats flipped two Republican seats, kind of in the Las Vegas area. They ousted Cresent Hardy and a Republican named Danny Tarkanian who hoped to get Joe Heck's seat. Didn't get it either.
REHMAnd in the House, Democrats gained only some seats, but the GOP retains a sizable majority.
GONZALESYeah, Democrats needed a net gain of 30 seats coming in. Right now they're at six. There are a couple uncalled races in California. Based on the returns so far, they might get one of those. But it looks like we're settling into a plus 6 to plus 8. And so Republicans are not at that 80 plus year high that they were at the House -- in the House when we came into last night, but it's still -- it's not razor -- it's not a razor-thin majority.
REHMNorm, I asked the same question in the last hour, regarding the presidential race. But I wonder if James Comey of the FBI had any role to play in the congressional races as well, with his announcement so close to the election.
ORNSTEINCertainly as we headed towards the final week, when it looked like after a drop from the initial Comey letter, a few days later Hillary Clinton appeared to have recaptured at least the position that she'd been in before. But almost every person that I talked to, who's involved with congressional campaigns, thought that there would be a significant impact down ballot. That -- what happened in that final week, as much as anything, is the dialogue changed, the basic structure of the campaign.
ORNSTEINRepublicans went from being on the defensive about Donald Trump, having to defend the indefensible or trying to figure out how they could endorse -- or support without endorsing and the like -- to being on the offensive to talk about Hillary Clinton's perfidy. And my guess is that the margins -- that probably had some impact.
ORNSTEINYou could have imagined at least Democrats being in the double digits in the House in gains, if it weren't for what Comey had done. And you could certainly imagine that one or two of those Senate races could have shifted. So there was a Comey effect. I don't think you could make a case very easily that that's what cost Hillary Clinton the presidency, although it didn't help. But you could certainly make a case that it cost Democrats significantly in the Congress.
REHMInteresting. All right. To Huntsville, Ala. Zach, you're on the air.
ZACHYes. My question pertains to environmental policy. So Trump campaigned on, you know, cutting down the EPA, getting rid of regulations. And it's been somewhat of a major pillar of GOP campaigning for the last couple of years as well. So what does this look like from policy perspective when it comes to dealing with desertification and water problems out in the American West or water contamination problems, say in Flint, Mich., or Mississippi or West Virginia?
GONZALESThe EPA and those environmental issues, Zach, that you talked about, you're right, have been in the Republican -- either unofficially or officially in the platform for a long time. But I'm not sure that Donald Trump has thought that specifically about a lot of these things. I think there was -- it was -- it's a lot of, you know, 30,000 feet in campaign language, but this is when it's gonna -- but there are some Republican voters who -- that's what they are going to expect.
GONZALESThey're gonna expect action on some of these items that Republicans have been talking about. You know, we've all been talking about the ACA. These are things that the Republicans -- Trump and the Republicans in Congress are gonna have to be responsive to their voters on some of these things.
REHMSo he did talk a great deal about regulations. Generally speaking, one would assume in order to expand coal production, for example, he's going to lift some of those restrictions against coal mining.
GONZALESI think that's a -- I, you know, I think that's the natural place that it will go. But it has to, you know, what's the specific legislation and where does it go and is it gonna get through.
REHMWhat do you think, Norm?
ORNSTEINDiane, you know, well, you know, he can put somebody at the EPA who will dramatically change the way they enforce regulations and what they do. Remember when Ronald Reagan picked James Watt. You can have an impact there. But he's promised to blow up the Paris Accords. Remember he's also promised to blow up the Iran nuclear deal.
ORNSTEINYou can't very easily, under the law, blow up those kinds of agreements. So we're gonna see some, I think, frustration on his part and some difficulty there. And you can't just rewrite regulations. You have to go through a fairly lengthy process. But I have no doubt he'll have a lot of support from Republicans in Congress. The question is when you say you're gonna bring back coal and you're gonna bring back fossil fuels, given the nature of the global marketplace, how much you can do on that front to change those realities.
ORNSTEINAnd that's where I think the infrastructure bill, if he can do it, may provide some alternative employment for a lot of people that will at least assuage them a bit if you're not gonna be able to fire up coal, which is not as competitive anymore. And that's a good part of the reason that it hasn't done well.
REHMI want to read to all of you some of the excerpts from Hillary Clinton's concession speech. She said, "I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result. This is painful and it will be for a long time. We have seen our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. Donald Trump is going to be our president. And we owe him an open mind and the chance to lead."
REHMAnd of course, in fact, he has to demonstrate that he can lead. And if he cannot do everything he wants to do right away, like roll back these regulations, how are his supporters going to feel about the promises he made?
GONZALESYou know, this is, you know, the speech is interesting. 'Cause my early indications it looks like it's a, you know, one of Hillary Clinton's, you know, best speeches. But the timing of it is interesting. 'Cause last night there was a lot of chatter among Republicans, specifically Trump supporters, saying if Donald Trump had lost, but gone to bed last night without giving a concession speech, you know, everyone would be apoplectic. And so, you know…
REHMHillary Clinton went to bed.
GONZALESWent to bed, woke up this morning. It appears that she's saying the right things, but does that just kind of -- is it a hindrance or delay the coming together that's gonna be necessary to move forward?
REHMWell, but she did call Donald Trump last night. Did she not, Norm?
ORNSTEINYeah, she did. You know, well, it's surprising that she didn't come out. I actually thought that she might come out much earlier and basically just talk to all of those people who had worked their hearts out for her at the Javits Center. But, you know, Trump gave a very subdued and open speech last night himself. But if you look at the people on the stage, the ones who are closest to him, the ones who will be his inner circle in governing, Steve Bannon, who is not the most conciliatory person, the one who's run the Breitbart organization, which has been pretty much racist and anti-Semitic in a lot of ways.
ORNSTEINRudy Giuliani has not exactly been an open figure. Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn. You're gonna have a lot of people who are expecting him to continue the course that he did when he ran. And if he changes course to become much more open to those who opposed him, it's gonna be an interesting dynamic, including with those Republicans in Congress.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to Warner Robins, Ga. Hi, Devin. You're on the air.
DEVINHello, Ms. Diane. Thank you for having me.
DEVINI was -- I feel like I may be backtracking in the conversation a bit now, but I hear a lot of callers bringing up the ACA as a -- as something that they're scared of losing. And I also hear a lot of people bringing up Comey as a factor in the loss. I would submit that perhaps the ACA was as big a factor as Comey in the Democratic loss with the rate hike and the timing of it right here before the election.
REHMAre you suggesting that those rate hikes were deliberately designed to affect the election?
DEVINI would not say deliberately. I would actually say quite the adverse. I would say very not deliberate that it was -- if it was at all possible, that they would have been delayed or subdued at least until after the election because of the -- and I work in the insurance industry, which is where I get a lot of this exposure from. But I do, I see so many people who were all onboard with ACA, just within the last month or two have come out just completely floored at their rate and the fact that they're so unaffordable. And they're grasping for straws now for something different, something to change that would continue to make their health care, I mean, affordable.
DEVINAs well as available.
REHMAll right. Norm, do you want to comment?
ORNSTEINSure. You know, one element of the 25 percent increase is that of course, in the end, it affected a very tiny group of people. Most of those on the exchanges get subsidies. So the rate hike didn't affect them. The way the press covered it, it was that millions and millions and millions of people would get that hike. But I think it did reinforce the notion that Washington is a gang that can't shoot straight. And that may have contributed to the change.
ORNSTEINNow, what I think is gonna be the interesting dynamic here is if you want to keep the things that most people love about the ACA, which is no pre-existing condition, no lifetime limit and the ability to keep your kids on, you're gonna have retain most of the key parts of the ACA. You're gonna have to do something about the risk corridors. And the question here to me is are Republicans gonna clever to put in a replacement plan that is basically the ACA with a few minor adjustments.
ORNSTEINWill Republican governors, now that it's not Barack Obama in the White House, decide that they will expand Medicaid now because they're not giving him a victory? And you could see a way where they could declare victory, but actually not change much except to improve it. And if they're clever enough to do that, good for them.
REHMWell, that is the last word. I must say, for me the shocking statistic is that only 55.8 percent of eligible voters -- this comes from Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster. He's reporting that voter turnout this year, down from 2012. And certainly down from 2008, when so many went to the polls to vote for Barack Obama. Well, we shall see what we shall see in the coming days. Thank you all so much for being with us. And thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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