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What the strong US midterm results mean for Joe Biden

Democrats kept the Senate and narrowly lost the House. Here’s how that will affect the US president’s agenda.

By Emily Tamkin

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on 23 November. It has been republished in light of the Georgia Senate race run-off being won by the Democrat candidate Raphael Warnock. The result means that the Democrats have an overall majority of 51-49 in the upper chamber of Congress.

The midterms are over! 

They sure are. 

And Democrats kept the Senate? 

They did! One race – the Georgia Senate race – went to a runoff, and will be decided on 6 December. But Democrats kept seats in other swing states, Arizona and Nevada, and flipped a seat in Pennsylvania, which means they already have 50 of the Senate’s 100 seats even if the current Georgia senator Raphael Warnock loses to Herschel Walker, a former NFL player. Since the vice-president, Kamala Harris, is called on to cast a tie-breaking vote in the event of a vote being tied, the Democrats will keep control of the chamber either way. 

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But they lost the House of Representatives? 

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Yes, but not by as large of a margin as many, including me, thought it would be. The Democrats certainly didn’t lose the 60 seats that Kevin McCarthy, the Republican House Minority Leader and soon to be House Speaker, predicted last year. The Republicans won at least 218, with some left to declare, which gives them a majority. 

And what does that mean? 

Well, the good news for President Joe Biden and the Democrats is that they will have less trouble than expected passing some measures that require only the Senate – most notably judicial confirmations. The bad news is that basically every political issue in the country today is so polarised that it’s unlikely any significant legislation would be able to pass both houses. Also, House Republicans are already threatening investigations into Biden’s son, Hunter, and Biden’s family’s business dealings.  

How are those likely to go? 

It’s hard to say. The Republican majority is so slim. Nancy Pelosi, as Democratic Speaker, was mostly able to wrangle her own members to vote along party lines, but not without great effort and politicking. Prior Republican Speakers – Paul Ryan and John Boehner – had real difficulty keeping their party in line, and Republican House members today are arguably more extreme and outspoken than they were ten years ago. I do wonder how much the party will be able to accomplish if infighting becomes a distraction.  

And Pelosi just stepped down from leadership, right? 

Right. She announced on Thursday 17 November that she would step down from leadership in the new year. The Democrat’s House Minority Leader is expected to be Hakeem Jeffries, a representative from New York. One thing that I should note is that even members who disagreed with Pelosi, or who were further left on the political spectrum, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, have spoken about how effective she was at her job and how astutely Pelosi understood building coalitions. We’ll see if Jeffries, who has been known to spar with progressives, shows that same effectiveness.

And what does all of this mean for Biden and 2024? 

I think that a strong midterms showing means that Biden, despite his advanced age of 80, is more likely to run for reelection in 2024. Does the fact that he probably won’t get much legislation through in the next two years help (it’s not his fault! The Republicans have the House) or hurt (if voters are annoyed he hasn’t done anything for them)? We’ll find out.

[See also: Joe Biden shouldn’t run for president in 2024]