The voters’ decisions last week resulted in several noteworthy shifts in power in Washington, D.C., and many state capitals. As of 8 a.m. on November 16, the Democrats gained a net total of 37 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, shifting control from the Republicans for the first time in eight years. Republicans gained a net of one seat in the U.S. Senate with two races yet to be decided. In short, the voters delivered a divided Congress.
In the Senate, Republicans hold a 51-47 margin. Four seats switched hands due to incumbent losses, with Republicans winning three seats currently held by Democrats in states President Trump carried in 2016 (Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota) and Democrats gaining a Nevada seat currently held by a Republican. Democrats also won the open Senate seat in Arizona while a recount is underway in Florida and the Mississippi race heads to a run-off.
In the House, Democrats won control of the chamber with a margin of 232-199. There were still 4 races that were too close to call as of November 16.
America’s electric cooperatives played an active role in the midterm election, including vigorous voter registration efforts and outreach to many of the new members of Congress during the campaign. “Now, we must continue to communicate the issues that matter to your cooperative and community to newly elected members of Congress before they take office in Washington,” said National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson.
“Even though Democrats won the House, the thin margin they have over Republicans will make moderate voices even more important in the next Congress,” Matheson added. “We should lean into issues like expanding our critical infrastructure that have been stalled in this Congress, but will likely be areas of agreement next year.”
Click here for a list of all newly elected members of Congress.
Democrats also gained seven governorships across the country, while Republicans won the governorship in one state previously held by an independent. Two races are still too close to call as of November 16.
Turnout for this mid-term election was at a 104-year high and included a significant increase in early voting in many states compared to the 2014 mid-term election. An estimated 114 million voters went to the polls this year, significantly higher than 83 million who voted in the 2014 elections.
The Big Picture: What do the Election Results Mean?
Republican gains in the Senate are in states President Trump won in 2016, while the Democratic gains in the House largely came from suburban districts with a much different voter profile. It is somewhat rare for the partisan makeup of the House and Senate to move in opposite directions in one election. The last time that happened was in 1996, when Democrats lost seats in the Senate but won a few seats in the House.
With a divided Congress, governing will become even more difficult in the next two years unless there is more bipartisan cooperation. Small factions of the majority parties in each chamber will try to use their leverage to affect legislation and leadership strategies.
Additionally, with more than 70 new members of the House, new dynamics will emerge. It remains to be seen whether a growing block of centrist Democrats will be able to attain significant influence or whether the new wave of progressive members will drive the party’s strategy.
Opportunities for bipartisan legislation seem to be few given the election outcome. However, infrastructure legislation, an issue that President Trump and many members of Congress campaigned on, is an area where bipartisan compromise could be possible.
Congressional Dynamics: What Happens Now?
House of Representatives
With a narrow margin in the House, Democrat leadership will face challenges from both the progressive and moderate wings of the party. Democrats outlined their “A Better Deal” agenda, which focuses on health care, education, increasing worker pay, infrastructure and reforming Washington. Additionally, oversight hearings into Trump administration policies and activities of some of the administration’s key political appointees are expected to be a focal point of the House agenda over the next two years.
Leadership Elections – Determining Both Parties’ Direction
Democrats are scheduled to hold elections in early December to select their leadership for the next Congress. One of the key questions will be the party’s choice for Speaker of the House. Many newly elected members vowed they would not support former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which will likely prompt significant negotiations heading into the leadership election.
Longtime Democratic leaders Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Jim Clyburn (S.C.) likely will serve again as majority leader and majority whip, respectively. However, there is a growing desire from new and younger Democrats to further diversify the party’s leadership. There will be a race for assistant Democratic leader, the No. 4 leadership position, between Cheri Bustos (Ill.) and David Cicilline (R.I.), representing a choice between the more moderate and progressive wings of the party.
With current Speaker Paul Ryan (Wis.) retiring, it is likely that now-Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) will lead the Republicans as minority leader. Steve Scalise likely will remain in the leadership as minority whip. Republicans plan to hold their leadership elections on Nov. 14, but it has not yet been officially scheduled.
New House Committee Leaders
With the change in control of the House, every committee will have a new chairman. Below is a summary of the expected committee leadership in the next Congress. NRECA will provide updates on the House and Senate committees’ agendas in the coming weeks.
Energy and Commerce
Ways and Means
With a slightly expanded margin in the Senate, Republicans will continue to focus on confirming judicial and executive branch nominations. The Senate will also work to backstop the administration’s policy priorities, while working to block efforts by the House to derail that agenda.
The Senate Leadership will be unchanged, with Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) remaining majority leader and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as minority leader. Republicans will be electing a new majority whip, expected to be John Thune (R-S.D.), with Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) term-limited in that role. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) will remain the Senate minority whip.
New Senate Committee Leaders
The leadership of Senate committees will be relatively stable, except for changes due to retirements. Below is a summary of the expected committee leadership in the next Congress.
Energy and Natural Resources
Environment and Public Works
America's Electric Cooperatives' Role in this Election
Electric cooperatives were actively engaged in this election to represent the interests of the communities they serve. This was particularly important since more than 60 members of Congress decided to retire or run for other office. Co-ops wanted to get to know the candidates during the election and help them understand the vital role America’s electric cooperatives have in their communities.
Electric cooperatives encouraged their member-consumers to register and vote in this election as part of a nationwide effort to ensure strong political engagement. Through Co-ops Vote, NRECA’s nonpartisan political engagement effort, more than 100 candidates attended electric cooperative functions or met with co-op staff. Several statewide associations sponsored or hosted a debate or forum for gubernatorial candidates, while more than 30 local cooperatives participated in National Voter Registration Day activities.
In addition, electric cooperatives across the country sponsored radio and print ads to encourage participation, while others created videos and other social media content featuring their employees to encourage citizens to vote.
ACRE® - Supporting Candidates Who Support Electric Cooperative Priorities
Electric cooperative employees, directors and member-consumers contributed $3,681,202 to the political action committee (PAC) of America’s electric cooperatives during this two-year election cycle.
Annual contributions to the PAC from nearly 37,000 individuals, averaging approximately $50, form the backbone of ACRE’s ability to support candidates who support the priorities of electric cooperatives. ACRE, one of the largest grassroots PACs in the nation, contributes to candidates from both parties who support electric cooperatives and the communities they serve. As of 7 a.m. Wednesday, 94 percent of ACRE-supported House candidates running in this general election won their races, while 81 percent of ACRE-supported Senate candidates were elected.
ACRE contributed $1,580,000 to 358 House candidates and $124,000 to 27 Senate candidates, for a total of more than $1.7 million in this two-year election cycle. ACRE also returned more than $1.5 million to state-based political action committees to support candidates for state and local offices.
Click here for a state-by-state breakdown of election results for ACRE-supported candidates.
Grassroots Participation – Making a Difference on State and Local Issues
Several states held votes on ballot initiatives important to electric cooperatives, and co-ops in those states worked aggressively to protect their member-consumers’ interests.
In Arizona, NRECA assisted electric cooperatives that were among a coalition of interests that defeated Proposition 127, a proposal that would determine the energy sources from which co-ops and other utilities would be required to get their electricity, regardless of the cost. Arizona’s cooperatives advocated retaining local decision-making over the mix of fuels to provide power to the families, businesses and communities served by those co-ops and recruited consumer and business advocates to highlight and share the harmful impacts of the ballot proposition.
Arizona’s co-ops were also successful in identifying and growing an advocate army of more than 6,300 individuals who spoke out against the ballot initiative and could support their co-ops’ future grassroots activities.
Washington Outlook - The Road Ahead
Lame Duck Session of Congress
The House and Senate will reconvene next week for a lame-duck session. Congress plans to work that week then break for Thanksgiving and return the week of Nov. 26 for three weeks of legislative activity. Post-election sessions are highly unpredictable, and recent lame-duck sessions have had varied levels of productivity.
There is a long to-do list awaiting Congress, including finalizing spending legislation for many agencies, finalizing the Farm Bill, addressing expiring tax provisions and making technical corrections to last year’s tax package, and confirming judicial and executive branch nominations. It is unclear what Congress will be able to finish this year and what will get carried into 2019.
NRECA will be focused on protecting the business and community interests of electric cooperatives: promoting co-op priorities in the remaining spending bills; promoting our broadband and cushion of credit priorities in the Farm Bill negotiations; passing bipartisan pension legislation to reduce the premiums paid by electric cooperatives; and fixing inadvertent tax law changes that potentially impact co-ops that receive federal broadband, disaster recovery or other grants.
The Next Congress
Much remains to be decided about the priorities for the House and Senate next year. Incoming committee chairs will begin consulting colleagues about their priorities, setting their legislative agendas and determining priorities for hearings. There will likely be a “first 100 days” sprint of legislative activity, particularly in the House given the change in control.
NRECA will be providing a more in-depth look at the next Congress in the coming weeks, but here is an overview of some key policy areas of interest:
Energy and Environment
With the change in control of the House, there will be increased focus on renewable resources, energy efficiency, and emerging technologies such as battery storage. Climate change will likely become a more frequent topic of hearings in the House.
The Senate likely will continue to focus on expanding domestic energy production on public lands and modifying rules governing endangered species.
One potential area of bipartisan interest is infrastructure legislation, and both parties have an interest in rural broadband. Both parties have campaigned on the need to improve our nation’s roads, bridges, broadband, aviation and other infrastructure, but the issue took a backseat over the past two years to other priorities. House Democrats may attempt to work with President Trump to reinvigorate efforts in this area.
Regulatory Relief and Congressional Oversight
The Senate likely will be working to backstop the administration’s efforts to reduce regulations, while the House likely will seek opportunities to block the executive branch’s efforts. A legislative standstill therefore is likely, but the House will take every opportunity to exercise oversight hearings on a variety of topics. Many expect the EPA and Department of the Interior to be prime targets for oversight hearings early in 2019.
NRECA will remain a constructive voice in the new session of Congress, using existing and new relationships with incoming lawmakers to advance the business and community interests of our members. Congress in 2019 will present new opportunities and challenges for cooperatives, and we’re looking forward to continuing to work with our members to provide Congress the information and insights they need to improve the quality of life in rural America.
Looking Ahead - Other Dynamics
Many observers expect outside groups to expand their use of citizen-driven (and billionaire-funded) ballot initiatives to advance their policy agendas at the state level. Additional initiatives in other states on topics such as renewable resource mandates and consumer choice will likely continue to challenge electric cooperatives.
'We Are in a Strong Position for New Congress'
America’s electric cooperatives will continue to grow their political engagement to ensure the voice of the communities we serve is heard in Washington, D.C., and state capitals across the country. NRECA will begin the next phase of outreach to new members of Congress at a reception for newly elected members of Congress on Nov. 28 during their orientation week and will provide an introduction to electric cooperatives and our key issues to all the new congressional staff.
“Our political strength is based on the strong ties and trust that elected officials have with their electric cooperatives. By establishing relationships throughout this campaign season, we are in a strong position for the new Congress,” Matheson said. “If you are in a state or district with a new member of Congress, it is important to meet with your Senator or House member before they travel to Washington. Make sure your elected leaders know we expect them to represent all of the people we serve. Everything we want to accomplish as co-ops involves political advocacy for our communities.”